Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence 2017
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

Why I Do What I Do

Anil Ada

Science is beautiful. As a teacher, my goal is to share my experience in exploring and understanding our world, our intellectual accomplishments, and the tools we may need to push the boundaries of what we know. I would like my students to understand that computer science is not just about studying laptops or smartphones, but is a pursuit to explore life, mathematics and the universe. And I would like to show my students that the awe, passion and satisfaction that comes from this exploration is accessible to everyone, and especially to them.

Clear communication of ideas is at the core of scientific, technological and societal progress. The great mathematician Paul Erdös used to describe some mathematical proofs as "a proof from The Book". He imagined that God kept a book containing proofs of all the theorems in mathematics. A theorem can have many different proofs, but according to Erdös, God's book contained the "right" proof, that is, the most simple and elegant proof. (Erdös did not really believe in a god, and he famously said "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book.") I believe that God keeps a separate book for teaching purposes. This book contains the most elegant and simple explanations of mathematical and scientific concepts. One of my goals as a teacher is to find the explanations from The Book, and I will continuously pursue this challenge throughout my career.

Our progress as a society also depends on people following their hearts and doing what they truly care about doing. People who are great at their field are people who have great passion for what they do. I don't claim to be a great teacher, but I have observed and learned from many. Every great teacher is unique, but if there is one common denominator, it is the deep sense of care they have for their students and their success. I am lucky to be doing what I love to do, and I will always let my students know that they are the most important part of my professional life, that I've always got their backs, and they are the reason why I do what I do.

21 May 2017

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