Alumni Profile: Michael Keegan, PhD CDS ’99

Alum Michael Keegan shares fond memories of Mason and CDS in our latest Alumni Profile.

Photo courtesy of Michael Keegan.

Photo courtesy of Michael Keegan.

Name: Michael Keegan

Mason Degree: PhD, Computational Data Sciences (CDS) 1999

Occupation: Senior Computational Research Scientist for the Naval Center for Space Technology at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)

I chose Mason because… After applying, I got an offer of acceptance from GMU with a research assistantship and nice stipend. It was very exciting and made the choice a “no brainer.”

I chose CDS because… I saw promise in the plan and vision for something very new.  I recognized that, if I could combine the two disciplines [of physics and computer science], it would be synergistic.

My favorite Mason memories are… based on relationships made with classmates. I don’t get to keep up with those classmates today, but back then I got through on those friendships.

Professionally, I’m most proud when…I think about helping the members of our military with advanced capabilities that are keeping them, and the citizens of our nation, safe.

More from the COS interview with Michael Keegan:

In our files, you are listed as an employee at the Naval Research Laboratory. Do you still work there? If so, what is your position and title?
Yes, I am a senior Computational Research Scientist for the Naval Center for Space Technology at NRL. I work on the development of advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that involve very large data sets and state of the art data collectors producing products for space, maritime and land-based information systems.

Professionally, what makes you most proud?
Working at NRL, I feel real pride when I think about helping the members of our military with advanced capabilities that are keeping them, and citizens of our nation, safe. My grandfather was in the Navy and stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, Dec 7, 1941. I’ve always felt a strong desire to work with the Navy and I’m proud to be doing that every day. My other grandfather, father and most of my cousins were also in the Navy at one time or another.

Why did you choose Computational Data Sciences for your studies?
I saw promise in the plan and vision for something very new. The vision was aligned with the major and minor, physics and computer science from my undergraduate studies. I recognized that if I could combine the two disciplines it would be synergistic.

The Institute for Computational Sciences and Informatics, as it was known at the time of my application, was a fledgling organization awaiting approval from the state board before it truly existed. So, it was a leap of faith to decide to apply and subsequently decide to attend. When I started, it took several months to begin receiving any funds from my stipend, as a result, I took a paper route and several odd jobs to make ends meet financially which impacted my studies. It was a rough start.

What are your favorite Mason memories?
I visited the campus recently for a STEM job fair as NRL was seeking candidates for internships. I was amazed at walking through the West building and SUB I on my way over to Johnson Center for the event. These were the buildings at the center of my GMU experience for the first few years before ICSI moved to S&T I. Today, the buildings feel so personal and intimate (read small). I remembered Professor Dworzecka’s quantum mechanics course and her writing on the chalkboard in what seemed like an impossibly fast pace. I have lots of good memories of the campus.

However, my favorite memories are based on relationships made with classmates. I remember racquetball with a few classmates, including current GMU professor Juan Cebral, was a great way to deal with some of the stresses. I recall lunches at the local Indian restaurant with classmates from India. I remember study sessions in the student office and all-nighters in the computer lab, writing code and the dissertation. I don’t get to keep up with those classmates today, but back then I got through on those friendships.

What advice do you have for current undergraduate or graduate students?

  1. Take advantage of opportunities to experience science outside of the classroom. As an undergrad, I was accepted into NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates. In 1993, my 3rd year of grad school, I was accepted at the NSF MetaCenter for SuperComputing where I learned to program the CM5 at UIUC’s Beckman Center. I got to meet students from Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Boston University and UIUC, to name a few. I was the only kid from a school south of the Mason-Dixon line. I wasn’t sure that my computational physics skills would stack up with these top schools. They did, and it was a big confidence boost.
  2. Get involved in organizations that have goals to advance sciences like IEEE, AUVSI, AFCEA, et al. Most of us aren’t going to get invitations to the Solvay Conferences. These organizations, and the conferences that these organizations offer, are a reasonable substitute. Go meet people and talk about the science that is your passion. Reach out to the authors of the papers that you read and talk about science. Collaborate and learn.
  3. Make a plan for your research topic before your advisor does. If you want to own your research start collecting ideas and drafting abstracts. Consider finding your own funding source(s) or working with faculty to make your vision happen.

Interesting Fact: I’m a supporter of unmanned systems and see these new technologies as an important future for the planet. The importance of unmanned systems is about to explode, if we can just get out of the way of our own success. Just to support my claim with a few examples, using unmanned aerial systems for power line and pipeline monitoring will save lives and money. Self-driving vehicles would be great in the District/Maryland/Virginia area. From May 2013 to May 2015, I was the president of the DC Capitol chapter of Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems – International (AUVSI). That position gave me a front row seat for much of the debate and development in the unmanned systems industry. Like most tech developments, some very capable engineers are pushing for good solutions and safety is among the biggest concerns.