Promoted & Tenured (& Sabbatical'd)

Sam Burden bio photo By Sam Burden

I received notice from my University’s Academic HR that my promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure has been approved, effective September 16 2022. I also received notice from my College’s HR that my request for sabbatical leave for the 9 months of the 2022–2023 academic year was approved.

For those who are interested, I am making the following materials available:

A bewilderingly serendipitous series of events led me to this point. In what follows I will endeavor to highlight, in chronological order, to the best of my ability to recall, the people and institutions whose generosity has carried me this far. I owe you all a debt I may never repay.

I can’t say with certainty who I wrote this for – probably I and I? But I’d like to humor myself by thinking that some of the folks mentioned below and maybe even people I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet may find something worthwhile in this meandering and idiosyncratic account of my career (broadly construed) to date. No obligation to continue reading, or to read linearly – feel free to Ctrl+F for pivotal people and places, or jump to the interesting bits using this TOC:

Updated Sun Sep 18 2022: following initial(ly positive) response, I took the liberty of editing and expanding this post as follows: added a couple names throughout; refactored “applying to grad school” content into its own section; renamed “pandemic tenure” section; added sections “applying to faculty jobs”, “interlude – on decisions”, and sabbatical.

growing up

It’s best to begin at the beginning. I benefitted from being raised by a proverbial village – my (single, working) mom, older sister, half a dozen aunts, grandmother, … And these folks worked tirelessly against a controlling narcissistic patriarch whose abuse continues to this day. To Denise, Jess, Joyce, Jamie, Linda, Susie, Gloria, Berenice, et al: thank you for saving me.

primary school

What I remember most vivedly from my primary education is that I’ve always loved learning – the subject doesn’t matter all that much (though I’ve certainly developed an aesthetic over the years …): I am curious about and my brain is just as open to history, literature, philosophy, linguistics, economics, &c. as it is to biology, chemistry, physics, math, computing, and more. So I remember my “language arts” teachers debating my STEM teachers as to where my center-of-gravity lay. Thank you especially to Mrs Anderson, for teaching me to find and embody the best version of my self. (Incidentally, I left the “gifted” program at Salnave Elementary School because I found it too stressful / anxiety-inducing as a pre-adolescent. The superintendent at the time told my mom she was “ruining my life” …)

secondary school

Mr Butler and Mr Smith, who taught me physics, math, and computing, deserve special shoutouts. Without their interventions on my behalf, it is exceedingly unlikely that I would have ever gone to College (instead, I contemplated CCNA, USMMA, military, and other options for stable employment). Given the circles I run in nowadays, it is almost shocking to think back on this reality. But the facts of the matter were that (i) no one in my immediate family had gone to College, (ii) my (single, working) parent did not have the means to pay for College, (iii) I loved learning but did not love the indifference nearly all of my classmates brought to the classroom in my primary and secondary schools, and (iv) I had no reason to believe College would be any different (other than being unattainably expensive).

All that changed starting at the end of my Junior year of High School. Sometime in Spring trimester, Mr Butler made an announcement in my pre-Calculus class about a summer “math camp” that was just being established at the University of Washington. I was the only one of my classmates to take him up on the offer to apply, and the key reason I felt empowered to do so was that the program was fully subsidized: thanks to a (still) anonymous donor, accepted participants would receive a 6-week all-expenses-paid trip to a UW dorm where they would spend their days learning advanced math concepts and their afternoons and evenings socializing and playing in and around campus. I worked hard on the application, which included a list of math problems crafted by the inimitable Jim Morrow. I’m sure I got every one of the problems wrong – although admission in future years would become ridiculously competitive, I learned later that the organizers (Ron Irving, Sándor Kovács, Paul Lepore, and the aforementioned Jim Morrow) only received 24 applications for the 24 slots. I’m 100% certain I would not have been competitive in any future application cycle.

math camp

My experience at math camp was transformative. I was immersed in a vibrant community of fellow budding intellectuals (hi to Janice, Peter, CJ, Lukas, Aaron, David, and everyone I’ve completely lost touch with / track of). We were taught by such luminaries as Tom Daniel and Dave Collingwood in addition to Ron Irving, Sándor Kovács, and Jim Morrow as previously mentioned. And we had the support of spectacular Teaching Assistant Counselors (TACs) like Mark Blunk and Gwen Spencer. I returned home feeling positively electric with the possibilities of the world I’d been exposed to.

