What I Care About Most in Research?

I am Xiaoqi Tan, an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and also a Fellow of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Instittue (Amii). I study optimization and decision-making under uncertainty, with a particular focus on the theory of online algorithms and its implications for problems at the interface of multi-agent systems, economics and computation (e.g., auctions; mechanism design; game theory; resource allocation; online markets; economics of clouds/networks).

I enjoy the beauty of mathematics, and consider a technically-sound and aesthetically-elegant theorem the core of publication-worthy results. I admire good applied research, but also believe that not all research needs to have practical use — good theory sustains over time, and may unexpectedly unleash its power. I am most excited about connecting theory with practice to obtain sharp insights into real-world systems design, implementation, and operation. To do so, I believe it is important, and also necessary, to sacrifice certain details of the problem. “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” — Albert Einstein

What I Care About Most in Prospective Students?

I often receive emails from prospective students with descriptions like “I know how to apply $X$ to solve $Y$” — this, unfortunately, is not what I care about the most. I care about whether you can convert a real-world problem into rigorous mathematical models, and then develop algorithms to solve the problem with provable guarantees — in the form of mathematical theorems and lemmas. In short, I look for prospective students who are motivated and excited about creating new and rigorous knowledge — to argue “how and why things work.”

What is My Take on Good Advisor-Advisee Match?

I respect scholarship and love research, like most academics do. I consider getting a graduate degree takes initiative and commitment — it requires strong motivation to excel, long-lasting enthusiasm in research, and probably most importantly, a good advisor-advisee match — based on mutual trust and respect, effortless communication, and sometimes, a bit of luck. While it is complex to define what is exactly a “good match,” a simple rule of thumb is: if you feel this is the person you are willing to “work with,” not to “work for,” then it is usually a good sign.

Should You Write Me an Email?

I am directing the SODALab.ca. We are constantly looking for graduate students at both the MSc and PhD level. Interested candidates should apply here and indicate me as your potential supervisor. If you want to initiate an effective conversation with me about your application, please send me your CV + Full Transcript + Statement of Interest in three separate PDF files. In your statement of interest, please first indicate that you’ve carefully read through this page and then briefly summarize your previous research experience (if any), your future research interest, and justify why you are a good fit for my group. If you have any publication, pick the one you feel the most proud of and summarize your contribution to the paper. If you wish, you can also discuss what you see yourself after obtaining your graduate degree (e.g., pursue an academic career or work in industry).

I apologize for not being able to reply every inquiry email. If you are already at UofA, feel free to let me know if you want to have a chat.