Johnny Worthy

Ph.D.A.E. 2017

What is your next adventure?

I am going to join the technical staff of the Space Systems Group at MIT’s Lincoln Labs in Lexington, Massachusetts.  It’s more or less a continuation of what I’ve been doing here at Tech, focusing  on space situational awareness. We’ll be developing techniques for identifying objects when you have a very short measurements.

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

I really got into research as an undergraduate when I started working on a nano composite project with Dr. Pucha (ME). That’s when I realized that research can really give you more options in any subject area. After working with him for three years, I realized that research is less about being told what to learn and more about learning from what you decide to do. As a GEM scholar, I interned two summers at Lincoln Labs – first, developing conceptual designs for ground surveillance, and, then, working on satellite intercept problems. When I got an NSF award and started working with Dr. [Marcus] Holzinger, the big focus of my research was: given a short measurement opportunity for unidentified space objects, what can you find out about it. This was the foundation of my dissertation “Initialization of State Information for Unobservable Systems in the Presence of Systematic Uncertainty.”

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

Obviously, having a real paycheck will be great. I’m also excited about what it will be like to walk in to work and derive real data to meet the needs of actual customers. That should be a very interesting change.

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

I enjoyed my time at Georgia Tech. A lot of people say they found the work-life balance thing difficult, but I expected to work hard and I planned around that. I established a great group of friends my freshman year, and they carried through to graduate school. Dr. Pucha and one of his graduate students unofficially mentored me as an undergraduate. They told me that yes, you work hard, but you will be able to do it if you really want it. Then I met Dr. Holzinger who was interested in the sort of research I wanted to do. He was just really cool – liked good beer, South Park, and working hard.

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

The guys in my lab would say that I’ve taken the time to enjoy myself along the way. They’re right. School’s important but you need to make sure you have some enjoyable moments. So you learn how to compensate. For me, that meant I’m the guy who went to Vegas for a conference the week before finals one year. I knew at the time that it was probably not going to bode well for at least one class, and I was right. I failed it – not because I didn’t know the material, but because I didn’t take the time to study. I took it again and passed. So, from that, I learned how to fail at something and how to move on.  I didn’t make a habit of that, obviously, but it served a purpose. And that conference? That was a blast.