Kartik Venkat, PhD '15

While an undergrad, Kartik noticed that many leading scientists in EE were affiliated with Stanford. As a Stanford student, he recognized Stanford's focus on deep theoretical innovations and applying theory to solve important practical challenges of the future. In October 2015, Kartik was presented with the 2015 Marconi Society Young Scholars Award. In 2016, Kartik won the IEEE Information Theory Society Thomas M. Cover Dissertation Award.

How did you become interested in your research area?

I strive to develop quantitative approaches to information processing. As an EE major in undergrad, I found myself attracted to the mathematical characterization of engineering systems, and got introduced to information theory. I felt that it was a rich area where deep mathematical ideas and innovations could directly impact and improve the design of real systems. Having always being interested in mathematics, information theory became a natural area for me to pursue as a topic of research. Today, tools we learn in this area can often be applied to many different domains - such as communication systems, genomics, neuroscience, machine learning, and quantitative finance to name a few.

Explain a project you're currently working on.

A recent project I worked on is to design new algorithms for estimating mutual information (MI) — a measure of dependence which captures "the amount of information that is stored in a system". My colleagues and I developed optimal estimators for this quantity and used it to improve the performance of a few algorithms in machine learning which directly or indirectly use MI. Such algorithms allow us to perform important tasks, for example: graphical model learning, image ranking, natural language processing, etc.

Why did you choose Stanford EE?

I find that Stanford EE has always had an excellent balance between deep theoretical innovations, and applying the theory to solve important practical challenges of tomorrow. There have been numerous contributions in the field of information systems from Stanford EE, with many past and present faculty making scientific breakthroughs in the field. I found a very strong match with the research interests of Professor Tsachy Weissman, whom I was fortunate to get a chance to work with. Additionally, I found Stanford to have a remarkably high quality of good courses being offered throughout the year by leaders in the respective fields. It was a very easy decision to come here!

What other activities are you involved with on campus?

One of the things that makes Stanford so exciting is the student cohort. I have enjoyed the wonderful and inspiring company of my peers here. Apart from hanging out with friends, or dog-sitting for my advisor Tsachy, I also enjoy reading, playing soccer, and going to the gym. I occasionally participate in campus events organized by VPGE which bring together students from various disciplines on campus. I am also a co-organizer for the Information Theory Forum, where we have weekly technical seminars with participation from academia and industry.

What are your career plans?

I will be finishing my PhD in December, after which I am looking to embark on a research oriented career where I can develop original techniques to create an innovative technology or solution. I'd like to offer some advice to current EE students based on my experiences and observations.

1. Choose a research group to match your interests.
2. Make sure you stay hungry and motivated in graduate school (the hungry part is easy).
3. Don't compare yourself with your peers, but always strive for self-improvement.
4. Seek feedback on your research from experts within and outside your field; often good research boils down to asking the right question, or viewing a topic from a fresh angle.
5. Take courses from outside your primary research area to expand your horizons and develop a broader set of tools.
6. Stanford EE has amazing faculty, staff, and students — interact with them and get inspired!