college life

Being Here

In the final months of high school senior year, I felt like I was constantly pushed into the academic celebrity by the rushing crowd, unsure of whether I would get an autograph. J Strothers Moore, William Dement; these were the pioneers of their fields, the people whose work is now in everyday living, though perhaps shrouded by the bigger celebrities in entertainment. For me, it was exciting. They were the real people doing things.

And certainly being here has been no disappointment after that. At the beginning of this quarter, Vint Cerf (the father of the internet) spoke at the weekly EE CS Colloquium about the future of the internet, about the growth of connected devices. Just last week, Keith Devlin (NPR’s “The Math Guy”) spoke at the Symbolic Systems Forum on “two kinds” of math.

Meanwhile, I’m catching all the bits in news about Stanford people. Baba Shiv, who spoke at the SymSys Forum last quarter, did a study about how expensive wine does actually generate more pleasure better than cheap wine, as brain scans show. Vlad Koltun, the prof for a class my friend is in (and I nearly took), has a new process for creating trees in virtual worlds, called Dryad.

And more. From the DARPA guys to new battery designs, it’s crazy how much is going on. It’s certainly a blessing to be getting attention, but with everything I hear, it’s well deserved. It amazes me that my intro-level vector calculus class is being taught by a leading figure in Topology. It kind of reminds me of that Stephen Hawking lecture I went to.

Overall, I certainly feel inspired by it. It’s the type of vitality that makes me believe that my team might actually discover something in experimental research (I’m punting on that until it’s more developed). It’s the pace that makes me believe that I can go from a constantly astounded freshmen to a decently involved member of the academic community before I graduate. It’s the pervasiveness that makes me believe that my dormmates can do just as much.

But I guess it’s just the people. Not everyone is amazing all of the time; right now, I think there’s actually a Diablo 2 revival nearing launch. And the flaming apples weren’t a good idea either. Especially since they were being golfed off our breezeway. But there was the ride back from Tahoe, where we exchanged word riddles, math puzzles, and logic problems with continual enthusiasm. Or the lunchtime conversation over last night’s “State of the Union,” intermixed with wisecracks about “National Treasure.”

I think I’ll focus on the positive, and let that guide my impression of our future.

Part 5 of my detective story. Sorry for the two week wait. But I’m sure it’s okay; not like anyone reads it.

2 replies on “Being Here”

Nah, that’s totally cool, no need to apologize. Frankly, I’m content that you’ve written your article with effort, with eloquence, and hopefully, with no hard feelings (none on this side). You have the right to post whenever you want to/feel like: you are under no obligation to post every week. I understand that you have lots of homework/activities/stuff to do so don’t worry about it.

You’re getting exposure to the leading thinkers in computer science in your program at Stanford. You should consider yourself really fortunate, because this is exactly what you don’t get at teaching-class universities, only research-class universities.

That being said, I don’t mean to denigrate teaching-class universities. Many students prefer (and do better) where the primary disposition of the faculty is educating. I would argue that at the classical “liberal arts” college, the faculty has more time for students, and they “care more” because they notice when a student is lagging in class or seems to be having a few challenges.

At the same time, understanding that few students go on to graduate school, I consider “just” an undergraduate degree at a research-class university such as Stanford to be a bit of a loss. Yes, you’ve had face-to-face experience with some of the leading minds in the field, but will you actually do more than say “I once met …”. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the views of that luminary, but it is important that you develop your own worldview based on an experience that others would only gain second-hand or third-hand through filtered interpretations of intermediaries.

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