Chair Professor Team: Important Way for Tsinghua to Train Top Talents in the Fie

October 17,2008 From: Tsinghua News Views: 0

During the First Symposium on Theoretical Computer Science, the second chair professor team showed up together----these 20 famous scholars in the field of theoretical computer science includes 4 members of US Academy of Science, 1 member of US Academy of Engineering, 2 members of US Academy of Arts and 2 Nevanlinna Prize Winners, they got together in Tsinghua to discuss on how to cultivate top talents in the field of theoretical computer science in China and had a face-to-face discussion and interaction with Tsinghua students.

This was a grand gathering in the field of theoretical computer science.

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As a member of the first Chair Professor Team from 2003, Prof. Yao brought the career of theoretical computer science in Tsinghua forward sturdily. In 2003, 10 world-famous scholars led by Prof. Yao joined the first chair professor team and opened a new chapter for Tsinghua and for theoretical computer science in China. Prof. Yao left Princeton in 2004, and came to Tsinghua to be a full-time professor, starting his exploration on “China’s Road to Turing”. In 2006, Prof. Yao set up Tsinghua Special Pilot CS Class, based on his theoretical research and pedagogical experience aboard, he devoted himself to cultivating international top talents in the field of theoretical computer science, learning from advanced method and experience from experts of Microsoft Research Asia. In 2007, Prof. Yao set up ITCS to carry out all kinds of work, and meanwhile planed to set up the second chair professor team consisting of 20 international scholars to form top environment. In 2008, Prof. Yao began to recruit pre-graduate students. He picked up 11 students from Tsinghua Special Pilot CS Class to form pre-graduate students, and arranged seats in the lab for graduate students, training them individually. Prof. Yao carried out the program himself, designed the teaching plan, and gave lectures to undergraduates and graduate students, supervising them to do academic research.

After four years’ efforts, a complete training line has been formed from undergraduate to graduate to postdocs in ITCS. Teaching research management formed into certain scale and ITCS has become a famous institute in the world and reached top 10 in the world.

In order to cultivate world-class talents in the field of computer, Prof. Yao contacts famous scholars in the world to ask them to join all kinds of work in cultivating theoretical computer science. The fact proves that chair professor team consisting of scholars plays a very important role in this hopeful and challenging China’s Road to Turing,

The First Chair Professor Team: Witness for theoretical computer science in Tsinghua

Feeling the negative impact on computing disciplines due to lack of research on theoretical computer science, Academician Bo Zhang from computing department in Tsinghua, and Prof. Lizhu Zhou, department Director at that time proposed to the university that they hoped to bring in world-famous theoretical computer scientists in the form of chair professor team in Tsinghua University and brought new motives to research on computer science.

In 2002, when Academician Bo Zhang and Prof. Lizhu Zhou invited Prof. Yao to come back to China to set up a chair professor team, nobody could foresee that such a plan would bring historic opportunity on development of theoretical computer science in China.

Prof. Xiaotie Deng from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, alumni of Tsinghua University helped to contact Professor of W&A in Princeton University and Turing Award Recipient, Andrew Chi-Chih Yao to give a lecture in Tsinghua, and led the chair professor team in the field of theoretical computer science, and Prof. Yao agreed without hesitation.

The following work made a progress rapidly. With the contact and promotion of Prof. Mingsheng Ying and Shaoping Ma from computing department in Tsinghua, Prof. Yao, after receiving the invitation, invited 10 scholars, namely Dingzhu Du, Jinyi Cai, Tao Jiang, Ker-I Ko and so on, to form the first chair professor team, including all the excellent theoretical computer scientists. At the end of 2006, the employment of the first chair professor team ended, but most of them have close contact with ITCS in Tsinghua, supervising and researching altogether.

Because of the blank research in the field of theoretical computer science, Prof. Yao and his chair professor team put lots of efforts to launch the research in this field.

In order to make up lack of knowledge of theoretical computer science from students, besides lectures and seminars, they spent at least one month every year to work in Tsinghua and designed two courses for students, namely “Algorithms Analysis and Design” and “Introduction to Computing Theory”. Theoretical basis is put much emphasis, and during the class, professors will introduce the latest progress to students in their own research field and discuss the development and research orientation with the students. Many valuable research results produce in class.

In order for students to have individualized instruction, these 10 professors and more than 10 students have opposite selection. Each professor supervises 1-2 Ph.D. candidates. Professors came to Tsinghua to give lectures every year and gave individualized instruction to students through telephone and internet. Students also have the chance to study aboard with their advisors.