At the urging of Mr Smith and Mr Butler, I scheduled and took the SAT (though I neglected to do much prep other than reading about the basic structure of the exam) and applied to exactly 1 school: you-dub. This probably sounds silly in today’s hyper-competitive admissions context, but my combined GPA + SAT at the time essentially guaranteed admission (UW has since progressed to a Holistic review that may not have similarly privileged me, as I was never involved in extracurricular activities). Even so, with the benefit of hindsight, I now know that a more savvy strategy would have been for me to additionally apply to some fancy (private) schools, as the hidden curriculum in which I have since become entrenched teaches that such schools provide financial aid packages that can make their costs comparable to that of the flagship state school I had access to.


My mom and I both cried when we opened the admission letter that detailed sufficient financial support from the Mary Gates Honors Scholarship, WA NASA Space Grant Scholarship, and more that meant I could enroll as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington without immediately taking on substantial debt. I do not know the names of all the forward-thinking and community-minded individuals that established these opportunities, but I owe them my eternal gratitude.

The Space Grant scholarship came with a bonus: recipients were eligible to apply to a Summer Undergraduate Research Program starting before their first year as an undergraduate at UW (the advantage to prospective PIs was that the Space Grant would pay half my stipend). I lept at the opportunity – in the application, I remember writing something along the lines of “I like math and computers, but I have essentially no skills, and I’ll be happy to wash testtubes; PLEASE HIRE ME”. As another stroke of serendipity / luck / privilege, I was offered a position in the nascent lab of a newly-minted Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering: Eric Klavins.

My time in Klavins’ lab and in coursework like MATH 134/5/6 + 334/5/6 and in the Honors Program was (trans)formative. My love of the world of ideas continued to blossom through my relationships with folks like Nils Napp, Joshua Bishop, Fay Shaw, Michael and David Duncan, Joe Jardine, Jessica Smith, Rob Vandermeulen, Pavan Vaswani, Brian Wolfe, Nate Bottman, and Alden King, and with the support of organizations like the Mary Gates Endowment for Students and Washington Research Foundation.

Klavins’ mentorship and professional network further afforded me a wonderful REU experience at UPenn with his former PhD advisor, Dan Koditschek (gee, I wonder why they picked me? prolly meritocracy). This experience turned out to be defining, as Koditschek’s vision for bridging dynamical systems theory and engineering reality intoxicated me for the decade to come. I am grateful to Dan and his trainees at the time, particularly Jonathan Clark, Joel Weingarten, and Goran Lynch, for their tutelage. (Joel especially deserves gratitude for serving as chaperone for my first conference presentation!)

As a side note for the other “interest-changers” out there: I enrolled at UW intending to major in Math (not surprising, since the only faculty and PhD students I’d met up to that point were all Mathematicians), and only decided to switch to Engineering in the summer after my freshperson year. That summer, I worked full time as an undergraduate student researcher in Klavins’s lab in Electrical Engineering (again as part of the WSGC SURP program) and simultaneously took the first quarter of the senior-level group theory sequence from the Math department. About halfway through the term it occurred to me that, although I was enjoying both my research and coursework, I was finding the connection to physical reality in my research much more exciting than the abstracted examples and “applications” taught in the group theory course. In fact, I was learning about some principles of group theory (via graph theory) in my research, but the abstractions in this case were grounded in the physical robots we were trying to design and build as a group. I realized then and there that I was an engineer at heart, so I applied at the next opportunity for admission to the EE and CSE Departments. To put it succinctly:

The underlying passion that motivates me as a researcher is the prospect of obtaining a mathematical advancement – “proof” of some “Theorem” – and then instantiating the math to obtain a technological advancement, e.g. a new artifact or a new capability for an existing artifact.

