Francesca Parise has joined the faculty of Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Systems Engineering as an assistant professor. Most recently, Parise held a postdoctoral research fellow position at MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) with Professor Asuman Ozdaglar.
Parise describes her research as focusing on “problems that arise in the analysis and control of multi-agent systems composed by a large number of users that make autonomous and selfish decisions while interacting with each other, with application to transportation, social, and economic networks.” A main goal of her work is to be able to accurately model and predict the outcomes of these complex systems in the limit of large populations and under partial or inaccurate network information.
A second ambitious goal of her research is to have an effect on these systems. “Given a prediction about the outcome, how can we best intervene?,” asks Parise. “Maybe there is a constraint of limited resources. If so, how could we optimally allocate these resources in the network to achieve some social goal?”
Parise has always aspired to be a teacher. “When I was growing up in Italy, I always wanted to be a teacher for the level of schooling I was at,” she says. “By the time I got to the University of Padua it was already my goal to become a professor and researcher—there was no doubt in my mind that this would be my career.”
Parise earned her B.S. in information engineering and her M.S. in control engineering from the University of Padua. She also earned a completion certificate from Padua’s Galilean School of Higher Education, which is a special unit of the university open to just thirty students per year and designed to foster an intellectually stimulating environment where students from many disciplines can live and study together. “I wanted to be part of the Galilean School so that I could take classes from a variety of disciplines,” says Parise. “Being able to take additional math, physics and biology classes during my engineering degree was particularly important to me. I am also very fortunate to have had great mentors during my studies such as Professors Giorgio Picci and Maria Elena Valcher, who inspired me to pursue a degree in control.”
Parise then went to Switzerland to pursue her Ph.D. in control engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. At ETH Parise worked with Professor John Lygeros in the Automatic Control Laboratory. “I liked working with John very much,” says Parise. “He always allowed me to follow my research passions and gave me the opportunity to work on a broad range of topics.” Over her time at ETH Parise’s work evolved from looking at cultures of light-sensitive cells (trying to find the optimal pattern of light exposure to optimize their production of a certain compound), to looking at systems where the participants have agency and are able to make rational decisions.
This interest in multiagent systems with selfish participants then led Parise to her postdoc with Professor Asuman Ozdaglar’s group at MIT. “She (Ozdaglar) is a world expert on the interactions between engineering, economics and game theory,” says Parise, “and a role model for the type of advisor that I aspire to be. Interacting with her and Professor Daron Acemoglu at MIT inspired me to explore the exciting field at the boundary of game theory and network science: During my Ph.D. I was looking at systems where you have a lot of people that influence each other in generic ways,” says Parise. “In my postdoc I started to get interested in systems where the decisions made by some people have bigger effects than those made by others. I started to include network effects.” Parise goes on to say that this is one of the reasons she decided to come to Cornell. “There are so many experts on networks here,” she says, “and I want this topic to be central to my research as a faculty member.”
With systems and networks getting larger and more interconnected, it is increasingly difficult for decision-makers to collect all the relevant data and to know how to use the data they are able to collect. “I want to see if we can still design optimal interventions even if we don’t know the network exactly, but we have statistical information about it,” says Parise. “I am trying to investigate network game theory when the network is big, and partially unknown.” Parise is focused on the fundamental theory behind these questions now, but sees possible future applications in marketing as well as in public health, social and economic settings.
When she is not thinking about large, messy networks Parise likes to bake and to work on building things with her husband, Andrea Giometto—who is a new addition to the faculty of Cornell’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).