It is funny how things unfold in life. Right after I finished my master’s at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in my home country of Lebanon, my advisor at the time, Prof. Samer Saab, casually asked me what I thought about pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the U.S. The thought had already crossed my mind, especially that it was almost necessary to have a Ph.D. from a western institution to make a decent living in Lebanon. After collecting myself from the excitement, I casually answered back: “Sure, why not.” That’s when he told me that a former student of his, Prof. Zak Kassas, had just started as an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and was looking for solid students to apply for a Ph.D. position.
I made my way to UCR a few months later. It was kind of an arranged marriage in a sense as I had said yes to the Ph.D. not knowing exactly what my topic would be about. Luckily, I fell in love with it, and I saw the opportunities it could bring me, which far exceeded my aspirations at the time. I was one of Prof. Kassas’s first few students and we worked aggressively to establish the Autonomous Systems Perception, Intelligence, and Navigation (ASPIN) Laboratory. It was challenging in all aspects, but it was worth it.
The most rewarding moments were the ones shared with fellow researchers at conferences and technical events. Not only I learned a lot in these conferences, but it was also incredibly fulfilling to see my work recognized by my peers. One of the conferences we attended frequently was the Position, Location, and Navigation Symposium (PLANS), an AESS-sponsored conference. I was fortunate to attend PLANS for three years, in which AESS awarded me a Best Student Paper, a Best Paper in Track, and the Walter Fried Award for Best Paper (not all in the same year, of course!) The recognition and support I got from the community were a great motivation to keep going and give back to the community by publishing the best science I could ever produce, which eventually formed my Ph.D. dissertation titled “Precise Navigation with Cellular Signals: Receiver Design, Differential and Non-Differential Frameworks, and Performance Analysis “.
It is therefore a great honor to receive the 2021 Robert T. Hill Award for Best Dissertation. It is a long way from my conversation with Prof. Saab back in Lebanon and one that I could have never dreamt of. I am grateful to Prof. Saab who believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. I am grateful to my advisor Prof. Kassas who supported me throughout the journey and provided me with great opportunities. I would also like to thank the AESS Awards Committee for their time reading and evaluating my dissertation. Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Tryphon Georgiou and Prof. Mathieu Joerger for their letters of recommendation.