PROFESSOR INTERVIEW | November 3, 2023

Expanding Department of Computer Science: Professor Pablo Robles Granda

Sonpari Singh
Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science at UIUC, home of the Dept. of Computer Science.

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has been recognized in many aspects of achievement. Recently, over 15 new computer science  faculty members have joined the UIUC community. Professor Pablo Robles Granda has been a part of this expansion of UIUC as part of the Data and Information Systems group.

Professor Granda has begun to teach advanced-level courses at UIUC in data and information systems on top of his additional involvement in the computer science community. He plays an active role in health informatics and data science research. He is consistently working towards finding meaningful ways to apply his research to the real world and encourages all students to work with the same motivations.

As someone who truly enjoys teaching, Professor Granda looks forward to mentoring various students in his areas of interest. He incorporates his areas of research into his teaching philosophies to increase the benefit of his research. He has shared below about his teaching philosophies, campus involvements, and research experiences.

Is there a certain teaching philosophy that you adhere to?

In terms of research, I aim to create value to the world. I work on research associated with meaningful problems in health informatics and data science. In terms of teaching, I definitely try to create an environment in my classes that is student-centered. That’s my philosophy in terms of teaching.

Why did you choose computer science? What draws you to CS?

I have always been interested in mathematics and physics and formal systems. I was drawn to computer science in my undergrad education. It was one of the areas related to both maths and physics and was more applied. Although I don’t like the hardware aspects of computers much, I do enjoy working on the aspects related to software, data analysis and mathematics.

What motivated you to become a professor? What was your experience like on this journey?

I first did my undergrad in my home country, and then I did a master’s degree in the US. And then I pursued a Ph.D. at Purdue University. After I graduated from Purdue, I got a job as a research faculty at the University of Notre Dame. I spent a few years there and then got a fellowship at the University of Illinois, and I decided to stay after I finished my fellowship. I was fortunate to be offered a position there after I finished. 

I think the aspect that motivated me the most was to work with the students. I find it very rewarding to make an impact in students’ lives. I am very passionate about data science and I like teaching it. I also like mentoring students and guiding them on their research projects. 

Why did you choose UIUC for this next chapter? How do you think that your previous work experiences have made you more equipped to teach here at UIUC?

UIUC is a unique place because it provides both the resources necessary to do research in my area and it also provides me an environment where I could pursue my work because I have so many collaborators here. I also have the opportunity to access specific types of resources to do my work. But most fundamentally, the community is a community that is very collegial and friendly. They are very supportive, and I want to contribute to that community.

There are all sorts of experiences that I have had in the past, and they all have enriched my perspective of data science. I have had the opportunity to work in many different institutes of higher education, so I’m very knowledgeable about different educational systems. I also appreciate working with different people. I have acquired perspectives from the applied side, the research side, and the academic side. I think that gives me a great opportunity when I teach my classes to provide real world examples of problems that students will encounter in their careers.

Is there anything else that you hope to gain from your time here at UIUC?

I definitely hope that my work will have a greater impact in the community. I really hope that I can provide meaningful results, and not only in the research, but also in my teaching and also in service. I think that it’s really important for a person who works in academia to step out of the echo chamber that academia can be sometimes and try to create a meaningful impact in the real world through service as well as teaching. 

You are also a part of the health organization ‘Digital Health Technical Advisory Group.’ How did you fit into your role at that organization?

I was involved in several discussions on planning and creating various projects for the World Health Organization. I enjoy the various aspects of the role, and it was very rewarding because I had the opportunity to learn from people that come from other backgrounds with a wide range of perspectives about how technology can be used to solve problems on health and on a global scale. I also had the opportunity to get to learn about problems in other countries, in other places that sometimes we overlook. Sometimes we’re thinking too much about our problems and our careers, that we forget there are certain problems that are still persisting and are in other parts of the world.

Is there any advice that you would give research students or students who want to follow a similar path as you?

I definitely would recommend students to work on something they find meaningful, something that is rewarding for them and that is providing value. That can be something that will benefit society, that can be something that will benefit a community, or it can be something that the student finds meaningful. That is fundamental to do research, because research is an individual path that people have to follow. And sometimes the only motivation you have is that feeling that you are doing something for the greater good.

Is there something that they should focus on in computer science for the future?

I think we’re living in very exciting times in terms of all the technology that’s being developed and all the technology that still needs to be developed to solve many problems in the world. I think the fact that computers facilitate communication, accessing vast amounts of data and handling a lot of things that otherwise would be complicated for humans, makes it an exciting time for students. I highly encourage everybody who has interests in computers and data analysis and related areas to pursue careers in computer science, because there are so many things that can be done. 

There’s still technology that needs to be developed to help solve problems and I highly encourage students to focus on those issues. I would highly recommend my area of data science, but that’s not the only area in computer science that is fascinating and that students can make meaningful contributions. I highly recommend pursuing careers in computer science because of all these amazing opportunities that we have nowadays.

Do you think some areas of the world have more opportunities as compared to others for CS and data science?

I think if we consider all the potential that we have, great things could happen. Great things can be done through technology. I think that opportunity has not been fully explored or exploited in all countries and other areas. Human capital can be instrumental to solve problems in different areas of the world.

Is there any relation between what you’ll be teaching here and your research, either what you’ve done in the past or research that you’ll be conducting at UIUC?

Yes, absolutely. I’m now teaching various courses on data science and machine learning, and that is what I was formally trained on. My formal training was on machine learning and during my postdoctoral work, I worked on applications of machine learning in data science and health informatics. The courses I teach are highly related to that. In my lectures, I also present case studies related to the research I do, and some of the applications on health informatics problems, cognitive science and neuroscience.

Our gratitude to Professor Granda for graciously giving his time. We are excited to see his impact at UIUC!

About the author
Sonpari Singh is a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying specialized chemistry. She is on track to head into the pharmaceutical industry and hopes to become an entrepreneur in the field. Some of her favorite hobbies include equestrian sports, reading classical and philosophical literature, and chemistry!