Anil Ganti

Anil smiling

Class of 2011, Physics major

Graduate Student at Duke University Ph.D. Electrical Engineering

Q & A

I like being in an academic environment. Doing research is more than just a job. I've finished my course requirements, but since I get to take classes for free, I like to make the most of them. Now I'm actually one or two classes away from an unrelated Masters in hydrology and fluid mechanics. In grad school, you have your Ph.D. research but you also have lots of other resources and opportunities available to you so that if you're interested in something else, you can do that in your free time. It means that I am kind of overloaded in terms of my time, but that's my choice.

I have some ideas, my Ph.D. will be in model-based signal processing and is really transferrable to any application where you may want to estimate parameters from a physical model. I would like to apply these skills to study groundwater and surface water contamination, aquifer depletion, and other environmental applications. I am pretty interested in environmental work and love that it involves physics at multiple scales, so I would like to move back towards that.

Going to Baca is pretty special. Leaving Colorado College, I realized that is not normal; it is not most people's experience. Baca encapsulated the environment of CC physics which was collaborative and supportive. It's all about working together, and that isn't the norm at other undergraduate schools. At other schools, I've seen that the students can get pretty stressed out and competitive.

My work is really linked to physics, so I use it a lot, but there are two things particularly that I learned at CC that I draw on all the time: 1, Unit analysis, and 2, taking limits of expressions to gain intuition. Both of these techniques will help you avoid being wrong (so often) and make you look way smarter than you might actually be. Someone will put up an expression and even if I'm not fully following their math I'll check the units and look like a genius for spotting the error. In the physics department, we emphasized these simple analysis tools, and it is definitely something that sets me aside from the folks with engineering undergraduate degrees. Thinking about the units of an expression and where it might blow up or go to zero helps me understand what something physically means. Limiting cases can be a helpful way to get a sneak peek at the answer without having gone through all the steps.

I graduated in the winter and stayed on at the QRC tutoring for the spring semester while also looking for jobs. I was supposed to take the physics GRE and I had studied for it, but I showed up at the wrong exam center, so I missed my physics GRE. I had my doubts about going to grad school for physics and that sort of decided it for me. In the back of my mind, I had been getting excited about solving environmental problems, and I reached out to a CC grad who was working at an environmental consulting company in Sacramento. She encouraged me to apply and I ended up getting a job there.

My experience there was good, but it also reminded me that I missed doing physics, math, and computer science, so I started looking for more technical work. I was there for a year and a half before I cold applied to an opening at the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District where I began working on smart grid analytics and writing a lot of code. There I realized I really liked the power of programming so I thought I would enjoy a software engineering job. I also knew that to advance further in my career I would need a graduate degree.
While applying to graduate programs, a professor recommended I also apply to work at a start-up company he advised and in 2014,  I moved up to Seattle to work as a software engineer while working on a Master's in electrical engineering. The company was developing simulations and controls software for utility-scale battery storage. After a year and a half there, I decided I wanted to accelerate my MS program and only work part-time. I left the position at 1Energy Systems and took a software contracting gig with a San Francisco-based company called Angaza Design.

I connected with Angaza through a friend I made while at an accepted students day for a graduate program at UT Austin. I really liked that they were applying hardware and software technology to solve a last-mile electrification problem in underdeveloped parts of the world. I kept doing small software contract work like this when I decided I wanted to get my Ph.D. I came to this decision because I realized there wasn't a clear path from software engineering to developing new technology beyond just software. As someone with a Master's, people expect that you can build something for which blueprints already exist, but with a Ph.D., you are empowered and licensed to build something that has never been built before, and that's what I was excited about doing. I applied to Ph.D. programs in Fall 2015 and got pretty lucky with this program at Duke. I am in my fourth year now and I will probably finish in five years, which includes an extra Master's.

I had a high school physics class that really hooked me. I felt like I was really learning something and engaging my brain beyond rote memorization.

I thought I wanted to be a physics professor when I was at CC. I really admire our professors and I could see enjoying being both a teacher and a life-long learner. The reality is that there is a huge world outside of that too and it was worth exploring that first. It took a few years to figure out what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. Now I would say my dream job is to work at an academic institution at the interface between academic research and technology commercialization, turning new research into real-world solutions.

When I started at Duke research was and sometimes still is vague and mysterious, particularly coming from CC. I never expected to do so much writing and presenting in a Ph.D. program, but I do really appreciate it and I think excel at it. To me, it is a very valuable skill to be able to pitch your research to audiences both in and out of your field.

I started off passionate about addressing environmental issues and have been in several different roles to that end. My current role, as a Ph.D. student, is more about gaining the skills and credentials necessary to be on the leading edge of engineering. While my Ph.D. work in signal processing is sponsored by naval and defense-oriented government agencies, there are plenty of opportunities at Duke to get involved in the issues that drive you. I've been able to take classes with and make connections with environmental engineering faculty and can see several future opportunities combining my passions and my Ph.D. skills.

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