For the record, I was admitted to both EE and CSE :) but chose EE because it is simultaneously more steeped in the flavor of math my brain favors and more directly grounded in the physical world where my passions ultimately lie.

interlude – on privilege

I’d be remiss at this point if I failed to acknowledge the glaring homogeneity of identities among the people I called out above. As a member of the majority race, sex, ability, and gender identities in STEM (white cishet non-disabled male), it is unsurprising that I primarily associated with / was sponsored by other white dudes. Some aspects of this aren’t my “fault” per se, as structural sexism, racism, and ableism have privileged people that share my identitary intersection for so long in the academy (and beyond) that assigning mentors and friends at random from the existing STEM population would yield outcomes biased in the same directions. But the facts of the matter are that (i) my group of mentors and friends was even more white and male than the already-biased population in my Department, College, and Field(s), and (ii) I had limited awareness of or appreciation for the depth and breadth of my privilege or the hostile obstacle course faced by others.

Of course, as a first-generation college student, I had a lot to learn about a lot of things, including the myriad advantages I enjoyed relative to many folks who came from much better-resourced backgrounds. My primary regrets from this time period are that I failed to reflect more carefully on my circumstances and that I failed to take advantage of the wonderful constellation of courses available in the UW Honors Program that may have helped alleviate my ignorance. (Aaand the fact that I was an insuffurably arrogant asshole.) I could and should have done better (on all points).

applying to grad schools

I’d like to be able to report that I learned my lesson from undergrad and had independently determined that I would apply to a constellation of top-ranked programs for graduate school. But the honest truth is I still employed an excessively conservative mindset that would artificially limit my prospects because of the (admittedly non-trivial) cost of applying to schools (if only “test-optional” had been a thing in my time…). Fortunately Eric Klavins intervened, telling me that I should apply to ~10 schools, and (IIRC) offered to personally subsidize the application fees if necessary. I ultimately didn’t need to seek subsidies or waivers – I had the means and applied to (what I perceived to be) the top 10 graduate programs in my field, and to my surprise (particularly in hindsight, in light of how absurdly competitive graduate admissions has become) I was admitted to all 10.

I met some truly wonderful people on my grad school visits – several of which have become long-term friends, colleagues, collaborators (shoutouts to Shai Revzen, hoj, and Josh Proctor). Special thanks to the PIs that indicated their willingness to consider working with me: Dan Koditschek, Philip Holmes, Andy Ruina, Richard Murray, Russ Tedrake, João Hespanha, Ron Fearing, Bob Full, and Shankar Sastry.


Ultimately I landed in Berkeley advised by Shankar and collaborating closely with Bob’s and Ron’s folks and, eventually, folks advised by Claire Tomlin and Ruzena Bajcsy – shoutouts to my contemporaries Talia Moore, JM Mongeau, Tom Libby, Aaron Hoover (RIP), Humberto Gonzalez, Ram Vasudevan, Nikhil Naikal, Henrik Ohlsson, Lily Ratliff, Insoon Yang, Ehsan Elhamifar (woahh – did I really publish papers with all those superstars?!), as well as my elders Saurabh Amin (a true mensch) and Anil Aswani. My sincere thanks to each of you for putting up with me, challenging me, and helping me learn to contribute in the world of ideas.

There are many other Berkeley folks that left a significant impression on me personally and/or professionally: Sam Coogan, who I still confuse myself with to this day; Branko Kerkez, who is the best person to take on a road trip; Dan Calderone, who is definitely not a 5th-year PhD student despite what his LinkedIn profile claims as of this writing; Matt Spencer, whose stamina and work ethic still blows my mind; Dorsa Sadigh, who we knew straightaway was going to be a star; Brian Pepin, who has always been a decade ahead of his time; Avital Steinitz, Baruch Sterin, Josh Hug, Ankhur Mehta, Kaushik Jayaram – the list doesn’t really end so much as trail off into the mists of my memory.

