In which Wade reminiscences about university life. A continuation
of his reminiscences about childhood.
In my reminiscences about childhood, the preface talks about each individual from Hays being encouraged to write up a history of their lives, to be collected together into a book. The history I sent was about 20 pages longer than anyone elses, and was edited down to 10 pages. My university life was not considered sufficiently on topic (it was, after all, a book about Hays history :-). This journal entry is basically just the portion of my history (as written in 2002) starting at university.
The Undergrad Years
University was truly the best time of my life. I had a wonderful childhood, and thoroughly enjoyed secondary school, but it was during university that I found my closest friends and came into my own.
I went to the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. My first year, I lived in a dormitory on campus called Lister Residence. I developed a variety of friends both in residence and in my classes. Courses in computing science, mathematics, physics, english and philosophy, all of them fascinating in their own way. Being able to talk to people with the same interests and passions, as well as talking to people with completely different opinions, was a wonderfully exhilarating experience.
That summer, I came back to Hays and worked on the bee farm again. My second year, I lived with Mark Speaker in an apartment one block south of the university. Courses continued to be fascinating, and I started being active in various clubs on campus as well. That summer, I lived right beside campus and had a summer job working for a large hardware company.
My third and fourth years of university were the most memorable of my life. I went back to Lister Residence, and was assigned, due to a mix-up, to a high-social floor, 1st Kelsey. Lister consisted of three towers, named Kelsey, Mackenzie and Henday, each containing eleven floors, each floor consisting of three wings, each wing containing 12 rooms, and usually about 16 people (some doubles, mostly singles). Our floor was somewhat unusual in that there were only two wings of students, one wing male, the other female, with the third wing turned into a study area. Which was pretty ironic, given that the floor was not remotely studious :-)
By the end of the first week, I knew I was staying put. I met a group of people who became my closest friends, and who will remain my friends for life. I had the most enjoyable time of my life during the next three years because of the sheer amount of activities we managed to pack into every day. Dances, socials, parties and competitions with other floors in the residence. Cafeteria antics, philosophical conversations, and practical jokes. Poker, poker and more poker. Baseball, badminton, squash, and racquetball. Did I mention parties? And somewhere among all that, we managed to get to classes every once in awhile too.
Practical jokes were a mainstay of Lister life. They started out relatively small, things like using multi-colored indelible inks to write creative phrases on individuals who passed out. However, as with all such things, the jokes and pranks escalated in sophistication and scope. I was often the instigator of such antics, and would recruit the help of others in situations where the job couldn't be done alone. To begin with, the most common recipients of these jokes were those who passed out after drinking too much, which provided for a never ending stream of potential victims. Furthermore, never much of a drinker, I was often the "responsible" one who took care of the more rambunctious members of our group of friends. Although I attended almost every social event, dance and spontaneous floor party, I rarely drank. This role served me quite well, because it not only meant that I knew who our potential victims were on any given night, it also left me relatively immune to revenge (since I was never passed out :-). I cannot begin to count the number of times a friend would seek me out sitting talking to someone in the lounge or getting ready for bed at 3am, saying simple "Brad just passed out. Bring the markers.", or "Paul forgot to lock his door." Forgetting to lock one's door became a truly serious mistake when we were around. Reorganization of an individuals room became a common activity, and we became quite skilled at maximum impact in minimum time, never quite knowing when the individual would return from where-ever they were. And of course, not getting caught so that we could claim innocence was a top priority.
Leaners (buckets of water set up to lean against doors), pennying (sealing an individual into a room by putting pennies between the door jamb and deadbolt so it couldn't be unlocked), shaving cream traps, and room redecoration were common strategies. In one particularly enjoyable prank, when we had hours of time available, we moved one friend's entire room into the in-residence study hall, clothes, books, bed and every other item he owned. It took the five people working on it about 38 minutes. It took him 3 days to reorganize (us putting his collection of 500 CD's and albums into different cases and album jackets probably didn't help much). I, of course, was completely innocent and had nothing to do with it.
In my third year, these pranks reached a peek one fateful day when I misplaced my keys (a highly unusual occurrence, because I was well aware that I was the top of everyone's revenge list). Hoping that no-one would notice my unlocked door, I went to play badminton with a friend, Kim, that night. We came back 27 minutes later because the badminton courts ended up being closed that night. In those 27 minutes, ten individuals, all anxiously awaiting my departure, had managed to completely swap my room with Kim's room, and were in the process of putting the screws in the doors, since they had gone so far as to switch the doors of our two rooms too (so our same keys would work). Since there was only two months left in the school term at that time, Kim and I decided there was no use going through all the work necessary to switch places again, so I spent those last two months living in the female wing, while she lived in the male wing. I thanked the individuals responsible later :-)
Besides practical jokes, we spent our time playing an inordinate amount of poker, especially a game called guts. There were numerous times when we would start playing at 7pm, and would stop playing at 7 or 8am because one or more of the individuals needed to get to classes. Pulling all-nighters was a way of life in residence, because there were so much social activity available that needed to be balanced with the academic pursuits that had brought most students to university. I must admit, in third and fourth year I attended about one lecture in five. Luckily, the material of most classes was accurately reflected by the textbooks, or I would have been in serious trouble. I even received a round of applause from one of my classes one day because they were so impressed that I had actually shown up.
