Roberto Petroccia, IEEE Senior Member, OES Liaison for the Young Professionals BOOST Program
When I was asked to write a story about myself, my first thought was “Oh boy!” Don’t get me wrong, I am very social but I do not like to talk that much about myself, however, I am happy to embark in this journey with you.
The first thing I would like to share is how I became a scientist working on underwater communications and networking. I am a small-town boy and when I say small town, I mean very small … about 4000 people on the hills in the central part of Italy … far from the sea. In high school I studied Latin, Ancient Greek, philosophy, literature with very limited math, science and nothing related to computers. However, after high school, I decided to study Computer Science because I liked the topic (why not?). I moved to Rome to study at La Sapienza University. I did not know anything about programming languages and never sent an e-mail or had an e-mail account before my first year at University (something crazy nowadays). It was hard but I managed to get my Master’s Degree (summa cum laude) in 2006. I never thought about doing a Ph.D. but since it was an interesting challenge I said, “why not?” and I applied to the Computer Science Department at La Sapienza University. My main focus was terrestrial wireless ad hoc networks and I never heard about underwater networks at that time. During my Ph.D., I had the opportunity (thanks to my advisor Prof. Chiara Petrioli) to spend some time in USA as visiting researcher at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque (NM) and at the Northeastern University in Boston (MA).
At that time, my English ranged from poor to none, but it was a fun experience. While in Boston, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Prof. Milica Stojanovic, a prominent figure in the domain of underwater acoustic communications and networking (I am sure all of you know her). This was a key moment in my life. I became fascinated by this research topic and I decided to start diving into this new area. I was particularly happy because, although I grew up on the hills, I was (and still am) in love with the sea, always willing to get a diving license and start exploring under the sea surface. At the beginning it was hard, well it was very hard, since I did not have any background in acoustics or engineering-related fields. I have to thank Milica for her patience (also with my poor English) and for much more. In the end, I did part of my Ph.D. in Boston (at MIT and Northeastern University) and part in Rome, traveling back and forth. Unfortunately, this did not help in completing the course to get my diving license. In 2010, I finally got the diving license and also completed my Ph.D., with a thesis on terrestrial and underwater networks. I then started working as a Researcher at La Sapienza the University, focusing on underwater networks and applied research. Working on simulation and analytical studies was okay, but I always wanted to test and validate the networking protocols and strategies I was designing and developing in the field. I had my first at-sea experimentation in 2010 at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with the team of Lee Freitag (thanks Lee and the team for the great opportunity) and then at the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE), at the time called the NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC). That was only the beginning, in the following years I started traveling around the world, performing several sea-trials per year in cooperation with research centers, industry and academia. I was spending seven to eight months per year away from home. During this time, I also managed to improve my English and obtain two additional diving licenses (Advanced and Master level). In 2012, together with colleagues from the University, we set up a spin-off company called WSENSE, which was a great experience for me. Finally, in 2015, I left the University and the company and joined CMRE, where I am currently working. At CMRE, I had the chance to significantly improve my expertise and take advantage of incredible opportunities: conducting cutting-edge research, leading sea-trials and joining landmark initiatives like JANUS, just to cite a few. It has been an absolutely amazing journey so far.
Although I joined the IEEE Society in 2010, I only joined OES in 2019. That year, I was selected as one of the two young professionals (YP) for the OES YP-BOOST Program. I have to admit that I regret not joining OES earlier and I encourage all of you to be part of this Society. OES has expanded my network and given me so many opportunities, and now I feel it is my time to give something back. I started being more and more involved in the OES activities and I am now the OES liaison for the YP-BOOST Program. My plan is to engage as much as possible with students and young researchers, thus having the possibility to work together and share new opportunities and challenges.
I apologize for the long journey through my professional career (I hope you did not get too bored), but I did it for a reason. A lot of choices I made were purely driven by my passions without looking at the challenges, thus reaching the point where I am so fortunate to be able to say “I love my job.” I am sure that if I made it, you can do it too, so … “Follow your passions and don’t be afraid of the challenges.”
The second thing I would like to share with you is related to my personal life and other passions. I promise, it is going to be short this time. Apart from loving to dive, I like to practice sports, in particular: running, soccer and badminton. In regards to badminton, I was competing at the national level during my teens and I have so many great memories. I also like motorbikes and the adrenaline they give you during a nice ride on the hills with friends.
I am married to Sara, who was my girlfriend during my Ph.D. and traveling time. Sara was (is) very patient with me, when I was travelling we did not see each other that often … this is probably the reason why we were together back then. Sara is so amazing that I decided to marry her twice (or she decided), first time in 2015 (civil wedding) and second time in 2018 (religious wedding). I am not sure if we will go for a third one, but if so, it will be another big YES from me. We now have a beautiful daughter (Carla). She is five years old but already acts like an 18 year old … hope things with her will improve in the coming years, or at least this is what I keep repeating to myself. We love traveling and seeing new places but COVID has changed our lives in that respect. I am sure all of us are waiting for the pandemic to release its grip in order to be able to go back to some level of normality, start traveling and spending some time together again. Let us hope this will happen soon.
If you are interested in my story and YP program, please visit the
OES YP program website:
We are currently updating the webpage. The plan is to receive applications for the YP-BOOST Program by Sept-Oct 2021 in order to have the selected candidates starting the 1st of January 2022 with the support to participate in future OCEANS Conferences in 2022 and 2023.