Q&A with Tuan Q. Phan: ALSET’s Research Lead in Social and Networks Analysis

Tuan Q. Phan (above center) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Systems & Analytics (DISA) in the School of Computing. He also serves as ALSET’s Research Theme Lead for Social and Network Analysis (photo credit: NUS School of Computing). 

When did you first join NUS and what brought you here? 

I came to NUS right after completing a Doctor in Business Administration in Marketing at Harvard 2011. The initial idea to check out NUS came from one of my advisors. He told me that Singapore was an up-and-coming research hotspot, and he was right. I saw that NUS had great research programs and an entrepreneurial vibe. I was also excited that many of its research labs had close ties with industry, which provides access to data, expertise, and other resources that are critical for my research.

What are your research interests?

My research interests fall at the intersection of social sciences, computer sciences, and statistics to investigate online and offline social networks. Some of my past projects have looked at topics like product diffusion, web and mobile commerce, online privacy, social media influence, the impact of natural disasters on human social networks, and other related areas. As the world gets increasingly connected, I believe that network analysis will become more important for understanding and shaping global society. Back when I was doing my Doctorate, our work was largely theoretical, but we now have datasets large enough to truly test those theories. It’s an exciting time for the field!

What are you currently working on now?

In addition to my teaching duties, I have research projects going on in four areas— fintech, marketing, edtech, and healthcare. One of these projects is being done in collaboration with AISingapore, a new AI initiative from the Singapore government. Others are being done with students in the M.S. in Business Analytics program, a joint offering between the School of Computing and the School of Business. And in 2018, I look forward to doing more work with ALSET.  

What kind of work are you doing with ALSET?

I currently serve as ALSET’s Research Theme Lead in Social and Networks Analysis. In this role, I will be promoting and leading research at the intersection of network analysis, education, and big data. My hope is to generate insights that can meaningfully shape educational policy and practice, and power interventions that help personalize education and drive positive outcomes at the individual level. ALSET has exciting data assets and a uniquely interdisciplinary team of researchers, so I’m optimistic that we will produce some impactful work.

What else do you do outside of NUS?

In addition to my academic research work, I have always been an entrepreneur. While doing my B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, for example, I started a company doing 3D computer graphics for mobile devices (this was before the era of ubiquitous smartphones). These days, I’m pretty busy with my research and teaching obligations, but I sometimes find time to consult with private companies on big data and analytics issues. My consulting work gives me valuable perspective on the needs of employers, which helps me to prepare my students with practical skills that will be useful after graduation.

What else should we know about you?

I am a Vietnamese-American who was raised in Utah, which was a unique experience. When I was young, I discovered a passion for dance, and I eventually became a competitive ballroom dancer in the United States.

For further information on Professor Phan’s research work or to contact him, please visit his website.

Founded in 2016, ALSET’s mission is improve education through the application of learning science and education technology. The Institute conducts original research on learning science, technology, and pedagogy; promotes novel and entrepreneurial projects that improve learning outcomes; and works to ensure that the latest research and learning technologies have broad impact, both at NUS and also in the broader education community.