Toward the end of my PhD, I again had the supreme privilege of interacting extensively with folks in Dan Koditschek’s orbit, including Aaron Johnson, Avik De, and Gavin Kenneally (who I first had the pleasure of meeting, together with Shai Revzen, at Little Thai, if I’m not mistaken). I am eternally grateful to them for welcoming me into their intellectual spheres at that pivotal time in my life and career.

Also toward the end of my PhD, I had the further privilege of seeking but not getting postdoc positions at The JHU in the labs of Noah Cowan and (unrelatedly) Reza Shadmehr. Although I’m sure there were many reasons to not hire me, a key defect highlighted in the latter interview was that I long ago lost the ability to solve linear algebra problems and other “brainteasers” in working memory :)

interlude – on health

I intend to write a longer post dedicated to this topic, but I’d be remiss at this point if I failed to acknowledge the significant health issues I dealt with throughout this period in my life. I’ve lived with chronic intermittently-disabling “physical” and “mental” health issues for as long as I can remember (“scare quotes” employed to indicate I reject the dualist dichotomy implicit in the colloquial terminology). I only came to terms with the significance of my physical health issues in the second half of my PhD, and my mental health issues in the first half of my tenure track. My understanding at this point is that these issues are interrelated for me, and that their provenance stretches all the way back to my own origins – both nature and nurture.

Without indulging and straining your patience too much, dear reader, my current understanding of the long and short of it is that I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder my entire cognizant life, the etiology includes both genetic predisposition and environmental factors from childhood, the phenomenology includes chronic musculoskeletal pain and major depressive episodes, and the treatment that has given me the most significant and sustained relief is a cocktail of psychotherapy and psychopharmaceuticals. Of course, my experiences are not surprising, statistically speaking.

I’m choosing this opportunity and venue to share these broad strokes publicly because I think this kind of stuff isn’t discussed nearly often enough or openly enough, so I’m trying to be the change I want to see in the world. Again, I’ll have alot more to say about this in another thread. For now, the messages I want to convey to people who have similar struggles that may be reading this missive are (i) you are not alone and (ii) it is possible to succeed in this line of work (to the extent I have done so …) despite it all.

applying to faculty jobs

I went into graduate school intending to become a Professor. Although my undergraduate research experience was sufficiently charmed to motivate me to attend graduate school (I already felt like I was playing the role of a grad student by my senior year as an undergrad), my aspiration to join the professoriate was largely informed by my undergraduate service as the teaching assistant (TA) for MATH 134/5/6, which is an incredibly special “accelerated honors” math sequence (yes, two modifiers are needed: there’s also a less intensive “honors” sequence here at UW) for first-year STEM students. Unlike most other (particularly lower-division) STEM courses at the massive state school I call home (viz. the 300-person “Calculus I/II/III” courses), the 134/5/6 sequence (like the 334/5/6 sequence that follows) has the intimacy and vibrancy I understand (solely from second-hand accounts) one might expect at an elite liberal arts or Ivy-League college. So I had the most idyllic TA experience imaginable, where all 19 students that persisted through the entire sequence were bright, motivated, and (I can’t help but observe with the benefit of hindsight) structurally down-selected to be super-easy pupils. (Wonder why I liked “professing” so much??)

To clarify, I don’t want to in any way diminish the brilliance and wonderfulness of the folks that I had the pleasure of interacting with in my first TA role. But for a long time after serving in that role (essentially until reflecting while writing this blog post …), I cited that experience as a key motivator for my ambition to pursue a faculty position. With the benefit of hindsight (and actual teaching experience under my belt!), I now understand how rarified and ethically-problematic (my account of) that experience was in actual fact: of course the students that “persisted” through the year were “bright” and “motivated” – they were also “unimaginably privileged” in similar ways as my earlier self as I stumbled through the course(s). Beyond identitary or socioeconomic privilege (I personally benefitted from one much more than the other), we that persisted had the privilege of not needing to take a quarter off in the middle of the sequence for any number of major life events including but not limited to birth, death, and illness (of self or other).

