President Chan assumed his role as the third president of KAUST as of September 1, 2018. Chan joined KAUST after nearly a decade as president of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Chan assumed the presidency of HKUST on 1 September 2009. Under his leadership, HKUST's global visibility and recognition significantly increased, with wide international media coverage, strategic partnerships established with world-renowned institutions and invitations to global platforms such as the World Economic Forum in Davos. The University's global ranking also improved consistently. In 2018 it ranked 36th in the world (QS), 4th in Asia (QS), 2nd in young universities globally (QS & THE) and 13th in the Global Employability University Ranking.