In memory of our friend, mentor and colleague, Professor Edward Lank, 1972–2022

Friday, March 25, 2022

We are saddened to announce that our dear friend, mentor and colleague Edward Lank, Professor at the Cheriton School of Computer Science, passed away on March 21, 2022 at the age of 49.

photo of Professor Ed Lank

Professor Lank was born on November 28, 1972 and grew up in Ebenezer, a village northwest of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. He received an honours bachelor’s degree in physics in 1994 from the University of Prince Edward Island and a PhD in computer science from Queen’s University in 2001.

After completing graduate studies, Professor Lank worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. In January 2002, he began his academic career as an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University in the Computer Science Department. While at San Francisco State University, he received a National Science Foundation Career Award, the Foundation’s most prestigious award that recognizes and supports the early career development of scholars destined to become academic leaders.

Professor Lank joined the Cheriton School of Computer Science as an Assistant Professor in June 2006. He was promoted to Associate Professor in July 2011 and to Full Professor in July 2018. With his colleague Michael Terry, Professor Lank co-founded Waterloo HCI, a university-wide consortium of faculty members and students who conduct research in the field of human-computer interaction.

Professor Lank’s primary research interests were in intelligent user interfaces; mobile, multi-touch and free-space gestural interaction; and movement and input modelling in interfaces.

His projects included work in mechanisms for leveraging reject rates to increase the perceived reliability of recognition-based user interfaces. He explored the design of free-space gesture input languages such as motion gestures and mechanisms for treating motion gestures. He and his students explored techniques for predicting target locations in goal-directed movements such as pointing and speed profiles in constrained movements in interfaces.

Professor Lank was interested in all aspects of human-computer interaction. His work also explored persuasive technologies, sustainability, computer-supported cooperative work, usable privacy and security, sketch and diagram recognition, and human-in-the-loop information retrieval.

The consummate graduate advisor, Professor Lank placed the interests of his students foremost by providing guidance and encouragement so they could perform research at their fullest potential. His goal was to mentor students so they become individuals who conduct strong research and prepare papers as independent scholars and scientists.

From 2018 to 2021, Professor Lank held a Cheriton Faculty Fellowship, a prestigious recognition that supports the work of leading faculty at the School of Computer Science. He was also an Inria International Research Chair attached to Équipe LOKI at Inria Lille-Nord Europe in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France. Alongside his many research positions, he also served as Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies from 2011 to 2013 and as Associate Director from 2013 to 2015 at the Cheriton School of Computer Science.

Professor Lank is survived by his beloved wife, Michelle, and his loving daughters, Olivia and Charlotte. He rests at Maison du Funeraille, Odoux, Mouvaux, France. A service will be held on Saturday, March 26, 2022. A cremation will follow the service and a reception will be held at Salon des Orchidées. Arrangements on PEI to be announced later and will be held through MacLean Funeral Home Swan Chapel.

Online condolences may be made at www.macleanfh.com or at https://link.inmemori.com/EtGMzt?utm_medium=native.

In lieu of flowers, Professor Lank’s family requests that donations be made to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation or to the Site federation France AVC.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Professor Lank’s family.


Recollections from colleagues

Daniel Vogel, Associate Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science

Ed was an influential researcher, my advisor, my mentor, my colleague, and my friend. 

Even before I met Ed, as a PhD student I knew his papers on “editing without prior mode selection” and “sloppy selection.” Those ideas had a substantial impact on me, and the name “Lank” stuck. Later, I was living in a little Maritime university town and heard that “the” Ed Lank was going to give a talk on his way to PEI with his family. This was the first time I saw an “Ed Lank talk”: it was funny, engaging, clear, with substantial content. Those of you who’ve seen Ed’s talks know exactly what I’m talking about. We chatted briefly after, and the “Waterloo HCI” seed was planted for me. About two years later, I joined Waterloo as a postdoc with Ed as one of my advisors. Ed’s ability to make anyone feel a part of a group did its thing, and soon I was working with him and his students on many projects. Later, I was fortunate enough to become Ed’s colleague as an assistant professor. He was always my go-to person for pretty much anything: writing grants, handling admin, helping students, balancing teaching, how to frame a paper ... even things like how to get our toddler into the university daycare, how to renovate an attic, where to get the best coffee... the list goes on. 

