Nathan Lawrence

Self-Tuning Controllers via Deep Reinforcement Learning
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I completed my undergraduate degree in math at Portland State University (PSU) in 2016, and a Masters in math at PSU in 2018, and wanted to pursue my interests further. I never felt like I was done. I really enjoyed what I was doing and I did not want to stop learning. Additionally, my professors at PSU encouraged me to go further and explore new areas related to optimization. That being said, pursuing a graduate degree is an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and work on interdisciplinary projects.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Many factors contributed to my choice of UBC for graduate school. I was attracted to Vancouver’s geographical similarities to Portland in the pacific northwest. Also, I have family in the area. However, most importantly, I was intrigued and inspired by my professors and advisors to take on the program because of the collaborative aspects with Honeywell. Honeywell is interested in developing maintenance-free control strategies, such as in pulp and paper manufacturing processes. This real-world focus motivated many interesting questions in my research.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The math program at UBC is very appealing because it is one of the top math programs in Canada and UBC is very strong as a whole. I was attracted to the math program due to the collaborative aspect at Honeywell because I wanted to experience more of a hands-on program. Although math is something I am passionate about, I want to do something more applied going forward, and the hands-on aspect of the program is great for this.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I enjoy the natural spaces around the city of Vancouver. I love being able to bike by the ocean at Stanley Park, being surrounded by hiking trails, or being able to walk down to the beach from campus. Overall, I enjoy that Vancouver has something for everyone, whether that be good food, nature, or entertainment. Additionally, I have made a great support system of friends at UBC, and believe this is essential to get you through the first couple of years. Additionally, my program has meetings with the research group every week, which has been important for bouncing ideas off each other and sharing progress. I have been able to meet people interested in a similar field as me, but everyone has different aspects to their interest, which has allowed me to learn from them.

I was intrigued and inspired by my professors and advisors to take on the program because of the collaborative aspects with Honeywell. This real-world focus motivated many interesting questions in my research.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My undergraduate and Master's programs taught me a lot about academic writing, time management, and communication. For instance, during my Master's I was responsible for teaching my own class each term. I also had the opportunity to do research during these programs. Although they were not directly related to my work now, the experiences were valuable. Now, my math graduate program at UBC has prepared me for post-graduation. In fact, I am doing research using machine learning, which is heavy on math and probability, but also good for developing skills in coding and programming. Additionally, although things are online, I have found the program to be a great way to meet people and work on projects that will benefit me in the future.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Aside from nature related activities, I enjoy reading, brewing kombucha, and playing board games with my friends, especially chess. I also used to play hockey for fun, but now I enjoy skating or going to stick and puck.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

I tried to rush things a little too much in terms of my research because everything was new and exciting. I suggest taking it slow, being patient, and making sure you are taking it all in. Additionally, I believe that it’s important to focus on self-care, especially during this unprecedented time. There is always time to take a walk or make a nice meal in-between school work.


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