Max Grossman, PhD Student: Every Day’s a Good Day

Max-midlaugh-DSC_00040crop“Every day is a good day. Everything I’m working on is exactly what I want to be working on.” Max Grossman, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in computer science at Rice University, is enthusiastic about his research in parallel and distributed computing. His work focuses on schedulers, programming models, tools, and applications for heterogeneous and distributed systems under the direction of Vivek Sarkar, E.D. Butcher Chair in Engineering and Professor and Chair, Department of Computer Science.

A typical morning begins with fresh coffee and prioritizing projects. “I classify my time into deadline-oriented scheduling and free time,” he said. “Usually, mornings start with making sure there aren’t any issues with the auto-grader, or any lab materials to prepare for Vivek’s course. After that, the rest of the day is filled with whatever I feel like doing.”

The Habanero Auto-Grader has been a pet project of Grossman’s since he mentored the three interns that built it. “We wanted to be able to give this tool a parallel program written in an undergraduate class, and have it provide instant and automatic feedback on the correctness and performance of that program while helping to identify possible bugs.”

The undergraduate researchers built the evaluation tool over summer 2015. Grossman said, “We published a paper on it in the fall, and we’re using an industrialized version of it in Vivek’s class this semester. We’ve gotten great feedback and the students are using it heavily.”

Max Grossman, PhD student in computer science at Rice UniversityAnother project that excites Grossman is a “unified runtime for extreme-scale scheduling, basically making running the kind of workloads that national labs are interested in simpler and more efficient.” He works on building out a system that will take important applications like weather, earthquake, and combustion simulators and help them run faster on supercomputers. “Today, you’ve got a lot of diversity in the hardware and software used by these massive machines. We want to build the system that unifies all those different components, and helps them work together more efficiently.”

Grossman first worked on high performance computing (HPC) research with Sarkar as an undergraduate at Rice. “Vivek recommended I remain at Rice for my masters,” said Grossman, who completed the program in a year and then worked for Delphix, a small technology company in San Francisco. When he applied to Ph.D. programs, Grossman considered other options but came back to Rice so that he could continue to work with Sarkar. “I knew we worked very well together,” said Grossman. “He’s a great mentor, and balances giving me guidance with letting me take initiative and do things my way.”

In April, Sarkar’s mentoring — combined with Grossman’s passion for his research and his advocacy for undergraduate students– led to two prestigious awards, an NSF EAPSI award and a CRA-E Graduate Fellowship.

The National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) provides research grants to U.S. graduate students in science, engineering, and education that enables them to work abroad. Grossman will gain first-hand research experience in Tokyo, an introduction to Japan’s science, science policy, and scientific infrastructure, and an orientation in Japanese society, culture, and language. He will be able to initiate professional relationships, enabling future collaboration with his Japanese counterparts.

The Computing Research Association – Education (CRA-E) Committee selected Grossman as one of two CRA-E Graduate Fellows. The program gives graduate students the opportunity to contribute to CRA-E projects, engage in advocacy for mentoring undergraduate students, and promote computer science research and undergraduate education at the national level. Grossman is anxious to share his experiences as a graduate advisor for the Rice Center for Teaching Excellence and as a graduate mentor for undergraduate researchers. “Undergraduate researchers have a unique ability to make a significant impact because they have no preconceptions. I want to figure out how to reach as many undergraduate students as we can, and encourage them to get involved in research.”

Jonathan “Max” Grossman completed his B.S. in CS in 2012, his M.S. in 2013, and his Ph.D. in 2017. His adviser was Vivek Sarkar.

For more information on research, academic and innovation opportunities in CS at Rice University, visit the department web site: