Faculty Spotlight: Xiaolei Fang

Some people are planners. Others go with the flow. Some people play it safe. Others are risk-takers. When it comes to ISE professor Xiaolei Fang, he prefers the best of all worlds — he always has a plan but isn’t afraid to seize opportunities.

Fang planned to earn his undergraduate degree — Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB) — and then join the workforce. But as he was finishing his degree, he seized one of those opportunities. “I was recommended for admission to be a postgraduate without exams when I was a senior,” Fang recalled. “I accepted the recommendation since it was exam-free, and I could expect a better job with a higher salary after completing graduate studies.”

So Fang continued studying at USTB, working with the top two steel production companies in China, monitoring the conditions of machines and diagnosing problems. “We had a great team that could build the whole condition monitoring system from head to toe,” Fang stated. While there, he contributed to the design and development of different modules of the condition system. This work included hardware design, software development, database and algorithm design and user interface improvement. Fang found a new, intense interest in creating data analytics methodologies within all of this work — an attraction so strong that he once again switched plans and pursued a new degree … at a new university … in a new country. He decided to enroll at Georgia Tech to complete a Master’s in Statistics and a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Along with the decision to change degrees, he also seized the opportunity to change his career path. “I decided to work in academia before I made the decision to pursue a Ph.D. degree,” remembered Fang.

“I found it was very interesting to use the knowledge I learned from class to develop new methods to solve challenging problems in real-world applications, especially when no solution is available for these problems or existing models do not work well.” By choosing academia over industry, Fang could have the freedom to work on whatever interested him.

However,  the freedom that comes with academia is useless without the resources to back it up. To research what truly interested him, Fang would need a major university. That is when he discovered NC State. “The ISE department at NC State is one of the top in the nation,” Fang explained. “The department has a large number of excellent researchers and a wide range of focus areas, which provide plenty of collaboration opportunities. Also, Raleigh is one of the most livable cities with very attractive weather.”

With the support of the ISE Department, Fang’s research lies in the intersection of engineering, statistics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and optimization. It will help the manufacturing industry to reduce equipment failures and maintenance costs while improving product quality and equipment availability. His research, much like Fang himself, is ready to seize new opportunities with its potential applications across many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, power and aviation.