In 2004, with earnest invitation and endeavor of university, Prof. Yao resigned his work in Princeton and came to Tsinghua to become full-time professor. This determination and activity means that the development of theoretical computer science in Tsinghua University opens an unprecedented inaugurated situation and Prof. Yao’s determination and activity brings more driving force to the work of chair professor team. “I was deeply moved by the determination of Prof. Yao who decided to have a full-time work in Tsinghua. Meanwhile, I think that we are able to help universities to have breakthroughs in the field of theoretical computer science. I think the best choice will be Tsinghua. I have a chance to collaborate with two Ph.D. candidates. I think that they are the best students I’ve ever met during my 20 years’ research.” Member of the First Chair Professor Team and Professor from Wisconsin in US Jinyi Cai said.

Under the supervision of Prof. Yao, Prof. Jinyi Cai and other members of chair professor team, Ph.D. candidates Pinyan Lu showed his talents in the field of theoretical computer science. His paper was published in top conferences like STOC, FOCS, CCC, SODA and he published a paper on Holographic Algorithms in an important conference ICALP 2007 in Europe. This paper has solved a basic problem in this field and got the Best Paper Award, and this is the first time to have this award presented to Chinese scholars.

Until now, during the 14 academic papers published by Pinyan Lu, 11 of them are finished under the supervision of chair professor team. Pinyan Lu is very fond of doing scientific research in the team led by Prof. Yao, and he said: “Different professors have different understanding on the same academic question, and their ways of research are different. In such a team, I could have access to different research method and form my own way of thinking. Besides, among many members of chair professor team with different research styles, students could find one supervisor according to their own interest, which is a big advantage of chair professor team.”

In summer vacation of 2008, Pinyan Lu went to Wiscousin University to have another collaboration with Prof. Jinyi Cai, and this is the third time for him to go to Wisconsin. He described the collaboration like this: “Prof. Cai devoted himself to advising me. We almost have discussions every day, even including weekends, after work time and dinner time. Many of our thoughts and results generated from impacts on ideas. I learnt a lot on attitudes and ways to do research from him. Cai is a good teacher, and you will not feel yourself a student but a peer of collaboration when staying with him”

Under the supervision of Prof. Yao and his chair professor team, 3 academic papers by Ph. D. candidate Xi Chen have been admitted to two important conferences----STOC and FOCS, and one of them was admitted by top conference in the field of computing algorithms----SODA 2007. The paper “Setting the Complexity of 2-Player Nash-Equilibrium”, with the co-author Prof. Xiaotie Deng from The City University of Hong Kong and a member of chair professor team, solved the famous problem in the field of theoretical computer science, and won the Best Paper Award in FOCS 2006.

Also in 2006, 3 papers by chair professor team led by Prof. Yao have been admitted by FOCS, which is the top conference in the field of theoretical computer science, making breakthroughs for scholars in China, and the number of the admitted papers even excels that in UC Berkeley in US. In 2006, the chair professor team led by Prof. Yao also filled in the blank of publishing papers in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

In 2007, Prof. Ker-I Ko from State University of New York, Stony Brook got holiday on advanced study after the first chair professor team ended and had one-year visit in ITCS. Besides having one graduate course, he also hosted paper reading class every week and collaborated with Tsinghua graduate students. Prof. Dingzhu Du from University of Texas at Dallas co-supervised Ph. D. candidates with ITCS and visited the Institute on a regular basis. ITCS Ph. D. candidate Changcun Ma are having academic exchange with Prof. Dingzhu Du now, and Dr. Yongxi Cheng, who graduated this year also go to do research with Prof. Dingzhu Du. Prof. Tao Jiang from University of California is supervising ITCS Ph. D. candidate Jing Xiao on his doctoral paper research.

“Students from ITCS led by Prof. Yao and members of chair professor team all devoted themselves to research work. Prof. Yao provides good working environment for everyone, including labs, foreign visitors and so on. It is difficult to have such a wonderful environment even in top universities in US.” Prof. Ker-I Ko said.

The Second Chair Professor Team: Promoting Theoretical Computer Science towards Top Disciplines with Prof. Yao

With successful experience of the first chair professor team, Prof. Yao began to contact and set up the second chair professor team for ITCS from 2007. This chair professor team was founded in January, 2008. 20 world-famous scholars are co-supervising 20 Ph.D. candidates in ITCS.

Among these 20 world-famous scholars, some of them are acquainted with Prof. Yao for years, some of them have close academic contact with Prof. Yao, and most of them have visited to ITCS and are attracted by academic strength and atmosphere in research team led by Prof. Yao.

So far, curriculum structure for the second chair professor team and “1 to 1” supervision are undergoing with the operation form that members of chair professor team visit ITCS on a regular basis and Ph.D. candidates have chances to have academic exchange aboard during their study.

After sitting in strict exams for qualification of graduate study, every Ph.D. candidate in ITCS will have several chances to have academic exchange aboard during their study. ITCS regulates that the second academic visit aboard should have at least one semester’s interval and the duration of single visit should not exceed 6 months.

On Oct.13, during the first academic report of the First China Symposium on Theoretical Computer Science, Academician of US Academy of Sciences and Chief Scientist Ronald Graham from UC San Diego gave an opening remark with fluent Chinese and surprised everyone.

