Ling's Think Tank

a place for me to learn

Javascript: Objects, Object Literals, Functions, and Arrays Demystified

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Javascript has a solid lead on being the most frequently language found on Github. Despite it’s popularity, there is a massive gap in design between itself and most other mainstream languages. The way it handles inheritance, functions, methods, properties vastly distinguishes it from traditional and popular OOP languages like Python, Ruby, Java, C, etc. Many say it is flawed in design (others say it is great), but moving forward in the Web App era, we are stuck with it for now…. So we might as well get familiar with the details.

One of the things that strikes a user most at first, is the way Javascript handles types. Firstly, there are no classes. At the root, Javascript has one of several data types. These are number, string, booleans, undefined, null, and most importantly object

Whereas most OOP languages allow you to define new types with classes, javascript only has a single class called “object” under which ‘everything else’ falls under. This includes, arrays, functions, and object literals. Objects are defined by ECMAScript Specification as a “collection of properties.”

As an aside, there are three types of properties: named data property, named accessor property, internal property. I’m trying to keep it simple for this post, but if you are interested, you can read more about it here.

Essentially, everything in an object is a property. These are accessed in the form foo.bar, or foo[“bar”]. These include functions which can be called. So instead of the OOP model, where objects are defined by “fields” and “methods,” in javascript they are just all “properties”. Of course, Javascript Objects can be nested forever also. 

The tricky thing is that Object Literals, Functions and Arrays are all just objects! In fact, they are just ways of declaring an object, and for the last two – also extensions of the object class itself. Each of them has special syntactical differences, but they all boil down to being objects – a collection of properties, after they are declared. Functions extend from function.prototype which give them special properties, like being able to be called. Arrays extend from arrays.prototype, which give them properties like foo.length. But when writing these as literals, it’s strange that they seem to all be so fundamentally different (who would have thought that functions and arrays are the same thing at heart), but in reality are just different ways to express the same fundamental idea – a collection of properties. 

So in the end, all objects – including ones custom declared, all are the same thing. If you want to read more into this, I recommend looking at Javascript Garden, which is an excellent guide around some of the quirks of JS.

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Beware of bundle update in old rails!!!

So recently I ran into an issue with working on old versions of ruby on rails and I’d just like to share a lesson:

BEWARE of bundle update… (in old versions of rails)!!!

I was working on a project using an old version of rails, and trying to install a gem (but being stupid enough to not realize that the gem was incompatible with my version of rails). The error message bundle was giving me was:

Bundler could not find compatible versions for gem "railties":
In Gemfile:
sass-rails (>= 0) ruby depends on
railties (~> 3.1.0) ruby

rails (= 3.0.17) ruby depends on
railties (3.0.17)

So, essentiall the sass-rails gem I needed required a version of railties that was 3.1.X, and my version of rails required railties at exactly version 3.0.17. Clearly there’s no way to get the gem without updating Rails. However – not seeing this at the time – I googl’d the problem, and found everywhere suggesting things along the lines of “delete Gemfile.lock,” and “run bundle update.” But be warned! Bundle update tries to update everything to the highest version possible specified in your Gemfile.

This sent me on a decent hour long goose chase. See, bundle install is useful if you are always working with the latest and greatest – but when you are on a large project with old versions of gems/rails/ruby, doing bundle update will break dependencies. Suddenly, everything left and right was breaking. After a while of trying to get things to play nice, I just went back a commit and restored peace to the rails world.

However, I’m not against using bundle update by any means. A good guide found here http://ryanbigg.com/2011/01/why-you-should-run-bundle-update/ reckons you should use it, but target it for old versions. If you need it to install just one gem, run only bundle install XXXXX. Don’t do the whole sweeping thing – it’ll cause too much of a headache.

Tech Talk

A notice that I’m probably going to be posting some tech stuff on here from now on. I figured that one of the hardest things coming into Programming, Computer Science and the related fields, is the steep learning curve. Without anyone experienced to mentor you, one can quickly become lost in one of the fastest moving and most dynamic fields.

I feel we can do our own little part by writing down the little things we learn everyday when working on our projects. Expect to see on here small things I work on, progress reports, little hacks and other miscellanea. 

It’ll be interesting mixing tech/personal stuff together like this. Only way to see how it turns out is to try – right?

Viva la hack!

Living in the moment

Forest Gump

Real Genius

Genius is arbitrarily  defined by me as a way of viewing the world that provides useful insight beyond the what we would consider the normal (non-genius) person. This was my answer to when someone asked me what I thought genius was, on the walk back to Sama tower after a quick shawarma break. I recognize the fallacy in that definition but often recursive definitions are the most accurate. The question that comes to mind, is the origin of genius, is it innate, something that you can only be granted by birth, God, or fate (wherever your belief lies) or is it rather something that can be made by some fundamental decision in the pathways of living, perhaps accepting the possibility of being wrong in everything, holding no purpose, or challenging everyone?

On the latter, I am most inclined by one close friend to believe that living in the moment can give rise to some form of genius. For the majority of our moments, forgetting about the past, letting go of our burdens and troubles, and worrying not about what lies ahead. Simply acting an agent of your cumulative experiences, observing and reacting to the world around you continuously without direction or end. Beyond how difficult this can be, I wonder what challenges this may rise.

Today after an exceedingly long to-do list, and burdened by the sheer magnitude of how far behind I was on my work, I was working as a machine, finishing task after task. Moments where I was not engaged in finishing a task in the shortest time possible, I was thinking about how to allocate the upcoming time. When I was not doing that, I was reflecting on what had happened recently and the consequences that might arise. When that was not occupying my mindspace, I would be pondering the future, what was coming up and what I was aspiring towards. Now, in the midst of a break of a rather lengthy essay, I have come to realise that yesterday, I learnt nothing.

