Why Should You Apply for Mason CS and Work with Me? And, What Do I Look For From Students?

Why George Mason Computer Science (CS)?

We are a fast developing department in the largest public university at Virginia! No matter if you have heard about us or not, you should know the following facts!

  • Ranking: We are now at No.32 on csranking, the most up-to-date and widely adopted metric for CS departments. On USNews we are at No. 63.

  • Strong Faculty Team in Diverse Research Areas: We now have 78 total (36 tenured, 21 tenure-track, 21 term) faculty in the department working on a diverse set of research topics including AI, Robotics, Software Engineering, and Security. Our faculty graduated from prestigious institutions in the US (e.g., MIT, Brown, Penn, OSU) and across the world.
    • Speficialy for NLP, the NLP Lab at CS now includes two faculty and ~15 PhD students (10 more Masters and Undergraduate students). In addition, there are also a couple other faculty in the IST and Linguistics departments working on NLP. We closely collaborate with each other.
    • Relevant to NLP, we also have faculty working on Machine Learning (e.g., Mingrui Liu) and Computer Vision (e.g., Jana Kosecka). We discuss ideas and collaborate frequently.
  • One of the BEST Locations for Study and Living: Our main campus, the Fairfax campus, locates in the suburb area of Washington D.C. — only 30 minutes of driving distance! This is one of the best locations in the US where you will enjoy extremely convenient, fun, and safe life while pursuing the PhD study! A few more fun facts about our location:
    • Both the Dulles and the Reagan airports, two of the largest international airports our international students will fly to, locate only 30 minutes away from us. This also means that you will easily fly to everywhere in the world for conference attendence, job interviews, or just traveling for fun!
    • Amazon’s second headquarter (HQ2) locates in Arlington, VA, which is 30 minutes from our Fairfax campus and 10 minutes from our Arlington campus.
    • Other than Amazon, the area also includes many global (e.g., headquarter of Boeing and Capital One) and local companies with plenty of technology jobs.
    • If you are thinking about even a longer term, this area is well-known for young-generation education, including having the nationally top-ranked high school TJHSST.

More facts about us can be found in this wiki page organized by Prof. ThanhVu Nguyen.

Why Working with Me?

For PhD study, picking a fit advisor is important (and arguably outweighs picking a university). Make sure to check out my research topics and read some of my publications as the first step.

If you share similar research interest with me – this is excellent! Now, the following will tell you some of the reasons why you should work with me!

  • If you work with me, you will work on the most exciting topics in NLP/AI! As most young faculty, I work actively on cutting-edge research topics! I have been serving as Area Chair in sub-topics such as Question Answering, LLMs, and Interpretability in ACL/EMNLP/NAACL/AAAI/etc.
  • If you work with me, you will receive careful and thoughtful advice for research and beyond. I recruit students up to a group size that I’m confident to manage. Therefore, the size is typically small or medium with 5-7 PhD students and a few Master and Undergraduate students. I’m a very responsible advisor and I take care of my students equally (check out my students’ achievements). This goes beyond research work to lifelong matters such as how to lifelong learn, how to maintain a positive attitude, work-life balance, career choice, etc.
    • Highlight: As an example, my student Murong Yue was awarded the Outstanding PhD Student Award by the CS department in the end of his second year.
    • I’m a very open-minded advisor. I welcome feedback from my students and feel happy becoming friends with them!
  • If you work with me, you will have opportunities to collaborate with people from various prestigious institutions. Collaborators of our group have come from both George Mason and beyond, such as NYU, MIT, NC State, Microsoft, Meta, Salesforce, etc. In addition to receiving valuable research feedback and advice, such opportunities will open the door for social networking, job/internship hunting, etc.
  • If you work with me, you will have your work presented in various prestigious institutions and media press. I regularly receive invitations to present my work outside George Mason. In 2024 by the time of this post (early July), I have given 7 presentations in Bloomberg’s CTO Speaker Series, Microsoft Research, NYU, Virginia Tech, IUPUI, etc. Sometimes our work also gets covered by media press (e.g., MIT Technology Review China).
  • If you work with me, you will easily make friends with others in the group. The path to PhD is not easy no matter which group you will join; you will need friends and peers supporting you! I commit to create a group that is welcoming, supporting, and diverse. We have weekly group meetings for research discussion and occasionally social events (e.g., when we have guest visits). I also try to have at least one social activity outside the campus every year. Check out our group activity photos!

What Do I Look For from Prospective Students?

Students admitted to my group generally share the following traits:

  • Solid mathematics and engineering backgrounds: This includes solid knowledge in probability theory, linear algebra, etc., and being skillsful in ML model or system implementation, debugging and problem-solving, etc. I typically look for them from your course performance and relevant experience.
  • Critical and active thinking: The way you think generally shows your potential of doing good research. As an example, when you see good or bad performance from the ML model you trained, have you thought about why, and have you taken any actions to validate your thought? Having a critical mind and the motivation to actively think are the bases for doing research. I do not admit students who make progress by asking me “what should I do next” and simply following my words without thinking.
  • Passion, persistence, and self-motivation: PhD study is a big commitment; it means you will spend the coming 5 or 6 or even more years on one topic or field. It is also full of challenges and frustration; you may experience failures in experiements, find that your hypothesis is completely wrong, get your papers rejected, etc. – in those cases, will you continue the exploration or give up?
  • Healthy communication: I hope to have upfront communications with my students. Without healthy communication, I won’t know what students are thinking about, what problem they are facing, and how I can help.
  • Good life habits: You don’t study 24/7; you have life! I hope you love your life just like how you love research (or the other way around) – of course, this means to have a smart way for time management, so you can enjoy both of them. Maintaining good habits to handle pressure and stay positive, will make your PhD life much easier and more joyful!

Do I need to have paper publications if I want to work with you? Paper publications at top-tier NLP/AI venues are not necessary but can help me understand if you have the traits I listed above. In fact, most students in my group did not come with any good publications. However, they impressed me with various valuable traits from their resume or during the interview.

What's Next?

I want to work with you – if this is what you are thinking now, wonderful!!

George Mason is a public university so every application will first be scrutinized by the admission committee. Please follow the university application process and do not miss the deadline.

If you want to work with me, it is necessary to send me an email and let me know your interest. I do have some requirements on the email format and content and I prioritize prospective students who are serious about my requirements.