TRC Role: M.S. in Natural Resources (2014), Graduate Research Assistant (2012-2014), Research Specialist (2014-2016)
Current Role: Ph.D. Student, Department of City & Regional Planning, UC Berkeley; Data Scientist, Alta Planning & Design
What have you been doing since leaving the TRC?
After finishing my Master’s Degree, I was torn about whether to continue in academia or pursue a more practice-oriented career in transportation planning. Initially, I worked for the TRC as a Research Specialist, primarily on a project related to long distance travel behavior. This allowed me to hone my research skills by writing a handful of journal articles and reports in collaboration with Dr. Lisa Aultman-Hall, Jim Sullivan, and partners at Auburn University. Despite having completed only a Master’s Degree, the position was similar to a post-doc, allowing me to build my CV and become familiar with the ins and outs of being a professional academic. Meanwhile, I also published several journal articles based on chapters from my master’s thesis, developing an independent line of research that would become foundational for my Ph.D. applications and dissertation.
I also still had an itch to work in practice-oriented planning and took a job in the Analytics group at Alta Planning & Design, a small firm focusing on active transportation. The Alta team is composed primarily of planners, landscape architects, and engineers with professional degrees and backgrounds, so my role was to bring a connection to cutting edge theories and methods from academia. Now that I am back in school, I continue to work with Alta part time. This connection to practice is invaluable for making sure that my research addresses real world issues.
I am now in my third year as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, where I study how microscale built environments around streets influence travel behavior, particularly among active users such as pedestrians and cyclists. The road to a Ph.D. is sometimes frustratingly long — I am just now transitioning from coursework into my dissertation — but it’s a remarkable opportunity to dig deeply into a hyper-specific topic while also discovering an almost endless chain of interdisciplinary connections. I still haven’t decided which aspect I like better.
How did the TRC prepare you for these positions, and life in general?
My favorite aspect of the TRC was that it gave me, as a Master’s student, opportunities to engage with real research, even starting my own line of work, with solid financial support and excellent faculty mentorship. Colleagues at Berkeley, where master’s students don’t have nearly this level of support, have a hard time believing that I accomplished the kind of work I did at the TRC. I think this research experience, including presenting at conferences and writing and defending a dissertation-like thesis, gave me a substantial leg up in applying for both jobs and Ph.D. programs.
What would you recommend to current researchers at the TRC?
Take advantage of opportunities for interaction and collaboration with faculty at the TRC and around the University. As a UVM student, I too often took the accessibility of faculty for granted. Professors had the bandwidth to offer extra help with coursework, thesis research, or even side projects. Small classes and research seminars provided lots of face time with faculty from all different disciplines. Many faculty at Berkeley, by contrast, schedule office hours months in advance and in 20 minute slots. Few people seem to have time to attend seminars or develop informal collegial relationships. Ph.D. students get the most attention (so I’m glad I am one!), but master’s students and undergraduates are small fish swimming in a big pond. I’m so glad I did my Master’s at a smaller and more personal school. The TRC added yet another layer of community in which I developed close relationships with faculty, researchers, and other students. Those connections continue to be some of my best collaborative resources.