What was the temperature outside? Who sat with me on the bus? How were the staff that day? Was anything different? The only method of genuine inspiration and genuine novel learning (that is independent learning, not simply receiving knowledge someone else has chosen to pass on) is through observation, and on this day, I observed nothing. But are there dangers to being stuck in this time frame of a moment? Perhaps this decision to blind oneself to higher orders of living brings with it. Is it possible to prescribe oneself to both methods of abstract deeper thought (number theory, ethics, literature, etc), whilst attempting simultaneously to live in the moment? Would they be counterproductive, or are they in fact feeding into each other? Would observations about the world immediately in front of us only serve as a distraction from our thoughts or in fact give them life?

Maybe the secret to genius is simply think less.

The Relative Truths Conjecture

Moral Impositions and Why Everybody is Right

100 years ago, if you publicly declared yourself as homosexual – you would have been persecuted, mocked, abused and attacked by the very society you so harmoniously lived amongst up to that point (we remember the 100 year anniversary of Alan Turing, a tragedy of the last epoch). Today, if you declare yourself as publicly against homosexuality, you are likely to face that exact same same hatred, anger, and in some cases – legal action. Many would point to this and say that our society is simply rapidly changing, that we have somehow lived through a liberal revolution. I however, believe one fundamental human characteristic has persisted through it all:

Our desire to impose

Indeed, from wars throughout history, to the heated political debates in the United States, to the bickering between you and your significant other – so much conflict, emotional turmoil and pain has come through the desire to impose one’s personal beliefs onto others. In response to this, I propose the Relative Truths Conjecture, which calls these acts both futile and unjustifiable. Its thesis is simple:

Everybody is right.

Take for example, that you believe homosexuality is wrong. Therefore – homosexuality is indeed wrong, you are correct. If however, your best friend believes homosexuality is good and natural – he or she is also right. I believe both can co-exist as 100% correct at the same time without conflicting with one another. Though common intuition would characterise this as implausible, I implore you to bear with me for a moment. This conjecture rests upon two arguments:

1. Beliefs are relative

There are two types of facts: absolute and relative. They are akin to light and cars.

There are some things that we just know. I like to call these facts of science and they are a lot like photons of light. No matter how you look at it, the speed of light 299,792,458 m/s. Similarly, the Earth is spherical (roughly), pi (or tau/2) is the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle, Elephants are heavier than Dogs (at least in Newtonian Mechanics with a constant gravitation field). When discussing facts of science, I can outright say that you are wrong – because the facts of our topic are universally true, and it is not I that am right, but the subject matter simply is as it is.

Beliefs on the other hand, are like cars. You may claim that your Ferrari is speeding down the freeway at 120km/h, but I challenge this! Your expensive vehicle is in fact, travelling 120 km/h relative to my stationary self, but when my friend is cruising down the motorway in, you are in fact only travelling 20km/h relative to him. You are, simultaneously travelling at 120km/h and 20km/h – for speed is well and truly only relative by its very nature, and it could never be anything else otherwise. Still, many of us like to hold the pretense that velocity is an absolute characteristic – because it’s simply easier for us. Similarly, beliefs are by nature, subjective – as much as we like to pretend they’re not. Religion for instance, is entirely based on faith. To even try to create a factual argument for or against religion would defy its very foundations (it is akin to trying to prove that your your taste in music is more ‘real’ than someone else’s.). Politics by definition are our opinions on matters. Though some opinions may be backed up by reasoning and evidence, but how can one opinion be simply more or less of an opinion than another?

The problem comes when we conveniently ignore this fact, and instead pretend that the subjective car-like matters are the same as the facts of science. However, we must not treat our beliefs the same as we treat our facts of science, trying to prove them as absolutely true or false, for the beliefs in themselves are not absolute. My beliefs apply to me and only me, and by their very nature, are well and truly subjective.

Allow me now to Segway into the second argument.

2. We all live in different worlds

Our minds are the artists of our worlds. Each of us holds a palette of colours, the beliefs that we hold strongly, and with this our mind paints a uniquely distinct picture of the world before us. Living is not a fact of matter, our world is an experience. Though this world is subject to change, it remains uniquely ours.

To me: Abortion is wrong, God is real, Obama should win the US elections. In my world all these statements are 100% true. Whilst it may be true that abortions are legal in United States, it does not change the fact that in my world – abortions still possess the characteristic of being unethical. However, in your world it is possible that: Abortion is right, there is no Creator, and Mitt Romney should win the election (don’t cringe). These too are absolutely right in your world.

If this is the case, I fail to understand why Atheists must attack the Religious, why the Religious must attack Homosexuals, why the Left must attack the Right. Seeing places on the internet such as the Reddit r/atheism board exist, solely as a 24/7 location to mock religion baffles me and can only bring to mind the image of an insecure schoolyard bully mocking the kid because he is of a different race. (I am not discounting athiests, but only their concerted efforts to belittle religion).

We simply live in different reference frames – in which the same ideas hold disparate characteristics. Let us assume that no single person’s world can be given any greater importance than any others. It therefore makes little sense for you to argue with me that your opinions are more correct than mine – when in fact, we are both equally right in our own worlds.

Ponder that as I finally approach the purpose of this verbose conjecture.

Corollary: We should not impose

As long as the practice of your beliefs do not in some way negatively impact my livelihood, I have no right to challenge you. All of us are given equal rights in painting our worlds with whatever colours we choose. This was the heart behind the Constitution, and is at the core of human rights movements around the world. Why must we feel the desire to so needlessly cut off our brother’s arm by imposing ourselves upon others? I am of course, not advocating that we live in total ignorance of each other and prohibit debate and discussion of our beliefs; this is not only a bad idea, but also impossible. I am simply suggesting that in a situation of differing, non-pervasive (not affecting one another’s livelihoods) morals, my liberty extends so far as to offer my opinion. How others use that opinion or challenge their beliefs is entirely up to them to decide. This is a core principle on how I strive to live my life.

I believe that the non-imposition of our beliefs is gaining increasing importance as we move towards a more mixed, metropolitan and globalised world – and as hackneyed as it may sound, I believe it is one of the cornerstones to peace and harmony in our coming future. The cynical may laugh at me, but when has cynicism ever birthed a great movement? Of course, radical change doesn’t come without a radical impetus – but history has proven that this is well within our reach, if only we try. If you were to ask me what single social revolution in my time it would be this:

I hope that the desire to impose will have its swan song in our era.

