Thanks

by Anand Lal Shimpi on May 26, 2004 4:03 AM EST
Thanks for all of the kind words and congratulations you all have posted; the responses to my blog from earlier this week really helped things start to settle in. I'm finally done.

It's been a long road, I can't even believe it when I say that there hasn't been a year in AT's history where I haven't been in school. I started AnandTech (or Anand's Hardware Tech Page to all you old timers out there) during my freshman year in high school, that was April of 1997. It's been such a big part of my life (i.e. it has been my life) through four years of high school and most recently, four years of college. The past year alone has been a tough one for me, because I've seen so much of what I've worked for be pushed aside in order for me to finish college. There were so many times during the past year at NCSU that I thought about just throwing in the towel, because of how frustrated I had become that I could no longer perform the balancing act that my life had been for the 6 years prior.

I made a conscious decision when AT started to grow to keep it, as well as my education, at the top of my priority list. Through high school, that wasn't much of an issue. I lost out on a lot of sleep, and I wasn't very active in anything after school (AT was my extra curriculur activity), but it wasn't too difficult juggling the workload and school. Then college came around, and although I had the self-discipline thing down (and thus didn't have many adjustment issues to dealing with a structureless learning environment) the workload of my classes had gone up and thus more juggling had to take place. You can only give up so much sleep before you have to cut back on something, and unfortunately, towards the end of my college career - I had to finally cut back on what I was able to commit to AT. What's most frustrating to me personally is that the undergrad experience for me was unfortunately a let down.

I went into college with a significant number of AP credits, effectively making me a first year sophomore. What the AP credits helped me do was cut down on the number of crap-classes that I would other have to take...unfortunately, even with something like 30 - 40 credits, I was still left with a significant number of those very classes that I was trying to avoid. I understand that one of the roles that a college education is supposed to play is to make you well rounded, but frankly it's done very half-assed. While I can't speak for all schools, I can speak for NC State and from what I've seen of other schools - State isn't too far from the norm. The number of total waste-of-time classes I've taken in my college career greatly outnumbers the number of useful classes in college. Let me add some background to that statement: although the majority of the classes I was required to take were within my major (Computer Engineering), the majority of those classes were very poorly taught. I have talked about my issues with professors in the past, and those issues honestly ruined a lot of classes that would otherwise fall into the useful category. I've had the professors who only cared about researching, the professors that were simply bad teachers and the professors that just didn't seem to care one way or another. In some cases it worked to my (and all other students') benefit, since these professors often just reused old assignments, old projects and old exams, so you could simply study last semester's stuff and you would be fine. I guess in that sense, we're just as guilty as the professors for not putting forth the effort to show you care - it's just difficult to when the professor isn't willing to from day 1. I know it's easy to dismiss my issues as the usual complaints from a student, but I honestly believe that although the whining student isn't anything new, these complaints are a bit more serious than a lazy student saying "I hate homework."

At the same time, I've had some very good professors - unfortunately the numbers were far fewer. By the time I graduated, I had over 127 credit hours of classes, and if we say that the average class is 3 - 5 credit hours then basic math dictates that I've taken around 36 classes over the past 4 years. Now assuming that I had around 28 unique professors that taught those 36 classes, I'd say that around 5 - 6 of them were "good" professors. Now it's not just classes that I liked that fall amongst those 5 - 6, in fact, one of the best engineering professors I had at State (and one of the most caring professors) taught one of the classes I hated the most. Dr. Ozturk (the lady, not her husband) taught a junior level analog circuits class that was one of the most difficult classes at State; combined with the fact that I didn't like the material at all made that one of my least favorite classes at State. But the fact that she was a good (but tough) professor was something that I appreciated, even as I was barely scraping by on the exams. So it's not that I had personal issues or biases against certain professors or the material they taught, I honestly just didn't have very many good professors.

Now out of those 5 - 6 good professors, I've talked to around 4 of them about my issues and most of them are very concerned with the problems I've been talking about. Some of them happen to be in the unique position that they have some input into the department, so I made sure to make myself as vocal as possible about my concerns to them. But even those with the most power, in response to many of my concerns, could only say that that's unfortunately the way the bureaucracy works. There are few things that are as sad as that.

At a large school like NCSU, the focus of the school is research, with a secondary focus of educating. You can argue with me on that point, but the fact of the matter is that there are some damn good professors out there that the school won't touch unless they agree to do research in addition to teaching. Research is where the dollars are, it's where the prestige is, but it's not where the students are. For the person who has the money, ability or maybe the apathy to go to a school like State and not care about these types of things, what I'm talking about isn't as big of an issue. It's the students who care, the students who want to learn, the students who are the first in their family to make it to college or the students who are working two jobs just to pay for the opportunity to go to a college like this, it's those students that I'm concerned with. If you walk into a store and buy something to fix your aching back, you expect it to do just that. You don't expect it to do a bad job of fixing your back just so that the manufacturer can fund other endeavors, you expect it to do what you pay for. There are a lot of bad backs out there, and there are a lot of schools doing a bad job of fixing them.

