Meet the Dilligs. The successful husband-and-wife team arrived on campus with impressive teaching experience, robust enthusiasm, and a sizable research grant.
The couple began their search for two faculty positions last year, after meeting, marrying, and finishing their Ph.D. work at Stanford University in California.
“We had a two-body problem we were trying to solve,” says Isil Dillig, who is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, and moved to the United States to attend college. “It is especially difficult that we are in the same department, because there are not many schools that have two positions open.”
After interviewing at 11 universities in the United States and Europe, the Dilligs narrowed their decision to a final two – William and Mary and Virginia Tech.
“I liked that William and Mary offered a small and growing department rather than a large and established one,” says Isil Dillig. “We felt like we could have a greater impact here. Other schools placed a strong emphasis on quantity, not quality. I think if you do good research, the rest will follow.”
Tom and Isil both liked William and Mary’s comfortable and supportive, collegial feel as well as the vision and values set forth by the Computer Science Department. The couple was also impressed by the undergraduate and graduate students they met while interviewing here.
“I had the hardest time with the graduate students here,” says Tom Dillig, who grew up in Germany and moved to the United States in 2002. “They asked the toughest questions, and I was very impressed that they cared so much.”
Isil was also happy with the department’s balance of women faculty and current efforts to encourage more female students to consider the major.
“More women need to try computer science and see for themselves if they like it,” says Isil Dillig. “I can see how the stereotypes of nerdy guys working in a dark room can influence a decision, because I thought the same thing. Then my opinion changed once I took a class. Now I tell women, if you enjoy math, definitely take a computer science class.”
The Dilligs also arrived with a funded research project, allowing them to help support the Ph.D. students who are working with them and thus saving the department money that can be allocated elsewhere.
The couple’s research focuses on programming languages and program verification. In addition to other projects, they are currently working with two other principal investigators on a two-year Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to develop theories and tools to automatically find security vulnerabilities in mobile applications, particularly in the Android application platform.
“We are taking technology that we and others have developed, and we are showing how it can be applied to mobile applications,” says Tom Dillig. “This is a relatively new space that only appeared about two years ago. We are at the front of the problem, not the back.”
Tom and Isil work collaboratively on the research, often bouncing ideas off each other.
“I am excited about this research, because it offers lots of opportunities to uncover new technical challenges that the research community hasn’t dealt with before,” says Isil Dillig. “I like that it offers theoretical outcomes that can be applied to real things that are useful.”The Dilligs started teaching at the College in December, and Tom is surprised by how much he is enjoying it. “Students here are of the same caliber as at Stanford. They put in the effort; they are really interested, and I can see the impact. It is rewarding to see students mastering material for the first time.”