Student Feature Don Watson

Don Watson is a second year Ph.D. student in Civil Engineering at UF, focusing on transportation engineering. As part of his Ph.D. project, Don is writing code to determine drivers’ lane-changing behavior in a new CORSIM application.

CORSIM currently utilizes the FORTRAN programming language, which is old and limited in its capabilities compared to newer programming languages currently available. Don is working closely with Dr. Scott Washburn to create a new version of CORSIM called Corsim-NG. Corsim-NG takes advantage of object-oriented programming within the C# programming language. So far, together they are translating the current FORTRAN code into the new C# code for the new Corsim-NG. Don is also looking at how discretionary, mandatory, and anticipatory lane changes are made in CORSIM to convert the old code into the new programming language.

“The main challenge was trying to understand certain parts of the code in the CORSIM program,” Don said. “Since the FORTRAN programming language does not allow more than 6 characters to be used for variable names, a number of different variables in the CORSIM code had cryptic names; therefore, I had to do some investigation to determine what these variables represented. There are a few variables, however, that are a little more difficult to understand, and I may need to employ some additional methods to discern what these variables signify.”

This transportation engineer’s most valuable lesson learned: it’s okay not to have all the details nailed down before beginning a project.

“It is good to have a framework in your mind and an understanding of how you want to structure your code, but ultimately, things will come up that you don’t expect,” Don said. “As long as I had a good understanding of what I wanted to do in my head and a framework, I could start my coding process and develop the more detailed aspects as I went along.  Ultimately, this would allow me to save a lot of time at the beginning of the coding process that otherwise would potentially be wasted.”

Don has big plans outside of code: marrying his fiancée, Frances. “I am looking forward to beginning a new life with her,” he said. He and Frances love going to the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Fla. Don also loves fishing, and he recently completed his open water diver certification to scuba dive.

After graduation, Don plans to work in a post-doc position, during which he hopes to find a teaching position at a university in the southern United States. Don expects to graduate December 2016.