Mykel Kochenderfer

The Director of Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory has such fond memories of Edinburgh that he brought students on a study visit.

Name Mykel Kochenderfer
Degree course PhD in Artificial Intelligence
Year of graduation 2006
Image of Mykel Kochenderfer

Why did you choose Edinburgh?

I really wanted to live overseas at some point in my life, and completing a PhD abroad seemed the perfect opportunity.  Professor Nils Nilsson, my mentor at Stanford, suggested Edinburgh. My wife also wanted to do a PhD, and she made a connection with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. Now Edinburgh feels like home. It’s my favourite European city. Our first daughter was born here. We made many lifelong friends. The value of that is immeasurable.

From PhD to Professor

My PhD was about model-based reinforcement learning. The friendliness and openness of the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour was quite inspiring to me and shaped how I advise my own students.

One of my favourite experiences from my time in Edinburgh is going to Firbush, the University’s outdoor activity centre on the shores of Loch Tay, with a group from Informatics. We went kayaking, mountain biking and orienteering.

After completing my PhD I did an internship in Cambridge, at Microsoft Research. I then spent seven years at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, working on airspace modeling and aircraft collision avoidance. In 2013 I moved to Stanford University, where I’m Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. My research looks at decision making in uncertain, dynamic environments while maintaining safety and efficiency. Applications include aircraft collision avoidance, unmanned aircraft and driverless cars.

I love my job. I love mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy contributing to technologies that keep people safe and improve efficiency. Last month I experienced the satisfaction of watching my first three PhD students graduate.

Any advice for current students?

Savour every moment because the time flies by and this city, this university, is magic.

This interview took place in July 2016, when Mykel brought 16 Stanford students to Informatics for the first Stanford Bing study visit to our School. For updates on what Mykel is doing now, find his LinkedIn below.

Related links

Mykel’s website

Mykel on LinkedIn

Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour

Stanford Bing study visit 2016