Arvind Gupta

One-on-One with
Arvind Gupta

One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.

Professor Gupta has taught Computer Science at UBC since 2009 and is a well-regarded expert in research and innovation policy with a proven record of accomplishment in building meaningful research collaborations. From 2000 to 2014, he was the CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs, a national Canadian not-for-profit research organization dedicated to developing the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills.

Professor Gupta obtained a PhD from the University of Toronto in 1991. His research expertise is in the field of combinational algorithms with applications to fields such as bioinformatics, which utilizes computer science to understand genetics. He resides in Vancouver with his wife Dr. Michelle Pereira and has three daughters, one of whom is currently a student at UBC.


If you weren’t in the field you are now, what role might have interested you?

AG: I am a professor because I love research and teaching. Along the way, I’ve learned more from my students than I could have ever imagined. But my kids taught me that sometimes a five year old asks even more perceptive questions than an adult. I might have chosen to become an elementary school teacher because that would have challenged me and kept me on my toes.


What do you think of when you hear the word holiday?

AG: A holiday to me is when I can be off the grid, without any temptation to access the Internet. This is getting harder and harder. A few years ago, my wife took me to Uganda to observe the mountain gorillas. We stayed in tents on a mountainside in the middle of a tropical jungle, complete with high speed Internet via satellite. If there was one time to be truly on a holiday and reflect on this unique experience, this should have been it.


In what instance would you say, I won't?

AG: Anything that is unethical or tramples on someone else’s rights. I believe the end does not justify the means.


What quality do you most admire in a leader?

AG: Someone who takes on a leadership position should do it to for the right reasons, namely, to make a difference and not as a boost to their ego. A leader welcomes a diversity of opinions, is respectful, is open-minded, and isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. A leader should have the ability to say "I was wrong."


What is the song you sang out loud as a teenager?

AG: There were so many...but the one that pops into my head is Hotel California by The Eagles. Back then, we used to bug our parents to take us to California. It was only later I learned that the song was full of symbolism.


Who is your favourite historical figure?

AG: I'm continually amazed at those individuals who have made contributions in multiple arenas. Aristotle stands out to me as an accomplished mathematician and scientist, but who also had a major influence on politics, poetry, literature and theatre.


What inspires you about living on the West coast?

AG: It’s a bit of a cliché, but whenever I return to Vancouver after travelling, I'm struck by its beauty. It never fails to amaze me how lucky I am to live here.


What makes you laugh?

AG: We're a game playing family – any excuse to get out a board game. We're ferocious competitors and invariably alliances are made and broken, but it always leads to uncontrolled bouts of laughter.


One thing on your desk you brought from home?

AG: Pictures of my wife and kids.


What is the best advice you were ever given?

AG: A professor once told me that in life, you'll always run into those who seem more naturally gifted than you. But in the end, success will come to whomever works hardest and has a positive outlook.


What do you think is the most important invention?

AG: The printing press is directly responsible for disseminating knowledge to the general population. In many ways, it has had a more fundamental effect on society than the Internet. I see it as the original MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) movement.


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

AG: I'm fortunate to have visited so many wonderful cities, each with their own charm. I only wish I had time to live for a time in each place – just long enough to uncover their mysteries. Having said that, there’s something special about landing in Canada and the feeling "I'm home."


Who are your favourite writers?

AG: It depends on my mood and I'm continually starting new books and leaving many unfinished. The one writer that stands out for me is Toni Morrison. I read Tar Baby in university and was captivated by the imagery and messaging.


What do you value in your colleagues?

AG: I most value someone who is collegial, comes through on their commitments, isn't afraid to ask for help and doesn't take themselves too seriously.


What advice would you give a young student just starting out?

AG: You will only discover your passions through experiences. Ask questions, take opportunities, and don't worry about not knowing exactly what you want to do. It’s much more fun exploring options than feeling like you have to lead your life in a straight line.


What is your greatest extravagance?

AG: Finding unexpected hidden gems. They don't have to be expensive monetarily, but may involve a time commitment getting to a place that is "off-the-beaten path." My wife and I once spent a day on trains, buses, taxis, followed by a 7 kilometer hike just to get to a Japanese home-stay that had the best Japanese food I've ever tasted.


What would you like to be remembered for?

AG: Canada is the country that took me and my family in and has done so much for me – shaping who I am and what I stand for, and ultimately, providing endless opportunities personally and professionally. I hope that I can give back so that Canada is a better place for the next generation.


What is your motto?

AG: Whenever you're faced with a tough decision, make the one that lets you sleep the best at night.


What is the one question that you wished we asked but didn't?

AG: "What's surprised you the most since being named President of UBC?"

I never expected the outpouring of support. Hundreds of individuals, both on and off-campus have offered to do whatever they can to support UBC. It's truly inspiring to know how many people are rooting for this university.


For you what makes UBC different?

AG: It's the incredible passion for UBC of everyone I've met across both campuses. We are lucky so many students, faculty, and staff are going all-out to build this university. What more could a President ask for?

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