Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Getting to Know Becky Hirta

Hypothetical Questioner: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself.

S. Rudbeckia Hirta: Oh, no problem. It gives me a platform to rant about things from my past.

HQ: I hear that your programming skills are really weak, making you even more unemployable outside of academia.

SRH: Well, that may be true, but I do have some C++ texts that I can study up before job interviews. And I sort of stretch my resume a bit: one place I worked, it was a math and cs department, and I've taught a graduate course in the software engineering department -- but it was a course in logic. And at some of my summer jobs I've picked up some programming skills.

HQ: I'm surprised about that. I would have expected you to have taken more cs courses when you were an undergrad. I know you had to take 4 non-math courses in the division of the sciences, and I know that you hate lab sciences.

SRH: True, true. I ended up getting a minor in physics.

HQ: I thought you hated physics.

SRH: Well, yeah, I have always hated physics.

HQ: Can you tell us about the cs course that you took in the spring of your freshman year?

SRH: It was a large lecture class -- it met in a room called Filene Auditorium. The homework was returned through FERPA-defying cubbyholes. I could tell from the pace of the class -- and the fact that it had two TAs who never taught and just had office hours -- that a lot of my classmates found it really difficult, but I thought it was pretty easy. I mostly sat in the back of the lecture hall half day-dreaming.

HQ: You didn't pay attention at all and weren't a contributing member of the class?

SRH: Oh, no. I remember once when the professor screwed up an example at the board, and after he floundered for probably a full minute, I called out the necessary fix to make it work.

HQ: Oh, you were an obnoxious freshman.

SRH: You probably could have guessed that.

HQ: So you never talked to the TAs?

SRH: I wish.

HQ: What do you mean?

SRH: One of the TAs would greet me by name as I entered the lecture hall; I have no idea how he knew my name. And he started sitting near me. As the term continued, he would tell me about places and events on campus where he had seen me.

HQ: That sounds pretty creepy.

SRH: It was.

HQ: Is that why you waited almost two years before taking another cs course?

SRH: Partly. It was after that that I decided to give physics a try.

HQ: The cs class you took your junior year was a smaller class -- maybe 25 students. So there wasn't a TA to be trouble.

SRH: True, but the guy who was teaching the class was dating one of my roommates.

HQ: Really?

SRH: Well, more like mutual using. She offered her company and he, well, let's just say it came in a baggie.

HQ: Did that bother you?

SRH: Not until she started reporting back about conversations that they'd had about me.

HQ: What do you mean?

SRH: Well, he'd tell her how I was doing in the class and how he was confused about why I was turning in substandard work. He thought I could do better. And it was true: I was slacking. I was taking an overload at the time, and I was taking his class pass/fail. And she told him that, which really annoyed me. The College doesn't tell instructors which grading option students have chosen, and I was annoyed when she told him.

HQ: Did you take any other cs classes?

SRH: No.

HQ: Do you have anything to say to grad students and post-docs teaching introductory cs courses?

SRH: Stay away from the undergrads.