The long wait is over. After many years, I am excited to share that I delivered my PhD dissertation talk. I gave it on May 13, 2021 via Zoom. I recorded the 45-minute talk and you can find the video above.

I had multiple opportunities to practice the PhD talk, as I gave several talks earlier with a substantial amount of overlap, such as the one “at” Toronto in March (see the blog post here). My PhD talk, like prior talks, heavily focuses on robot manipulation of deformables, and includes discussions of my IROS 2020, RSS 2020, and ICRA 2021 papers. However, I wanted the focus to be broader than deformable manipulation alone, so I structured the talk to feature “robot learning” prominently, of which “deformable manipulation” is one particular example of robot learning. Then, rather than go through the “Model-Free,” “Model-Based,” and “Transporter Network” sections from my prior talks, I chose to title talk sections as follows: “Simulated Interactions,” “Architectural Priors,” and “Curricula.” This also gave me the chance to feature some of my curriculum learning work with John Canny.

The audience had some questions at the end, but overall, the questions were generally not too difficult to answer. Perhaps in years past, it was typical to have very challenging questions at the end of a dissertation talk, and students may have failed if they couldn’t answer well enough. Nowadays, every Berkeley EECS PhD student who gives a dissertation talk is expected to pass. I’m not aware of anyone failing after giving the talk.

I want to thank everyone who helped me get to this point today, especially when earlier in my PhD, I thought I would never reach this point. Or at the very least, I thought I would not have as strong a research record as I now have. A proper and more detailed set of acknowledgments will come at a later date.

I am not a “Doctor” yet, since I still need to write up the actual dissertation itself, which I will do this summer by “stitching” together my 4-5 most relevant first-author papers. Nonetheless, giving this talk is a huge step forward in finishing up my PhD, and I am hugely relieved that it’s out of the way.

I will also be starting a postdoc position in a few months. More on that to come later …