My Own Meandering Experience – Perspective from a UC Davis Graduate Student

Saturday, November 4, 2017

by By Zane McDonald, UC Davis TTP 2018


Across the globe, societies are beginning to experience radical events caused by CO2-induced global warming.  These black swans are causing billions in lost GDP, fracturing nations, starving communities, and generating a tidal wave of environmental refugees.  For these reasons and more, it has never been more important, and frankly more energizing, to be a transportation researcher. Transportation students at UC Davis work daily in one of the most influential sectors on climate change, as well as topics of social justice, international collaboration, and innovation.  Becoming an expert in such a diverse and challenging field is no easy task – provoking many difficult questions:  Where can I acquire the wide portfolio of skills necessary to work in such a field?  Where can I engage in meaningful outreach with a tangible impact?  Where is the most influential research being conducted?  What program will open the most avenues of collaboration for me, leading to powerful job opportunities? 

After concluding my second year of graduate studies, plowing full-tilt into my third year, I feel as though I have achieved a level of academic proficiency that empowers me to comment on this topic with some authority.   Here I will speak from my own meandering experience about how the Transportation Technology and Policy (TTP) program and the University of California, Davis -- Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis) have helped me to prioritize and address the questions I face as a budding intellectual in an increasingly crowded sector.

In 1998, the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis held the very first public gathering that explicitly addressed the broad range of new mobility concepts.  Since then, ITS-Davis has been an internationally respected convener of all stakeholders for progress in sustainable transportation.  ITS-Davis has hosted over 100 major gatherings, including the Transportation Research Board’s biennial Asilomar Conference on Transportation and Energy Policy.  This level of visibility, concurrent with UC Davis’ proximity to the state capital, has led to our research being sought and proactively brought into the state policy dialogue.  In addition, ITS-Davis has built meaningful relationships with many key players in government, NGO, academia, and industry, including auto manufacturers, utilities, national research labs, think tanks, and energy providers.  This level of interaction has been beyond valuable for me, giving me the opportunity to dialogue and intern with multiple agencies around the globe.

ITS-Davis is home to the TTP graduate program.  This program engages over 60 of the sector’s top experts in a brain trust to enhance the education of transportation scientists.   TTP has in-house expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including:  advanced vehicle technologies, behavior analysis, alternative fuels, policy analysis, planning, and new mobility.  The objective research conducted within ITS-Davis is an essential element to supporting durable, science-based policies and strategic business decisions.  ITS-Davis teams have led critical research projects for 15-plus state, national, and international agencies, as well as NGO, policy, industry, and planning entities.  As a student, this portfolio of high-impact research has given me full control to experiment across a wide range of topics. Additionally, having a peer-to-peer relationship with world-class academics encourages me to flex my scholastic muscles in a jam-packed field.


In addition to research and outreach, ITS-Davis and the TTP program are national leaders in interdisciplinary education.  TTP curriculum alone draws from 34 different academic disciplines, all culminating to generate well-rounded and formidable intellectuals.  TTP graduate students are educated in transportation economics, policy, technology, modeling, energy, and planning.  Via this approach, a bridge in communication is formed between engineers, policy wonks, economists, and planners.  This skill has proven to be immensely advantageous, allowing me to engage with peers from different backgrounds, facilitating provocative collaboration.  By this skill, I am confident that my future career will remain broad and dynamic.

ITS-Davis and the Transportation Technology and Policy group have enabled me to distinguish myself.  I have been afforded countless opportunities to better myself by struggling through unique challenges with exemplary role models.  I find that through my education at ITS-Davis, I have come to love and respect myself more than ever before.  In light of this gift, I have taken on the role of the TTP Student Representative for 2017-18 academic year.  This brief is an effort to give back to an institute that has done so much for me.  ITS-Davis has become a home to a wide spectrum of students.  If you would like to join our team, please do not hesitate.  It is time to make an impact.


About the Author: Zane McDonald

Zane McDonald is a dual M.Sc. candidate in Transportation Technology and Policy and Energy Systems at the University of California, Davis.  He conducts research in the fields of renewable energy integration and alternative fuel pathways.  He is a research fellow of the STEPs (Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways) Consortium, a Leighty Fellow, and Royal Dutch Shell Corporate Affiliate.  His expertise is in global transportation energy modeling and energy systems modeling.  He can be contacted at [email protected].