The Wireless Networking and Communications Group is home to some of the brightest minds at The University of Texas at Austin. The Student Leadership Award is presented annually to the student or students who best embody WNCG’s mission and values: academic excellence, leadership, service, and a commitment to innovative and collaborative research.
The 2023 award went to two very deserving graduates: Drs. Joshua Ebenezer and Ian Roberts.
Ebenezer received his bachelor’s from The Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in 2019. That fall he enrolled in the Chandra Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UT Austin to pursue his M.S. and Ph.D. Ebenezer joined WNCG and served as the assistant director of LIVE Lab alongside his advisor and LIVE’s director, Dr. Al Bovik. His primary research interests include image and video processing and machine learning. In addition to his studies, Ebenezer was awarded the Cockrell Engineering Graduate Fellowship in 2019, interned with Amazon Prime Video in 2020 and 2021, worked as a Graduate Student Peer Mentor for Texas ECE, and reviewed articles for multiple IEEE publications. Ebenezer successfully defended in spring 2023 and is currently a senior research engineer at Samsung Research America Mobile Processor Innovation Lab in Plano, Texas.
Bovik on Ebenezer’s exemplary performance:
“Josh has been the Associate Director of LIVE for four or five years, coordinating and participating in all equipment and software purchases, welcoming and assisting the 20+ grad students in the lab, maintaining all aspects of the lab, assisting in and facilitating the many human studies we conduct, serving as a guest lecturer in both my classes EE371Q and EE381K, and serving as the main point of contact and representative of LIVE outside of myself relative to the rest of WNCG and 6G@UT, helping to arrange all posters at WNCG and 6G@UT events, serving as a speaker at many events, including the latest Amazon Hub launch, all while having a sparkling and contributory personality, ready to serve and assist anyone that asks.”
Dr. Sriram Vishwanath (WNCG Faculty) also adds:
“Josh is a rising star in research and innovation. He is a very talented person; he is gifted when it comes to bringing deep technical ideas to solve real life problems. His research is fundamental and his contributions as a student leader are outstanding.”
Roberts completed his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2018 and joined WNCG as a Ph.D. student in the same year. Co-advised by Vishwanath and Dr. Jeffrey Andrews, his research focuses on characterizing and enabling real-world full-duplex millimeter wave communication systems. His research was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and in 2023 Roberts received the Andrea Goldsmith Young Scholars Award from the IEEE Communications Society Communication Theory Technical Committee. Roberts successfully defended in May 2023, and will be joining the University of California, Los Angeles as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Samueli Electrical and Computer Engineering department this summer.
On Roberts’ tenure at UT Austin, Andrews said:
“Ian is as much of a no-brainer [for a Student Leadership Award] as I can recall in the last 20 years. [He] created Wireless Wednesdays during COVID-19, provides continual mentoring to younger students, technically collaborates across multiple research groups, [is] first to volunteer for basically anything, [and] meets with faculty candidates.”
“Ian is a natural leader [and] an extremely dedicated and passionate individual. In research, Ian excels at writing innovative, engaging research papers that excite the wireless community to this day. In life, Ian inspires people from different backgrounds to engage in STEM and related activities, and he is a very giving and kind individual.”
I took a moment to interview our winners on their time with WNCG:
Q: Why did you choose UT Austin & WNCG over other PhD programs?
Ebenezer: I had the privilege to join Dr. Bovik’s LIVE lab at WNCG/UT and chose to do so because of his highly influential work on image and video processing, as well as feedback I had heard from alumni about the friendly and academically excellent atmosphere at WNCG. LIVE/WNCG’s extensive collaborative network with industry and academia also assured me of opportunities beyond my Ph.D., and looking back I can say that everything I heard about LIVE and WNCG when I joined was well-deserved.
Roberts: I always like to joke that my decision to attend UT Austin and WNCG was the right choice made for the wrong reasons. Having now finished Ph.D., I can list many reasons to choose UT/WNCG that are far better than the reasons I based my decision on.
After spending this past year on the faculty job market, I am convinced that UT Austin is one of the few schools that checks basically all the boxes one could ask for: academic excellence with strong name recognition; a large, diverse student body; a beautiful campus steeped in tradition; storied athletics; and an energizing city with an active industry presence.
Likewise, WNCG itself is one of the few active, truly collaborative wireless research groups in academia. You would be hard-pressed to find a wireless research group with as much real-world impact, cross-collaboration, industry involvement, and long-term success as WNCG. I have always felt that the accomplishments and precedent of WNCG-ers over the past 20 years has made it a uniquely motivating place to work on wireless.
Q: In what ways has WNCG influenced your research and Ph.D. work?
Ebenezer: WNCG provided me with a network of friends and colleagues beyond my immediate field of research, and provided a wonderful environment for academic discussion and interpersonal development. WNCG's events also helped me showcase my research to industrial and academic partners and foster professional relationships.
Roberts: In what ways hasn't WNCG influenced my research?! It would be difficult to overstate just how much my Ph.D. has been influenced by the students, faculty, staff, and industrial affiliates of WNCG. The unique combination of talented, friendly, and driven individuals that I have been fortunate to work alongside for the past five years has been energizing, inspiring, and downright fun. Excellent courses from WNCG faculty have equipped me with foundational skills to identify, formulate, and tackle research problems.
Q: What advice do you have for incoming WNCG students?
Ebenezer: My advice to incoming students is that WNCG provides a number of opportunities for growth, collaboration, and friendships, so make full use of what you have by working at the seating space instead of at home (especially if you are new) to meet other people, go to WNCG professors during office hours to learn from them personally, and use every research event that WNCG conducts to develop your presentation skills and learn from what industrial partners are doing.
Roberts: One piece of advice I would give to any incoming graduate student is to try to maintain a positive attitude. In graduate school, in academia, and in research, it is easy to feel discouraged, defeated, and pessimistic, but almost always there are silver linings if you look for them. Consciously making optimism a habit has helped me find the positivity beyond the surface of seemingly negative outcomes or overwhelming challenges.
A second piece of advice I would give students is to be ambitious all around: believe that you can and will have impact, always have high expectations for yourself, be brutally honest with yourself, and relentlessly pursue what it is you desire.
Congratulations to our 2023 winners, and best of luck in your upcoming endeavors!