February 2021

A Conversation with Badri Roysam

Badri Roysam

Professor & Chair, ECE Department

University of Houston

The Basics

How many years have you been with your current company? 10 years

First job? Assistant Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Fall 1989

Where were you born? India

Where did you grow up? India


Academic Perspective

Why is ECEDHA important to you?

ECEDHA is truly unique among professional organizations. The members are all ECE / EECS department heads just like me. We all face very similar situations in our work, and we have much to learn from each other. ECEDHA brings us together in engaging ways. It helps us keep up with each other, and develop a collective understanding of where our field is headed. After all “the future is what we do”.


What are you most proud of with distance learning?

I am really proud of our students. They have worked hard, made major adjustments with limited resources, remained engaged and respectful through a difficult period, and emerged strong. They are ready to handle the future.


What have you found to have been most rewarding in your experience with ECEDHA and the Board position?

Every ECEDHA activity has been rewarding for me. The conferences have been fantastic, the fellowship of my counterparts in universities throughout the world, our Latin American outreach activities, my interactions with the ECEDHA staff, and of course, and the editorial work that we did together on ECE Source. I am still amazed at the prescient accuracy of our editorials in February and March of 2020. We communicated the pandemic’s expected impacts and timing, and importantly, the steps that ECE Departments must take in a manner that is still accurate today, nearly a year later!


If you had to choose another profession, what would you choose?

A neuroscientist. The human brain is a source of endless wonder to me. I am so fortunate to be working on the brain even as an ECE professor. In my lab, we analyze images of brain tissues afflicted by concussion, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias.


Was there a defining moment in your life that made you choose ECE as a profession?

When I was in middle school, my parents bought me a radio kit. It took a while for me to get it to work, but it was a defining experience. Unlike mechanical systems, we cannot see the activities in electronic systems, so they have this sense of mystery and complexity that is addicting.


What has been your personal biggest challenge, or most significant achievement since the pandemic?

Learning the structure and physiology of the human breathing apparatus, and the peripheral nervous system is my most significant achievement during the pandemic.  The past year has, all told, been about breathing, and more specifically, dysfunctional breathing. On the one hand, we saw George Floyd’s suffering on television, and his words “I can’t breathe” left a deep scar in my mind. Then, there were more than 470,000 people who died because of COVID. Many more suffered. So, I decided to learn about the human breathing apparatus. It is simply amazing, yet under-appreciated. My favorite book on this subject is Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown. It has been transformative and I recommend it to all my colleagues.


My favorite class to teach is...

ECE 3337 Signals and Systems Analysis. This topic is so fundamental to our discipline. It is also a hard subject to teach, since students are using a lot of mathematics, and learning abstract new concepts in the context of dramatic and unfamiliar applications, all in one semester. They emerge transformed, and it is gratifying.


Greatest piece of advice I can offer a student is...

Most ECE subjects can only be learned from doing, and reading the book is not sufficient. Importantly, study in advance for each lecture and for each course, not after the instructor’s lecture. You will understand the subject much better. You will ask much better questions, and better understand the instructor’s answers to your questions. This is how you can get a terrific grade with the least effort.


Beyond the Desk

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Man, you have no idea what you are in for!


Who/what inspires you?

The wisdom of ancient Vedic, Greek, Buddhist, Chinese, and Roman philosophers. They left behind so many timeless and pithy gems. For example, Niccolo Machiavelli said “Never waste the opportunity offered by a crisis”. Humanity has progressed tremendously in terms of technology, but in terms of how we treat each other, we are still in the same place we were 2,000 years ago.


Philosophy of life in a nutshell?

“You only have the right to do your duty, not to the fruits of your labors. Always.” This is a classic line from the Bhagawad Gita, an ancient Vedic text.  In modern terms, it is the recipe for how we can “get in the flow” and do our mindful best without clouding our minds with useless thoughts. Timeless message.


Nobody is better than me when it comes to...

Thanking my helpers and mentors!


If there is one thing I learned in life, it’s...

Always changing, so keep on learning new things.


A problem I have yet to solve:

Can we become wiser at a younger age?


I always wanted to travel to...

Macchu Picchu


You couldn’t pay me enough to…

Condone disinformation! It is the greatest evil of our times.


In my opinion, the greatest invention of all time is...

The LED Lightbulb – it symbolizes the modern Electrical Engineering.


One thing people don’t realize about me is...

I love to cook!


Favorite movie:

The Lion King. This children’s movie captures so much of life. For example, the insurrection of January 6th reminds me of the epic battle leading to the fiery defeat of Scar and his evil hyenas, followed by the dawn of a new era under the brave new king Simba, together with his goodhearted band of helpers.