In the Thick of It


The beauty of a tutorial (our word for an independent study) is that you and your teacher can work on any problem that you two find interesting. This means that the work you do is guaranteed to be fascinating. This also means that sometimes you get stuck and sit in the library five minutes before check-in staring at a computer screen filled with walls of code that, even though you wrote it in the first place, seems about as intelligible as whatever happens in Mr. Maqubela’s Organic Chemistry class.

Ok, that last bit was kind of specific to me. A few nights ago, I was stuck on a problem for my Computational Ecology tutorial with Dr. Black. My screen looked something like this (below) and I had no idea why my code wasn’t working. There was no answer key. There was no phoning a friend. I was just stuck. I was at the verge of pulling my hair out when I left the library for check-in, defeated.

But then a funny thing happened when I was in the shower the next morning. I came up with a solution. I thought about the problem in a different way and managed to entirely sidestep the part of the code that was giving me an issue. I gave my brain time to work and it managed to figure a way out of the problem.

There wasn’t a deadline for that code, or any grade punishment for failure. If the problem had stumped me then I would have told Dr. Black that the problem had stumped me and we would have moved on to another project. But nonetheless I wanted to get it right, and I think that says more about the tutorial than it does my work ethic. This opportunity to work on interesting problems in an area that fascinates me with a talented teacher has been one of the best things about my senior year, even when I’m in the thick of it.