His intellect and command of a diverse set of scientific methods was impressive. Many times, I’d be trying to figure something out, and Ed would propose an idea that basically turned the whole thing on its head and elegantly solved the problem. And then later, he’d deny it was his idea. He led his students in a surprisingly wide breadth of topics and methodologies. Once, he was delayed getting to a conference, and asked me to present his paper last minute. I didn’t know the work, and when I looked at the paper and presentation to prepare, I was struck by the density of theoretical models and expert use of qualitative methods, things I knew very little about. I couldn’t believe the same guy I had been collaborating with on quantitative input and interaction techniques could also lead a paper like that.

On a personal level, Ed was my friend. His office was nearby, and Ed would often poke his head in to say hi. An initial short exchange would inevitably lead to sketching out research ideas on a whiteboard or a deep discussion about career and life. A wonderful memory is from summer 2019, when my family and Ed’s family met on the North Shore of PEI. It was a perfect afternoon and evening, and in many ways, it epitomized who Ed was: an incredible father (mucking around with all of our kids building sand castles); the consummate researcher and teacher (he had all the knowledge how to build sand castles, what tools, best techniques); an expert administrator (he perfectly planned the day, where to meet, where to eat, the best beach), and a proud Maritime Islander sharing his birthplace with us.

Ed was a gifted, smart, and caring person who always put others first, especially his students and colleagues.  He will be sorely missed.

Michael Terry, Google Research

Ed and I started at Waterloo within months of one another. I had never met him before joining; I had only spoken with him once on the phone when I was considering the opportunity to join Waterloo. In that first phone conversation, he quickly conveyed a warmth and quiet confidence that indicated he would be an ideal colleague to have as I started out on a new career. That proved to be more than true for the nine years I worked alongside him.

Ed was selfless, giving, and always seemed to be one step ahead of any and every situation. He was an ideal role model not only for his students, but also me, acting as a mentor as I navigated academic life as a young professor. As a colleague and advisor, he confidently led, guided, and inspired those around him. And when his students and collaborators chalked up successes, he was quick and eager to put them in the spotlight to promote and celebrate their accomplishments. 

He will be greatly missed. My sincere condolences to Ed’s family.

Jeffery Avery, Lecturer, Cheriton School of Computer Science

Ed Lank was a good friend and mentor to me. When my son was young, I was considering applying to grad school, but I was unsure if it was the right move. I emailed Ed to introduce myself; he invited me out for coffee, and we spent two hours talking about research. I eventually ended up as his PhD student, something that I never would have otherwise considered doing. I owe any success that I have in my current career to Ed’s generosity, guidance and support. My heart goes out to his family and his friends. I will miss him dearly.

Jaime Ruiz, Associate Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida

I first met Ed a year before he joined Waterloo while I was a Master’s student at San Francisco State University. I had stopped by his lab to visit my friend John. Little did I know that my life would forever be changed. Ed would spend a considerable amount of time introducing John and me to HCI research. He would continuously tell us how being a Ph.D. student was the “best time of your life.” Until then, I had never even considered getting a Ph.D. After completing my MS, I took a year to apply to Ph.D. programs. I didn’t even bother visiting other schools once I got my offer from the University of Waterloo under Ed’s supervision.

Ed wasn’t wrong. I loved being a Ph.D. student under Ed’s supervision. Ed always took time to meet with me and provide the guidance I so desperately needed. Some of my favorite moments were when Ed would show up to the lab, Tim Horton’s in hand, and sit down and chat with us for at least an hour. Under Ed’s supervision, I would finish my Ph.D., becoming Ed’s first Ph.D. student to graduate. However, Ed’s mentoring didn’t stop there. He continued to mentor me long after I had graduated. When I received the letter notifying me that I was awarded tenure, Ed was the first person I told.

