To Prospective Students

Hi! Thank you for stopping by. I hope you find this page informative.

What I Care About Most in Research?

I am Xiaoqi Tan, an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and also a Fellow of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Instittue (Amii). The main theme of my research is to develop algorithms with provable guarantees to optimize decision-making in dynamic, uncertain, and possibly strategic environments, using mathematical tools from computer science, economics, statistics, and control. This includes, but is not limited to, topics such as online algorithms, algorithmic game theory, mechanism design, and sequential decision/learning theory.

I enjoy the beauty of mathematics, and consider a technically-sound and aesthetically-elegant theorem the core of publication-worthy results. I admire good applied research, but also believe that not all research needs to have practical use — good theory sustains over time, and may unexpectedly unleash its power. I am most excited about connecting theory with practice to obtain sharp insights into real-world systems design and operation. To do so, I believe it is important, and also necessary, to sacrifice certain details of the problem. “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” — Albert Einstein

What I Care About Most in Prospective Students?

I often receive emails from prospective students with descriptions like “I know how to apply $X$ to solve $Y$” — this, unfortunately, is not what I care about the most. I care about whether you can convert a real-world problem into rigorous mathematical models, and then develop algorithms to solve the problem with provable guarantees — in the form of mathematical theorems and lemmas. In short, I look for prospective students who are motivated and excited about creating new knowledge — to argue “how and why things work.”

What is My Take on Good Advisor-Advisee Match?

I respect scholarship and love research, like most academics do. I consider getting a graduate degree takes initiative and commitment — it requires strong motivation to excel, long-lasting enthusiasm in research, and probably most importantly, a good advisor-advisee match — based on mutual trust/respect, effortless communication, and sometimes, a bit of luck. While it is complex to define what is exactly a “good match,” a simple rule of thumb is: if you feel this is the person you are willing to “work with,” not to “work for,” then it is usually a good sign.

Am I Looking for New MSc/PhD Students?

Yes! I am directing the SODALab @UofA and we are constantly looking for graduate students at both the MSc and PhD level. Interested candidates should apply here and indicate me as your potential supervisor. For prospective PhD students: if you do not hold a Master’s degree, please note that the default path in Canada is “Master first and then PhD” (our suggested timeline is 2+4 years) rather than “straight to PhD” (which would normally take 5~6 years).

Should You Write Me an Email?

I don’t mind if you write me an email about your application. However, to initiate an effective conversation, please send me your CV + Full Transcript + Statement of Interest in three separate PDF files. In your statement of interest, please first indicate that you’ve carefully read through this page and then briefly summarize your previous research experience (if any), your future research interest, and justify why you are a good fit for my group. If you have any publication, pick the one you feel the most proud of and summarize your contribution to the paper. If you wish, you can also discuss what you see yourself after obtaining your graduate degree (e.g., pursue an academic career or work in industry).

I apologize for not being able to reply every inquiry email. If you are already at UofA, feel free to let me know if you want to have a chat.