CEE Update Alumni Spotlights: Dr. Prateek Bansal


by Jeannette L. Little

Prateek Bansal
Dr. Prateek Bansal

While in high school Prateek Bansal, Ph.D. ‘19, realized that a career as a researcher just might suit him well. He observed in himself a sense of pleasure in solving complex mathematical problems, noting an inherent ability and resilience to stick with a problem.

Bansal grew up in Sawai Madhopur, India, with non-existent exposure to computers and English until secondary schooling. “Despite these challenges, being able to enroll in one of India’s premier engineering undergraduate programs, admission to which was based on a nationwide entrance exam, completely transformed my trajectory,” Bansal said. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at IIT Delhi and his Masters at UT Austin, majoring in Transportation Engineering.

For his bachelor’s degree, Bansal had the opportunity to visit transportation research groups at top universities in Taiwan, Canada, and Sweden. “These international research experiences further convinced me that I am curious and passionate about learning and solving problems. Thus, research was an obvious career path for me.” With this exposure, Bansal was further convinced to pursue research in transportation engineering due to its interdisciplinary appeal and practice-ready research implications, all of which require a rigorous and thoughtful approach to make new methods valuable for different stakeholders.

After obtaining his master’s, Bansal started to look for the right mix of curriculum and an advisor to work with in order to pursue a Ph.D. in his chosen interest area of transportation engineering. He explored Cornell’s CEE program and was interested in Associate Professor Ricardo Daziano’s research on understanding human behavior. With that knowledge, he then found that Cornell offered a multi-disciplinary curriculum. “The flexibility to explore disciplines beyond engineering, was a decisive factor in joining Cornell’s doctoral program,” Bansal said. “During my Ph.D., I did graduate course sequence in econometrics and also took courses in mathematics and operations research.” Bansal went to UC Berkeley and Universidad de Chile as an exchange student while obtaining his Ph.D., still completing his degree exceptionally fast, in 3.5 years.

After graduating, Bansal took a postdoctoral position at Imperial College London, in August 2019, where he worked on developing methods at the intersection of Bayesian machine learning, econometrics, and causal inference to improve the understanding of travel behavior and safety. “The research work allows me to collaborate with over 100 transit operators worldwide, who provide us with access to large-scale datasets and offer opportunities to disseminate research in practice. My experience at Imperial has been nothing less than the best.”

In September 2020, Bansal won the prestigious Leverhulme Trust Early Fellowship. Through the support of this fellowship, he is working on an exciting research project to improve the resilience of transit networks. “I am developing new methods for causal inference which, for the first time, will allow us to understand the impact of events on decision-makers’ behavior in large-scale complex systems. These methods will be used to understand how shocks (e.g., large crowds or station closures) effect the performance of the London Underground and the behavior of passengers. The new methods will also enhance theoretical understanding of causal inference across many social networks and systems,” Bansal explained.

In June 2021, Bansal will join the National University of Singapore as a full-time tenure-track assistant professor, supported by the prestigious Presidential Young Professorship award. His postdoctoral experience has prepared him well and taught him how to juggle multiple tasks—from supervising Ph.D. students, writing grants, and teaching—while still focusing on research. All of this will benefit him immensely in his new academic role.