photo of nate at work at his desk

Nathaniel Tucker – PhD student in Control Systems

In his own words – Interviewed during 2021 year

  • Hometown: Portland, Oregon
  • Previous Degrees: B.S. Computer Science, Santa Clara University; B.S. Electrical Engineering, SCU; M.S. Electrical Engineering, SCU
  • Degree Sought from UCSB: 4th year PhD Candidate
  • Advisor / Lab: Mahnoosh Alizadeh / Smart Infrastructure Systems Lab
  • ECE Research Area: Controls

Nate’s Research

  • Main Area of Research: focuses on using modern advancements in optimization and learning to increase the usage of renewable energy in human-cyber-physical systems such as the power grid and transportation networks
  • Research Interests: optimization, machine learning, human-cyber-physical systems, sustainable technologies, renewable energy
  • Important Conferences: Allerton Conference on Communication, Control, and Computing 2018; American Control Conference (ACC) 2018 & 2019; IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITSC) 2019
  • Important Awards & Honors: 2019-2020 Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) Excellence in Research Fellow – a Fellowship award of $22,500 to one PhD student per year for cutting-edge research contributions in the field of sustainability and/or energy efficiency. 2017 Outstanding Graduate Student/Researcher, Department of Electrical Engineering, Santa Clara University
  • Professional Memberships: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • Hobbies and Interests: mountain & road biking, snowboarding, hiking/backpacking, traveling and food
  • Dissertation: "Online Optimization and Learning for Sustainable Human-Cyber-Physical Systems"
  • Publications: Nate's publication list – https://nathanieltucker.github.io/

Favorite things about

  • Department:  the ECE department family (both the graduate students and the faculty). Everyone is very welcoming and helpful
  • UCSB: the culture at UCSB is great. Everyone works very hard and is super successful yet the atmosphere is laid-back
  • Santa Barbara: being next to the beach is hard to beat and the weather is awesome

More on Nate and his research

Tell us about your research:

My research focuses on using modern advancements in optimization and learning to increase the usage of renewable energy in human-cyber-physical systems such as the power grid and transportation networks. I've worked a lot on developing smart charging strategies for electric vehicles at workplaces as well as electricity pricing mechanisms to both learn household's electricity usage patterns while influencing their electricity usage (i.e., setting prices to influence when users purchase electricity and how much they purchase).

How and why did you get into your area of research? 

My advisor back at Santa Clara University had a research project regarding renewable energy usage for a small community which I helped write a conference paper for. That project got me interested in using my technical skills to help with the integration of new renewable technologies.

Why did you select UCSB and ECE in regards to your research?

I came to UCSB to work with Dr. Alizadeh. She is one of the top researchers working on optimization and control geared towards integration of renewable energy in human-cyber-physical systems.

What do you find rewarding about your research?

I like the challenge of working on problems with solutions that contribute to the theoretical community and have practical applications helping our society become more efficient and reduce humanity’s negative impact on the environment.

UCSB Prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere, give some examples of how you collaborate: 

I am currently working with researchers at Stanford on a smart charging implementation for electric vehicles at company campuses in Silicon Valley.

Academics at UCSB

Strengths of the graduate program: 

The professors at UCSB are top-notch researchers and lecturers.

Favorite course:

Dr. Ramtin Pedarsani’s Stochastic Processes in Engineering (ECE 235) 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 course Optimal Control / Dynamic Programming (ECE 271C). The material I learned in that course helped me greatly with my own research.

Describe your Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) and/or Teaching Assistant (TA) experiences:

I’ve been a TA as well as a GSR. I TA’d Foundations of Analog and Digital Circuits & Systems (ECE 10C) and had a blast. I love working with undergraduates and helping them learn the basics.

Life as a graduate student

Quality of life as a graduate student and how you balance school, work, social, and family life:

This year has been a weird one. I’ve been working from home and I actually have traveled to visit my family in Oregon and have been working remotely for a few weeks. It is tough sometimes to balance work and social life, but research hours are flexible.

What is your social life like?

Santa Barbara is great. I lived in graduate housing my first two years and now I am renting a house with three of my friends who are also PhD students.

Tell us about your summer break?

I was a GSR this summer and worked on my own research. Being a GSR during the summer months is a great opportunity to get some extra time to work on your own projects. I also was able to prepare my presentation for my Candidacy Exam, which I passed in Fall 2020. I am looking at internships for Summer 2021, mainly software, data analysis, or algorithm development research internship positions at larger companies.

Advice to prospective graduate students:

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

Future Plans...

Where will your research take you next and what are your future career goals?

I have a strong passion for teaching so I might look for a position in academia that lets me focus on inspiring the next generation of students. Otherwise, I will look for a position in industry that lets me use my problem solving skills to guide our society towards a more sustainable future.