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Monthly Archives: December 2010

I live on campus as most freshmen at UT do. Specifically, I live in Blanton Dormitory, which is one of the three honors dorms at UT.

When you apply for housing, you get to choose your top dorm picks. My first choice was the honors quad and my second was Jester. (You don’t get to pick which dorm within the quad you want to live in.) Foremost amongst my concerns was the cost. I really didn’t care about having a private bathroom or living in one of the larger dorms such as Duren or San Jacinto. I’ve found that I can fit right in wherever I live, so I knew it wouldn’t be a problem adjusting to whichever dorm I was placed in. Since I didn’t want any of the premium features, I opted to go for the basic dorm setup: one roommate and community bath. It ended up costing about $8200 for the year, which is the least expensive route. The honors dorms and Jester cost the same, so I chose them over Jester. The quad was where a bunch of my friends were going to live, so it was an easy choice.

As for choice of roommate, I picked the random option. I could have lived with a friend if I had chosen to, but I thought it would be better not to risk getting into fights with him and ruin the friendship. In retrospect, that was a ridiculous reason. I don’t think that would ever happen; I know my friends enough to be able to resolve problems in a courteous manner. However, the random roommate choice worked out well; he’s a pretty cool guy.

Blanton has the smallest rooms out of the dorms in the honors quad, and I think the smallest out of all of the dorms I’ve visited at UT. Andrews has larger dorms and Carothers has even larger dorms. You get an adjustable-height bed and movable furniture, including a desk, and two storage pieces. I chose to arrange my side to give me the most desk space. The bed is up high, about six feet up in the air. Below the bed, I have the desk and the storage; they create what is referred to as a “megadesk”. Since I spend most of the time in my room doing things on my desk, it makes sense to have a large desk space at the expense of making the bed less accessible. However, since the bed is above the desk, the desk is not illuminated very well at night due to the shadow created by the ceiling light. This was a problem until I bought a desk lamp. Light during the day is lovely and perfectly adequate. Climbing up to the bed takes some getting used to; the rungs aren’t shaped in a way that makes it easy to do so.

As I’ve said, the bed’s height is adjustable. My roommate brought his bed down to the height of the storage underneath so the bed is more easily accessible. As a result, his desk gets a small area next to the bed. It’s nice that everything is configurable since everyone’s needs are different. At first, I felt that the dorm was too small, but in time I got used to it. I only wish I was able to seat many people in my dorm. It can’t really ever be a hangout place. They give us an adequate wooden chair, but I got a nice rolly chair off Craigslist, which made studying much nicer. That wooden chair is the only place guests can sit, which is sad. The bathrooms are well-maintained and take like little time to get used to. Community is no problem. Also, Blanton is the only dorm in the quad without a sink, which is a good thing. I don’t want it to get all dirty, which it will naturally. Walking an extra ten feet to get to the bathroom to brush my teeth is barely an inconvenience.

My dad kept asking why this little half-room cost us more than $8000, and I had no answer. (One impetus for moving into an apartment is that a shared room can be a bit more than $400, which is half the cost of an on-campus dorm.) But, the dining is also put into the cost of the housing. Your $8000 includes $1400 dine-in-dollars, which can be used in the dining halls, and $300 Bevo-bucks, which can be used at most nearby restaurants. You don’t really have a choice in the matter. Everyone is put into the same plan. You can always add more if you need to, but you can’t opt to get less. I heard that you get enough dine-in-dollars for lunch and dinner every day and breakfast once a week. This may seem like it isn’t enough, but don’t worry. Everyone I know agrees that it’s more than enough. I still have more than $800 of my dine-in-dollars left at the end of the semester though I eat breakfast at the dining halls far more often than most other people. Most people either skip breakfast or eat cereal in their rooms. I had a friend that had so many dine-in-dollars left over last year that he bought a big UT rug for his dorm. (You can use dine-in-dollars to buy random stuff at some of the campus stores.) Bevo-bucks are accepted at pretty much all of the eateries close to campus; they provide a convenient way of getting good food when you feel like a change.

The closest dining hall is located in the ground floor of the Kinsolving girls dorm. It serves that whole northern end of campus that the quad lies in. It’s about a five minute walk from Blanton, which hasn’t been a big problem. (I found out the hard way that umbrellas and sweaters are essential.) I have to say I do like the food there most days. You swipe your card and it’s all-you-can-eat. It’s around four dine-in-dollars per swipe, which is a pretty good deal if you ask me. There is a core selection that stays the same every day: pasta, pizza, salad, wraps, fried stuff, chicken, sides, juice, soda, fruit, waffles. On top of that they have different specials every day. Breakfast usually includes made-to-order omelets and tacos plus eggs, biscuits, sausage, and the same drink choices. I find the selection more than adequate on most days. (J2 is the equivalent for students staying near Jester. The food is pretty much the same, but some people say Kins has a better atmosphere.)

