I have a troubling relationship with vacations. Don’t get me wrong – I love them. I wouldn’t complain much if life was just a series of summer, winter, and spring breaks. But somewhere in high school, breaks lost their golden sweetness and took on an anxious flavor.
Besides the people I have come to know and love, one of my favorite things about life in a cooperative is getting to try new food.
For those unfamiliar with the co-op system at UT, we are hinged on two basic principles. The first is that we vote on issues democratically, and the second is that we all take part in shared household labor.
This semester was the first time all of my CS classes were upper division elective courses. It was giddying to have complete freedom after semesters of following a mandated path (even if it was an interesting mandated path). Two of the courses I ended up taking were Introduction to Data Mining and Introduction to Computational Linguistics (from the Linguistics Department). Several weeks ago, I started noticing that a lot of concepts from the two classes were overlapping. My linguistics professor would mention a classifier that was used to categorize words from a body of text and then the next week I would learn how to implement a version of that classifier from scratch in my data mining class. This happened several times and one week we went over the same probability and statistics concepts in both classes in order to lay a foundation for other concepts we would be learning.
This Saturday morning, I volunteered at UT Austin’s Girl Day. This is an event designed to help girls gain enthusiasm for STEM fields in order to hopefully shrink gender disparities in these fields in the future.
My part in this massive event with thousands of attendees and volunteers was fairly simple. I showed visitors a few lines of C++ code they could manipulate, and cheered them on when their edits led to holiday lights attached to an Arduino board changing color.
Complain, complain, complain. People complain a lot. Even I’ve done my fair share of complaining. Even though scientific studies have shown the negative effects of complaining, you can listen in any public space and hear complaints being traded back-and-forth like baseball cards. Despite the detrimental qualities, when all else fails, griping and grumbling is the glue that brings people together. It’s an easy conversation starter. Any stranger can sympathize with you over the horrible morning traffic or your neighbors stupid dog that won’t stop howling at the moon.
In 7th grade, I had a math teacher who told the class homework should be done in complete silence. That meant no TVs on in the background, no headphones in our ears, and no friends to talk to nearby.
So I took his advice, and began to sit down at my desk trying to work as if I was in a monastery. This was the beginning of a struggle and dislike of math that lasted for the next three years, and only ended when I began to relax my extremely harsh “no distractions” rule.
Starting this past Sunday, a day hasn’t passed where I haven’t gotten down on my knees to thank whichever deity is in charge making sure your muscles and bones heal after you’ve overused them. (Most people call that deity science or nature, but believing in some kind of magic is far more fun.
This May, I will be graduating. I will be twenty years old, and have completed my degree in just three years.
When people ask me about how I did this so quickly, I think that they often assume it’s because I’m somehow smarter than other people in my field. This is absolutely not true. I just mapped out my degree plan very effectively, and found alternative ways to earn some of my credits.
Motivation can be hard to come by. If you were to aggregate my motivation from all facets of life and plot it as a function of time, the recent past would likely be a local minimum in the curve. I’m currently investigating why.
This semester, instead of a full complement of CS or math classes, I’m taking a few liberal arts classes in government and philosophy. One of the classes I’m taking, Constitutional Interpretation (which is really constitutional law), is considered one of the most—if not the most—challenging classes offered by the government department. The professor usually teaches in the law school, but occasionally teaches undergraduate classes; when he does, he usually teaches them the same way he teaches them in law school.
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