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Interview with Michal Čáp about his Fulbright grant

Michal, how did you get know about Fulbright grants?

Fulbright grants seem to be quite well established in academic circles and thus it regularly kept coming back as one of the options that could support long-time visiting research in the US. Some of my colleagues participated in the programme few years ago. All the required information are on the Czech webpage of Fulbright.

Can you describe the application process?

The Fulbright scholarships/fellowships are given in several categories. I applied in the student category which is aimed at young people who want to study a graduate (i.e., Master or PhD) program in the US or come to an American research lab as visiting researchers. The regular student applicants state their preferences, but the university is assigned to them by Fulbright commission. Visiting researchers, on the other hand, have to come with an invitation letter from a US professor and a research proposal.

The application process is quite time-consuming, the deadline is 1st of September, but it is very advisable to start a few months in advance to have enough time to get all the required documentation. The most crucial part of the application seem to be two one-page-long essays "Personal statement", where the applicant tries to convey his/her personality, motivations and future potential and "Research statement". Some of the applicants are then invited for an interview, which takes about 20 minutes and is generally a friendly chat about specific parts of applicant's life experiences and aspirations. A few days after the interview, I got an email with the decision.

How long will you stay in the US?

My plan is to stay at MIT for 10 months.

What are you working on? What are your tasks?

Being a self-funded visiting researcher gives me the freedom to choose how I will spend my time here. Obviously, it is a good idea to find an intersection between my interests and the interests of my host professor. My new group currently focuses on the autonomous driving and so-called automated mobility on demand systems - think Uber with driverless taxis. At the moment, my plan is to look at how can be the high-level operation of such systems optimized and at the same time continue with the work on low-level motion planning I started at CTU.

Is it hard to receive the Fulbright grant?

Fulbright is notoriously known for being very selective. Unfortunately, I do not know how many people applied, but the grant was awarded to five people in student category and about 22 in other categories this years in the Czech Republic.

My impression is that the Fulbright commission does not select people solely on the grounds of academic results, but they are also looking at other personality indicators such community involvement.

Why did you choose MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)?

The reason why I wanted to visit MIT -- despite its inferior climate compared to California for example :) -- is that it is the home of ARES group lead by Emilio Frazzoli, which produced some the most influential results in modern motion planning and I wanted to have an opportunity to collaborate with them.

Can you describe your first days at MIT?

As usual, the first weeks were mostly about apartment hunting, handling visa paperwork, and trying to get to know my new colleagues and their work. Finding a reasonably priced accommodation in the third most expensive city in the US (after San Francisco and New York) proved to be a challenge, but all the rest went smoothly.


How does your working week look like?

My daily routine is similar to that of a typical postdoc. I have a small desk in a nice room shared with 6 other PhD students and most of the time I just sit behind a computer (which I recently claimed for myself) and try to progress with my research agenda. I spend on average 1-2 hours a day in lectures or seminars. There is a number of interesting courses that I can sit in and plenty of seminars given by people visiting MIT.

 

Thank you and we wish you good luck on your research stay.