An interview with Marc Canellas conducted by the MU Fellowships Office.
What was your experience with the application process as a senior at Mizzou?
I remember the application process for the Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall scholarships being absolutely exhausting but extremely rewarding even though I did not receive any of the awards. When I was inquiring about applying, Tim explained to me that it would be like taking an extra three-hour course but that it could be a lot of fun, too. Most of the time was spent going through endless drafts of my essays in search of the most succinct and powerful argument I could make for my application. Tim’s enthusiasm and emphasis on making the argument strong yet to-the-point is an ability that I have continued to work on to this day and has definitely benefited me in my graduate studies. The most fun part of the whole process was the faculty interview where I sat at a table with about seven faculty members who probed and prodded at my application and my interests – it was a unique mix of intimidation and exhilaration.
Why did you apply for Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall?
There were three main reasons that I applied for the Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall scholarships: my desire to gain a new perspective on the world by studying in a different country, to test my abilities, and finally, to study unique subjects that I had not yet found here in the United States. Growing up in the United States, I was and still am interested in studying abroad to see how other cultures solve their social, technological, and economic issues in hopes of finding new insights to solve our American issues. I also saw the applications as a test: first, to see if I could even complete it and then to see if I could actually receive the scholarships. Although I didn’t receive any of them, I was satisfied that I had put forth the best application possible and felt that the experience would help me in the future. Lastly, the different perspectives on graduate study in the United Kingdom have allowed for unique systems engineering, business analytics, and technology policy programs which I had not found here in the United States.
Why did you apply for NSF and NDSEG?
At first, I applied for the NSF GRFP (National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program) and NDSEG (National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate) Fellowship because they provided a high level of funding for graduate school and the recognition it provided. After being awarded both fellowships and ultimately accepting the NSF GRFP, I understand that the biggest benefit of the awards is the ability to pick the direction of my research. Usually, in my field, we get our stipend (salary) by working on projects for our professors that are funded by federal agencies or industry. We are very lucky to get funding at all, but this does mean that some students are working on projects that do not align with their thesis projects or their career interests. These fellowships allow students to get funded to work directly on the project of their interest which ensures that they are motivated throughout the multiple years it takes to complete a Ph.D.
How did applying for Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall help your applications for NSF and NDSEG?
Applying for the Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall scholarships helped my NSF and NDSEG applications immensely because Tim taught me how to lay the foundation for a strong application. He taught me to study the program and study the past recipients to figure out what kind of student the application committees were selecting and then use that knowledge to construct a specific argument as to why I could fit that mold while still showing the committee what unique contributions I could make to their program and to the world. In the end, I thought to myself, “if I applied for international scholarships as selective and intense as the Rhodes, Mitchell, and Marshall scholarships, then how hard could it be to apply for these national scholarships.”
What is your current research at Georgia Tech?
At Georgia Tech I am currently working for Dr. Karen Feigh of the Cognitive Engineering Center (CEC). The CEC specializes in designing and analyzing complex aerospace environments in which humans interact with autonomous systems like designing displays for the cockpits of commercial airliners or studying the computer logic of complicated autopilot systems to discover when the logic is misunderstood by pilots. For the Office of Naval Research, Dr. Feigh, Zarrin Chua, a Ph.D. student in the lab, and I have constructed computational models of diverse decision-making strategies which are embedded with a multi-agent unmanned-aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a. ‘drone’) simulation environment. In the field, UAV operators are required to achieve mission success regardless of time pressure and information availability so they are supported with decision-support systems. Unfortunately, the current support systems assume the decision maker is using “rational” decision-making strategies when it has been shown that this assumption unworkable in time-critical situations with uncertain information. Since we intend to develop more suitable decision support systems for UAV operators, we are analyzing how different decision-making strategies affect mission performance.
With the NSF funding, next fall I will be starting new research on value-modeling for Dr. Brian German who directs the German Research Group. Value modeling means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so to specify, I will be constructing a simulation to help establish the market feasibility conditions for a new type of transportation method called on-demand aviation. There are a number of parties (e.g. Boeing, Toyota, and NASA) interested in creating a new commercial aerospace industry in which consumers could rent out a small electrically-propelled plane whenever they need it to fly to small airports within a few-hundred-mile range then leave the small plane there at the airport – thus, on-demand aviation. (Think of on-demand aviation as an airplane version of how zip-cars are used for daily transportation on the ground.) The significant problem is that before anyone will invest significant funds into on-demand aviation they want to know what kind of plane, what kind of regulations, what kind of airports, etc. are necessary for this transportation method to flourish instead of flounder. We intend to answer those questions by utilizing concepts and methods from aerospace engineering, economics, and public policy to computationally simulate operators, regulators, manufacturers, and the public, so that we can see how the business case could emerge for on-demand aviation.
How will NSF funding help you to achieve your future academic goals and career goals?
Receiving the NSF GRFP will significantly help me achieve my future academic and career goals by allowing me to immediately study the complicated questions at the nexus of aerospace, economics, and public policy; specifically, how can we, as a country, cultivate new technology industries like on-demand aviation or the emerging commercial space industry so that they are self-sustaining and profitable? This is the type of question I hope to spend a career studying and answering by analyzing and designing technology policy as part of a policy think tank, government office, or academic research group.
Lastly, I think that earning these fellowships has given me a fellowship momentum such that future applications have a higher chance of success. Future evaluation committees will hopefully see that I am dedicated to putting in the time and effort required for applying to fellowships. I hope that my prior success in fellowships will make the future committees think, “Well if he was good enough for them, he’s probably good enough for us.”