First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Emmanuel Candes


Full name

Emmanuel Candes

Birth Date


What Award did you receive from IEEE?

2021 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal

Place of Birth

Paris, France

Where did you grow up

Paris, France

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

My father worked in human resources and my mother was raising us until I was a teenager. She then became an editor. They have early college degrees. I have two brothers: one is a project manager in the finance industry and the other a project manger in the transportation industry. They both have engineering degrees.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I wanted to be a mountain guide.

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I grew up in Paris, so you may think of me as a city boy—at least originally. I grew up with two brothers. My mother had a hard time containing our energy in a small city apartment. School was good because I managed to make lots of friends that I have kept to this day. French culture puts a high premium on social interactions, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

I liked to play soccer and, later on, rugby. I had a little scooter and loved going around Paris and taking photographs.

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

I was a boy scout for many years (I mentioned earlier the energy problem my mother had to deal with), and so we would be sent off to the countryside for weeks during the summer time. I played soccer and rugby. Some of my best friends were in my rugby team and we are still on Whatsapp together.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

I gave private math and chess lessons to students and kids.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

Yes, vacation time was sacred. We would go on impossibly long car trips to beautiful places. One special memory is the trip from Paris to Athens when I was a teenager. I just loved Greece and brought my family there so that they can see what it's like.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

Mathematics and physics because they would challenge me.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

I love biology as a subject but do not have a fond memory learning because it was too much about memorizing.

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

I will discuss Stanford University, the place where I did my PhD. Why I selected Stanford is curious. I was an undergraduate student in France and wanted to go to the US for a doctorate. My undergraduate teacher however made it a condition that I first ace the courses he was teaching. The last course ended in June. Needless to say it was way past the deadline. My teacher nevertheless wrote to a few colleagues saying he had a good student interested in studying in the US. David Donoho was the first to respond. A few weeks later, I took a flight to San Francisco, and I am still here almost 30 years later. This is one of the best decisions I made in my life, and I am forever grateful to David for making it possible. At Stanford I learned lots of statistics and discovered the power of ideas. This has been the most enriching experience.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

My first job was a non-tenure track position at Stanford in the Department of Statistics. My current job is pretty much the same, but with tenure. I love being a faculty member, I love that my office is on an open American campus, I love to be surrounded by twenty-year-olds. I have the feeling that this keeps me young and alive. What better life than going for lunches with smart and energetic students?

Has your career turned out as you expected?

No. I did not think I was cut out for academia. I entered a doctoral program for two simple reasons: to produce an original piece of scientific work and enjoy student life a little longer. The plan was to take on a position in industry immediately after. It did not turn that way, and I am still surprised by this.

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

I am grateful that the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory published what I consider to be my most important early career papers. So the little green island, as Martin Vetterli likes to call it, will always be close to my heart. I believe the IEEE is the prime example of an organization where theoreticians like myself can meet engineers and exchange ideas. These exchanges have made me a better scientist.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

I owe a great debt of gratitude to IEEE for selecting me, along with Justin Romberg and Terence Tao, as the recipients of the 2021 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal. One of the most appealing aspects of receiving an award is that one is automatically joining the company of previous recipients. Here, I cannot think of a higher honor than being associated with those distinguished scientists/engineers who have all shaped signal processing over the last fifty-plus years.

What other associations have helped you in your career?

I would like to think of the National Science Foundation if I may. I received the Waterman Award, which goes to early career scientists, and this recognition has helped me tremendously. It opened doors and gave me confidence.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

The world is fast-paced. I would, however, tell younger professionals to be patient; they should know that good work almost always gets eventually rewarded. I would also tell them to treat others the way they want to be treated.

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

Be curious, inform yourself of what others are doing.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

To the extent that I bear a bit of responsibility, it is to see all my former students and postdocs do well and have the stellar careers they deserve.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

I cycle and sail a lot. I own two sailboats in the San Francisco Bay. I love being outdoors. I have evolved from a city boy to an outdoors guy.

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

To have constructed a happy life very far from the bird's nest.

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

Pizza and espresso from Naples, Italy.

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

Classic rock. Big three are Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Bruce Springsteen. "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.

I used to own a Fiat Spyder, the most beautiful thing ever. Unfortunately, it was impossible to maintain...

What are three things people may not know about you?

I love historic movies. Romy Schneider still moves me beyond belief. I may be a theoretical engineer but not a practical one!

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

David Donoho. He communicated an ubounded scientific vision and his wonderful taste for problems. I would be very different person today had I had a different PhD advisor.

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

Stereo speakers.