Winter 2019: Nathaniel Tucker


Name & Nickname: Nathaniel Tucker (Nate)
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Previous Degrees: B.S. in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering – Santa Clara University, 2016, M.S. in Electrical Engineering – Santa Clara University, 2017
Degree sought from UCSB and Progress: 2nd year PhD student
Professional Memberships: IEEE, student member
Hobbies / Activities / Interests: Mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking/backpacking, traveling, and food
Interesting aside/fact/information about you:I grew up playing ice hockey.



The Department: The faculty have been very welcoming. Similarly, other PhD students are very social and helpful.
UCSB: The campus is nice. It’s cool working right next to the ocean.
Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara is a cool location. The city has some good restaurants, bars, and wineries. The surrounding area has lots of hikes and good views.



Research program: Control / Communications & Signal Processing
Main Area of Research: Online optimization for electric transportation systems
Research Interests (list of keywords): Electric Vehicles, Online Optimization, Smart Grid, Renewable Energy Integration, Smart Cities
Advisor / Lab or Group Name: Dr. Mahnoosh Alizadeh / Smart Infrastructure Systems Lab
Important Conferences you have attended – did you present a poster or a talk? I gave a talk at ACC 2018. I plan on giving another talk at ACC 2019.
Title of Most important publication to date and link to your CV or pub list: My most recent work was submitted to IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid titled “An Online Admission Control Mechanism for Electric Vehicles at Public Parking Infrastructures.” A list of my publications is available at:
What types of Financial Assistance have you received? (GSR, TA, Fellowships): I have been a GSR for all my quarters here except for one when I was a TA.



Research Description – geared towards prospective grad students and industry/potential collaborators: 
Due to the increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) in society, I focus on online optimization techniques to improve efficiency in various electric transportation systems. This includes allocating chargers to EVs for workplace charging to maximize smart charging benefits (e.g., increasing behind-the-meter solar energy usage). Additionally, I study online mechanisms to control vehicle admission and resource allocation within public parking infrastructures equipped with electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSEs) in order to maximize welfare of both the users (owners of EVs) and facility management. Recently, I began investigating online routing techniques for EV owners participating in ride-sharing services (e.g., Uber and Lyft) to maximize driver profit while accounting for charging needs.

What do you find rewarding about your research?
I like working on problems with real world applications. I’d really like to help our society become more efficient and reduce humanity’s negative impact on the environment.

Collaboration: UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere. How do you collaborate with e.g., your advisor, and other faculty, groups, research areas, departments, students (in and outside your group)? What about outside of UCSB e.g., industry, other groups, faculty, and students?
Currently, I am involved in 2 multi-institution projects involving electric transportation systems. The first is a Smart Charging Infrastructure Planning Tool (SCRIPT) that aims to forecast EV charging needs as well as plan investment strategies for future charging facilities. The second project aims to develop, test, and deploy smart charging applications for two specific cases: 1) workplaces equipped with chargers and 2) an electric bus system. For these projects, we are collaborating with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Google, ChargePoint Inc., and Stanford University.
Within UCSB, I work closely with my colleagues in the Smart Infrastructure Systems Lab and participate in research meetings/reading groups with Dr. Jason Marden’s game theory lab.

Where will your research take you next? What are your personal Career Goals / Future / Industry, Gov’t or Academia?
Honestly, I am not sure yet. However, the PhD program within the ECE department at UCSB prepares you for numerous opportunities after. I know of many students who went to academia and many who have gone to work in industry.



How and why did you get into your area of research?Bike
If you asked me 5 years ago what I would be researching today, I never would have guessed this area. I worked with Dr. Maryam Khanbaghi at Santa Clara University during my Master’s and she was interested in solving problems related to the increasing penetration of renewable energy in the grid. Concurrently, my older brother Cody (who is an architect) was designing projects aiming to improve the relationship between architecture and our environment. So, I became interested in researching topics related to renewables and improving humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the environment.

Why you selected the ECE Department and UCSB in regards to your research area?
To put it simply, I came to UCSB to work with Dr. Alizadeh. She is very knowledgeable in the areas I am interested in and her research goals match what I want to study.

Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor: 
Collaboration is great. Bouncing ideas back and forth with others helps to determine what is a good approach and what isn’t. Working with an advisor can be a learning process at first. The relationship works nicely once you learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and habits.



Academically, what do you think are the strengths of the department's graduate program?
The professors here are all top notch. They are all incredibly knowledgeable and widely known in their field. This attracts quality students and produces good research. Additionally, CCDC brings in well-known researchers to speak about their own work every Friday.

Favorite course taken and why?
Dr. Ramtin Pedarsani’s course on stochastic processes was great. I really enjoyed the material and Dr. Pedarsani’s teaching style. Likewise, I really enjoyed Dr. Jason Marden’s optimal control/dynamic programming class. The material I learned in that course helped me greatly with my own research.

Where applicable, share your experience about the screening exam, qualifying exam, defense exam, and working on your thesis / dissertation:
The screening exam can be a polarizing topic. Some people don’t like it, others don’t mind. Here is 1 positive and 1 negative: Positive: It forced me to relearn and master topics in control and communication that I never would have done on my own. Negative: Some students’ research areas align well with the topics of the test, but some students’ research areas do not.

If you are or have been GSR or TA describe your experience. TA/Teaching Activities: If you are a TA what classes/labs do you teach or what involvement do you have in the class? Your thoughts on teaching:
Being a TA is awesome. I TA’d ECE 10c. It’s a lot of fun leading the lab sections and hanging out with the undergrad students. Being a GSR is also awesome, more time to focus on your research.



CampingTell us about your quality of life as a graduate student. How do you balance school, work, social and family (if you have a family) life?
It’s a balancing act. The ebb and flow of research can be hard to manage resulting in a lot of work in a short amount of time. I try to treat it like a job, I do my best each day and take time away when I need it.

Personal life in Santa Barbara: What is your social life like? Where do you live (Grad Student Housing, Family Housing, / Goleta / Downtown SB or ???? and why?). What do you think about living in Santa Barbara?
I live in San Clemente (Grad Housing) and it’s great. The price is unbeatable for rent including utilities. I became good friends with my roommates and lab mates, so we do a lot of barbequing, going to the beach, cooking dinner, and just hanging out together. 

Tell us about what did you do this summer or plan to do next summer? Travel, research at UCSB, Intern, etc.:
I stayed at UCSB and worked on my research this past summer. There is less going on during summer; it is a valuable time to make progress on your work. This next summer I will probably do the same. Maybe include a 1-2 week long road trip to go camping and mountain biking up in Canada.

Advice to prospective graduate students about all aspects of UCSB graduate student life (research, academics and personal):
Communication is key. If you have questions or comments, speak with the professor of the class, speak with your advisor, or talk to another PhD student. 

Don’t compare yourself to other PhD students, focus on doing your own work.