Matheus Oliveira is conducting his doctoral research in Transportation Systems at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), under the MIT Portugal Program. He is from Brazil and has a Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Currently he is working on his PhD project on "Infrastructure Investment Policy: How have financing schemes been misleading the investment decision in the transport sector?" and has spent a semester at MIT in Boston working on his thesis and developing his research work. Matheus’ PhD project is being supervised by Rosário Macário (IST-UL), Romulo Orrico Filho (COPPE-UFRJ).

 You are from Brazil, why did you choose the MIT Portugal Program?

I met Professor Prof. Rosário Macário in Rio de Janeiro while working at the organization of the World Conference on Transport Research (WCTR). She mentioned the MIT Portugal  Program in transportation system. At the time I was finishing my Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and decided to research about the program, Lisbon and the MIT Portugal partnership at IST. Among the PhD transportation programs in the world, MIT Portugal is one of the bests and the opportunity to study in Portugal and U.S. was the most important decision factor.

 Can you make a short résumé of your academic background before entering the MPP?

I have a Bachelor's Degree in Economics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and I thought of continuing doing research in the innovation field. But finally, I ended up realizing that the transportation sector could be a better opportunity to make real changes in peoples’ daily lives. After this resolution, I changed my plans and moved to Rio de Janeiro to do my Master’s studies- There I started working on several transportation projects, sustainability research and public transportation planning. It is amazing to realize how transportation is fundamental for developing a sustainable, inclusive and healthier society.  

You began your PhD in 2013, what´s your opinion about the Doctoral Program in Transportation Systems (DPTS)?

I believe that DPTS is one of the best ones in the world. In particular, the experience at MIT in Cambridge is one of the highlights of the program. I have learned a lot in the last four years. Classes, conferences and workshops are part of this growth, but I would like to emphasize how much I have learned with my colleagues. This interaction is fundamental to overcome the PhD loneliness.

What are in your perspective, the main benefits of this Program?

I can say that one of the highlights of the program is the possibility to learn, talk and work with professors and candidates from other universities. Not only John Akula, my supervisor at MIT, but all Professors from Porto, Coimbra and other European universities, have presented fruitful discussions in the classes. Although, it is sometimes boring to see classes in videoconference, these interactions represent a distinguished feature of the program.

Last year you spent six months at MIT USA, how was the experience?

I have spent a nice time at MIT last year. It was a great opportunity to discover new interests, work hard, get in touch with new ideas and make good friends. Every corner in the campus is an opportunity to see new things, grab free food and learn about interesting projects – once I have even spoke to a researcher about his work on 3D printing human organs.

Outside the MIT campus, Boston and Cambridge are nice cities, especially after winter. I arrived in February in the middle of snow storm. I remember to stay the first week at home because outside the temperature was -22, but after a few weeks you get used to the cold.

You were under the supervision of Professor John Akula. How did this experience contribute to your research and to your professional path?

John is an amazing person, a thoughtful professor and a dedicated supervisor. He had an essential role on my thesis development and also with all my research work.  From all we have discussed along my stay at MIT I would like to share what I think is the best tip for a PhD’s thesis: Some people might agree with everything written in your thesis, others will try to refuse all the arguments presented. When we are writing, we must find the argument hardcore (i.e. the findings that even the biggest incredulous must accept.) and bring it to the center of the discussion – This is called focusing.

In terms of personal experience, how was it?

MIT is mostly about working. Of course, it is not the traditional work, but if you have several opportunities available almost every day, you are almost compelled to make some value out of them. In parallel to the thesis, I have learned about civic innovation, coding and joined the Code for America brigade for civic hacking. Driven by this opportunity, I have started to developed a transportation civic innovation project in my home town in Brazil (

Would you recommend this experience to other students?

Sure! Go to MIT; stay at least 6 months; work hard; eat some free food; meet some good people; talk to your supervisor and other professors; learn about research projects completely out of the box; go for sailing; see as much conferences as possible in the time you stay there; and spend some time at Muddy’s.

What´s your thesis about and when do you plan to finish it?

I am almost finishing my thesis and expect to present it in the end of August. My research discusses the effects of European Union funding policy before 2008 on local government transportation investment decision. Moreover, the thesis tests for the instability escalation by the development of a feedback loop between the EU convergence goals and the economic growth promoted by these investments. 

Plans for after graduation?

As I said, in the latest years I have become an enthusiastic of the public participation and crowdsourcing as a way of supporting decision tools. I would like to move on with this research and apply it to the transportation planning. +MetroBH is one of the first steps of this path. For the future, I am looking to find a good way to combine my research on funding with this new framework.


Matheus Oliveira scholarship is funded by CAPES - Proc. nº 9227/13-0