Every year, the Texas Exes Alcalde asks UT alumni to vote on their favorite UT professors for a teaching award called the "Texas 10." This year, UT Computer Science is proud to have our own Dr. Inderjit Dhillon represented among the winners. This prestigious award comes on the heels of Dhillon being named 2014 Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in recognition of outstanding research. The story below is a profile of a professor who has achieved remarkable success both in his research and in the classroom.
Inderjit Dhilon started off his computer science career the way a lot of computer scientists do, with having a love for math. In his schooling at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay he continued to work with numbers and solving problems. This affinity would lead him towards the path of developing ground-breaking research in computer science.
“I always liked mathematics and I was never into computers before I went to school,” Dhillon said. “I started computer science there and in my final year I did a fellowship with a very famous mathematician. I never thought I would be a professor of computer science because I just wanted to do research.”
His research, and interest in the success of his students, is what makes him a great professor. After receiving his Ph.D in computer science from the University of California Berkeley he worked in several places that allowed his research to flourish.
Dhillon’s research focuses on data mining, machine learning, data analysis, linear algebra and optimization. His emphasis is on developing algorithms that analyze the problem structure and work with massive data sets. Some of his current research topics include high dimensional data analysis, social network analysis and predicting gene disease associations. A project that he is currently working on combines machine learning and applied mathematics, which is commonly called big data analytics.
“Through this I try and look at data that comes up in different applications and develop new models,” he said. “We also worry about the computing the infrastructure we have and develop methods that help better use the computing structure. We design new machine learning algorithms that explore modern hardware.”
Dhillon’s hardwork and research efforts do not go unnoticed. In fact he has won several awards and received great amounts of recognition. Most recently he was named the 2014 Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for his contributions to large-scale data analysis, machine learning and computational mathematics. However he didn’t find out about this until a month after he was notified.
When you walk into Inderjit Dhillon’s office on the fourth floor of the Gates Dell Complex his desk will immediately catch your eye. That’s because it’s completely covered in papers, letters, books and an array of other documents. It’s a beautiful organized messed, where it seems like anything could get lost.
“I’m terrible about checking my physical mail and when I do I just put it on my desk,” Dhillon said. “After exams had finished I sat down at my desk and start sifting through papers and I found a letter titled ACM. This was December 15 and the letter was dated November 1. I thought usually these things were sent through e-mails!”
ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession. ACM provides the computing field's premier Digital Library and serves its members and the computing profession with leading-edge publications, conferences, and career resources.
This fellowship comes after being awarded the IEEE and SIAM fellow. Dhillon is also featured in the Alcalde magazine in their Texas 10 piece. The Texas 10 is a highlight of ten professors that have been nominated by UT alum for being “inspiring”, “life-changing”, and “memorable", to name a few adjectives the Alcalde’s said were used in this year’s nominations.
In the Alcalde piece he talks about his days in college and how his research led him to work at places like AT&T Bell labs. A place he says where the names on the books he had studied and read were waiting in the same cafeteria line as he was.
Dhillon also talks about in the feature how as a teacher he works to demystify math and put it in a larger context and explains how it has a more practical use. For example the usage of linear algebra in search engine searches.
At the end of the day, Dhillon is glad that his path led him to teach and continue his research. Seeing students learn and grow is something that makes his job worth it every day.
“The most fun for me is seeing the students when they come in and seeing how raw they are in their first years,” he said. “Seeing the maturity over the years and then going out and seeing them being successful. Really that is what the best part of teaching is for me.”