I'm not faulting every professor, I've mentioned in the past that in many cases both parties, the professors and the students, can be at fault. But I am faulting the way that these institutions are run. It's very clear, especially once you get to interact with some of the administration at these schools. For example, at NCSU the Electrical and Computer Engineering departments have a single advisor. She is quite possibly one of the best examples of what I'm talking about here. There has never been a situation in my four years there that I have felt that she was not completely devoid of care for the students. Maybe she is and I just can't see it, but I know quite a few people who share in my opinions...and I'm using the term "quite a few" very lightly. When your departmental advisor echoes the very sentiments that I've been talking about here, it sours your experience significantly.

All this being said, NCSU still offered packets of very well engineered curriculum. While they were surrounded by poor choices in the design of the curriculum (e.g. teaching Computer Engineers Java instead of C), the parts that were done well were done very well. I found that the reason that they were done very well was because they were often times handled directly by one of those 5 - 6 professors that I was talking about above - very interesting how the two go hand in hand. I had some excellent opportunities to learn about computer architecture, how chips are designed and produced and much more over my four years, my only complaint is that there wasn't enough within the undergrad realm. There were lots of options for grad school, and everyone tells me that my complaints are obliterated by going to graduate school, but I don't feel that the solution to a difficiency in the undergraduate program is to just wait it out and enjoy grad school. Maybe it's just me, but I definitely see something wrong with that.

My review of NC State for electrical/computer engineers would conclude something like this: it's a school that has a lot of potential and some very strong points, but still a school that needs some serious improvements. I'd compare State to any number of products that I've reviewed over the past 7 years that were shipped to me with drivers in a horrible state or performance that showed promise, but didn't deliver strongly enough. State has been a Parhelia, a Radeon 8500, and dare I say an NV30 in a lot of ways. Each one of those products showed potential, but its was potential that was overshadowed by a long list of negatives.

So what do I recommend? Unfortunately for the student, the recommendation is that if you want to get more out of your education, you're going to have to really work for it...and I mean really. You're going to have to take a lot more upon yourself to learn, especially in the classes where you're faced with professors who honestly would rather be doing something else. Enjoy and savor the situations that aren't such, but be prepared for ones that are. At the same time, I'd encourage everyone to be as vocal, critical and willing to help change these problems as possible. At the end of the day, these colleges need students to exist (although I'm sure some would be very happy if they could get rid of the students completely and just be a research house) and you do have some power as a student, not much, but enough to make a difference if you try. Rome wasn't built in a day, and higher education isn't going to be changed in the same amount of time, but Rome was built and higher education can change.

Everyone asks me why I went to college. I remember these two girls in my freshman english class that read about me in the paper one day, I remember them asking me why I even bothered going to school (high school at the time, can you believe that?). I remember my english teacher and I both laughing at that comment, but it's a comment I still get today. I went to college to learn, not to get a job, but just to learn. With that as my goal, I can honestly say that I've been disappointed with my college experience. I felt that I've learned some, but definitely not enough, definitely not four years worth. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of people have to go to college in pursuit of a career, thus the goal is to memorize what you're supposed to be tested on so that you can get good grades, forget the material and go to the next class. If that's your approach (and it has been mine at times too), you're told that you aren't there for grades, you are there to learn. But from my experience, the focus on learning isn't always there, creating quite a conundrum.

I've always said that I'd rather teach than retire, and I think more than anything my undergrad experience has reinforced that. I used to only want to teach high school, because that's where I felt you could make the biggest impact on someone's life, helping them choose the right path for their future. I always felt that by the time college rolled around, too much was set in stone but these past four years have opened my eyes. Helping change the students isn't what I'd like to do as a teacher at the college level, but helping change the system from within is.

What's next for me? Grad school is a possibility, but not in the near future. I'm pretty down on the whole higher education realm right now, I don't think I'd be able to go into grad school with a good mindset. At the same time, right now my focus is going to be AT. It's a baby of mine that has grown up a lot, but is still in need of guidance and maturity - both of which I hope to provide more of in the coming months and years.

I apologize for the long winded nature of this blog, and I also apologize if it's difficult to follow/make sense of at times. I have this horrible issue with not being able to re-read over anything I've written after I've written it, which unfortunately gets me into trouble every now and then (e.g. I typed overcocking in an article once instead of overclocking way back when, that was fun).

More site related stuff later today, thanks for listening and thanks again for all the kind words.