Life in Flux – When Reality becomes a Game

I want to start with a disclaimer. This post, despite appearances, is actually about a period of my Life, and not about Video Games – as to not scare off / deceive any of you wonderful readers out there. 

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Lying on the Grass in Central Park – Letting the World Go Past

What is it about a video game which makes them attract the hundreds of millions whose hearts they’ve captured? Could it be the graphics? No – afterall we started in an 8-bit – past. Perhaps the social interactions that come with online games today – but then we recall a time in 2001, when online games were thought to still be unrealistic for the masses.

No, there is something else about Video Games that has been fundamental since its conception – that is; Immortality. In a video game, you are driven into an instance. In this instance, what occurs has no influence on your life. In fact, its influence within the game may  only last a few hours or even a few minutes. Consequences are few and far, we can pursue pathways just to see where they lead, and nature-given ideals of self preservation, long term stability, safety – can be put aside to pursue the intriguing and mysterious. Our fear of the unknown, fear of failure – all of it disappears. This is the magic of video games that has captured the hearts of so many around the world regardless or language, race, or creed.

My life in recent months has become similar to a video game. For those of you unfamiliar, in approximately 3 months – I will be leaving behind my friends, my relations, my environment, everything I have built up till now. This is in pursuit of a new chapter of my life at NYU Abu Dhabi. An unexpected consequence of this is that the world around me has somewhat begun to lose significance – meaning starts to ebb and flow away and the clarity of what is happening begins to be lost.

I believe to best illustrate my purpose, I will call upon my esteemed and treasured colleague – Winnie Wu.  Her original work, the string (cheese) theory is most apt to this situation. In normal proceedings, our lives are similar to strands of string, running parallel to each other along a long surface. Often, these strings will touch, perhaps for a moment, perhaps for much longer. Often they will entangle with each other, leaving their impressions, sharing their journey. This is what we experience for most of our lives, and what I had up until April.

However, on committing to a College that all changed. Suddenly, I began to see everything as temporal, every person I meet as becoming nothing more than an acquittance, a brief blip of an experience. The thoughts of “what if” faded, as they all became impossibilities. Everything I did in this transitionary period seemed to become increasingly insignificant. Even travelling across the United States, I met so many remarkable people visiting my colleges, potential classmates, people that were brilliant, and with whom I could have shared life changing experiences. They were so interesting, so mysterious, having so much to discover. To cite a prominent example, when I travelled to Universal Studios alone, I met a Japanese girl studying in Hawaii, who was also on Holiday. We spent the entire day together, it was fun, exciting and there was always a surprise at every turn. But at the end of it all,  – but yet, I knew in the back of my mind that all those experiences would not lead to fruition. In the end, that girl and I were both going on planes the next day, she to Hawaii, myself to New York. I knew with great certainty, that I would never see her again. Our threads were to untangle.

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The times that never will be

And thus, this little thought of futility in the back of my mind grew and grew – taking dominance over my own tinted view of the world. More and more, others became increasingly less “potential” people with whom I could have a relationship, and more akin to that Japanese Girl, those I will share a temporal experience with and with whom lies no future. It began to feel like a game, that I could explore avenues, for curiosity, that I ceased to need to consider the implications. It feels like the everyday activities around me are losing their importance, for soon they would disintegrate into history. There is a strange feeling of pseudo-immortality, where the events of now have no consequence. Life was like a video game.

Though many may call this as stressful, or melancholic –  I see it as a great catharsis. There has been many highs and lows in my 18 short years, yet a chapter is going to be turned – and those 18 years will be trapped in their isolated own world – retained as only memories and history. I can start a fresh, a chance to redefine myself, and my life – not the slow gradual evolutions of everyday life, but a sharp refresh. Living in flux is living as knowing someone is going to press the off switch soon, and a reboot will happen. It is in some strange way serene and invigorating – the light at the end of this short journey.

But then today I met a fellow student from New Zealand who will be my classmate in the NYUAD Class of 2016. We were taken to Dinner courtesy of a representative from the school – and it suddenly struck me. For the first time in a long while, I was building a meaningful relation, one that was going to persist the break. I was meeting someone with whom I would spend the next 4 years, or perhaps even longer. Suddenly, something took meaning amongst the blurred lines of this game I am playing. So perhaps – perhaps there still is something worth holding onto?

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With every sunset – comes the promise of a new day

Caltech: The Great Misconception

Caltech: The Great Misconception

Note: I wrote this a while ago, at a time when I was leaning towards Caltech. I have since proudly matriculated to NYUAD, and you can read about it in a later blog post. I still wish to leave this as a reference, to any and all that might find it helpful. It does in fact serve as a testament to the strength of NYUAD, in choosing it over an institution I regard as highly as Caltech.

Only weeks ago I was held to my convictions that Caltech was terrible college choice for me, that it would present a miserable experience, and that I would never dream of going there. However, as I am writing this, I am still astounded by my experience with Caltech over prefrosh weekend, now considering it as one of the greatest colleges in the USA, and one that would be a fantastic fit for me.

So what was it that changed my view of Caltech so drastically in only a few days? In short: The great misconception was destroyed; prior to my visit to the United States, my image of Caltech was entirely formed through the reading of online recounts, harsh rumours and overzealous stereotypes. In fact, the ideas delivered to me were so ghastly that they were even able to inspire fear of the school.

That is why I wanted to write this post – to help show what Caltech really is, at least in my eyes. It is my hope that it will help me choose my own college, but also help those in the future. It also serves to present what I hope to be a more objective and complete view of what Caltech really is. I cannot claim myself to be the highest authority, nor without subjectivity, but I will do my earnest to paint a thorough picture of what Caltech truly looks like.

What is Caltech?

For a brief introduction; Caltech is first and foremost a Science and Engineering Academic Research College. It is currently ranked as the #1 university overall in the world by Times Higher Education but for those that know me; I hold little regard for rankings themselves, regardless of them being good or bad. This is as the idea of saying that a single university is strictly better than another, or that one faculty in an institution simply excels more than its neighbours is ludicrous in itself. No, it would be much more accurate to say that each institution has its own distinct characteristic that could never be described by looking through the spectacles of numerical grading rubrics. I hope to discern what I consider the characteristics of Caltech that are able to amaze and astound me, and thus explain the reasons I believe Caltech is an amazing institution.

