MIT EECS leader Asu Ozdaglar emphasizes talent and innovation

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 1:15pm


Photo: Lillie Paquette | School of Engineering

Editor's Note: The following article ran in the January 2018 issue of The Source, the monthly newsletter of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA). It is reprinted here with permission. 

Asu Ozdaglar became the new head of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science on Jan. 1. She had served as interim department head since July 2017, when former head Anantha Chandrakasan was named dean of MIT’s School of Engineering.

Ozdaglar, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of EECS, is also former associate department head, former director of MIT’s Laboratory for Information Decision Systems (LIDS), and former associate director of MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS).

She has made fundamental contributions to optimization theory, economic and social networked systems, and game theory. In addition, she has developed a range of graduate and undergraduate courses, including a graduate-level game theory subject and an undergraduate course on networks listed jointly with MIT’s Department of Economics. She also played a leading role in launching a new undergraduate major in computer science, economics, and data science.

Ozdaglar is a past recipient of a Microsoft fellowship, the MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching award, the NSF CAREER award, the 2008 Donald P. Eckman award of the American Automatic Control Council, and the Class of 1943 Career Development Chair, among other awards and honors. She served on the Board of Governors of the Control System Society in 2010 and was an associate editor for IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control. She is the inaugural area co-editor for a new area for the journal Operations Research, entitled “Games, Information and Networks,” and she is the co-author of Convex Analysis and Optimization (Athena Scientific, 2003).

Ozdaglar received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Middle East Technical University, in Ankara, Turkey, in 1996, and SM and PhD degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 1998 and 2003. Here, she discusses her thoughts about and plans for MIT’s largest academic department:

Q: What first prompted your interest in electrical engineering and computer science? 

A: I have always been interested in mathematics as well as making an impact in engineering applications. I found the perfect match in EECS, with its deep and rigorous approach to designing systems with significant technological and societal impact.

Q: What do you feel are the top issues currently facing our field in general? What, in your view, do EECS departments need to do to address them?

A: No question: EECS as a profession is changing rapidly. We are on the cusp of epochal developments in many subareas, including — among others — artificial intelligence, data science, robotics, quantum engineering, and the Internet of Things. This exciting time is bringing many opportunities, but, of course, it also comes with plenty of questions, especially in terms of how we adapt to all the emerging and changing areas of intellectual growth. We have to rise to the challenge of correctly identifying and exploiting the best opportunities from all of the ones facing us today.

Q: What made you want to head MIT’s largest academic department? 

A: MIT EECS has amazing intellectual depth, world-class research, and a long tradition of paradigm-changing education. Its most important assets are its phenomenal faculty and outstanding students. I had the chance for a top-level view of the department while serving as associate department head and interim department head, and I am thrilled and humbled that the Institute has chosen me to lead the department into its next phase.

Q: What are some of your priorities for your first year or so as department head?

A: I’ll emphasize innovation in educational programs, school-wide computing efforts, and data science initiatives, among other areas. I’ll also focus on recruiting and hiring top talent not only to support our core strengths, but also in those intellectual growth areas and emerging intersections.