But I digress: I went into grad school intending to become a Professor, because I’d had wonderfully charmed experiences as a proto-Professsor. More to the point (and recalling my earlier nod to being insuffurably arrogant at that time in my life), I went into graduate school intending to become the most impressively and amazingly accomplished graduate-student-turned-Professor my advisor ever had. (To understand the absurdity of this goal, it’s useful to note that my advisor has had an astounding constellation of students (both prior and subsequent to me) – actually, I challenge anyone in control / robotics / computer vision to name an advisor whose academic progeny have had bigger collective impact on the(ir) field(s).) I planned to do all the things: author a hundred papers (at least) doing paradigm-shifting research while simultaneously earning an MS in Math (or, who knows – maybe a second PhD?) and finishing in 4 years max.

I provide all the preceding detail to both (i) contrast with the previous section and (ii) contextualize my state of mind toward the end of grad school. By then, I’d been humbled – both by my life experience (health struggles &c.) and by the extraordinary abilities on display by my cohort. I nearly failed my prelim (really, I should have failed). It took me 6 years to finish my PhD. I only had a couple of archival papers published when I finished. The fact is, while I was a reasonably-big fish in the reasonably-big pond of UW EE(now ECE)’s undergraduate program, I was decidedly “OK / fine” and nowhere near “exceptional” in Berkeley’s EECS PhD program. I knew exceptional people – Lily and the other Sam come immediately to mind – but by the time I became eligible for the academic job market I was all but convinced I had a snowball’s chance in heck of getting hired. Despite my lack of confidence in the outcome, I went ahead and applied – you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, amiright??

Ultimately I had unbelievably good fortune on the academic job market: I applied to ~30 tenure-track Asst Prof jobs at R1’s, completed full interviews for 6, and received written offers for 3.

interlude – on decisions

The reality is, by this point there were other constraints (beyond my actual competence and value in the market) on my job search. I’d met my person, and they were riding a wonderful career trajectory of their own that had taken them to Delhi (India) and Berlin (Germany) before we met in Berkeley (California) and they subsequently moved to Washington (DC) toward the end of my PhD (thanks again to Dan et al for giving me a professional excuse to spend so much time on the East Coast through that time period!). So when it came to deciding where to start my academic career, it was far from obvious that I would necessarily choose my “dream job” back at my nourishing mother.

I owe special thanks to Sarah Bergbreiter (affiliated with UMD ME at the time), John Hauser, and Sheila Hemami (affiliated with NEU ECE at the time) for their advocacy and mentorship on my behalf while I was on the job market. If they happen to read this: I hope they know that I believe with my whole heart and mind that I would have had a wonderful career (and life!) if I’d joined their Departments as an Assistant Professor. But unfortunately, we mere mortals are not permitted the privilege of forking – we have to pick one.

My partner and I juggled a dizzying array of factors in deciding to move our lives to Seattle, WA, USA. And, as is inevitable when solving a constrained multi-objective optimization problem, there were tradeoffs – choosing UW / Seattle meant moving far from their family (/ close to mine …) and far from their remuneratory center-of-gravity. I am eternally grateful to Mary Louise for her sacrifices in service of my career. Thank you, my love!

UW, cont’d

Ahh, now we get to the fun part :)

My time since returning to UW EE (now ECE) has been phenomenal. There have been highs and lows, sure (viz. health struggles, global pandemic), and plenty of experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy or best rival, absolutely (Chair telling me I’m “full of bullshit” in my first week on the job; multiple Full Profs ordering me to change my reviews of faculty candidates; I’m sure I can think of other shitty things if I reflect long enough …). But overall I have had an excellent ride on the tenure track – I think I’m in a fantastic Department in a wonderful College, University, City, State, and Region.

Thanks first and foremost to my group.