Take care :)
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  • Krishna - Thursday, May 27, 2004 - link

    Well put, Anand. My experiences at the University of Tennessee were much like what you describe (and I feel that there are many more university's out there that are the same way). Kudos on your thought-provoking assessment. Reply
  • Liam - Thursday, May 27, 2004 - link

    Well, that built in system wide spellchecker in osx can probably help out that rereading problem :) Reply
  • Robert - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    Haha, that was a great post Anand. "Half-assed" and "damn." Wow, strong words from a strong man. I look forward to those posts. Reply
  • drjaymez - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    I had a very different experience in my undergraduate career that started in 1997 (I stumbled on your site by early 1998).

    I decided to attend a small "Liberal Arts" college in Northeast Ohio (Hiram College). I wanted to be a doctor, but I wanted a well rounded education as well. So I took all my hard-core science classes and graduated with a degree in biochemistry, but along the way I took classes that changed my life. I studied abroad several times, which gave me a changed world-view, and I took history and literature classes that helped me better define my sense of self and values. My favorite class ever was a Greek history class. Spirited discussion and fruitful debate were the norm in my college experience, not the exception.

    I am obviously biased against large Research 1 schools, but I think that the reason I had such a great experience was a combination of the size of the school (under 1000 undergrads and no grad students) and the mission of the institution (teaching undergrads).

    I think that you knew what you had a right to expect when you went in to college, and I'm not sure the average anonymous undergrad at a big school does. I also think that you probably took as much away from the experience as you could (a reflection on your own strong character). Congratulations, and best wishes for the future.
    Reply
  • wolf550e - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    Thank you Anand for sharing your thought on the subject of secondary education. I have speculated that universities are not the place to learn engineering, and your input was very helpful. Reply
  • PrinceXizor - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    Due to circumstances in life, I chose not to pursue the "best" eductation (opportunity to go to RPTI on scholarship...) and took 2.5 years of Tech college classes. The result? I was strong in Mechanics (Statics, Kinematics, etc.) and weaker in electrical theory and thermodynamics...but, due to a horrible professor (who incidentally, was so bad he actually DID get fired after I graduated) I came out knowing only slightly more than when I went in.

    I, too, enjoy learning, and I, too, felt let down.

    As far as "diversity" classes. I couldn't agree more. Why do history and geography classes in college suddenly make you more diversified than the the history and geography classes you took in high school?

    In Ohio, I would have had to take the following classes (generalized titles for content).

    Psychology
    Sociology
    Humanities 1
    Humanities 2
    Culture 1
    Culture 2
    Macroeconomics
    Speech
    Fine Arts 1
    Fine Arts 2

    I had the unfortunate privilege of taking a culture class and a humanites class. They were nothing more than history with a slighlty different spin. No interesting discussions that fostored critical thought and cultural empathy. Just a targeted history class. Did it affect anyone? Not that I'm aware of. I was still a caring, empathetic person with an open view of other cultures, and the bigot who sat next to me was still a bigot. While I certainly learned some interesting facts about China that I did not know, it didn't make me any more culturally aware than before the class. So, it wasn't beneficial personally, and it wasn't beneficial engineering wise...so, why did I just pay for this class. Even if you got rid of 3 of those classes above, that would be 3 more senior level engineering classes that could be taken...that could cover a LOT of useful material.

    Just my twenty cents on a topic I haven't commented on in awhile. Interesting discussion Anand, and congrats again. I've been an AT member during the "lull" so it should be interesting to see your talents applied more fully again.

    See ya' around!

    P-X
    Reply
  • Tiqua - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    Congrats Anand on your completion of college. I think you wrote a very concise summary of what is happening on most of the campuses in the US. I've had pretty much the same experience but didn't have the drive as you to stick it out to the end. Although I feel like I should qualify and say that the experience that you and most other people had was something my husband didn't. He went to a military academy and has said that 90% of his professors were knowledgable and caring of the students. He was a bit dumbfounded to hear what it was like in the public/private secondary education arena.

    I would also like to say how much I enjoy your site and the reviews that you and your staff do.

    Thank you.

    Tiqua
    Reply
  • Scott - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link


    Good commentary... there will always be trade-offs.

    As for the overclocking/overcocking comment... nowadays I think overcocking is a better term when it comes to the graphics wars!!
    Reply
  • jeffosx - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    Congrats Anand. Sounds like you came out of undergrad with alot more than most because you were looking for something more and recognized that you didnt find it there. No-one does because it isnt offered there IMO. Undergrad is a funnel of different sizes depending upon the course. I would highly recommend doing some post-grad study while you still have a bit of the hunger left. It gets lost quickly. IMO you will never get the freedom and challenge that exists in post-grad study again because its up to you and those giving guidance IMExperience put aside the politics of life for your benefit.

    Best of luck in any case...

    Cheers
    Reply

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