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Alexandre Mateus Completes Dual-Degree in April as Program’s First Ph.D. Graduate

In April 2011, Alexandre Mateus will be the first Ph.D. student to graduate from the Carnegie Mellon Portugal dual-degree Ph.D. Program. He began work on his doctorate, which is in Engineering and Public Policy, in 2006, the same year the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program was established. Despite the significance of this milestone, Mateus keeps a sense of humor about his accomplishment.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “Well, the doubt is if I end up taking too long, I may not be the first!”

Mateus is not a “typical” Carnegie Mellon Portugal student in that he actually began his doctorate solely in Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. in EPP program. He heard about the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program in late 2008, almost two years into his degree, from Pedro Ferreira, who had worked with Mateus on his Masters in Engineering Policy and Management at the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), Universidade Técnica de Lisboa.

Mateus entered the Program in the summer of 2008. He stayed at Carnegie Mellon until the end of that fall. In the Spring 2009 semester, he traveled to Portugal to finish out his degree. Mateus still returns to Pittsburgh every few months to meet with his advisors, but he considers IST his base, saying, “That’s where I have a desk.” Students who begin in the Program, unlike Mateus, begin their degree in Lisbon and move to Carnegie Mellon in their second year.

“At the time, I wanted to spend time in Portugal,” said Mateus, who is originally from Lisbon. He added, laughing, “And I was sick of qualifiers.”

Qualifiers are a milestone in any Ph.D. candidate’s career. One and a half years into the program, EPP students go through a two part exam: one part is producing and defending a paper, and the other is a six day test during which time the student must come up with a solution to a relevant EPP problem. Students are given all of the pertinent information to solve the problem, but must analyze technological, social, legal, and economic aspects on their own.

“Mine was actually kind of easy,” he said. “You relate to some problems more than others.”

The question dealt with the restriction of cell-phone usage and the technological and legislative issues surrounding it. For example, high-security facilities, ER rooms, airplanes, or even restaurants or movie theatres might all want to restrict cell-phone usage within their premises. Various technologies can ensure this restriction, but this raises questions of personal freedoms, emergencies in which a cell-phone would be necessary, and even whether such restrictions would affect the business of cell-phone operators. Such technology might even require everyone to have a new type of cell-phone, a problem of money and logistics. “It’s a really interesting experience,” said Mateus.

While completing his degree, Mateus wrote two research papers and is expecting to write a third before graduating. Of his previous papers, both have been submitted to journals and one is in the advanced stages of review. The final obstacle between Mateus and his Ph.D. is to write and defend his thesis.

“We [my advisors and I] are still putting things together,” said Mateus, “but it will certainly have to do with online distribution of content”

One example of this is peer to peer systems, which put a lot of pressure networks because users send more information than the network is designed to support. Mateus’s interest in this problem is twofold. On one hand, there are technological approaches to decreasing traffic and increasing efficiency that are deserving of exploration. On the other hand, there are myriad legislative questions that surround the problem, dea-ling with issues of illegal technologies and their counter-measures.

During the thesis process, students give a presentation to their advisors and select faculty members that outlines their plans. This thesis proposal is a tool to garner constructive feedback and usually occurs in person, with all faculty members present. Mateus, however, will be completing his thesis proposal over video and telephone conference because his advisors will be truly all over the world: Portugal, London, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Berkeley.

“I think it’s a sign of the times,” he said.

Also, perhaps, a sign of strengthening international ties within the Program, which is built on a precedent of a mutually beneficial partnership between Carnegie Mellon and its Portuguese affiliates. Mateus said that he thinks “it is a good initiative to bring some change to Portuguese universities,” which tend are traditionally hierarchical and focused on excellence in a single discipline. He said that the Program brings together people with different ideas of how a university should work and how collaboration can occur.

“Your work will always be mixed with something else,” Mateus said, “and produce something that’s more than the sum of individual contribution.”

July, 2010