Besides pranks and poker, the other activity we spent most of our time engaged in was discussion. Conversations about philosophy, about the sciences and arts, about ourselves, our hopes, our aspirations, our goals, our beliefs, everything. Even with all the more excessive antics available to us in residence, the conversations were truly the most rewarding part of that experience, because they were what forged the lifetime friendships. On uncountable nights, I would be up until 4am talking with one or more of Tony or Paul or Brad or Kim or any number of other individuals. One of the truly wonderful things about residence life was that no matter what time of day it was, there was always someone else interested in talking, plotting some antic or going out and doing something active. It was truly a wonderful place. The most valuable thing I learned from those conversations is the importance of true communication, of how rewarding it can be to have a true sharing of minds, without all the social artifice and trivialities that are common in so many conversations. I also learned that the best way to have people open up and talk about themselves is to be open and honest about oneself, a lesson that I have taken to heart ever since.
My fourth year was very similar in nature to my third year. Lots of social activities, lots of practical jokes, lots of card playing, and the deep conversations about ourselves and our place in the world. Although my previous reminiscences may have given you the impression that it was all party, no academics, that was not at all true. The classes in third and fourth year were more challenging, and required more time commitment because of the depth of the material, but this very complexity made them rewarding. I developed another group of friends among my classmates, energetic, talented, highly capable individuals with whom I spent hours and hours working on group projects and talking about our classes. In both of those years, I had decided to take six courses per term instead of the normal five courses because there were just so many courses that I found fascinating that could not be fit into the traditional schedule. Most of my courses were related to computing science, mathematics and physics, although I also took courses in psychology, philosophy, english and french and loved them too. There were so many other courses I would have loved to take, but there was simply not enough time.
After my undergraduate degree in computing science, I started my Masters degree, also in computing science. The M.Sc. involved six graduate-level courses (all of which I found truly fascinating, since they addressed the frontiers of our knowledge in computing science) and writing a thesis on some area of research.
The social aspects of my first year of the M.Sc. was similar in nature to the previous two years. The academic side was more focused, the courses were more challenging, and more was expected from students. Socially, I went back to Lister yet again, but this time, I moved with a few other friends to a new floor, 5th Kelsey. One of my closest friends, Paul, had decided to become a floor coordinator (the individual responsible for keeping things running smoothly on a particular floor). Since he is one of those charismatic individuals that everyone gravitates to, and happened to be the one with the 500 CD collection, he was very popular as a party person, and he had every intention of making 5th Kelsey Lister's party central. To put it mildly, he succeeded very well.
5th Kelsey had three wings, two female, one male. There were about 36 people on the floor, and only about eight of us were "veterans" (although of course there were many other veterans on other floors in the various floors and towers of Lister). Thus, on 5th Kelsey there was an entire new group of people to develop friendships with, play cards with, party with, and have all-night conversations with. And to play practical jokes on, of course.
I have always enjoyed talking to people, getting to know them, learning what they think about all the challenging topics, debating issues, and sharing opinions. Not only was this rewarding in its own right, it also had the added benefit of giving me a reputation for being "mature" and "responsible". Which in turn allowed me to instigate a careful and long-term series of practical jokes without being suspected as the culprit. Even when my fellow veterans told people that it was me doing it, the victims refused to believe it, because the individuals accusing me were well known for being the party people, and therefore must be untrustworthy, while I was the responsible individual that people came to to talk about things troubling them. Oh, and I can play innocent with the best of them. So, I was afforded about 5 months of pure joy doing all sorts of pranks. Naturally, even the best of us slip up sometimes, and eventually I was caught red-handed in the midst of forming an ceiling-high abstract art piece by piling the entire contents of one of the girl's rooms in the center of her room. After that, not too surprisingly, I became suspect number one for every practical joke, which was amusing in its own right, because my friends took inordinate pleasure in trashing others rooms knowing I would be blamed for it (but at least they were nice enough to invite me to help). I was even blamed of pranks on other floors, can you believe it! I was completely innocent in all cases, of course. heh heh.
So, besides the all-night conversations, the pranks, the weekly floor parties, the monthly monster parties consisting of upwards of 200 students jammed into the lounge of our floor, and the Lister-wide dances with between 600-1000 students, there was the Masters thesis to think about too. Thankfully, the first year was mostly course work. I didn't manage to get to too many classes that year either, but I've always learned better by reading than by listening anyways.
The next year, having spent 3 years in Lister, myself and three of my closest friends decided it was time to try something different, so we rented a house one block south of campus. All of us were in relationships, and the boys had started getting a little more serious about their academic directions, so that year was somewhat more subdued than previous years, although still rather boisterous compared to that of many other people. I split my time between the house and Lister, since my significant other (Yasmin) at the time was a floor coordinator that year.
That year was also more research-oriented, as I was finished with the course requirements of the Masters and needed to develop some research that I could write a thesis on. As is my normal tendency, I procrastinated for some time, then sat down for 60 days, 18 hours a day, and came up with something. That was a fun time, very focused, and very rewarding.