I feel blessed to have had Ed in my life. Not only did he convince me to get my Ph.D. from Waterloo, I met my beautiful wife in the program. I am now a husband, dad of two great kids, and a tenured Associate Professor because I met Ed. I am going to miss seeing him at conferences where we would have impromptu lab reunions and share pictures and stories of our kids.

Edith Law, Associate Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science

Ed founded the HCI Lab at the School of Computer Science and was instrumental to its growth for the past decade. His office was next door to mine, and we supervised a PhD student together. Over the years, he has touched so many lives at Waterloo. He was simply an exceptional mentor to students, as evident by their success in academia. He was a caring and generous colleague, a versatile researcher and a prolific collaborator. On multiple occasions, I have approached him at times of crisis, and benefited enormously from his guidance and wise advice. He is the type of person who can just walk into a room and have something witty, funny or inspiring to say. There are simply no words to convey the sense of loss we all felt and the enormity of the tragedy. We will miss him dearly.

Jian Zhao, Assistant Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science

Since I joined Waterloo as an assistant professor in 2019, Ed to me was more than a colleague and a collaborator. He was a mentor and offered unconditional support on teaching, grant writing, student recruitment, and many, many other things. He founded the HCI lab and created a nurturing environment for young faculty members to grow. In fall 2021, we started to co-supervise a PhD student, my first PhD student. Ed's guidance was profound, both to me and to the student. With Ed’s generous support, I was able to smoothly start my academic career and see the path. I will miss him. His legacy and friendship will stay forever.

Jim Wallace, Associate Professor, School of Public Health Sciences, University of Waterloo

When I left Waterloo after my undergraduate degree, there were only a handful of people here working in Human-Computer Interaction. When I returned a few years later to pursue a PhD, Ed had established a vibrant research group on the third floor of the Davis Centre. He would later serve as an examiner for my thesis, invite me to join his group as a post doc, and one day walk into my office and tell me to apply to an opening in Health Informatics. I’ve enjoyed working with him ever since.

Ed brought joy to everything he did, and I often find myself thinking of how he might approach a research problem or support his students. I will always think of paper drafts as ‘first pancakes’ because that’s how he would tell you not to worry if it wasn’t perfect on the first try. He was always positive, encouraging, and happy — he truly enjoyed being a professor (“the best job in the world”).

But what I think of most is that he consistently went above and beyond for those he worked with. A long list of his former students and post docs are in high-profile industry and academic positions across Canada, the United States, and Europe. As soon as you joined his group he felt responsible for ensuring that you reached your potential, and these successes show just how committed he was to everyone he worked with.
 
My deepest condolences to Ed’s family, Michelle, Olivia, and Charlotte.

M. Tamer Özsu, University Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science

Ed was hired, along with Mike Terry, shortly before I became School Director. They were hired by Johnny Wong as we started to build the HCI group and Johnny made the arrangements for the HCI Lab. But most of the construction took place after I took over. At the time, it was the fanciest lab and the most expensive per unit area. When it opened, I told Ed and Mike that I wanted my bribe. They were surprised and asked if I wanted another pen (they knew of my fountain pen collection). I said my bribe was at least one CHI paper every year from the group. For years afterwards, even after Mike left and my term as Director ended, Ed would update me every year about the number of papers the group published at CHI, UIST and other top events and how they compared to other top places. The HCI group consisted of only the two of them at the time, but they punched way above their weight. The group grew since then and they continue to punch above their weight.

Ed had an interesting sense of humour and we enjoyed bantering. After I returned from my post-directorship sabbatical, he had become Associate Director. I was complaining about some workload issue in the lounge one day and he quipped, “The School appreciates your work and assistance” with a dry smile on his face. Obviously, I had said that to him during my directorship and it was payback time.

I will miss him; he was a very good researcher and a great person. May he rest in peace.

George Labahn, Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science

I was head of the hiring committee when Ed was hired. The School had been looking for new faculty in the area of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) for a number of years without any success. This particular year we had some promising applications and things were looking better, with one candidate looking very much like our top choice. Then we came across Ed's application — at the time he was at San Francisco State University where he was doing a lot of teaching while somehow also getting research done. So, we invited him to come for an interview not really knowing what to expect. Ed’s interview went great — he was so high energy, very research active with lots of ideas and just made a great impression. The problem then became how to separate what now became the two top candidates which we could only do by hiring both! So, we quickly went from famine to feast in HCI, a great piece of luck.