The usual disclaimer that I am obligated to add is that each person will fit differently into different schools. Caltech isn’t for everyone, and that is true for all Colleges. I will strive to be objective, and then it will be up to the individual to decide how well of a fit it is. Though I must add, the value of visiting the colleges before applying/matriculating is markedly important. This I underestimated greatly and I implore you, even if you are  an international student – to take that opportunity if it is at all available. After-all, it is 4 years of your life you are committing.

So without further ado; let us examine what I perceive are the 4 cornerstones of Caltech education: 1. Academics, 2. SURF/Internships, 3. Community, and 4. The Students.

1.       Academics

Caltech is HARD. To say anything otherwise would be a blatant lie, and would do Caltech a great disrespect and injustice. I would go so far to say that Caltech offers one of the most comprehensive and difficult undergraduate educations available in the United States. The average Techer may spend upwards of 12-14 hours per day on academics – that is including lectures, tutorials and personal homework time. Much of the course overlaps those taken by graduate students. In fact, graduate students must take a math course that sophomores take, simply because the level of education expected is so much higher.

To compound this – the grading is tough. Courses are graded on a curve, and there exists no grade inflation unlike at many other top institutions. You may have heard of the Gentlemen’s B at schools such as Harvard and Yale – where TA’s are instructed to give as many A’s as possible, and possibly the occasional B. Not so at Caltech, you get what you deserve. As such, a Techer (the colloquial term for a Caltech student) which could manage a near 4.0 at other schools may only be able to receive 3.2 at Caltech.

Now you may be asking why anyone would want to go to a place where you are subjected to so much work. Well the short answer would be to say that education at Caltech is nothing like that offered at High School and many other Colleges around the world. In many places – “learning” would simply be replicating an nth redundant copy of the textbook, and then rereading until the images are burned within one’s mind’s eye, only to regurgitate the information and methods during the finals, only to forget them later. At Caltech this is not so.

Due to the honour code (which will be discussed further below), most of the tests are take home. The work is often open book, and collaboration is not only allowed, but encouraged. Techers will be presented with problems, and be challenged to come up with new solutions to solve these. It is no memorisation of the “textbook method”, but rather groups of students working together to generate ideas to solve greater problems. The reason collaboration is encouraged; is because it is necessary – the lecturers have been known to blatantly tell their students that the homework is too hard for anyone to complete alone – too hard for even some of the brightest minds in the world.

This is perhaps one of the greatest aspects of a Caltech education – that it trains you with the skills to construct the future. Rather than focussing on teaching established vocational skills – it focuses on establishing the skills required to innovate and lead the future of science and tech. There is a focus on asking the right questions – challenging us to think in new ways. Whereas at high school, our mission was to solve arbitrary mathematical equations – at Caltech they give open ended, challenging questions, those which say “prove” or “suggest” rather than “solve”.  It is here, that we are trained to be engineers and scientists, not to be simply sent off to fill the empty slots in industry, but to research, innovate and create the future of science, tech and human understanding.  I like to refer to a Masters Electrical Engineering friend of mine, who stated that after beginning work – she has needed almost none of the content learnt during her 5 years, but it is rather the skills acquired that are vital. This is where Caltech excels.

To play the devil’s advocate; many will say that a breadth education is the future, and to this I agree completely. Though in the same vein, it would be wrong to say that Caltech is a school with tunnel vision. Though it would be an untruth to say it offers a Liberal Arts education, there is in fact great breadth – only in the maths and sciences. With a core that includes 5 semester in Math, 5 in Physics, 2 in Chemistry, 1 in Biology, and 12 in Humanities – every student from the theoretical physicist to the economist is given a strong working understanding across the disciplines. What I enjoyed hearing was that a student majoring in Biology, was still able to have high level conversations with her classmate who was doing advanced research in Physics. It is true that the majority of modern work is moving towards cross-disciplinary practice, though I believe Caltech more than adequately prepares us for this.

A few stats to throw around: The retention rate for Techers is 99.95% from Freshman to Sophmore year; and the graduation rate in 4 years is approx. 82%, rising to 89% after 6 years. The breakdown at the 4 year mark is approximately: 40% graduate with honours (3.5+ GPA), 40% graduate without honours, and 20% have not graduated yet. The reasons for late graduation or non-graduation are that often many will change their major throughout their time, and with summer school heavily discouraged (in light of burning out, and favouring applying the knowledge in internships / research instead), some may have to take additional terms. As you will find, the other 10% are those who burn out / transfer out, but in conversations with the students, it seems that there is rarely or almost never a case of someone failing to graduate because of academic ineptness, rather it often lies in emotional issues / a student who is a poor fit for Caltech (for example someone who discovers they want to major in the humanities).

For graduate admissions, many students are accepted into their first choice schools – often at places such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc… And though GPA’s may be lower, graduate school admissions understand the rigour of a Caltech education, and this factor is often more than offset by the personal recommendation letters, and quality of research work produced at the time of the school. In fact, 75% of Caltech graduates go to Graduate school within 5 years of graduation.

The grace that exists in light of the challenging curriculum is that the admissions committee with all their experience and wisdom – will never admit a student unless they are completely certain that they have the capacity to succeed at Caltech. This goes much further than looking at one’s accolades or grades at high school. Rather they also look for commitment to the maths and sciences beyond one’s compulsory schedule – to see that passion for math and science, the same passion that will carry them through 4 years of Caltech education.

To sum up the academic experience of Caltech – would be that though it is extremely rigorous and challenging, but because of its collaborative nature – it is manageable for anyone who was admitted. Here you will gain not only a strong understanding of math and the sciences, but also gain the ability to expand your scope and to challenge and solve problems that most around the world would think to be impossible. I can think of few undergraduate schools where one will become so greatly prepared for not only graduate school, but wherever their further professional careers, visions, goals or life may take them.

