Step 1: Start a Blog

So, in celebration/preparation for my upcoming position as a computer science faculty at Occidental College, I’ve decided to start a new blog.

I thought, as a first post, I would just answer some questions about this new venture:

Who are you?

My name’s Justin Li. I did my undergrad at Northwestern, and my PhD (well, I’m doing my PhD) at Michigan. I will be joining the faculty of Occidental College in the fall of 2015. I have a separate personal website where you can read more about me.

I see that your website already has a blog. Why are you starting this one?

That is actually a good question. The answer is that I’m not sure, but I can give some partial answers:

  • Oxy is is unique as an opportunity for me in many ways, the least of which is that I get to start a computer science department from scratch. Talking to many of the people at Michigan, it seems that many computer science departments are burdened with multiple historic artifacts: either from a dated curriculum, or the lack of data about what students go through the program, or diversity issues. Starting a department is a rare chance to tackle these issues from scratch, and I hope that other people may learn something from my experience (and mistakes).
  • I am coming into the position at Oxy as a fresh PhD, and I hope that my story will help other PhD students decide what they want to do. I know I still have a lot to learn about surviving in academia, particularly coming from two research schools but teaching at a liberal arts college. My perspective is therefore somewhat different, and maybe useful to others.
  • I like writing. I’ve kept a personal journal for over 13 years at this point, and it’s a both a source of comfort and a source of reflection. This blog allows me to explore aspects of my new job from a different perspective – that of a professional – and would also force me to engage more deeply with what I need to do.

Okay. What is this blog about?

Despite the title of this blog, I have no delusions that I will be able to create a superior computer science department from scratch. Rather, this blog is a space for me to write about my thoughts on computer science education and culture, as well as what it’s like to have a lot of freedom (read: a lot of opportunities for disaster) in an academic program.

So, more than anything, this blog is the story of me learning to be a professor. I just happen to also be starting a computer science department. I will try to focus on what makes my situation special – namely, that I’m at a college where computer science is not a department nor a major. But I will also be writing about the courses I’m teaching, my thoughts and struggles with teaching, and other generic academic problems.

That’s vague. What isn’t this blog about?

This blog is not a guide to starting a CS department. I have no clue what I’m doing. If anything, read it as a cautionary tale.

So what should I expect?

I will try really hard to update this blog every Tuesday, with at least three paragraphs of text every time. Sometimes I will be writing more, other times it might just be an excerpt from some article on education that I read the past week. I can see this going for at least a year (~52 posts); whether I get tired of this by the end of that… we’ll see.

I look forward to reading what you have to say!

You didn’t actually think that, but I thank you for the sentiment anyway.

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Step 1: Start a Blog

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