Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Nate Chambers
Name: Nate Chambers
Occupation: Assistant Professor, Computer Science, United States Naval Academy
Education (UR and additional): B.S., 2002, and M.S., University of Rochester. Ph.D., Stanford University.
Current city/state of residence: Annapolis, Maryland
Family: wife Amy Chambers (BS/MS 2002/2003, UR), 2-year old son, + new baby in less than a month
Community activities: Brand new to the Annapolis MD area, still looking around.
Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester? When and how did you choose your major?
I knew I wanted to study Computer Science since high school. One of the main factors in my college search was to find a school that had a good Computer Science department, but a school that wasn’t a techy engineering environment. I think I am one of the ironic computer science majors in that I don’t always want to be amongst computer scientists in real life. Maybe I just wanted to meet a non-engineering girl (and that worked out too). Frankly, Rochester was the best college that accepted me, and the campus felt pleasant and homey when I visited. The Eastman school was also a draw as I was able to take advantage of some music opportunities too. I signed up for my initial CS courses as a freshman and haven’t looked back. I eventually completed a 3-2 Master’s, and recently received a Ph.D. in CS from Stanford University in 2011.
What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?
The most important thing I did as an undergraduate was to seek out a summer internship with faculty members in my department (Computer Science). I asked about summer research after my sophomore year, and spent the summer working with James Allen on a topic from an elective course I had just completed with him. That summer internship turned into a 3-year connection with James that included other summer internships, independent research, a 3-2 Master’s degree, and ultimately, a full-time job after I graduated. I was fortunate to later pursue a Ph.D. at Stanford University, and it can largely be traced back to that sophomore year internship at Rochester.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I moved to Florida and worked in a small research institute in which my Rochester advisor was involved. He transitioned from my research advisor to my boss, and the work environment was very much an open collaborative research setting and I was given wide latitude in pursuing my own interests there. The choice to take that job was an easy one. I interviewed for many computer programming jobs, but maintaining the healthy relationship with my advisor and the Rochester connection itself was most attractive. Oh yes, and Florida weather is the exact opposite of Rochester. That was a strong motivator.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I am an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the United States Naval Academy, a four year undergraduate college for future officers in the US Navy. I am only in my first year on the job, but it has been wonderful so far. The civilian faculty are required to hold doctorates in their field, and quality research is a requirement of the job. I chose this position over other teaching and research jobs because it gives me the opportunity to teach in a more intimate setting (class sizes capped at 20!), yet still gives me ample time for my own research during the year. The decision to be a professor came mid-way through my doctorate work when I realized how much I actually enjoyed teaching. I volunteered to teach a freshmen seminar one year at Stanford, and I surprised myself when it was actually fun. This job gives me the perfect teaching/research balance that I was looking for: not too much of either one.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
I hope to get tenure in 5 years, and be right here at the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy’s environment gives me the freedom to pursue fun research, and the students will keep me on my toes. It’s still early on. Right now I just hope I’ll enjoy it in the future as much as I do now. I’ve never lived in one place for more than 5 years, so history says I should be moving on when that timer goes off! I have a great family (UR alum wife, two kids), so let’s hope I can stay put for them this time around. We’re finding a great community of people here in Annapolis and I hope to plug in and get more involved outside of “the job” as well. I think maybe deep down, what I most want 5 years from now is to hear about my students doing some awesome Computer Science work in the Navy, and finding the world a safer place because of it. Making fundamental contributions in my research wouldn’t be so bad either…