Collin B Whittaker

B.S.A.E. 2019

After you graduate, what is your next adventure?

I'm pursuing a Ph.D. in electric propulsion and plasma physics at the University of Michigan

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I'm really excited about learning more and getting more research opportunities. Plasma physics is very interesting, but, at least as an undergraduate, it's hard to get into it fully. Increased specialization in a doctoral program will allow me to deepen my understanding.

Also, I'll be going somewhere new, (Michigan) but it's only two hours from my [family's] home in Indiana.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

When I was a sophomore I got into the AE Honors Program, which required me to indicate an interest in a research area and an advisor. As a part of that process, I went through the entire faculty and did a surface dive into their research interests. Dr. Walker's lab was my number 1 choice, and I've never turned back. I only wish I'd started earlier.

So the first thing Professor Walker did was to tell me when the first lab meeting was. I just showed up, not knowing what to expect. He asked me some questions - mainly, did I consider myself more of a theoretician or an experimentalist? I didn't really know but I said theory because I'd excelled in school.

My answer would be different now. I've been involved in experimental research - mainly using the vacuum chamber in which we do testing and support control systems. As I've become more experimental in my approach, I've moved into different directions - learning to use a scanning electron microscope so I could examine how micro cracks in the material of the walls in the Hall effect thrusters affect their erosion.

I also had work on my own project - an invention that I own with Prof. Walker and Prof. Clarke.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

I've known since I was in middle school that I wanted to go to grad school because the jobs available for B.S. were not really as interesting. Georgia Tech has given me such a high concentration of talent that that goal was put within reach. Regardless of what I ended up doing here, I knew it would be exciting, substantial. So, in an alternate universe, if Collin Whittaker is not a propulsion guy, but instead in the controls group? Well, there's still excellent controls research here.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

My largest regret is not having hit it harder, earlier. If you had to plot my stress over time, I wish I'd chugged up on core classes earlier -- getting the stuff I don't want to do for the rest of my life out of the way earlier. Then I would have had more time for the fun, challenging, AE classes.

The other piece of advice I'd give is: don't wait for opportunities to be presented to you. Be your own advocate. Don't be afraid to approach a professor and ask if there's a place in the lab for you. If you are willing to work, there's probably a place in the lab where you'll be useful, but you'll have to ask.