Dumb things I did while ...
This is an attempt to note some of the more foolish mistakes of my
career as part of the
Mathematics and Computer Science
seminar entitled I was a 70's math junkie. I wasn't in
college in the 70's, and I don't study "70's math", these days I'm
a computer scientist, and I've never mainlined theorems or algorithms.
Nonetheless, I hope to stay with the spirit of the seminar by confessing
some of my least clever actions at various stages of my career. At
times, I do try to ameliorate the action by defending it or suggesting
positive consequences. Note also that the line between undergraduate
and graduate may be slightly blurred, since I stayed at the same
institution and don't always remember things in the proper context.
Without further delay, here are some dumb things I've done as ...
- In a large lecture class, I once interrupted the lecturer and said
something on the order of "No, Jane-Ellen, you're wrong."
- I slept through a midterm in one of my classes.
- I spent more time buying records (I was an 80's vinyl junkie)
and books than studying.
- I "hacked" into the math department computer and created accounts
for the president of the college and "Harold the Chicken King". Note
that the hacking was not difficult, as there was an account with
root privileges that had no password.
- I tried to violate UofC's "no more than twenty hours of for-pay work
each week" by working as
- A computing assistant (like the UCs)
- A math tutor (we graded assignments and ran weekly tutorials)
- A CS tutor.
- I worked the graveyard shift (midnight to six am). This is
probably why I slept through at least one midterm.
A graduate student
- I regularly fell asleep in the middle of my advisor's class. The only
thing that saved me was that I could usually make an insightful comment
or find an error in a proof when I woke up.
- I refused to submit any of my work for general review unless I felt
that it was perfect. This meant that I almost never submitted papers
to conferences, and my vitae was significantly weaker than those of
other students. (As my wife's advisor used to say, "The enemy
of "good" isn't "bad"; the enemy of good is "perfect".)
- I wrote a dissertation whose length equaled the sum of the lengths of
all the previous dissertations in the department (there were six of them).
- Even though I was on a stipend, I worked an extra, relatively low paying
job as UofC's equivalent to a UC.
- I wrote a 200-page UC handbook.
- I spent a lot of time writing a hypercard stack to manage my record
collection (I still use it for all 5000+ records, singles, tapes, and
- In general, I spent more time working on "fun" stuff (and taking
courses outside of computer science) than I spent on my research.
It's clear that I would have finished much sooner if I'd spent
more time "on task".
A faculty candidate
- On one of my interviews, I told the faculty at a school that their notion
of Computer Science was severely outdated and questioned why they still
offered some courses. (C'mon, do we really need a "file structures" course
in the 90's?.)
- I prepared one of my job talks while on the plane to the interview.
- At an interview at a research institution, I told the chair that I
really cared most about undergraduate teaching, and that most of my
interviews were at small liberal arts colleges.
- I agreed to eat the cost of a ticket to a place I hadn't visited when
Grinnell made me the offer.
A faculty member
- My last term at Dartmouth, I pulled an all-nighter to prepare my classes.
This was made necessary by an extreme procrastination ... I waited until
5pm the day before classes started to begin preparing.
- When I've taught early-morning classes, I have occasionally slept through
part or all (that is, I didn't make it in on time).
- I've made some insensitive remarks in my classes, none of which I would
ever care to share with other students.
- I gave a multiple-essay final to a ninety student class when I only had
three days to do the grading.
- I committed to write more papers than is physically or intellectually
- I spend time writing documents for things like this, rather than
working on my classes, research, family, or relaxation.