2.       Surf / Interships

The core concept and purpose of the existence of Caltech and the research universities around the world is to extend the level of Human Knowledge and Understanding. There is no reason that we must wait until after our 4 years in order to do this. Caltech offers a unique program called SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship), where students are given grants to do Research for 10 weeks over the summer with professor’s both at Caltech and at other research institutions both within the United States and around the world.

Now SURF is not just another program available for those who elect it, but rather a core part of the Caltech education. The ability to apply what one has learnt in a real world research scenario – and to be able to make new leaps in understanding within those 4 years is, without a doubt, incredibly exciting. As a testament, 75% of students graduating from Caltech would have undertaken SURF research at some point – and the understanding is that anyone who wants to do research (the vast majority), will be given the opportunity to do so.

Another viable way to apply the knowledge learnt during the time here is the great availability of internships available. As someone striving towards a Computer Science major myself, I was impressed by the fact that the leading high tech institutions such as Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Microsoft, etc. regularly visit Caltech to headhunt even freshman to do internships at their companies.

Again the small size of the school appears as a great advantage here. Rather than having 3500 students, where professors rarely know the name of the students – here there are many close connections available. Though one might assume that there exists a dearth of opportunities, the opposite would be true. Instead of knocking on the doors of 100 faculty, and having 95 ignore you, you can knock on the doors of 15, and have a great conversation with each one. Instead of competing with 100 other students for limited research and internship spots, each student is empowered to pursue the paths they desire.

It is the opportunity for real world application of knowledge, in research and industry, which allows Caltech students to feel so prepared for wherever their life may take them. It is this that empowers them with the skills and experience, both practical and theoretical, to have a wholesome and comprehensive undergraduate education – empowering them to take on any challenge that their future may have in store for them.

3.       Community

The community of Caltech is most likely the least understood of all its aspects. I recall a moment weeks ago whilst discussing stereotypes of schools. The image for Caltech came up as a school that extremely “weird”. A place where all the socially awkward geeks and nerds from High School gathered together, where they would spend all day locked away in their rooms studying. My experience proved that this could not possibly any further from the truth. Though it is easy to see why such an illusion exists – for Caltech’s community is so distinct and unique from that found anywhere else, it’s difficult to apprehend without experiencing it first-hand. In the lack of this, the imagination can run wild. I will give my best effort to illustrate the community to whatever detail is possible.

First and foremost, the principal supporting factor of Caltech’s community is the House System. This is what I believe to be the single largest factor that changed my view about Caltech, and is the platform upon which the entire community rests. Now one might call to mind that Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and even most New Zealand high schools all have house systems, but I would point out the Caltech’s own shares with those only in name, and little else. In fact, it exceeds those prior mentioned. At Caltech, there are 8 houses – each one with about 100 students from Freshman to Senior year. So what is it about these houses that make them stand out so much? Well It’s simply one thing; personality.

During the beginning of freshman year, “rotation” occurs, a process by which the new incoming students spend time in each house – attending events, talking with the current students, and generally living the house experience. After having experienced all the houses, the freshman make a list of their top house choices ranked, and the houses make a list of their top student choices ranked. Accordingly, the system allows for great specific selection of their populations – rather than random assortments, and this gives rise to the development of great multitudes of personality.

During prefrosh weekend, each house hosted an event, and I spent time jumping from house to house attending their events, having meals and talking to the students. Even just standing around talking to the students, I could feel that there was a huge difference in each house, that each one presented a very distinct college experience and catered for a category of personalities. It would be a great overgeneralisation and injustice to categorise them as the “jock house”, or the “nerd house”; but it is evident that the students within each house, and thus the interactions and events in each house, vary greatly.

And as hackneyed as it is, saying that it feels like a “family”, this is the best way to describe the feeling on campus. There is no social stigmatism to do anything that you aren’t comfortable doing, no peer pressure to “fit in” with the crowd. There is possibly no other college, which accommodates such a diverse and wide range of students to feel so comfortable. In such microcosmic communities, it is somewhat impossible not to form intimate connections – and upon which prospers not only great friendships, but also great support. The prospect of being “lost in the crowd” is non-existent at Caltech. On both an academic and emotional level, it feels like everyone is out there to help you – and rather than the fierce competitive nature I imagined, it seems everyone is trying to help each other get through it together.

Caltech’s numerically diminutive population serves as a great advantage. The institute takes only ~225 students per year and has a total undergraduate school of around 900 people in total. Now there are pros / cons for big and small schools (and though I personally greatly favour the latter), for which each student must decide what fits them best personally. A small school has close communities, where you get to know a much larger proportion of the students on a deeper level. It is a place where you can have a greater importance and a role within the community. The administration empathises and is helpful towards you, rather than seeing you as just another student. The classes are smaller, allowing for more interactive work, and much better relationships between the Students and the Lecturers. However, in normal circumstances, this comes at the cost of the availability of a wide range of courses, a smaller pool of opportunities, weaker departments, and a narrower curriculum. Caltech, however – has felt only minimally these effects, to the point of which they are not a concern. It somehow still boasts a world class faculty, having had 31 alumni and faculty who have received Nobel Prizes, and a 3:1 student:faculty ratio. The curriculum is still rigorous and comprehensive across the sciences, and is comparatively strong in all its departments (in science and engineering, I can’t comment on the humanities). Along with this, the Faculty and TA’s have genuine concern for the education of the undergraduates, and are highly approachable and accessible, always willing to further discuss difficult problems to ensure that a full understanding is always achieved.

On another front, the honour code deserves perhaps an exposition of its own. It is simply that – No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member. It is so simple, but very far and wide encompassing. It means that almost all the tests are unsupervised and take-home, that students are trusted to be able to collaborate on a fair degree on their assignments, that we can get our own keys to the labs to work on the projects. It is also held to high regard by all the students here, I’ve heard anecdotes that it’s possible to leave your laptop in a public place, and come back and it will be fine – something that I would never dream of doing at a large public school such as UCLA.

