Bryce Boe, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Computer Science, took some time to talk to the GradPost about how he came to be interested in Computer Science Education, his involvement in starting the UCSB subreddit (/r/UCSantaBarbara), and what else keeps him busy as he finishes up his graduate degree.
Tell us a little about your background
I grew up in Poway, a city in North Inland San Diego. I came to UCSB in Fall 2004 to begin a Bachelor's in Computer Science having very little idea what Computer Science actually meant. As an undergraduate I worked part time at a local company, WorldViz, and during the summer prior to starting graduate school I had an internship at Google.
Tell us a little about your research and how you came to choose the topic
The short version of this story is that after failing with my first attempt at research I took a TAship for funding. I discovered rather quickly that I had a penchant for teaching Computer Science, and shortly thereafter became responsible for training the Computer Science department's teaching assistants. Following my second failure with "traditional" Computer Science research, Professor Diana Franklin asked me if I was interested in Computer Science Education research; I was, and she became my advisor.
The growth in Computer Science popularity at the college level, and the movement to place it in K-12 presents new challenges in assisting both students and instructors. Automated tools can assist in both realms to provide students with timely feedback and significantly aid instructors in assessment. My research involves developing such tools, and evaluating the tradeoffs of using them.
One of the tools I developed will assist with the assessment of a fourth grade computational thinking curriculum we are piloting in select local elementary schools in the fall. We are collaborating with the Education department for both the development and evaluation of the curriculum. At the university level, a few UCSB Computer Science classes use another tool I developed that provides automated feedback to students. There is a vast amount of knowledge to be learned about student submission and resubmission behavior with respect to how and when feedback is provided.
What has graduate student life been like for you?
I'm not going to sugarcoat this response at all. Graduate student life has been quite the roller coaster for me. I really had no idea what a Ph.D. entailed when I signed up for it, and as I previously mentioned I had a few failures along the way. Between the failures, and the inability to separate work-life from home-life, the idea of quitting was always on my mind. My immense desire to teach is the only reason I remained, and now, less than a year from finishing, quitting is no longer an option.
Socially, graduate school is both amazing and terrible. I've met and become good friends with some of the most incredible people. Computer Science is an incredibly ethnically diverse field, and as such I am often the only U.S. American in the room. The discussions I have with my social circle often span global economics and international politics with viewpoints from a handful of places around the World. Sadly, as the years progress my social circle's churn rate increases when I would very much prefer it to stabilize. Nevertheless, all the frustration I have had with graduate school is meaningless compared to the professional and social contacts graduate school has inadvertently provided me.
How did you become involved with the UCSB subreddit? How has it affected your connection to the UCSB campus and community?
reddit (always lowercased) is a great way to share things with those interested in similar topics. As such I was interested in what other people had to share on reddit at UCSB. Unfortunately, the individual who created the former UCSB subreddit /r/UCSB did not do a very good job of approving legitimate submissions from the spam queue, so I took it upon myself to solve that problem. After many failed attempts of contacting the individual responsible for /r/UCSB, the only course of action was to create a new subreddit. That's how I became involved with /r/UCSantaBarbara.
The subreddit does exactly what I originally desired from it. That is, it keeps me up to date on campus events and issues that I would never otherwise be aware of. Moreover, it provides an excellent resource to students who are considering applying to or attending UCSB. Neither of these attributes, however, require my active involvement. While I have organized a few /r/UCSantaBarbara events and met some awesome people as a result, my involvement in the subreddit has had little impact on my connection with the UCSB community (until this interview).
What else are you involved with outside of your graduate studies, both on and off campus?
At this point in time, as I near closer to completion of my Ph.D., there is very little that I am involved with on campus. I previously organized programming competitions for undergraduates, and for three years I helped organize (co-chairing, and chairing in 2009 and 2010 respectively) the Computer Science department's Graduate Student Workshop on Computing. This workshop is organized entirely by graduate students and showcases the research of the Computer Science graduate students.
Off campus, I am a fairly active member of the Python open-source community. What that essentially means is I volunteer my time to write new software and improve existing software that is free for everyone to use. My most notable contribution is PRAW, the Python reddit API Wrapper, which is utilized by a large majority of the bots on reddit. I also thoroughly enjoy running for beer with the Hash House Harriers of Sant'o Barbara.
Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.
This will be an easy question to answer once I complete my Ph.D. Until such a time, I think being the instructor of record for a UCSB Computer Science course is probably my biggest accomplishment. Only a handful of CS students take the opportunity to teach a course, and I am incredibly glad I did as the teaching experience I gained should prove to distinguish me from other academic candidates when I apply for positions this coming winter. To help further distinguish myself, I am teaching both over the summer, and again in the fall.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Most people are surprised to learn that I am incredibly uncomfortable in new situations as they often initially encounter me in a role where I am already considerably confident and comfortable. In their defense, I explode out of my shell rather quickly, so my nervousness is something few people observe.
What do you hope to be doing five or ten years out of graduate school?
Within ten years I hope to be a tenured faculty member of a Computer Science department and have established some sort of name for myself in the Computer Science Education community. More importantly, I hope to have a family to share my life with as all this education and desire for a career is just a means to an end; to provide the best environment possible for my future family.
Do you have any advice for other grad students?
Make the most out of your time as a graduate student. Try new things, and do not be afraid to fail as each failure will point you closer toward success. Eventually you will either make it through, or you will find an even more awesome path to follow.