Han Recognized as Test of Time Award Winner, 2022 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

9/26/2022 Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

The Michael Aiken Chair with Illinois CS, Jiawei Han credits past students, colleagues as the primary reason for each recognition.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Over the past few months, two major recognitions have further validated the productive career of Illinois Computer Science professor Jiawei Han and the research he conducts with students in the Data Mining Group.

Jiawei Han Investiture
Jiawei Han credited past students for their work on a paper that received a Test of Time Award recently, and former colleagues for his inclusion as a 2022 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

First, Han’s guiding presence as a co-author for the 2011 paper “PathSim: Meta Path-Based Top-K Similarity Search in Heterogeneous Information Networks” helped fellow authors Yizhou Sun (the lead author), Xifeng Yan, Philip S. Yu, and Tianyi Wu to a Test of Time Award from the 48th Annual International Conference on Very Large Databases (VLDB) earlier in September.

Han, while proud of the impact the paper has had over time, reflects even more pride in the students who made this work so successful.

Sun was a 2012 PhD graduate from Illinois CS and is now a professor at UCLA’s Computer Science department in the Samueli School of Engineering. And, Yan, the third author on the paper graduated from Han’s group with a PhD in 2006 and is currently a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Another co-author, Wu, graduated from Illinois CS with his PhD in 2010 and is now an engineering manager at Facebook (Meta). 

“This shows that our PhD research program at Illinois CS has been strong and nourishes young researchers effectively,” Han said. “This group followed their own paths and have made their own successful contributions to academic research and high-tech industry. I am proud of them.

“Among the current group of students, we still have Google and Microsoft PhD Fellowship winners.  Hopefully, we will generate more highly successful young researchers.”

The premise of the paper that was honored, according to Han, began around 2009 – culminating with its publishing in 2011 – and hinged on an idea stemming from previous work on information networks.

In essence, Han said, information networks are formed via edges linking multiple nodes. Prior to their paper, though, work in this area ignored differences regarding the types of nodes and the semantic variety of links.

Measures like personalized page-rank, SimRank, and random walk algorithms were used to compute information propagation.

“However, we viewed the information network as consisting of multiple types of nodes and links, and we believed that the information propagation should be computed very differently on different types of links and nodes,” Han said. “PathSim followed the typed paths to conduct such computation. In the PathSim paper, we computed information propagation based on typed paths and showed how it leads to far superior results than those computed without distinction of different types of nodes and links.

“This idea has been influential and has become the ‘standard’ or ‘basic’ way to do computation in heterogeneous information networks.”

To back his statements about the PathSim’s positioning, Han said that the paper received more than 1,600 citations according to Google Scholar – making it the highest cited paper from VLDB ’11.

The professor believes its popularity came from a novel approach to a problem, and the fact that it had broad impact on several areas – including databases, data mining, information networks, machine learning, and deep learning communities.

“This paper sets a foundation on heterogeneous information network study and has become the most cited paper in the field of heterogeneous information networks,” Han said. “Even after more than 10 years, if we search ‘heterogeneous information networks’ in Google Scholar, this paper is still the most cited paper among millions of entries found. It is also the most cited paper in that year's VLDB proceedings on all the research themes. This demonstrates the high impact of the work.”

2022 New Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada

Prior to joining the Illinois CS faculty in 2001, Han worked in Canada for 14 years as a tenure-tracked professor in the School of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University.

His dedication to making a difference in the country’s academic enterprise was officially honored earlier this month when he was named by The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) and its members as one of this year’s new Fellows. The designation comes from peers who recognize individuals “for their outstanding scholarly, scientific, and artistic achievement.”

The RSC stated that this achievement is the “highest honor an individual can achieve in the Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.”

To Han, who spent a significant amount of time in the country and still maintains his Canadian citizenship, this moment is one that matters.

“First and foremost, I want to thank Canadian universities, especially Simon Fraser University – where I worked for 14 years, from assistant professor to full and university professor,” Han said. “The university has created a nice, research-friendly environment that nurtured my growth into a mature and successful researcher.

“They did not forget me after I left over 20 years ago. I will never forget the support and friendship of my Canadian colleagues.”

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This story was published September 26, 2022.