Volunteer Spotlight: Ali Jadbabaie

IEEE Transactions on Network Science and Engineering Editor-in-Chief Ali Jadbabaie discusses his interest in the field and his vision for the new journal.

For more information, please visit IEEE Transactions on Network Science and Engineering.

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Q. Tell me a little about your research area. What motivated you to get into it?

A. My background is in control theory, dynamical systems, and optimization. I did my PhD at Caltech in a small interdisciplinary program called Control and Dynamical Systems. During my PhD, I worked on developing an optimal control theory that is suitable for real-time control of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. After my PhD, I started a postdoc at Yale in 2001, during which I became interested in the study of networked dynamical systems as they relate to collective behavior such as flocking and schooling. The idea was to get inspired by social aggregation phenomena in biology such as flocks of birds and schools of fish to develop provably correct local rules that could lead to the emergence of global formations in autonomous systems. This was very exciting as the topics were very new and interdisciplinary. These problems were being studied by different communities ranging from ecology and evolutionary biology to statistcial physics, computer graphics, and theoretical computer science.

Q. How do you see your research field shaping up and what are the major directions?

A. The study of collective behavior is still a major research direction for me. A decade ago, I was mostly focused on robotics and autonomy. Over the past five years, I have also become interested in collective behavior as it relates to opinion dynamics and strategic behavior in social and economic networks. I also have an active research program in the mathematics of complex networks and network optimization.

Q. As the first Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Network Science and Engineering, what is your vision for the journal?

A. My vision is to create a journal is a selective venue for publishing high-quality, rigorous research results in this interdisciplinary area. Doing high-quality interdisciplinary work is hard, and judging and evaluating that work is also hard. That is why it was important for me to set up a first class editorial board that is diverse and committed, and yet represents the thought leaders in the various sub-communities that form the broad area of Network Science and Engineering.

Q. With your busy schedule, why was it important for you to get involved with the launch of a new journal?

A. I have been complaining for a decade that we lack a rigorous venue for publishing high-quality work in this area that goes beyond the 30 second sound bites -- a publication venue that focuses on fundamentals and rigor, and on research that has a lasting effect. I realized that unless one gets involved personally, you cannot complain if things don't go as you expected.

Q. What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

A. I am very proud of the work my colleageus and I have done on flocking and motion coordination, and I am glad to see that that work has been recognized. I am also very proud of the new undergraduate degree program called NETS (Networked and Social Systems) that my colleagues, Michael Kearns and Zack Ives, and I created. This is a one-of-a-kind, interdisciplinary degree program whose focus is to train students in network science and engineering with an emphasis on the social and economic aspects of our networked lives. The program combines network science with systems engineering, computer science, operations research, sociology, and economics in a very interesting way. More details are available at http://nets.upenn.edu.

Q. What profession would you be in if you weren't in this field?

A. I would probably be a struggling classical guitarist. :-)

(Editor's note: Dr. Jadbabaie is already an impressive classical guitarist. Watch him play a Bach Fugue, which he describes as one of his favorite pieces of all time, on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5gXnI5Vr_Q)

Q. What advice would you give to junior researchers and graduate students?

A. I would give the advice that my advisor gave me: 1) Don't sweat the small stuff. 2) Not only shouldn't you work on problems that others are solving already, but you shouldn't work on problems that others could be solving.

Q. How do you balance life and work?

A. Work is a big part of our lives but it is not everything. My wife is a professional and is even busier than I am, and we have a great understanding.

Q. Any final thoughts?

A. I am very excited about the journal and would like to encourage everyone to submit their best work!