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Andrew Yao: How Do I Cultivate Elites in China

November 17,2008


Since 1990s, hi-tech symbolized by information technology have developed very fast, and the impacts of science and technology on economic development are increasingly deeper. Economic globalization is interlacement and superposition among different global networks, and technical globalization is the fundamental and vital part of economic globalization. Meanwhile, further development of economic globalization accelerates globalization of science and technology. “2008 Zhongguancun Forum” held between November 14 and 15 took “Technology----challenge for global innovation” as the main topic, aiming to seek for motivity and opportunity for innovation by means of global technology and economic resource in the background of globalization.


 How to cultivate students with creativity and innovation in universities and institutions? How to let students become elites with limited condition? On November 14, during “2008 Zhongguancun Forum”, Prof. Yao, 2000 Turing Award Recipient gave a lecture on Cultivating Talents in China: My Experience and answered these questions above through his own experience.


In 2004, Prof. Yao left Princeton University and came back to China, becoming a professor in Tsinghua University. He aimed to promote development of computer science in China and considered cultivating elites in the field of computer science in the most effective way.


This is a career with hardship.


It is known that China has its own advantages, such as excellent students, rapid development of economy, efficient organization and so on. Four years ago, Prof. Yao asked himself: “How to make use of these advantages to cultivate elites in China?”


From the beginning, Prof. Yao has very clear goal----provide the best environment in the field of computer science for the most brilliant students in China to study and research so as to help with their future development.


In globalization times, competition among talents is very fierce and most talents who are majoring computer science want to pursue further study in US upon graduation. How to keep some graduated students and let them continue further study in China so as to promote development of computer science and information science, and this is what Prof. Yao considers.


Prof. Yao said: “What is done now is not enough. A systematic cultivation program is needed to provide a reasonable choice for talents in China, so as for them to find out they can have a bright future in China as well.”


It is not easy to carry out the program. Prof. Yao said: “Students will stay only when they believe what we provide is comparable to what developed countries provide. Meanwhile, we must have support and funding from government and other organizations to carry out the systematic program.”


The education program that Prof. Yao has developed includes elite curricula for undergraduate students. Prof. Yao introduced that elite curricula admit 30 students every year from freshmen of computer science department in Tsinghua University. We prepare 10 core courses for the students, including the field of theoretical computer science and computer system.


“Courses are not enough for them, and there must be a research environment to support our work.” In 2007, Prof. Yao founded the Institute for Theoretical Computer Science and began his program for graduate students.


Prof. Yao introduced that theoretical computer science is put much emphasis on training graduate students, and this requires international cooperation and exchange. Students will have at least one year to study aboard. “International exchange will help these talented Chinese students to study hard so as to be as good as their counterpart aboard.”


In order to strengthen faculty’s quality for graduated students, Prof. Yao set up a high-quality research team, including supervisors’ team consisting of postdocs and famous scholars.


“It is better to start education earlier.” Prof. Yao said, “Therefore, if students are willing to have graduate program in China, we will arrange some projects during undergraduate study in order for them to be merged into following graduate study.”


In order to provide more chances of international exchange for graduate students, Prof. Yao starts some creative modes, one of which is the international conference attended by students. The conference invites excellent Ph.D. students from aboard to exchange research ideas with Tsinghua students.


Prof. Yao emphasized: “In China, as long as we seize the opportunity, provide the best environment for students, break the boundaries among different disciplines, and set up effective encouraging system, it is possible for us to cultivate elites.”