Sérgio Pequito feels that on the CMU Portugal Program:
Has Some Kind of Aligned Objectives”
Sérgio Pequito is a young researcher that has
been linked with the CMU Portugal Program since 2009. Eager to make the
difference on his research field, and always available to foster and embrace
new challenges, Sérgio Pequito finished his doctoral program in Electrical and
Computer Engineering (ECE) last year, in 2014, at Instituto Superior Técnico
(IST) and at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
Sérgio Pequito’s dissertation title was: “A Structural Approach to
Design, Analysis and Optimization of Large-Scale Dynamical Systems.” During his
dual degree Ph.D., Sérgio Pequito was advised in Portugal by A. Pedro Aguiar
(Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto) and Diogo Gomes (IST and
Kaust University) and at CMU by Soummya Kar (ECE-CMU).
Design, analysis and
optimization of large-scale dynamical systems are the research areas that Sérgio
Pequito’s pursues now as a postdoctoral researcher at GRASP (General Robotics,
Automation, Sensing and Perception) laboratory at the University of
Pennsylvania. Every now and then he comes to Portugal to strengthen research
links, by participating in meetings and giving seminars.
CMU Portugal: You were recently
in Portugal to participate in research meetings and also to give a Seminar at
IST about “Probes for Brain
Dynamics Observability”. How do
you think the research in this area is being investigated in Portugal?
|Sérgio Pequito [SP]: Each time I come to Portugal I always give a
talk. The thing I find interesting is that each time I come here I give a
on a completely different topic so people wonder why. ‘Why are you now
about brain? Why are you not doing something related to dynamical
is interesting to show that you can use unconventional tools for us,
in a completely different field. The most difficult aspect of doing so
language. Sometimes people are talking about exactly the same but
is the problem. So there’s a need to put some effort in both sides and
the challenge I want to communicate.
This [neurocontrol, i.e., the use
of control theory in neuroscience] is a new topic that has a lot of
and there’s a lot of creativity here in Portugal, and a lot of talent
sometimes people underestimate themselves. Champalimaud Foundation has
the Neuroscience Program that seems to be really cool, but it could be
strengthen and benefit from a close collaboration with the engineering
schools, such as Instituto Superior Técnico (IST).
CMU Portugal Program: Do you come to Portugal and visit Pittsburgh, where CMU is located, very
SP: I keep in touch with all of them, both through
Skype as in person. So what happens is that I go to CMU almost every month, and I usually stay for two to four days, This way I know exactly what people
are doing over there, and they know exactly what I have been doing, we also
join efforts in order to understand if there is some kind of collaborations in
a long run. With Pedro (António Pedro Aguiar,
FEUP), something similar happens. I try to keep in touch with him every month;
we have small talks through Skype. I give him an overview about what I
have been doing regarding the work that is still pending from the Ph.D., as well
as the new topics I have been involved with at the University of Pennsylvania.
And finally with Diogo, I also keep in touch with him but a bit more
occasionally. I am quite aware about what he is doing since he is also revisiting
some of the things we were doing like five years ago because as the word says,
it is research. So ‘re’-‘search’: search and search again. In summary, we keep in touch
all the time, not only with my advisors, but also with my committee members
as well, with whom I speak every month or so. After all, these days it’s more and more
important to be networking.
CMU Portugal Program: Your
research interests focus on design, analysis and optimization of large-scale
dynamical systems. Do you see yourself working in this field in the upcoming
years or do you have different plans for the future?
SP: I do imagine myself working in this field
because it’s quite broad. The tools I developed during my Ph.D. were
quite general so they can fit several topics that are hot topics these days.
What we need to do is the language translation kind of thing. So the tools
have been developed, now the question is how you are going to use these tools
in looking to these different problems. I can tell you that the tools I developed during my
Ph.D. they are not being used, for instance in these probes for brain; they are
used to choose the leaders within the population of robots to drive the
collection of these robots towards a specific goal. So the same tools are used
in a variety of topics. Of course that we will never know what will happen tomorrow, but I can say
that I believe that I will be working in the similar topics for the near
future, at least the next five or six years.
CMU Portugal Program: In 2012, you
mentioned that both a teaching career and working in industry were viable
options. You are now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of
Pennsylvania. What made you decide to pursue a research career?
SP: I had interviews with a couple of companies,
but at the end of the day I really like to teach. During the last year of my Ph.D.,
I tutored some master students and I had the opportunity to advise students, and
that was awesome because it is really interesting to see the evolution of the students.
They start with small problems, and then they come with their own ideas.
I have to struggle to understand exactly what they are saying and that's very nice
dynamic. This made me stay in the academia. But I can see the
appeal in going into the industry, in particular, when the salaries are much
higher than what we get as a post-doc researcher. But I always go for the
things I believe in.
CMU Portugal Program: So, how has your experience at University of Pennsilvania been like so far?
SP: My experience so far has been awesome. First
of all, I have all the autonomy I could expect and actually even more. We are
very interdisciplinary, so everybody knows everybody and you can talk about
everything. Sometimes you just chitchat during lunch and some nice ideas pop up. Suddenly, you are working in very interesting projects. For instance, when I
arrived I heard about professor Danielle Bassett, who latter won the MacAuthur Fellow award [aka "Genius" award], and she was teaching a
course in neuroscience, so I decided to sit in her class and try to understand
about neuroscience. I sat, I learned about what they were doing and I also
realized that there were a couple of problems that I would be able to
contribute to. So, I started speaking with people around, and we are now
working in some of these projects. The feedback all around, not only in the
University of Pennsylvania, about this work has been great. So I could not
CMU Portugal Program: You
finished your Ph.D. last year, so in looking back what are the key moments that
you will never forget?
SP: I think the best and worst moments are somehow
the same because those are moments when we are challenged. We are young, we
have the feeling that we don’t know much about the field where we are getting
our Ph.D.’s in. At a certain point we have to find out exactly what thrills
us and we have to kind of go around, speak with people, be among others. And it
can be rather challenging but once we find it, it is like: this is exactly what
I wanted to do. That is definitely the moment. The other moments are also conflicting
objectives, when you have deadlines to submit a paper. We work a lot, we get
the result and then we feel that it is just one more paper, for example. But it’s always nice
when we achieve all these small goals. And, finally, I think the best part is
the people in the program. Everybody has some kind of aligned objectives,
although people are working in completely different areas, and the kind of
relationship that we have with the peers is priceless.
CMU Portugal: You have
recently attended your Commencement Ceremony, how did it feel?
The commencement ceremony is a landmark in a person's academic life. It is the
public recognition that you have achieved the high academic standards. Further,
it is a ceremony targets your family and aims to recognize all their
efforts during this long endeavor that is the Ph.D.. Yet, it is only a
beginning, since it comes with great responsibility, i.e., that of upholding
the high standards across your scientific career, keeping in mind an ethic code, and
the obligation of delivery this same message to those who we will teach.
Therefore, I felt proud and a sense of mission that I make my best to fulfill.