One of the biggest fears I had when considering Caltech – would that there would be a void of opportunities to have fun, a vitally important part of any wholesome college experience. I would say that this is completely available, only in a different form to that in other colleges. To avoid naming specific schools, I was talking to fellow students about their over-night experiences at other schools, with their hosts leaving them to go to parties, and the huge and highly frequent occurrence of drinking and the associated experiences. If you are seeking that sort of fun during college, Caltech is not the place for you. Having said that, students at Caltech still have a lot of enjoyment, it is simply through very different mediums.

Though, there exists an enjoyment derived from day to day experiences. Caltech will only admit students who have demonstrated a remarked enjoyment and passion for the Maths and Sciences, and with the collaborative nature of the school– there is some level of enjoyment simply living in this culture where the sciences are so celebrated. During Prefrosh weekend, each house hosted an event –and they were grand in their scale. They had everything self-constructed, with water slides, functional mechanical wooden pinball tables, and a demonstration involving liquid nitrogen. Around every corner there is a whiteboard filled with equations and graphs, and the Caltech pranks have a certain flavour to them that makes me appreciate it that much more (They constructed a giant adenine and thymine molecule and placed it in the pool, and called it the gene pool). I believe also that there is some degree of enjoyment which comes from simple exploring the maths and sciences to the high levels at Caltech, with classmates who share your passion (an experience many would have been devoid of during Highschool), not only in the set work, but even in everyday conversation. For someone who is passionate about Math and Science (All the students at Caltech), this in itself delivers an intrinsic enjoyment that would be difficult to find anywhere else.

In addition, there exists a wide range of sports and clubs available, though admittedly, the students only are able to choose a few to really focus on due to limited time, though with a wide range of sports (even if they are non-competitive on a regional scale), and over 150 clubs, there is still opportunity to pursue the passions that you wish to during College. There are interhouse parties thrown 8 times a year, and Caltech does not serve meals during weekends to encourage the students to leave the campus. The life of Pasadena is interesting – but LA is only a 1 hour metro away, so it would be false to say there is a dearth of opportunities. Most importantly, due to the house system, you will often be placed in an environment in which those around you enjoy similar things to yourself, so finding companionship should come at no great difficulty.

I hope it be evident now that the Caltech community is a unique and distinct place, where one can feel like they belong. A place where one can feel comfortable and secure and express themselves fully without restraint or fear of judgement. It is a place where our love of Maths and Science can be celebrated and where there are plenty of avenues to pursue passions and enjoyment in sports and clubs. Most importantly, it is a place where one can feel that they belong, where they are significant and are a vital cog in the ever-functioning machine that is the Caltech community.

4.       The Students

There is little doubt that at Caltech you will meet some of the brightest people in your life. Not only in the form of the professors, or even the graduate students – but also in your peers. To even be able to live amongst some of the ~900 brighest minds of your generation is an experience in itself. From even my brief stay, I could already see that amongst the admitted and current students – that they were profound in their capacity to not only solve problems – but to innovative and create.

If you want to grow yourself – you have to surround yourself with the best. It is here that many of us will be humbled for the first time as we come from the top of our classes/schools to join the best from around the world – where we will be exposed to fascinating new ideas / pathways of thought. I couldn’t think of a better place for intellectual development. Here, we are surrounded by vision – nothing is too grand or impossible, and there is no fear to challenge anything. There exists no feeling of ideas being beyond our ability, perhaps this is one the greatest aspects, the vision and capacity of the students is unparalleled.

Though the stereotype of students here are that they are the archetypical nerds and geeks, those without social skills that prefer their entertainment in solidarity in front of the soft glow of LCD monitors, I can affirm that, that is simply a mistruth. There is no doubt that they are nerds and geeks, but not in the antisocial way often seen in modern television and movies. Rather, all students here share a passion for science – a passion no different from anyone who is passionate about sport, music or art. That is what it means to be a nerd – to appreciate and enjoy thriving in a culture which gives the sciences the honour it deserves, as an aspect of celebration rather than hidden – And though for some reason unbeknownst to me, there exists social stigmatism against this in other schools – though you will find no Pariahs here. At the same time, there exists a spectrum of students and their personality – no different from any other college. There are still athletes, musicians, those from all different walks of life. It would be erroneous to say that they are any less social, interesting, or fun than any other students.

I would go so far to say that there exists an element of empathy and understanding perhaps beyond that which exists in the student cultures. Because of the very specific fit of Caltech, and the even greater fit provided by the House system – every person can feel extremely comfortable and able to express themselves to the full extent. There exists no façade to be put on to fit into the society, nor acts required to make it into a group of friends. Simply put; the community understands all our quirks, and embraces rather than rejects them. During the weekend, I saw students have fun being lopsided, interesting, quirky – body painting, yelling, making jokes. Many students did what would be considered “humiliating” but it seems that this word has lost its meaning here. There were no glances of judgement, of looking down. Here you are considered highly an equal, a peer by your fellow students. There is no other place I have felt so completely comfortable to be completely unrestrained in being myself.

These are the factors which constitute Caltech’s incredibly unique student body – and thus I feel it is the place to thrive, where one can seek intellectual advancement and great social diversity and enjoyment. It is here, that perhaps you will meet your greatest allies and facilitators in achieving your own personal missions in life.

Conclusion

If you have managed to read the entire article up to this point – I congratulate you. I apologise for the extreme verbose nature, for which I am not a fan of myself, – after all ……… said that “Perfection is not when there is nothing left to add, but there is nothing left to take away”. In light of this, I feel to do justice to an exposition on Caltech requires a full and thorough exploration of all its faucets.

Though it is difficult – it is an extremely fulfilling and rewarding experience. The admissions committee will only admit students that are not only capable of succeeding, but also will thrive in the community – with their passion for math and the sciences. It is where one can obtain one of the most comprehensive and deep academic educations available, not in the form of the volume of content memorised, but in the ability to challenge problems on a grander scale than what was prior thought possible.

The tight communities, amazing connections, brilliant professors, and unparalleled opportunities may all sound like buzz words flaunted by Colleges around the world, but here they are grounded in evidence. They have been proven through more than a century of trails, development and outstanding success.

