Explosive growth of faculty, courses and research signal new era for Computer Science at Yale

October 22, 2022

With numerous new courses, new faculty members, and a wider range of research fields, Computer Science (CS) at Yale is better positioned than ever to take on emerging challenges, and to meet the needs of students, interdisciplinary research on campus, and industry.

The CS department has recently hired nine tenure track faculty members and four teaching track lecturers to its ranks. These hires are in addition to an earlier round of 11 new tenure track faculty members and two lecturers hired in the last few years. The boost in hiring accomplishes a number of long-term goals, including expanding the department’s areas of expertise. Also, as Computer Science has emerged as the second-most popular major (just behind economics) at Yale, it will go a long way toward meeting students’ curriculum needs.

“Our new faculty members were chosen for the excellence of their research, as well as for their fields that they represent, all of which have been in high demand by both our students and faculty on campus as well as the industry,” said Zhong Shao, the Thomas L. Kempner Professor of Computer Science and department chair. “The range of their expertise addresses some of the most critical challenges that we face today.”

SEAS Dean Jeffrey Brock said the new faculty will be critical to realizing the ambitious goals set out in SEAS’ Strategic Vision, particularly in the areas of artificial intelligence and robotics, while building in key areas like cybersecurity and distributed computing.

“This exciting cohort of new faculty stands to transform our CS department,” Brock said. “During our recruiting season, they sensed Yale’s momentum in CS and in engineering, ultimately turning down excellent offers at other top schools to join our faculty. Their presence will allow Yale CS to expand their course offerings, as well as to establish critical mass in core and cutting-edge research areas.”

Many of the new faculty members, like Fan Zhang, cited the department’s “fast growth in recent years.” Others said that they were drawn by the collaborative environment at Yale, especially considering that Yale is ranked at or near the top in numerous research areas. Daniel Rakita, for instance, said he’s looking forward to working with the Yale Medical School to see how his lab’s robotics research can assist in hospital or home care settings, as well as working with the Wu Tsai Institute on Brain-Machine Interface technologies.

“Many people I spoke with indicated that there are no boundaries between departments at Yale, and interdisciplinary research is not just encouraged here, but is a ‘way of life,’” Rakita said. Many of the new faculty have already engaged with key academic leaders around the campus, from medicine, to economics, to quantum computing.

As part of this boost in hiring, the department strategically targeted certain research areas, including artificial intelligence, trustworthy computing, robotics, quantum computing, and modeling.

The nine new tenure-track faculty hires, and their areas of research are below.

[We spoke to these new faculty members about their research, their motivations, potential collaborations, and much more. Click here to learn more about each of our latest faculty]

  • Arman Cohan: Research at the intersection of machine learning and natural language processing
  • Ben Fisch: Privacy and verifiability on the internet, with applications to blockchains such as Bitcoin
  • Tesca Fitzgerald: Developing algorithms to enable robots to adapt to task variations (such as novel tools, goals, or constraints) that they have not been trained to address
  • Daniel Rakita: Developing algorithms that allow robot manipulators to move in real-world environments
  • Katerina Sotiraki: Cryptography and its evolution in anticipation of quantum computers. Specifically, this involves advancing cryptography against quantum attacks
  • Alex Wong: Providing perception to enable autonomous tasks
  • Rex Ying: Graph learning applications, which include social network analysis, protein networks, and drug discovery
  • Manolis Zampetakis: Foundations of machine learning (ML), statistics, and data science, including statistical analysis from biased data
  • Fan Zhang: Computer security, with a focus on the science of blockchains

The four new teaching-track lecturer hires, and their areas of research are:

  • Ozan Erat: Computer vision
  • Dylan McKay: Theory of computation
  • Sohee Park: Multimedia, machine learning
  • Alan Weide: Programming languages

This hiring season marks the first since the changes in structure that made SEAS more independent, granting more faculty lines for growth.

“Our independence and ability to be opportunistic were key elements in our ability to realize this transformational growth of Computer Science at Yale,” Brock said. “As CS plays such a critical role in an increasingly broad range of disciplines, the size and breadth of CS is critical to our strategy for SEAS. I’m thrilled to be able to take the first step in realizing that vision for a SEAS that is well integrated within its host University and aligned with its mission.”

SEAS became independent from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in July of 2022.

A curriculum to meet the needs of students and industry

Increasing the department’s curriculum has also been in the planning stages for a while, a goal made possible by the recent hires of new faculty and lecturers. Shao said there was a concerted effort to meet the high demand in areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, introductory programming and CS courses for non-majors.

“This has been on the to-do list for the department for many years, but we just didn’t have the manpower,” Shao said. “And finally, with the new faculty hires, we can actually offer these courses.”

Ben Fisch, for instance, will be teaching a new course on blockchains for both graduate students and advanced undergraduates in computer science. Tesca Fitzgerald will introduce a new graduate-level seminar on Interactive Robot Learning. And Katerina Sotiraki will teach classes in theoretical and applied cryptography, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. These are just a few of the new courses that will be available.

Responding to industry needs, the department has also added courses focused on what’s known as full stack web programming - that is, the set of skills needed to develop the interface as well as the coding behind building a complete web application. One of the department’s most popular courses, on software engineering, will now be offered for both semesters of the year, instead of one. Both, Shao said, are specifically aimed at the needs of industry and students.

“As new challenges emerge, Computer Science at Yale will continue to adapt,” Shao said. “We’re excited about the future of our department, and these new additions to our faculty and our curriculum are going to be a major part of it.”