Right next to Blanton is the convenient Littlefield Café. I get food there if I miss meals at Kins for some reason. I frequently get delicious breakfast burritos there. Kinsolving also has Kins Market, where you can buy snacks and supplies. So far, I’ve only bought an umbrella there.

I love living on campus. In college, the line between school and home is nonexistent. I think I like it that way. You get to see you friends all the time: you eat with them, you study with them, and you relax with them. Seeking solitude is equally easy. You can live however you feel like. You can be with whomever, eat whatever, go wherever, and do anything you please. Only as long as you keep your wits about you, of course.

It isn’t required, but I highly recommend that you live on campus at least for the first year. It’s much easier to meet people and get used to college life.

 

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The Turing Scholars Program is the honors program for computer science students at UT Austin. It is a relatively new program, having been established in 2002. I hear it was an off shoot of the Dean’s Scholars Program, which is open to all natural science students. (There are many students that are in both programs at once.)

The main advantage of being in the program is the classes. The program allows students to take honors versions of most of the core computer science courses. Honors classes are generally harder and have smaller class sizes. One complaint that many people have about UT is that the class sizes are large; being in an honors program definitely helps bring the apparent size of the university down. I hear that the usual algorithms and data structures class has over a hundred students; the honors version has about fifty. Also, since we are required to have significant CS experience in the past, we get to skip past many of the intro classes.

The classes themselves are different. They rely more on a dialogue between the students and the professors than lectures. For example, Professor Lin, our professor for the data structures and algorithms class (CS 315H), would explain what a hash table was at a basic level, then pose a question asking us to think of its advantages and disadvantages. We would raise our hands and explain our ideas, which would be critiqued and expanded upon by him. Eventually, he’d give us the points that we missed. He knew the names of every single one of his students. This fact alone shows you how the learning happens at a more engaging and personal level. It also helped that he’s just hilarious all the time.

Professor Cline, our professor for the logic, sets, and functions class (CS 313H), used the Moore Method. This meant that all of our homework consisted of proofs, essentially guaranteeing that if we spent the time and effort to complete them, we would have a very good idea of the subject. At the beginning of class, we’d write our solutions on the board, and we’d spend most of the rest of the class discussing them step-by-step. The writers of the proofs were responsible for explaining any unclear steps and were urged to fix any problems that were found. If they couldn’t fix their proofs, other students got the opportunity to chime in. Being able to prove it shows that you really understand the concept; that’s what we were asked to do in Dr. Cline’s class. His dry humor and mannerisms made the class all the more enjoyable.

The whole program is centered on research. In addition to the requirement that Turing Scholars take a number of honors computer science classes, they have to write an honors thesis by graduation time in order to receive the degree. Next semester, we’ll be in a research methods class where we’ll learn more about research in computer science. A number of fellow Turings are already thinking of projects that they could do. I hear that only about ten out of the forty that enter the program graduate with the Turing degree because of the difficulty of the classes and the requirement to do the thesis.

The program offers other benefits. Turings get admission into the computer science major automatically. Normally, computer science students have to be “pre-CS” students and then apply to be CS students at the end of their freshman years. Plus, Turings get priority registration for computer science classes. And they can live in honors housing if they choose to.

I’d say about half of the freshman Turing Scholars live in the honors quad. It makes it very convenient to set up study groups and design jams. Living elsewhere makes it inconvenient to be in the study group. Before every test, we studied together, drawing on each other’s knowledge. I can guarantee that my grades went up because of them. Since we all went to the same dining hall, having long conversations over lunch with fellow Turings about computer science topics were common place.

The Turing Scholars Student Association regularly puts on events for the group. Pizza nights with grad students as guest speakers satisfied my hunger for free pizza and for more information regarding research and graduate school. For the first time, I’m considering doing a PhD. One complaint I have is that we don’t have as much money for these kinds of events as other programs, namely Dean’s Scholars. We couldn’t do a banquet this semester due to budget cuts, but Dean’s Scholars get lunch every Friday and a trip to Fort Davis. Grrr.

Being in Turing does have one more benefit. They say that if a Turing wants to get an internship his freshman year, he will. I’ve heard stories of employers shouting to get the attention of passing Turing Scholars at career fairs. (It happened to at least one friend of mine.) I’d say being in CS gives you higher chances of getting an internship your freshman year than almost any major. And being in Turing definitely helps.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the program. Putting aside the professors that make it fun to go to class and the social events and the tons of other benefits that come with the program, the Turing Scholars themselves are what make the program great. Never have I met such a group of people so enthusiastic about what they do. I’ve found that I can have conversations for hours and hours with many of them. Everyone knows something you don’t, so learning new things comes automatically. We freely discuss our designs and solutions, with a good mix of cooperativeness and competitiveness. Being in two classes together and seeing each other every day creates a pretty close group of friends. Finally, it’s nice to be with people who get your obscure Internety jokes.