CAM Featured Alumnus: Kevin O'Keeffe

portrait photo of Kevin O'Keeffe in shirt and tie

Class:  2017
Advisor:  Steven Strogatz
Current Position:  Research Scientist at Apple
Accomplishments:  My work has been featured in Nature and PNAS among other media outlets.

What made your CAM experience special?
The research ethos. I started at Cornell as a graduate student in the physics department and was there for two years. “Doing physics”–from the Feynman diagrams of high energy physics to the renormalization group of condensed matter physics–seemed to me like being on a hero’s quest, a high-stakes climb up a lonely mountain. The physics students and faculty were lovely people, but I just didn’t feel like I fit in.

Then I got invited to a network science club at CAM and felt an immediate kinship with the atmosphere. The research seemed playful and eclectic. Isabel Kloumann ('16) was trying to understand the life cycles of apps. Mathew Holden ('15) was trying to find optimal ways to harvest fish. Andrew Loeb ('17) was trying to remotely detect cracks on bridges. And everyone liked chatting about their work. If physics seemed to me like a one-man mountain climb, applied math was like a group walk through some exotic garden–the students followed their curiosity far and wide.

I loved this attitude and joined CAM as soon as I could.

Advice to the rising talent:
Enjoy the June of your academic life as much as possible! Take walks in the yellow woods, go swim in the blue lakes, grow wise on the purple couch… More seriously, invest in friendship and academic breadth. Friends will make you happy, breadth with make you succeed; in my view, the best research comes from being a two-trick pony. Knowing the tools and open problems in field A as well as field B will make you effective - perhaps even a leader of a new field AB.

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