January Spotlight for Meet the PEER Students - Presented by the PEER Student Committee

January 19, 2022

The PEER Student Committee is pleased to present our next spotlighted researcher in the "Meet the PEER Students'' Series. The series features students and postdoctoral researchers who conduct exciting research projects, engage in leadership activities, and perform exceptional work. This month, we met Angshuman Deb, a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Structural Engineering Department at UC San Diego.

Angshuman recently received his Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from UC San Diego. His research focused on the analytical formulation and computational implementation of a comprehensive risk-targeted performance-based seismic assessment and design framework for bridge structures. He is currently working as a Research Engineer with AIR Worldwide focusing on Catastrophe Risk Modeling, the vulnerability of the built environment to natural atmospheric perils, and quantifying extreme event risks in terms of insurance-related metrics. Angshuman originally comes from Silchar, a small town in the beautiful state of Assam in northeast India - a place where nature's beauty, wrath, and resilience somehow harmoniously coexist. Growing up in a place frequently affected by earthquakes, landslides, and floods inspired him to study and pursue a career in Natural Hazard and Structural Engineering. Outside of work, Angshuman enjoys working out, swimming, being outdoors, and cooking.

What made you interested in earthquake engineering?

I liked a lot of different subjects. I was interested in mechanics, physics, probability, statistics, and computer programming. Earthquake engineering seemed to be a perfect combination of all these. Also, I grew up in the northeastern part of India. It is very beautiful over there but it's always affected by earthquakes, floods, and all sorts of natural hazards. Growing up in a place like that I always felt the importance of engineering, not to withstand the natural hazards, but to coexist with them.

What are your research objectives?

Making the built environment and the natural environment go hand in hand is always going to be an overarching philosophy in whatever research I do. I think we cannot really build structures to withstand natural hazards but we can build to work in conjunction and harmony with them. I focus on the aspects that come with it, for example making better predictions of structural response, damage, and losses, so that we can efficiently manage the risk. I also like to apply computer techniques as means of providing practicality to my research with nice packaging and user-friendly tools.

How did you decide between industry and academia post-graduation?

I will say I have not entirely decided yet. I have been in academia, as a student, for a significant portion of my life. Then I felt the need for a little bit of industry experience because it opens your eyes. In the academic setting, we are more used to digging deeper and exploring more, but it's important to step back and look at how practical your work is. That was the main motivation behind leaving academia for some time. If I come back to academia, at some point, this industry experience that I am gaining will help me deliver more industry-oriented courses and do more practical research.

What are some important aspects of catastrophe risk modeling?

The idea behind catastrophe risk modeling is to predict the economic impact of natural hazards. For that, we want to make use of historical information to predict and manage risks better, but the historical events are so rare that the data that we have is not enough to predict as reliably. So, we have to make use of scientific and physics-based modeling, and then inform that modeling with the data that we have to make better predictions. So, you have to learn to sail on two boats. You need to have a good, solid background in both physics-based modeling and data-driven modeling. Finally, you have to combine the two in the right proportion.

What activities in your research have been the most challenging?

The most challenging thing, that I hopefully overcame, is talking about your research to both informed and uninformed audiences. Even if it's a technical presentation, it's just a 20 to 40 minute rundown of years of work that you have done. So, you really need to learn to speak at the right level so you don't lose your audience. If you put too much math, too many equations, the uninformed audience might lose interest. You also should not boil down your research too much, or the informed audience might feel like it’s too simple. Learning the right level of content depending on the audience was challenging for me.

Can you tell us about any achievements which you are especially proud of?

Towards the latter half of my Ph.D. I was working on exploring the effects of different sources of uncertainty on the performance of bridges. The thing that I'm proud of is a python package I built just to make my life easier for that project. It started small but then one thing led to another, and it grew to the point of creating a side project on my own. I have mentioned this package in one or two papers that I wrote, and now I think I could make it an open-source tool. It's an object-oriented software framework that carries out the different steps of the performance-based earthquake engineering methodology.

Final words of encouragement or advice to other students?

The actual research that you're doing is obviously important, but there are soft skills that you need to develop as part of your research and graduate school journey. You should always be able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your work. Know your final objective; otherwise, you might get lost in the details. Also, be aware of your assumptions, and more importantly, know the limitations of your work. Being critical of your work and its limitations is important and also shows a level of maturity. Also, be patient enough; that's one virtue that will make you sail through grad school.

Other fun facts about Angshuman.

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be?

It would be something like a documentary about ants. They might not come with a lot of talents, but they're very hardworking. I like ants and I really connect with them.

What has been your favorite moment in grad school so far?

When I was teaching, the students arranged a surprise birthday celebration for me during class. It was very touching.

What hobbies do you enjoy?

I like cooking, being outdoors, hiking, and camping. I like to work out a little bit and then swim once in a while.

What’s something you would put on your bucket list?

I would like to go on an arctic adventure trip sometime.

Which course did you enjoy the most in school?

That would be structural reliability and risk analysis.

Watch the previous Meet the PEER Student spotlights on the PEER Student Committee website. Do you know someone in the PEER institutions who is doing a great job? Nominate them here to be part of this series.