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A conversation with Gaurav Sultania, a student in the UFTI’s transportation engineering master’s program, graduating in May 2017.
What is your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I completed my undergraduate studies with a bachelor’s degree in technology (thesis based) in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay. I attribute the start of my interest in transportation engineering as a career to my undergraduate adviser, Dr. Gopal R Patil. It was during an internship after my third year, where I worked on a transportation project at the University of Calgary, Canada, that I made up my mind to apply for graduate school and pursue transportation engineering as a profession. I worked on the optimization of travel times of public transit buses under Dr. Chan Wirasinghe.
What were your expectations going into your field of study?
I had always been interested in science and mathematics, and I knew that I was going to be an engineer by profession. The intersection of technology, core engineering and innovation is what I was most interested in relating to transportation engineering. Who doesn’t like solving problems in the real world? Transportation is something that touches everyone’s life. It is a rewarding field of study if you want to contribute to modern society, as we rely heavily on transportation systems.
Are there any events that occurred during your degree program that make you appreciate your field of study more?
During my degree program, I had many opportunities that made me appreciate my field of study. These included attending several conferences, events at the UF Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment (ESSIE) and meetings of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). One such experience was representing UF at the Florida Section of the ITE Traffic Bowl competition. Studying in-group for this jeopardy-style competition was very useful and informative. I really like to work alongside my peers; they are smart and hardworking and motivate me to do my best. Additionally, I have developed skills while working on simulation tools, mathematical models, statistical analysis, and coding, which have made me confident that I’m prepared for a professional career.
What is your current research project? What are your duties on the project? Did you encounter any challenges?
I am currently working on a project funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to improve the travel time reliability (TTR) model for freeway analysis. In this model, various scenarios are generated, including incidents, work zones, weather conditions and over-saturation. The probability of each occurrence of these scenarios and their travel times are obtained from Smart Sunguide reports and previous TTR models, respectively. Smart Sunguide is the FDOT’s intelligent transportation systems and traffic management program. I am restructuring the model to incorporate more scenarios of incidents to have a better distribution of travel speed. The main challenge was to understand the already existing model and to work with the spreadsheet that had a huge number of variables. Another challenge was to develop the model with limited data. Alongside this project, I am also working on a project that involves evaluating the performance of adaptive traffic signal systems in several arterial corridors in Florida for the FDOT.
What did you enjoy most about working with your faculty project adviser?
Working with Dr. Lily Elefteriadou has taught me a lot intellectually and professionally. The way she manages multiple tasks at the same time motivates me to work hard to deliver projects. She has an extraordinary ability to recognize a student’s strength, and she drives them to advance their knowledge.
Absolutely, the graduate classes are a great balance of theory and applied work that both future professionals and academics can use.
Do you belong to any student organizations? What is the importance of belonging to student organizations?
I am the secretary of the Institute of Transportation Engineers – UF Student Chapter (UFITE). In this capacity, I get to network with many professionals in the industry and researchers from other universities. I am also involved with the Graduate Student Council at the University of Florida. Being a part of a student organization gives me a platform to work in a team and learn effective communication and leadership skills.
What’s next for you?
I would like to join a transportation consulting company and later obtain a Professional Engineering license (PE); however, I haven’t discounted coming back for my Ph.D. and becoming a researcher.
What are your hobbies?
Apart from science, I like traveling, hiking, and long distance running. I have traveled to 11 different countries and hiked more than a dozen trails in U.S. and in India. My interest for running and community service has got me involved in a non-profit organization called Gators for Asha where we raise funds for social causes.
Fun fact: I am a certified mountaineer, and I meditate regularly.
Any words of advice for students thinking of going into this field of study?
If you are interested to see how technology can effect daily life, transportation engineering is something to get excited about. It incorporates knowledge of computer science, statistics, industrial engineering, urban planning, and other interdisciplinary studies. Make the most of your time at school to grow intellectually and professionally.