Why Georgia Tech: 4 Questions with Dana Randall

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Dana Randall is the ADVANCE Professor of Computing and director of the Algorithms and Randomness Center at Georgia Tech. Recently, the Office of Faculty Affairs had the opportunity to learn more about Randall and her time at Tech. Here’s what she said. 

Tell us a little about your research.

Theoretical computer science strives to understand which computational problems  can be solved efficiently, and to develop the fastest algorithms possible with performance guarantees. Randomized algorithms are fantastic tools for designing algorithms that may run faster or give better guarantees when we allow the computer to “flip coins.” My research in this area develops methods for studying properties of very large sets through random sampling, spanning problems such as models of diatomic molecules or magnetization from statistical physics, segregation in housing models, and models of colloids where two types of molecules interact in a binary mixture.

What made you decide to work at Georgia Tech?

After completing a Ph.D. in Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley, I spent two years in Princeton in the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advance Study and the Computer Science Department at Princeton University. I searched for academic jobs in both mathematics and computer science, so when Georgia Tech offered a joint position in both schools, each extremely highly rated in my research areas of theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics, it was an easy decision to accept. The main draws for me were the excellence and strengths of my colleagues in both departments, and a clear upward trajectory showing that Tech was quickly headed to the top 10 in theoretical computer science. I also was drawn by the openness to interdisciplinary research, in particular to the interdisciplinary Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization degree that has continuously attracted many of the brightest students in the field.

What are the top three reasons you’d recommend Georgia Tech to other faculty?

When I came to Georgia Tech nearly 20 years ago, the phrase I heard most was “up and coming” — the schools, the colleges, and even the city of Atlanta. While this was somewhat amusing to someone who grew up in New York City, the appeal of being part of something that was moving and growing, and yet had already achieved excellence, was very exciting. The Institute and the city have matured as predicted, and now there are new and exciting challenges and opportunities. Georgia Tech is forming new collaborations with industry in Midtown Atlanta and promises to change the tech industry in the South. There are many opportunities to be a part of this, especially now as a new multiuse High Performance Computing and Data Science Building is being constructed in Midtown that will jointly house industry and academia in groundbreaking and innovative ways. Georgia Tech is responsive to such opportunities across many other domains as well.

Second, the quality of research and education across the Institute is undeniably top-rate. I recently became co-director of a new strategic initiative in data engineering and science, and over the last year have interacted with faculty and administration from each of the 6 colleges and Georgia Tech Research Institute. This has solidified my impression of the breadth and depth represented across Georgia Tech, and it has been wonderful interacting with colleagues who are each leaders in their respective domains.  

Third, as a public university, Georgia Tech reaches students from all socio-economic backgrounds, and, in many cases, we open their eyes to completely new perspectives and expose them to remarkable opportunities when they graduate.   

What are a few things every faculty member should do while at Georgia Tech?

Reach out and connect with people across the campus. This is probably better advice for after tenure, but regardless of the timing, look for networking opportunities. Academia is increasingly collaborative, and understanding the strengths of various units and individuals enables new opportunities in research, teaching, and service. In fact, please contact me if you have research you would like to discuss with the Algorithms and Randomness Center, or come present at one of our brainstorming “think tank” sessions!


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