It has been an honour to be admitted into Caltech, and offered a place amongst the world’s best. I now have to make one of the most difficult decisions to date – of which path I wish to pursue. But I have no doubt that when I come to my conclusion – that it will be the right one.

Overall – to sum up Caltech simply – I believe it will leave you more prepared and empowered to take on any challenge in your life. It does this to the highest level available at any university, and though it is challenging, the rewards reflect the work. It is a place of great opportunity, placing the world within reach, whereas nothing seems impossible. It is a place where you can confidently push the frontiers of math, science, technology and human understanding further than they have ever been pushed before.

This, in my eyes, is what defines Caltech.

Discussions with Desert Falcons: A Deeper Look at NYUAD

I recently set-out on a spontaneous 3 week expedition across America, with only a single goal in mind. This goal was not to walk through Times Square, to see the Hollywood Sign nor to explore the restaurants of San Francisco. I only wanted one thing – to decide on my College.

Now some may call it extreme, but my College decision has been one of the most difficult choices I have needed to make in my lifetime – not because it represents the next 4 years of one’s life, but because it is the fundamental and influential foundation of the pathway of life that we pursue. Now many are able to choose their college without second thought – and for them that would be fantastic, often we know what we want and what’s on offer. For me – an obstacle stood, one of my primary choices was New York University – Abu Dhabi (NYUAD for short). It is school with only 2 years of history, no graduating class, and by principle, shrouded in mystery.

For those who are unfamiliar with NYUAD, I highly recommend reading the article “Crossroads of the World: 7 Reasons I Chose NYU Abu Dhabi” – before continuing with this article.

Now it may seem strange, because I had already announced to the world that I was going to be part of the Class of 2016; so why all this superfluous effort? In short, because an opportunity was presented, and I was simply not happy with the amount of information I had. So thus began my quest.

Over the time I learnt a great deal about all my schools, my perceptions of them changed constantly, and for a while, I was not sure where I was leaning towards. That is another story in itself, which I will perhaps write about in another post.

However, now I am nearing the end of my search, and the clear image has almost formed completely – and I wish to share some of what I have discovered that has compelled me to see NYUAD in a way that not only meets, but in fact exceeds what I had expected. I wanted to write this exposition to share this image with all – for it is a truly remarkable one. It is intended not only for those who are still deciding on NYUAD only weeks away from the matriculation deadline, but also for future applicants / admits of NYUAD. I hope it will also be of use to anyone who is simply interested in this intriguing and marvellous school.

I have broken this down into the specific issues I inquired about, and what I discovered about each one. This blog will be highly anecdotal – and hopefully be more humanistic rather than objective. So without further ado – let us begin to illustrate

It All Starts With a Plan

The “Novelty” Risk

The primordial question would seem the most apt to begin with. Why, would a young fellow want to base the future of their careers, academia and life on something which no person has done before? I along with everyone else had this question – it is only nature. As humans, we are inertly programmed to fear the unknown – for uncertainty expresses an uncontrolled variable, which could pose a threat in nature. Though on closer inspection – it can be seen that the “newness” of the school is perhaps its single greatest virtue.

A member of the NYU Faculty excellently described it as “We saw it as an opportunity to reimagine education” – and it certainly shows traits of that. This aspect can be seen in many places of the NYUAD education. It is liberal – in the same style Harvard and Princeton tend towards. It culminated in a “Senior Capstone Project” similar to the Caltech and Princeton Senior Thesis. It brings together the best faculty in the world by offering great research incentives. But it is altogether more than a pick and mix of the best universities; it goes to exceed these – bringing together an incomparable “core” which challenges all students to explore a range of schools of thought, within and outside of their major. It has a focus on expanding the perspective of its students, focussing on interdisciplinary links – in fact NYUAD does not distinguish between “departments” of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc., they are simply brought together under the umbrella of the “Science” – as in modern society, a great deal of work is done across disciplines.

There is also perhaps romanticism in this “newness”. To be some of the few pioneering students to take the leap, not entirely sure what lies on the other side. There is inherent risk in this – yet with great risk comes great reward. As a consequence of the risk, the school offers a support system unlike any other, with everyone desperately wanting the students to succeed – and with the way this “experiment” is running so far, that even the thought that this experiment could be a “failure” – seems ludicrous. I’d like to draw upon the wisdom of Christopher Reeves in one of my personal favourite quotes: “At first big dreams seem impossible, then improbable, and eventually inevitable”. At this point – the success of NYUAD is without a doubt inevitable.

So although though we don’t have 200 years of successful students to look at in history books, what we do have is hopes of a limitless future. We have no standards or bars, with which we have to meet, what’s left is to simply exceed to whatever extent possible.

It’s Hard to Get Lost in a Small World

Support

Now I’ve already spoken of the great support offered at NYUAD, but it seems that it was leagues beyond what I thought a school would pragmatically offer. Whereas in the myriads of other schools, I get automatic / generic replies, as well as various forwards and deflections down the administration hierarchy – from NYUAD I always receive rapid personalised reply from whom I contacted, always with a tone which shows genuine care – a quality so unfortunately rare in many modern college administrations.

The community outreach officer personally emailed me and called me to congratulate me on my acceptance. I mentioned in passing that it would be helpful to talk to a current engineering student there, and within a few days, somehow this information got passed onto admissions and onto a current student, who contacted me via Facebook and later Skype. This student then passed on our chat to an admissions officer who contacted me and kept in the loop throughout the entire decision process with frequent emails.

When I mentioned I was coming to New York, he set up a meet with me with Linda Mills, Senior Vice Provost of NYU – who I had lunch and a great discussion with. She then introduced me to Gerard Ben Arous, Director of the Courant Institute, ranked #1 in the world for Mathematics. Afterwards, he introduced me to Denis, one of the Computer Science Faculty members of NYU. It was amazing that I was able to have such personalised, interesting meeting with the highest levels of administration, one on one, before even declaring as a student of NYU.

Unfortunately some of the faculty were unavailable on the day I visited, and on their day in New York, I unfortunately would be in Boston. NYU actually helped me acquire a round trip flight from Boston to New York so I would be able to meet these faculty members, and throughout the entire process have been completely helpful and friendly.

