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Steve Gustafson


Steven Gustafson

Steve is a senior scientist with GE Global Research in the USA and his career profile sets out his career journey following his PhD and post doctoral experience.

I've always loved the challenge of solving difficult problems, whether they include fixing a bicycle, a computer or designing a new algorithm to uncover hidden patterns in data. During my masters dissertation, I had a great time working on a fun topic: designing computer algorithms to play virtual soccer. This experience led to a conference in Las Vegas to present my work, and where, rather accidentally, I met my future doctorate advisors at lunch. After having a taste of how fun and interesting research was, not to mention going to conferences and meeting interesting people, I knew that a doctorate would be a great choice for me. Who would have thought that an interesting conversation about research over lunch would turn into several years of mentoring and collaboration and have such a positive impact on my life and career! I completed my doctorate entitled “An Analysis of Diversity in Genetic Programming” in the School of Computer Science and Information Technology at Nottingham in February 2004.

Now, I am a senior scientist at GE Global Research, the Corporate Research and Development Center for the General Electric Company. I work in the Computational Intelligence lab, which develops and applies advanced computing and information technologies to solve a variety of complex problems for GE businesses. The research center is turning 110 years old - the oldest industrial research and development centre in the USA - and the breadth and depth of research and people makes this truly an exciting place to work. Recently, I've been researching social data from the Internet and similar sources with technologies like text mining and network analysis. I've also enjoyed blogging on and immediately hearing what the world thinks of our work! I chair conferences and workshops, sit on several journal editorial boards and conference program committees, and recently became a technical editor-in-chief for the journal Memetic Computing. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my wife and young children, socializing with friends, and visiting the diverse geography and sites of the Northeast USA.

After five years of doctorate and post-doc work, I felt ready to move on to another experience in research. While I looked at both academic and industrial opportunities, at that time I was more interested in understanding how our academic research can transition into applications that can help people and society. So, after many applications and reaching out to contacts made from conferences and other professional activities, I found a good match with GE Global Research. I think I was successful in that career transition because I had a good idea of what I wanted and I began the search well ahead of my post-doc completion date.

The doctoral experience has proved invaluable in my career and life. As a senior scientist, I use my doctoral training every day when solving challenging scientific problems and interacting with colleagues. In life, the doctoral experience taught me to look at problems and opportunities from all sides, to think about how my decisions might impact others, and to plan and set goals to meet my family’s objectives. As a father of four, this is no small challenge! Also, in addition to having two great advisors, I was fortunate to have started several long-lasting collaborations with other colleagues. During the doctoral work, I found a mentor and collaborator who also became one of my champions, and who helped me navigate the life of a young researcher as well as encouraged and supported me in new endeavors. In academia and industry, these champions are important for job advancement, finding new opportunities, and as someone to help during the more challenging times.

Steve's advice to researchers


If I was to give advice to current researchers considering a similar career path to my own, I say first - do the work. Read as many papers and books as you can and keep a digital bibliography in a format that you can easily use when writing papers and grants. I also have RSS feeds to most of the journals from my area as well as to the more general ones like Nature and Science. Even if the topic only seems slightly related, coming up with innovative and novel ideas often is the result of applying a bit of wisdom or experience from other fields - if you only know your niche area you will struggle to be innovative. For conferences, especially if I can't attend, I make a point to find the table of contents from the proceedings and I have joined several mailing lists for general and very specific topics. In one community, Genetic Programming, I volunteered as a new doctoral student to help maintain our community's comprehensive bibliography, and as such, was forced to see most of the new journal and conference papers as well as be an active member of the community.

Second, make connections. Attend conferences and talk to as many people as you can - both your colleagues and your superiors. Maintain and manage these connections with periodic communication, even if it is just an email with an interesting article that they may be interested in. These connections will be your future managers, collaborators and support network when you leave the doctoral program. In my case, this could not be truer: just because I took the chance to join a lunch table of conference attendees, I made a connection that would ultimately lead to me pursuing the doctorate at Nottingham!

To be successful in your doctoral program, recognize that everyone does great work, including your peers. To stand out and get your work recognized, you also need to be an effective communicator, be personable, and go those extra lengths to promote yourself and your work. A great example of this is when students take advantage of conference poster sessions with well put-together posters, handouts to leave with attendees, live system demonstrations if possible, and are enthusiastic and out-going enough to start conversations with attendees as they walk by. Finally, make sure your research is relevant to future real-world problems - that is where the academic market will go as well as industry. This can be a challenging task, so do your homework: reach out to your existing connections, read magazines, look at new conferences, look at where funding agencies are focusing this year.




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