He gave an academic report on “Steiner Tree”. His humorous speech and well-chosen explanations produced laughers from time to time in the Lecture Hall. He also displayed a photo with special meaning----Former President Zemin Jiang shook hands with him during the meeting.

Tsinghua Special Pilot CS Class student Chenguang Zhu asked a question to Prof. Ronald Graham, and he told the student after preliminary answer: “Please come to me during the coffee break and I will continue to discuss this question with you then.”

During the talk with reporter, this humorous scholar with blond hair spoke Chinese words from time to time----this Academician of US Academy of Sciences is an old friend to China. He has visited China for many times and he’s been to Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Jinan. The visit to Tsinghua is his fifth time to Beijing.

Speaking of why joining chair professor team led by Prof. Yao, he said: “I knew Prof. Yao for a long time. His excellent work in Tsinghua has showed his preeminent ability. Moreover, his determination impressed people. Besides, Tsinghua students’ acumen is another important cause for me to join this team. I’m trying to help him.”

For all the measures taken for cultivating talents in Tsinghua for future in the field of theoretical computer science, Prof. Ronald Graham agreed and said: “I’m co-supervising Tsinghua students together with Prof. Yao and I believe that we will have good collaboration with ITCS in Tsinghua University.”

During the interviews, almost all the scholars spoke highly of ITCS’s academic level and students’ quality. Prof. Luca Trevisan from UC Berkeley said: “I came to Tsinghua in 2006 for the first visit. During my contact with Prof. Yao and his students, I was impressed by Prof. Yao’s scientific research attitudes and students’ excellent aptitude. This is why I join the chair professor team led by Prof. Yao.”

In March of 2008, Prof. Luca Trevisan was invited to join chair professor team and had a second visit to Tsinghua. He found that ITCS had a grand faculty than before with rich academic atmosphere. Attending the symposium is the third time that he visited Tsinghua and is going to supervise students for one month. “I’ll give some lectures to students and discuss with them. So far, I’m advising first-year Ph.D. Candidate Youming Qiao.” Prof. Luca Trevisan said: “I hope I could co-operate with the team led by Prof. Yao in order to enhance exchange and collaboration between UC Berkeley and Tsinghua University.”

Member of chair professor team and Prof. Avi Wigderson from Advance Study Centre in Princeton has paid third visit to Tsinghua. This Nevanlinna Prize Winner gave a lecture on “The Art of Reduction” to introduce his latest research results. He said: “I know Prof. Yao for 25 years and I’ll stay in ITCS for one month this time to discuss questions with students.”

Speaking of this symposium, Prof, Avi Wigderson said it was really a rare and special opportunity for such a large number of famous scholars to get together in the field of theoretical computer science and students could learn a lot from it. He mentioned that Prof. Yao put much efforts to setting up the Institute for Theoretical Computer Science. ITCS will attract more scholars to work here and co-supervise students and do scientific research together in the future.”

Member of chair professor team, Navanlinna Prize Winner Madhu Sudan, member of chair professor team and professor from MIT said: “Prof. Yao is a respectable scholar. I can see that Tsinghua students are very brilliant and hopeful. I believe this chance for them to discuss with scholars will have a great impact on their future academic development.”

Third-year Ph.D. candidate Jialin Zhang visited Brown University from February to May in 2008 and did research on distributed computation with Prof. Maurice Herlihy. “Prof. Maurice Herlihy is very strict to his students but he is very kind and nice. He could give me detailed instructions.” Jialin Zhang said. Attending this symposium, Prof. Maurice Herlihy will continue their research work with Jialin Zhang in ITCS.

With support of Prof. Yao and other members of chair professor team, Wei Yu was sent to MIT to do research for 5 months with the team led by Prof. Madhu Sudan in MIT in Sep. of 2008. Recently, Decheng Dai will be sent to Princeton to visit Prof. Sanjeev Arora for 5 months.

Members of chair professor team and their students will report their latest research progress to ITCS on a regular basis.

Under Prof. Yao’s leadership and organization, through supervision to students from chair professor team, interaction and exchange with students, we could not only train students’ excellent research conception and method, complete research quality, but provide an international platform and angle to students to help them establish solid foundation for their future development.

In the form of chair professor team, by means of the most outstanding force from scholars in the field of theoretical computer science to train talents in China, big progress has been achieved.

In the year of 2007, ITCS published 31 papers in international journals or conferences, 16 of which were published in top conferences and famous journals. For half a year during January to June in 2008, ITCS published 19 papers in international journals or conferences, 12 of which were published in top conferences or famous journals.

At present, on the 6th floor of FIT Building in Tsinghua University, there are scholars frequently visiting, some of who are Turing Award Recepients, and others come to be postdocs from all around the world. In the lab, in the conference room, different colors of faces show up and tell people that ITCS has become an important Institute in the field of theoretical computer science.