Claim to Fame: I beat PrezBo in the Fun Run. I also helped run a website that you’ve probably used before.
Where are you going? To graduate school for a distressingly long time.
Three things you learned at Columbia?
- You are not as smart as you think you are.
- The paperwork required to make extra-ordinary registration changes is purely a test of will—the Committee on Academic Standing will approve basically any request if you hand them a stack of documents of sufficient thickness. Exempli gratia: waiting until senior year to take a sophomore physics lab; signing up for a 4-point seminar that overlapped with a required class, with the understanding that I would skip the required class; applying to receive 6 points for my thesis less than a month before graduation.
- In the sciences, every research project you start will fail with at least 50% probability. This is not a reflection on your worth as a human being. In the humanities, every thesis can be convincingly defended with approximately 100% probability. This is not a reflection on the merit of your thesis.
“Back in my day…” Pinnacle was Pinnacle, Campo was Campo, and none of my friends were engaged.
Justify your existence in 30 words or less: No.
Is the War on Fun over? Who won? Any war stories? During 40s on 40, Public Safety stood quietly by while cheering students threw glass bottles onto Low Plaza. Is this a cessation of hostilities, or a Fun Intifada? Edward Said is proud of us either way.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? The very best kind of one of these things is better than the very best kind of the other. [N.B. I've always thought that 'poutine' would be a better name for a sex organ than a cheesy potato dish.]
Advice for the class of 2016: There’s a classical problem in statistical decision theory known as the “Multi-Armed Bandit”, which is cool mostly because it’s called the ”Multi-Armed Bandit”. The setup is as follows: You’re in a room with several slot machines. You know that each of the machines has a different payoff rate, but you don’t know what any of the payoffs are. Your goal is to minimize a quantity called “regret”, defined as the difference between the amount of money your strategy will make on average, and the amount of money you would expect to make if you knew the best lever ahead of time.
There’s an inherent tradeoff between collecting information and maximizing profit. Unsurprisingly, many of the standard strategies have essentially the same form: divide your time between exploration (pull levers randomly and see what happens) and exploitation (pull the best lever(s) over and over).
Columbia is, in various ways, a multi-armed bandit. The same strategies apply. Don’t be afraid to commit to friends, clubs or sandwich shops early on, but don’t think you’re tied down once freshman year ends. Set aside some time every semester to explore before you exploit.
Miscellaneous advice: love the Core, spend a summer in New York, eat at Bab al-Yemen, watch the KCST spring show, join Philo, take Nobility and Civility, write for CULPA, read for pleasure.
Any regrets? If I’d persuaded the department to let me skip one intro CS course, I would have had time to take ArtHum and finish the entire CC core. I’m tempted to include here the two weeks I spent last summer in the McKibbin lofts (which two weeks included a smack-addicted roommate, a clandestine hair salon in our kitchen sink, an armed robbery and sickening quantities of banana incense), but in general the most regrettable decisions tend to create the best stories.