Individually I also worked with Ed on something called the MathBrush pen math project where Ed taught us how to evaluate interfaces in general (and math interfaces in particular) and tell us about various math recognition competitions. A great contribution for us as we all wanted and needed something more formal than being able to say ‘pretty good, eh’ when it came to evaluating what we were doing!

Ed was a great person, always very energetic and always very helpful. It's just so sad for someone to die so young with two young children at a time when everything seemed to be going so well and to plan. A very big loss for me.

Celine Latulipe, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Manitoba

I first met Ed Lank when he applied for a tenure-track position at Waterloo. At the time, I was finishing up my PhD in CS in the area of Human-Computer Interaction, working under Craig Kaplan and Charlie Clark. I was one of very few people doing HCI research at Waterloo, and that research happened in the Computer Graphics Lab. There was a growing desire to build a strong HCI group, and so I was asked to serve on the hiring committee. As I recall, I was the token grad student, token woman, and token HCI person on that committee. That was the year that we hired both Ed Lank and Mike Terry and it felt like a major accomplishment to get them both! I’ve always felt proud of the small role I played in helping to make that happen. I moved on to my academic position in the US, but I watched proudly from afar as the Waterloo HCI group blossomed. Together, Ed and Mike built up a strong and vibrant HCI Lab that continues to thrive today.

I always enjoyed meeting up with Ed at conferences and catching up on what was happening at Waterloo. Ed was a fantastic mentor to his students, and he created a dynamic, supportive, welcoming, and diverse lab environment. This meant that hanging out with the Waterloo crowd at an HCI conference was always a pleasure. The care Ed had for his colleagues and grad students, and students in general, always shone through. I think the only time I ever saw Ed get angry was when students were being mistreated. He was a strong researcher, but more important than that, he was a good friend, who was always ready to listen and support anyone going through a difficult time. 

Ed has left us far too soon. There was so much more he still had to contribute, and so many lives that he would have shaped for the better. He will be tremendously missed. I feel grateful to have known him and counted him as a colleague and friend. I extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Michelle and their two daughters.

Rina R. Wehbe, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University

Edward Lank was an excellent scholar, an inspiring mentor, and a genuinely kind person. His work in Human-Computer Interaction spanned the gamut because he cared that his students were passionate, so he encouraged them to follow their research interests. He used to say, ‘I am more of a methods person,’ hence, the Methods Group would focus on creating grounded, well thought empirical protocols to tackle the variety of challenges and problem spaces brought forth by the diverse group of students he’d assembled and attracted to his research team. Although all his students were different in their research topics, ideas, goals, and approaches, Edward Lank made everyone feel included and important. He often joked that is research group was a reverse pyramid with himself on the bottom, symbolizing how important his student’s ambitions were to him.

Edward Lank was an amazing supervisor because he prioritized student success, autonomy, and happiness. He believed in his students and their research; if you got knocked down by a reviewer, he was there to help you get back on your feet. He cared for each of his students’ happiness and helped them be their best by taking the time to ask what his students needed and be the supervisor that would help them accomplish their goals. If you sought his advice, he took the time to always listen carefully to your concerns. As a new professor, I hope to emulate the example that he provided.

Some of my favourite memories were made walking down the interlinked campus hallways to the local Starbucks, on the way we would always meet so many people who wanted to say hi, chat, or exchange a friendly greeting. Visiting him in Lille, walking around campus went similarly. Ed’s relaxed, happy personality brought smiles to faces, his sense of humour could make the day a little brighter. I will always be thankful to have had the opportunity to work with him as he truly was a good person who made things better for everyone wherever he went.

Although his life was short, it was filled with happiness, family, friends, and scientific accomplishment. His memory and impact spans beyond a lifetime and his priorities will be carried forth by those who valued his advice. Thank you for helping me achieve my dreams, Ed.

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