Admissions snafu unfairly tarnishes Vassar computer science

I was disappointed to read the The New York Times article yesterday reporting that Vassar mistakenly told 76 applicants that they were accepted. Of course I’m disappointed in my college, but I’m more disappointed by this quote from the NYT article:

Kareen Troussard, a student in Paris, said the episode might have saved her. “I want to major in computer science,” she said in an e-mail, “and Vassar doesn’t even know how to use a computer on the biggest day of our lives.”

I know it’s just a quip, but it unfairly blames the computer science department for a mistake in the admissions office. The quote stems from three common misconceptions:

Misconception #1: The computer science department is responsible for all of the college’s electronic activities.
Reality: Very few, if any, college computer science departments are also responsible for IT at the school.  Teaching computer science and maintaining a system are very different jobs, and Vassar has an entire Computing and Information Services department to handle their IT. (Even Vassar students don’t understand this distinction. The CS department had to put a sign on the door saying saying visitors looking for IT help were in the wrong building.) Continue reading

Writing code motivates me to be productive

I’m going to graduate college in 11 days. I’m submitting my last assignment for grading in 5 days. I’m giving a presentation about my senior research project tomorrow. You’d think that with all that pressure, I’d be banging out code and papers at break-neck pace.

Well, I haven’t been. Senioritis has gotten the best of me. It’s been very difficult to bring myself to work my thesis and Japanese assignments knowing that in 11 days it will all average out to a grade on my transcript that’s mostly predetermined by now. It doesn’t help that I have already secured my post-graduation job. I felt weak and unmotivated yesterday as I struggled to write and prepare my thesis presentation. I needed a boost, but didn’t know where to get it.

I eventually realized that I wanted a couple more features in my research project’s map application for presentation purposes. Boom, I opened my IDE! Boom, I code got banged out! Once I had a task closer to doing what I love, I was suddenly able to focus and be productive.  Continue reading

For Skype interviews, get a space in the library

Yesterday The Consumerist linked to an article called “10 Tips to Shred the Competition in your Skype interview.” Author Jenny Foss’s 5th tip reminded me of a conundrum I had toward the end of my sophomore year when I was interviewing for summer jobs and internships. Here’s the tip:

Don’t even think about doing it in a coffee shop. Quiet, clean room. Absolutely no environmental hustle and bustle, none.  Oh, and when I say “quiet, clean room?” Assume I mean “quiet, clean room with no weird crap in the background.”

Two years ago I interviewed for a lead instructor position at a kids’ tech summer camp. Continue reading

My shortest paths app for Vassar College

I’ve finished the first online version of my application which finds shortest walking paths on the Vassar campus. It uses Dijkstra and the Google Maps Javascript API to find and plot the shortest route between dorms, academic buildings, and student centers. I’m hoping for some feedback from online testing before I submit the final version as part of my senior research project. I’ve solved a lot of arguments about quickest ways to class already!

Library research does not need to be taught in every introductory course.

In four years of college, I’ve tried to get both depth and breadth into my class schedule, as a good liberal arts student should. In addition to computer science classes (my major) and Japanese classes (my minor), I’ve taken introductory classes in philosophy, math, cognitive science, history, English, and physics. However, taking a breadth of classes has led to an unintended consequence: I’ve had to endure four or five different introductions scholarly research.

The format is always the same: a research librarian comes to class, loads the PowerPoint deck, and proceeds to tell us how to search the library catalogue, order books from Interlibrary Loan, cite a source, and use Google Advanced Search. They’ll probably throw in a few slides on why Wikipedia is unreliable as a scholarly resource. Continue reading

Your laptop in class is distracting me, too.

In December I posted my thoughts on whether professors should allow students to use laptops in class. My main point was that regardless of whether it’s okay for students to distract themselves, their laptops are also distracting and disrespectful to the rest of the class and the professor. Most of the commenters disagreed with me, but my classmate Cordelia feels the same way. She posted this morning on her blog, One Two Six Oh Four, an illustrated example of how frustrating it can be.


Find the rest of the comic here.

Take notes and learn now, or get them online and learn later

Today, as I sat in a physics class copying graphs from the lecture slides, I saw the guy in front of me ask his friend, “This is all going to be online later, right?” When he got an affirmative answer, he stopped writing entirely.

Even though I knew the notes would be online, I still wanted to copy the graphs. Taking notes means distilling the presented information and picking out the important parts, which implies at least some level of understanding. If I can’t explain something to myself on paper, it means I need to be asking more questions. As I’ve written before, it helps me learn. Continue reading

Please don’t use someone else’s PPT deck

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by a New York community based around the site LessWrong. The lecture focused on the site’s first core sequence, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions. The subject matter and the meetup group were great (and highly recommended!), but the presentation suffered from one obvious shortfall: the presenter used someone else’s slide deck.

I happened to be at a party with the presenter the night before the lecture, and he told us how excited he was that an eminent authority on the subject had given him the slide deck he usually uses for the lecture. The presenter went on about how his presentation would be much better now with slides that were literally crafted by an expert.

Unfortunately for him, slide quality on its own doesn’t make a great presentation. Continue reading