Joshué Perez

Researcher, private applied research centre (Spain)

Former researcher in intelligent transportation systems at public research institutions INRIA (France) and CSIC (Spain).

Joshué PerezAcademic research experience

I have over nine years’ experience in the field of Intelligent Transportation Systems where I have successfully designed, developed and implemented intelligent systems ranging from advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) up to fully automated vehicles. I am passionate about solving challenging problems in system design and implementation, about making things happen.

After my first degree in Electronic engineering in Caracas, Venezuela I moved to Madrid, Spain for postgraduate studies. For almost five years I worked at CSIC, within the AUTOPIA program for autonomous vehicles. My period of doctoral study included a short research fellowship at Griffin University, Australia.

I got my PhD, awarded by the Complutense University of Madrid in 2012, for my project integrating on different platforms a control system for autonomous driving, for developing both individual and cooperative manoeuvres in different urban and highway scenarios. The system was used for the first European autonomous driving competition (Grand Cooperative Driving challenge, 2011) and for the first Spanish demonstration of autonomous vehicles, 2012. Then I moved to INRIA (France) where I was the technical lead for over ten EU and national projects for demonstrating different ADAS technologies (2012–2015).

The achievements of which I am particularly proud include Best Paper award of the IEEE International Conference on Vehicular Electronics and Safety (2015), Guest-Editor of IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Magazine special issue of ELECTRO-MOBILITY 2014, and Best (Spanish) PhD Thesis in Intelligent Control (2011–2012), awarded by Spanish Committee of Automation. I have more than 100 publications related to Automated Driving, ADAS and cooperative manoeuvres and am a reviewer for a number of international journals.

Transition from academic research

I decided to leave academia because, after nine years working on temporary contracts (none longer than a year) and my doctoral scholarship, I needed a more stable position.

I did try to gain a permanent position at France (in a university or public research centre) but the process is very hard. I had not studied at a "Grande École" and I found that, in France, this background is very important, even more than your papers or experience in research projects. After three years of trying, I decided to move to Spain, to the private technical centre Tecnalia, where I have a more stable position and can still do research.

My wife and I have three young children, so financial stability is an important factor. In addition, the children are our priority, and I felt that it was also better for our family life to stop pursuing an academic career for now.

So I applied for jobs in the private sector, in large organisations and smaller ones. I learned about an opportunity at Tecnalia when a friend told me that one the partners in an EU project (CityMobil2) was about to recruit someone to lead a team in the intelligent transport systems and automated cars area. I applied, and was offered the position.  Around this time I was also offered two other jobs. But I accepted the Tecnalia one in preference to one at a large private company because I felt that the change from academia would be less abrupt.

I had mixed feelings about accepting my new role. The challenges were not only to do with changing sector; I was also concerned about moving country again (I have lived in five cities, and four countries in the last ten years.)  Added to that, the job involved some marketing activities: these were completely new to me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t have time to do proper research, but would spend all my time working with customers, and as a result be unable to continue publishing. In my current center, however, I’m enabled to do more applied research; projects with greater impact, which end with products in the market.

Looking back, an important factor in making a successful transition was my experience of working on large EU research projects. I’d already worked closely with the R&D departments of all kinds of companies in the automotive sector supply chain: Original Equipment Manufacturers; tier 1s, tier 2s; suppliers; and small companies. Having learned to work with large consortia from different EU countries also proved invaluable.

Current job – and how it compares           

Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve led the Automated Driving line in the Automotive area, in Tecnalia’s Industry and Transport division.

After a year and a half here, the company is supporting me and my team (I have some PhD students funded by Tecnalia) to do applied research with some partners and customers.

The main difference from academia is that I currently do more marketing activities (visiting customers, selling ideas, creating consortia, etc). I have less time to “create” new functionalities, but, in recent months, with some new students, we are making changes and working in new ways.

I still teach at the University (no more than 50 hours per year) and I try to align academic and market demands in order to have more opportunities.

Competencies old and new

I draw on the competencies I learnt in academia when I am creating proposals and ideas for consortia. It is very important to write clearly and simply what we are doing, and what we want to do. I developed these skills when teaching and collaborating with PhD students and they are very useful for my career today.

Among the new things I’ve had to learn is more patience with some colleagues J. Sometimes, they don’t understand what we are doing!

Reflections on my career path

I am very happy with my career path. I wanted to be a researcher/professor leading a research team. Maybe the process for gaining tenure could be less political and more meritocratic. Most of the time, you need to be lucky – be in the right place at the right time.

I will be working with my new (still small) team for a few years to come. My plans are linked with the University, maybe doing some collaboration, and if there is an opportunity, I could apply again for a position there. So the door back into academia is still potentially open in the longer term. Just now I am enjoying this new challenge in my career.

The main challenge is to keep publishing in high index journals. It is very difficult to increase my h-index, or my citations. But, I am trying to publish at least some conference papers. 

Another career ambition is to spend time in Australia, or somewhere similar, again. My fellowship there was a rich time for discovery and overcoming obstacles. Living in Australia’s very different culture was a great experience. My wife and I know that it is difficult with kids, but not impossible. I am very grateful to the Spanish Government and Prof. Lujbo Vlacic (Griffith University) for this great opportunity. After these six months, we started to build the beautiful family that we have today.  

My advice

If you are moving from academia it is difficult to judge how others will value your experience. So interview experience is very important. I had never been for professional job interviews before. So, I recommend trying to get as much interview experience as possible, and hopefully get some options to compare.

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