During my B.Sc. degree, I had taken a variety of mathematics courses, and enjoyed them thoroughly. My M.Sc., however, was not at all mathematical in nature. So, the next year, after my masters thesis was done, I decided to take a year to get a degree in math. That was also the first year that I was a sessional instructor for a course in computing science, one that had 200 students per term. The math courses were interesting, the teaching was fun, and it was also the year (1994) that the Internet was starting to explode. The academic community had been using the Internet for 20 years beforehand, and there were some significant growing pains when all the non-academic "newbies" starting flooding into our own little virtual playground. During that year, my friends and I moved to a different, bigger, house, just a few steps away from our old house, because we had a few more friends joining us.
After finishing the year in math, I entered the Ph.D. program in computing science. Such degrees consist of some course work, but are primarily focused on developing a thesis representing a significant contribution to the research community. The courses were more theoretical than other courses I had taken, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The thesis was developed over the next 4 years. I especially enjoyed the brain-storming sessions with fellow graduate students and my supervisor, and was lucky to be surrounded by some truly brilliant individuals. Being able to bounce ideas of each other, being able to slowly develop more and more sophisticated ideas, it was all truly rewarding. Enough research had been accomplished after four years to justify a thesis, and I was offered a tenure-track academic position in Winnipeg at that time, but I wasn't enthused by either the university or about living in Winnipeg, so I decided to spend a fifth year on the thesis and apply for more jobs the next year.
During my Ph.D. years, I went back to residence life, but not the same residence as during my undergraduate. Instead, I lived in Pembina, specifically reserved for "mature" students. Since it was embedded in the middle of campus, and was literally two minutes walk away from my office in the computing science building, it was absolutely perfect. Over the five years of the degree, I became the veteran of yet another residence mini-culture. I introduced fellow residents to the game of guts, and it became a almost daily phenomenon, just like in Lister. I truly loved residence life, especially being able to socialize with individuals at any time of the day. I was always a night owl, and regularly went to bed at 4am, but there were always others with the same sleep schedule that I could strike up a conversation with if the mood struck. Pembina was also much more ethnically and culturally diverse than Lister, with many individuals for other countries. Furthermore, most of the students were pursuing graduate degrees, law degrees or medical degrees, so it was a fascinating place to meet energetic, interesting, intelligent people. The first few years, I spent a great deal of time with a variety of friends in Law, and even sat in on their classes and attended their parties. I wish there was more time available to us humans, because I would have loved to get a few dozen other degrees.
The After-School Years
In 1999, I accepted a position as a professor at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario. I truly love academia, because it affords me more flexibility in what I do and when I do it than any other job I can imagine. Furthermore, academia is a better fit to my outlook on life than industry. I have never been materialistic, never placed a high priority on money, and always placed much more emphasis on being happy and being able to do what I love doing.
My duties as a professor consists of three primary components, research, teaching, and service. I enjoy all of them, but it is the research that I truly love.
Service includes sitting on committees and acting as advisor and supervisor for others. Most of my service activities are related in one way or another to the students, visiting high-schools, organizing camps, presenting information to visiting students, etc. I enjoy being able to convey to prospective students the joys that can be had from the university experience, and conveying to senior undergraduate students the excitement that can be had by pursuing graduate degrees.
Teaching consists of both course-based teaching, consists of lectures and labs, and graduate-student supervision. The courses I teach are senior-level undergraduate and graduate level courses, and, not surprising, are all related to my research area. I enjoy them a great deal, and especially enjoy encouraging interaction in classes, as well as one-on-one interactions where I can help a student come to an understanding of some concept that they are struggling with. Graduate student supervision is even more rewarding because it is combines both teaching and research.
Although many people tend to associate professors with teaching, it is the research aspect of academia that attracts me most, and, I suspect, is the reason why most people would chose a life of academia. I certainly enjoy teaching, but I truly love the research. Being able to get up every morning and push the boundaries of knowledge. To be developing new ideas and concepts, and to be able to express those concepts in a way that others can appreciate and benefit from. Being part of a community that emphasizes knowledge and the pursuit of truth, and doesn't have as its bottom line the philosophy of "does it make us money?". I cannot remember a single time in the past few years that I have woken up and felt unhappy or even remotely dissatisfied with the prospect of going into work. In fact, I often feel guilty even calling it work, because it really is what I love to do, and should therefore maybe be called play instead of work.
My only issue with academia is the limitations it places on location. I am free to do whatever I want whenever I want, with surprisingly free constraints on my time, but where I do it is somewhat more limited. Although London is a beautiful city, I am a big-city person, even though I grew up in Hays. I love the energy and vibrancy, the diversity and open-mindedness that are integral parts of urban life.
The above was written in 2002. Since then, I was involved in my most serious relationship, discovered that there were others who felt the same way I do about relationships (aka polyamory) and who view the future the way I do (aka transhumanism). And although I've very much enjoyed academia, the past 4 years have led me to a desire to try something new. London is too small to support a polyamorous community, and I've come to realize that where I live is as important as what I do. The quest for a new career will be starting when I get back from my visit home.