Mihai Pop Named Director of UMIACS

Nov 27, 2018

Mihai Pop, a professor of computer science noted for his scientific research and advocacy for greater equality in academia, has been appointed director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), effective Nov. 25, 2018 through June 30, 2022.

Pop will provide leadership to more than 80 faculty members who hail from 11 departments across the UMD campus, as well as 150 graduate students and almost two dozen administrative and technical staff members who support the institute’s research, innovation and outreach.

He has served as interim director of UMIACS since March 2018, succeeding Amitabh Varshney, who is now dean of the university’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

“Mihai has a strong record of scientific research with impact and has amply demonstrated his ability to move UMIACS forward,” Varshney said. “I look forward to working closely with him as our college and the university expand their scientific scope and educational reach in areas that are closely tied to advances in computing.”

Pop said he is honored to be chosen to lead the institute, noting that the core mission of UMIACS is to pursue interdisciplinary research that will have a positive impact on both science and society.

“I look forward to working with our faculty, postdocs, students and staff to bring the power of modern computing to bear on many of the challenges we face,” Pop said.

UMIACS was launched in 1985, and currently boasts 16 labs and centers focused on areas like computer vision, computational biology, cybersecurity, and natural language processing. Combined with the Department of Computer Science—where 65 percent of UMIACS faculty members have tenure or tenure-track appointments—the institute brings in almost $25 million annually in research funding.

Pop said recent advances in computational power and fresh theoretical approaches have expanded the institute’s research agenda to include substantial activity involving machine learning, the human microbiome, autonomous robotics, quantum information science, and virtual and augmented reality.

He plans to help recruit new faculty members to pursue cutting edge work in these high priority areas, while also capitalizing on other resources including the Brendan Iribe Center slated to open in early 2019, a recently announced collaboration with Capital One, and the institute’s advantageous location near federal labs and agencies in the Washington, D.C. area.

“We have the human talent, the physical infrastructure—and are in the right location, at the right time—to grow our research enterprise significantly,” Pop said. “I would like UMIACS to be better recognized both at the national and international level for the important work we do.”

A strong advocate for bringing more diversity to the field of computer science, Pop said he will continue to support the Maryland Center for Women in Computing and other initiatives that enhance participation in the discipline by people from diverse backgrounds. As interim director, he sponsored activities like Technica, the world’s largest all-women hackathon; the Diversity in Computing Summit; and the Widening Natural Language Processing workshop.

He also intends to provide resources and encouragement to tenure-track and professional-track UMIACS faculty members who are in the early stages of their academic careers.

“The voice of a fresh Ph.D. assistant professor is often louder than that of the most experienced lecturer or research scientist on our campus,” Pop recently wrote in an op-ed piece in The Faculty Voice. “It is high time for a change. Our campus cannot excel if we continue to ignore and undervalue the many faculty who shoulder the bulk of our teaching, and who represent a critical driving force in our research programs. Whether professional or tenure-track faculty, we are all faculty.”

Pop’s own research interests cover several areas of bioinformatics, primarily related to the development of computational algorithms for analyzing biological data generated by high-throughput experimental techniques, such as sequencing technologies.

Part of Pop’s research focuses on the computational analysis of the microbial communities inhabiting our world and our bodies—a scientific field called metagenomics. His lab, part of UMIACS’ Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, has developed a number of software tools that are now widely used in the field. He has also been an active participant in a number of large-scale, multinational projects, including the Human Microbiome Project and the GEMS study of diarrheal disease in children from the developing world.

In 2018, Pop made Clarivate Analytics’ list of Highly Cited Researchers, a compilation of influential names in science whose published work in their specialty areas has consistently been judged by their peers to be of particular use and significance. He was also included in the 2014 list.

In addition to his leadership role in UMIACS, Pop is co-director for the Center for Health-related Informatics and Bioimaging, a partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore that is funded by the MPowering the State initiative.

An active educator and mentor, Pop currently advises six graduate students and one postdoc. He previously worked with 11 graduate students and four postdocs, and he spent three years as a faculty adviser to a group of UMD freshmen that analyzed the genome of the diamondback terrapin, the university’s mascot.

Pop earned his B.S. in computer science from University Politehnica of Bucharest in Romania in 1994 and his M.S.E. and Ph.D. in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and 2000. He has been at Maryland since 2005.