Timothy Chan

Fill Up Your Mental Toolkit

His research takes him from online dating to baseball to the Supreme Court. His music-loving toddler takes him all over the place, too.


Timothy Chan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Novel Optimization and Analytics in Health. We asked him everything from what he likes most about being a scientist to what he does for fun in hopes of giving you a better understanding of one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a scientist? 
The freedom to explore a question that I find interesting, perhaps quirky, with possibly no immediate application. Many modern technologies and advances arose from problems people tinkered with in their spare time or for completely different reasons.

What advice would you give young researchers? 
Have as many tools as possible in your toolkit. In my area, the more optimization methods you know, the more problems you can model and solve. Having a bigger, deeper toolkit will help you be a more sophisticated researcher. The bigger takeaway is that learning and taking courses doesn’t stop after grad school.

What are you reading right now?
I’m teaching a new undergraduate course on analytics right now, so these days I’m reading a lot about different case studies of successful analytics applications, from eHarmony and Netflix trying to improve recommendations to users, to learning the factors that affect Supreme Court Justice votes, to measuring the value of different baseball players.

What do you like to do for fun?
Most of my free time these days is spent with my family. I have a toddler who loves sports and music, and he keeps us very busy.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
When I was young, I wanted to be a professional tennis player. Later on, I thought it would be fun to be a high school teacher, teaching math and science, and coaching sports teams. I still think it would be a lot of fun.

Aside from things for your survival, what item would you most want to have with you on a deserted island?
My family, if they don’t mind being stranded as well. In fact, I think my son would have a good time because he loves the beach.