Mihai Pop Reappointed as Director of UMIACS
Mihai Pop, a professor of computer science noted for his scientific research and advocacy for equality and inclusion in academia, has been reappointed as director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) for a three-year term, effective July 1, 2022.
As director, Pop will continue to provide leadership to 76 UMIACS faculty members and almost 200 graduate students from eight departments across the UMD campus, as well as two-dozen administrative and technical staff that support the institute’s research, innovation and outreach.
Pop has served as director of UMIACS since November 2018, succeeding Amitabh Varshney, who is now dean of the university’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.
“Mihai has positioned UMIACS on a path of excellence,” Varshney said. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to advance the breadth and impact of computing research across our campus, the state of Maryland and beyond.”
With Pop as director, UMIACS has consistently brought in more than $25 million each year in research funding. The bulk of those external awards come from the numerous federal labs and agencies that dot the region.
Examples of projects funded under Pop’s tenure as director include the National Science Foundation’s support for computational epidemiology and fairness in artificial intelligence (AI); the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s funding for research in quantum information science and machine learning; and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s support of research into deepfake videos and AI system adaptation.
“I am honored and grateful to help guide an organization that has a substantive wealth of scientific knowledge and expertise to draw upon,” Pop said. “Much of our work is interdisciplinary, and all of it is focused on offering computational solutions that will have a positive societal impact.”
Moving forward, Pop plans to further strengthen UMIACS’ partnerships with federal agencies while simultaneously increasing activities with physicians and clinicians at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
In 2019, Pop hosted a workshop between UMIACS faculty members and UMB researchers to advance new ideas involving artificial intelligence and health care. The initial results were promising, with several teams receiving awards to use AI in addressing aging, traumatic brain injury, mental illness and more.
Pop is also active in bringing more equality and diversity to the field of computer science and to academia in general. He instituted specialized workshops in UMIACS to support early-career faculty members and publicly called for greater recognition and support for this same group.
“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 wrote in a 2018 op-ed article 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.”
Pop has continuously committed UMIACS resources in support of the Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing and other efforts that enhance participation in the discipline by people from diverse backgrounds. This includes sponsoring activities like Technica, the world’s largest hackathon for underrepresented genders; the Diversity in Computing Summit; and the Widening Natural Language Processing workshop.
“One of my top priorities as director of UMIACS is to increase the number of women in our institute,” Pop said. “The strength that comes from diversity—in gender, scientific background or academic titles—is the catalyst that propels new ideas and brings robust innovation.”
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 2019, he was named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, an elite recognition of outstanding science and scholarship that is bestowed upon less than one percent of the organization’s 100,000-plus members. Earlier this year, he was named a Fellow of the International Society for Computational Biology in recognition of his work in developing algorithms for analyzing metagenomic data.
An active educator and mentor, Pop currently advises six graduate students and one high school student. He previously worked with 13 graduate students and six 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, respectively. He has been at UMD since 2005.
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