Professor Hajiaghayi Wins Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year Award

By Ben SanNicolas

The University of Maryland Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year award recognizes faculty members for outstanding support of and involvement with their graduate students. This year, UMD presented the award to Professor Hajiaghayi, who, in the past year, has worked with a huge group—nine graduate students, plus his post-docs.

Hajiaghayi tries to be more than just an academic mentor and likes to help his students in every way he can. “I advise them on everything—life! I tell them the tricks—even in doing an interview or buying a house,” Hajiaghayi says. His advising has a proven track record—many of his students have received prestigious awards, including Google’s US/Canada PhD Fellowship and the Simons Award for
Graduate Students in Theoretical Computer Science.

Part of what makes Hajiaghayi such an effective mentor is his dedication and willingness to sacrifice his schedule for his students. He knows that some students will start working after midnight and then sleep for most of the day and works with them all the same. “They can find me very easily--they have my cellphone,” Hajiaghayi explains. “When phone conversations are necessary, I’ll ask them to call me late at night if they are awake.” Then he stays awake to take the call.

Along with his students, the courses he’s teaching, and his research, Hajiaghayi makes time for his family. “I have a two year old son, that’s the hardest thing—doing all of it with him. And my wife is a PhD student as well, so I have to coordinate so she has time to work on her things and defend her PhD in June,” he explains. Last semester, he managed about five hours of sleep every night. “Every night I was sleeping around 3am and waking up around 8am,” he remembers.

For Hajiaghayi, what makes everything worth it is the response from his students. “I’m doing this for the [students] and they like it,” Hajiaghayi says. “That’s encouragement for me.”

“He is very supportive of his students, both from purely-scientific point of view, and networking point of view,” says Vahid Liaghat, who is graduating this spring.  “I really appreciate his relentless support during all five years of my PhD.”

Another of Hajiaghayi’s students, Rajesh Chitnis, has equally high praise. “I can observe his influence on every aspect of my professional development during my PhD,” he says.

Though a nomination letter for Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year requires only five signatures, all nine of Hajiaghayi’s students signed on to support him, all very thankful for his mentorship.

For undergraduates, Professor Hajiaghayi often teaches CMSC351, Algorithms, and CMSC474, Introduction to Computational Game Theory.

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