In cleaning out my Georgia Tech email inbox today, I discovered a few emails from some contacts of mine, fellow students with whom I graduated from Georgia Tech’s College of Computer Science. They were forwarded from a brilliant gentleman by the name of Tim Liu, who was one of my three partners in the blizting 2335 Software Practicum course in which we overcame numerous hurdles and setbacks to design a rather kickass real-time strategy game, given that we had only 6 weeks to do so.
Here was the email I received:
This is Tim Liu. Haven’t seen a bunch of you in a while. Sorry I
haven’t been in contact, been working a ton.
The reason that I’m emailing you is that you have all at some point or
another taken classes from Merrick Furst. Now it goes without saying
that his classes are awesome, from how fun they are, to how much you
The College of Computing has been trying to remove Merrick from
teaching classes in the program in Barcelona. I was emailing to ask
if you would write to the Computing Dean James Foley and tell him
about your experiences in Merrick’s class and ask that he not be
removed. James Foley’s email is below. Please forward this email to
anyone who I might not have gotten in this list that may have taken
classes from Merrick in the past.
[email address removed]
Please keep it respectful, but drive home that Merrick is an awesome
teacher and that you learn a ton in his classes. I know I did.
This was news to me, and very surprising indeed. So, even though I’d read the email a month after it was initially delivered – creating the very real possibility that a decision had already been made – I sent this email to Dr Foley, cc’d to Dr Furst:
I know you’ve probably already received quite a few emails on this topic – that removing Dr Furst from teaching in Barcelona would be detrimental to the overall program, especially the students who enjoy his courses – so I will attempt to be succinct.
Dr Furst’s record speaks for itself, so I will not enumerate the innumerable accolades that more than qualify him to continue the work he has done in the Barcelona program. All the emails you have received also speak for themselves – the hundreds of aspiring Computer Scientists who connected not only with the material, but also with the professor, and that is arguably the best way to learn. But not only do I owe my algorithmic baseline to Dr Furst, it is no exaggeration to say that my current career path began that summer in Barcelona, thanks to connecting with Dr Furst.
I had just over a year left as an undergraduate when I studied abroad. I had met Dr Furst the fall of my freshman year in the freshman seminar, and I was an admirer of his work and his passion for interacting with undergraduates, or really, anyone who was interested in CS. As excited as I was to finally have Dr Furst for a professor, I doubted he would remember having met me. I suppose it should come as no surprise that he did recall my face from our first meeting four years previous, and that conversation resulted in an open invitation from Dr Furst for me to speak with him about my upcoming graduation, specifically my pursuits following.
In the months after returning from Barcelona, I took Dr Furst up on his offer as I began the graduate school application process. During one of many meetings, I mentioned my indecision in choosing an area to focus on – I had obtained numerous specializations during my years at Georgia Tech and was having trouble narrowing my interests. He suggested the emerging field of bioinformatics, something which had never crossed my mind. The more I considered it the next few weeks, the more I was convinced it really was the perfect storm to study in graduate school.
I am now finishing up my final year of M.S. study in Computational Biology at Carnegie Mellon, currently sitting with a 3.4 GPA, and am beginning the process of applying for a PhD in Computer Science with my current thesis advisor Dr Robert Murphy in performing high-throughput fluorescence microscopy image analysis. It may sound cliche, but to say that I wouldn’t be studying bioinformatics now without Dr Furst’s input is the absolute truth.
My current career path aside, Dr Furst has been instrumental in giving me general advice on how to handle the various steps in my career’s process, and has provided very kind recommendations that have played no small role in granting me admission to my current program at Carnegie Mellon, and my summer position with IBM in its premier internship program, ExtremeBlue.
Again, I know cliches are annoying, but Dr Furst has played such a pivotal role in the direction my life has taken since the summer of 2007 that I cannot imagine how it would have played out without his influence, an influence which would have been absent had he not participated in the Barcelona program. I implore you to allow Dr Furst to continue his participation in the program, allowing him to be the outstanding professor that he is, and to allow him to continue to interact with computer scientists on the more informal and personal basis that is inherent to the Barcelona program.
I see I have failed to be succinct, but I think that only corroborates my central point: Dr Furst is a brilliant professor and has positively impacted students at Georgia Tech in very profound ways. Please allow him to continue what he does so well.
I think, for anyone who knows Dr Furst – students, staff, faculty, coworkers, and even those who have simply read his work – that knowledge will speak for itself in determining whether or not you think Dr Furst should be allowed to retain his position in the Barcelona program.
Please spread the word!
(by the way: Dr Foley, I thought you gave an amazing speech at my graduation in August 2008. Please do recall that I am a “Mr”, not a “Ms” 🙂 )