Recent PhD recipient Ibraheem Alhashim (left) and his supervisor, professor Richard Zhang

Zhang wins recognition for leadership in graduate studies

June 08, 2016

Richard Zhang, professor in the School of Computing Science, wins SFU’s 2016 Award for Excellence in Leadership from the Dean of Graduate Studies.

This award recognizes his outstanding mentorship of graduate students, who have published in prestigious venues and started careers in academia and industry, as well as his overall efforts to improve processes to the benefit of graduate students, faculty and staff.

“In his four years as graduate program chair, professor Zhang has led several initiatives to improve graduate student funding, engaged in effective recruiting strategies, managed co-op growth and shown commitment to the overall graduate student learning experience,” says Greg Mori, director of computing science.

Zhang’s area of research is in computer graphics, focusing on shape modelling and analysis, a highly competitive and in-demand area. Computer graphics can be applied in diverse areas, including product design, prototyping, manufacturing, medical imaging and the entertainment industry. Recent breakthroughs from Zhang's research have enabled compact 3D designs, such as furniture that folds and efficient ways to 3D print objects of all kinds.

Two of Zhang’s former PhD students are now working as assistant professors in computer science, Andrea Tagliasacchi (PhD 2013) at University of Victoria and Oliver van Kaick (PhD 2011) at Carleton University.

Others have chosen to work in industry as software engineers at places that include Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.

Several have won prestigious awards, including an Alain Fournier Award for best PhD dissertation in computer graphics in Canada and Best Paper Awards from Symposium on Geometry Processing and MITACS-Related Research.

Zhang has graduated seven PhD students and 13 master’s students since 2006.

Zhang also brought forward several improvements in the School of Computing Science to streamline the selection/application process of graduate students and to enhance training.

Working with the school's director, he reinstated the computer science graduate fellowships that support all incoming thesis students financially, removing the ranking and review that used to occur by faculty before funds were dispersed. He helped to manage the launch of the school’s co-op program to non-thesis graduate students, which saw a rapid rise in interest from organizations. The program grew from eight students in the inaugural year (2011/2012) to 51 in 2014/15.

A long-term supporter of graduate students, Zhang also initiated SFU’s first online graduate student application system back in 2005 while a member of the school’s graduate program committee. This was adopted by another school before it formed part of the basis for the university-wide online application system, called Oasis, which is in use today.

“It is truly gratifying to receive my first service award at SFU,” said Zhang. “I do feel a passion for graduate supervision and graduate program developments. I have once heard a quote on how a professor's academic life ought to evolve. Paraphrasing, it says that sooner or later, you will be judged not by how much you can accomplish yourself, but by how high your graduate students can reach. Our graduate students are doing extremely well and we have the potential to be one of the very top computer science graduate programs in Canada and internationally.”