PhD students Bora Banjanin, Andrew Pace, Momona Yamagami, Ben Chasnov, Joey Sullivan, Maneeshika Madduri, Amber Chou, and recent additions Joshua Vasquez, Jason Isa, and Ember Chow: you folks are far more wonderful than I deserve – your choosing to work with me during such critical and formative years is one of my life’s greatest honors.

Postdocs Ryan Robinson and Tom Libby: your expertise left landmarks and touchstones that guide our way into the future.

Staff engineers Darrin Howell and Liam Han, MS students Jake Baldassini, Yana Sosnovskaya, Tianqi Li, and Shruti Misra, undergrads Gabriel Solia, Cydney Beckwith, Joshua Quichocho, Olivia Bellatin, Clara Orndorff, Ashley Grey, Jimmy Coleman, Alyssa Giedd, Trixie Ip, Lauren Peterson, Akhil Mandala, Alexis Blakes, Diana Verduzco, Raul Villanueva, and Annika Pfister: your work sustains and motivates us all – you are the future.

Thanks as well to the other extraordinary students and postdocs I taught, collaborated with (in research or teaching), or on whose committee I served (of course these folks have since moved on to bigger and better things!): Michael Rosenberg, Jize Zhang, Rahul Mallik, Behnoosh Parsa, George Council, Eatai Roth, Anthony Anderson, Alex Baryshev, Ishaan Bhimani, David Boe, Jordan Coult, Osman Dai, Michael Driscoll, Jonathan Glidden, Hari Krishna Hari Prasad, Tyson Heo, Kevin Huang, Nivii Kalavakonda, Ashley Kling, Kyle Lindgren, Jonathan Nusantara, Haonan Peng, Jonathan Realmuto, and Dianmu Zhang.

Thanks to the incredible and wonderful staff that actually make our Department(s and other units) run! Current staff members I interact with regularly Mike Bettis, Jeanne Branom, Mack Carter, Karen Fisher, Wayne Gillam, Ryan Hoover, Jennifer Huberman, Jean Ishac, May Lim, Jessi Navarre, John Nettles, Chris Overly, Christie Peralta, Ary Prasetyowati, Travis Saling, Mickey Schulz, Steph Swanson, Katherine Sykes, Whitney Thomas, Rodney Wells: I am continually extremely thankful for your service to UW ECE. Former Department Administrators (i.e. the actual Department Heads) Tina Montgomery and Bridget Faherty: I am grateful for your level-headed guidance, leadership, and mentorship. Special shoutout to Alison Mehravari for being so, so fantastic in her many hats – we don’t deserve you, but are grateful to have you!

Thanks to Radha Poovendran, Linda Bushnell, and the other folks on the search committee in 2013–2014 for being willing to consider hiring one of their Department’s most high-maintenance undergrads (I was on first-name basis with the head of undergraduate advising due to the number of exceptions and exemptions I requested as I made my way through the BS EE degree – so thanks are due as well to Helene, who has since moved on to bigger and better things).

Thanks to Blake Hannaford and Howard Chizeck for opening their lab to me and sharing their space.

Thanks to Kat Steele and Val Kelly for being my mentors, collaborators, and co-conspirators as we created a first-of-its-kind shared facility between CoE and SoM.

Thanks to Andy Ruina for co-organizing the scientific meeting I cherish most with me – contributing back to and bettering the DW community is one of the key goals for my career.

Thanks to Max Donelan for generously sharing his time and thoughts with me at pivotal moments in my career.

While I’m at it, thanks to all the visionaries that created the DW community: Andy and Max (already mentioned), Art Kuo, Chris Atkeson, Russ Tedrake, Steve Collins come to mind – may future generations represent a broader swath of humanity.

Thanks to Eve Riskin for so fuckin’ much, I can’t even. Eve is a rockstar, force of nature, and sterling academic idol us mere mortals can only dream of aspiring to emulate (but never replicate). Universities are built on two pillars: ideas and people – Eve is the only person I’ve had the privilege of working with that has been a truly trailblazing leader in cultivating and advancing both. I have the freedom to gush, unapologetic and unrestrained, because we recently “lost” Eve to a fantastic position at a wonderful institution where I’m sure she will have tremendous impact. It falls to us, the poor unfortunate souls that remain at UW, to pick up and carry the torch / attempt to move mountains the way Eve taught us.

Thanks to Tom Daniel, Raj Rao, Chet Moritz, Adrienne Fairhall, and Eric Shea-Brown for their leadership, mentorship, and generosity in creating opportunities for junior folks in neuro-“X” like me through the NSF-funded Center for Neurotechnology, WRF-funded Institute for Neuroengineering, and NIH-funded Computational Neuroscience Center.

Thanks to Denise Wilson for being a leader and trailblazer, an exceptionally wonderful colleague, and for (quietly, tirelessly) working to make our Department and the entire engineering academy a better place.

Thanks to Rania Hussein for raising the bar for all of us as educators and activists.

Thanks to Scott Hauck for seeing through the bullshit and being perfectly honest and transparent.

Extra-special thanks to Eric Klavins – you introduced me to and enabled me to join the engineering academy, where I intend to continue serving as a rabble-rousing pain in the ass until I retire; I am eternally grateful for your mentorship and sponsorship.

Thanks to my cohort of tenure-track Asst Profs, Baosen Zhang, Sreeram Kannan, Lillian Ratliff, Azadeh Yazdan, and Amy Orsborn, for your fellowship, commisseration, and esprit de corps through this pivotal time in our careers.

Finally, thanks to the seven (!) folks that are joining my Department as faculty in the next year. I was proud to serve on this year’s search committee together with Eve, Radha, and Amy (already mentioned above) under the leadership of Georg Seelig – we knocked it out of the park :) Now to continue the excellent work we started by doubling down on making our Department, College, University, and Field(s) the kinds of spaces where brilliant people want to devote their precious and irreplaceable supplies of time and energy.

pandemic tenure

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from so many. In every way I can think of, I have had it ridiculously easy throughout. I still haven’t tested positive for COVID, and neither has anyone in my household. No one in my immediate family or close circle of friends has had serious illness or passed away (from COVID or otherwise). My productivity wasn’t ham-strung by facility closures or supply chain disruptions. My students have weathered the unreal and unbelievably-challenging circumstances far better than any reasonable supervisor could expect. I was offered but not required to take extensions to my tenure clock. And through it all, I had support and love and joy from (re)connecting with wonderful friends and family. Extra-super-special thanks to my partner and my kiddo – I cherish every moment with you both.


My primary professional goal for sabbatical is to use the time and space graciously afforded me by the taxpayers of Washington State to radically deepen my expertise regarding the reasons and methods for advancing equity and access in all aspects of my work in the engieering academy. I believe that lowering or removing the barriers that prevent most people from learning, researching, or serving at academic institutions has outsized potential for transformative impact on my field and society. Said another way:

I believe that advancing equity and access is the most important and strategic work I can undertake in the academy.

I’d love to connect with anyone working in this space – please reach out if you have any interest in talking!

Additionally / in parallel, I plan to work on my (mental) health. I have struggled enough in recent years that I regard this as an existential threat to my ability to persist as an academic. What exactly might help remains to be seen, but sharing my experiences and connecting with others has been a pretty powerful remedy so far. All of that to say: I’d love to hear from you :)

As a final acknowledgement(/confession), I’ll note that I am unbelievably and amazingly fortunate to be physically located in tropical paradise for most of my sabbatical leave. I understand that I’m residing in a very special place that would probably be better off without me, so I won’t attempt to defend or rationalize my privilege.


If I’ve failed to explicitly name any particular person, I hope you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that omissions are entirely unintentional / caused by the encroaching frailties of old age. In actual fact, I’d love to hear from anyone and everyone I’ve interacted with on this strange and wonderful journey – please reach out & stay in touch <3