And it doesn’t stop there. Gerard, who is one of the leading mathematicians in the world, encountered a student who was in his class who had never done Calculus in High School. Whilst in any other college, this student would perhaps be told to seek tuition, at NYUAD he personally taught this student one on one, from fundamental calculus to the level required to the class, in 8 hours. In another instance, a student which had never taken Physics at high school was taught fundamental physics by one of the leading physicists at NYU in the same vein.

In contrast, on asking the administration of another school to put me in touch with a student – they simply played a game of dodging responsibility, forwarding the email to another who himself/herself only passed me the emails of other students. At another school, I am still awaiting a reply 1 week later…

On a recent tour of Princeton, the junior leading me around stated “To be invited to dine with faculty is a huge honour, one which I have not yet received, but hope to in the near future”. At NYUAD, this could not be any further from the truth.

And so it can be seen that the level of support offered at NYUAD truly sets it on another platform in and of itself – where students who are perceived to be those with potential to be the leaders of tomorrow are given the individual attention and support required to thrive in a challenging and stimulating environment that is NYUAD.

Always Looking Deeper

Research Opportunities / Internships

One of my primary concerns about attending NYUAD was that there would be a lack of opportunities for research and internships seeing as there were no programs established. My concerns turned out to be unfounded – there are over 180 internships/research positions for NYUAD students in just this upcoming summer alone. Every student who wanted one got one – a remarkable indicator of the desire to perpetuate success from each student.

I will speak mostly within the realm of Computer Science – as that is where my intended major is. All 5 of the students got internships/research positions over the summer, many with leading NYU faculty doing research in New York and in Abu Dhabi. To be able to work with these professor’s on their projects from Freshman / Sophomore year would normally be a great honour, but is rather seen as the norm at NYUAD.

Furthermore – the United States is sometimes seen as the “platform” of opportunity, a location in which abundant jobs, internships, research and more lay – though NYUAD has proven to be truly a school without borders. A significant proportion of the students travel overseas for their summer research/internships, and there is no perceived barrier prohibiting opportunities due to being in the UAE.

As NYUAD itself is a research institution with generous grants, it attracts some of the top faculty in the world. Presenting in itself, an opportunity to do research projects with leaders in the field. Even from freshman year, many of the students at NYUAD had opportunities that ordinarily, seniors would compete for. These opportunities present more than just boasting kudos – they present an educational enrichment, – akin to learning from the best, a level to which is non-existent at other institutions. NYUAD is also more than accommodating with assistance in finding research opportunities outside the NYUAD faculty, with the incredible resources from NYU itself, and beyond.

The fact that internships/research opportunities can be sought to specifically match the goals and pathway of the individual student – as well as their abundance and accessibility rather than the need for fierce competition in other schools, makes NYUAD a truly formidable place to pursue such opportunities. There will certainly be no dearth in prospects of applying our knowledge to real world situations, preparing us on an even greater extent for not only graduate school, but wherever our lives may take us in the future.

Academics

Academics

There exists a stereotype that Liberal Arts Colleges are “less rigorous”, and “less comprehensive” than their research orientated peers. The great thing however, about NYUAD, is that it combines both a Liberal Arts Curriculum with a strong research university. In this section, you may read it generally but will find that it deals specifically with Computer Science – the major I intended to pursue.

I was initially worried that by having the opportunity to pursue such a wide range of classes, that I would be compromising my education in Computer Sciences itself. The sample course sequence on the website itself, and I had a fear that despite how many unique and amazing offers NYUAD had, that it would come at the cost of receiving an education in Computer Science lower than the highest available in the American College System.

A great deal of such fear most likely came from a recent visit to Caltech, which specialises in highly technical teaching of Computer Science, with a huge focus in math and physics. The average student there dedicates a great majority of their courses solely to papers related in some form to Computer Science, and also they dedicate approximately 10-14+ hours a day on average on academics in the forms of lectures / classes / homework. Thought NYUAD students certainly do work hard and have demanding schedules, surely – they can’t be that hard.

Well it turns out there were two errors in my views. Firstly, Caltech is the exception, not the norm. Secondly, I had by far underestimated NYUAD. To begin, Caltech is a tech school that teaches Computer Science in a very… well technical form. At some of the world’s leading colleges such as Princeton and Harvard, Computer Science majors need only take one half or less of their courses in Computer Science, a number completely comparable to what is on offer at NYUAD.

In another aspect, I greatly underestimated the level of education that NYUAD offers. Firstly, it is much harder than I anticipated. They truly understand that we are working with some of the world’s brightest students, and they make their courses fittingly so. They go to high levels, taught by some of the greatest faculty. One account is that in the beginning of a Foundations of Science: Physics course, they started with reading Einstein’s paper on General Relativity.

Even more, they have the ability to learn extremely fast. Due to the class sizes ranging from 20-40 (For foundation courses required by all science & engineering students) to the much more typical 5-10, as well as the much more interactive nature of the classes, the lecturer needs not slow down for anyone. Hence, the quantity of content covered is in itself impressive.

Though, somehow I feel this is much more approachable than trying to tackle Caltech’s rigorous Math and Physics curriculum. Not because it is easier, not at all – rather because the support is far more accessible. The Lecturer’s offer teaching beyond the classroom and it extends further than mandatory office hours. In surplus to the aforementioned examples of teaching math and physics, a student commented “You will not “not” get something, the professor is always available to help you out”. And with such a tight community of students (It’s hard to be invisible as 1 of 5 Computer Science students), easy would be an understatement to describe the accessibility of help from the fellow students. One student described that all the engineering students now have unspoken meetings at a room before assignments are due. It is evident that collaboration and support is a big factor at NYUAD, and

Furthermore there is the ability to go to as high levels as you desire. In discussion with a current CS lecturer, he said that during my time abroad, especially in New York, I could pursue whichever high level computer science graduate courses I desired. I would also be able to pursue research with leaders of the industry (as mentioned prior), or work on personal projects and ideas. There exists no ceiling to the education at NYUAD, because it is so tailored to the individual.

Thus, perhaps the better way to see a NYUAD Liberal Arts Education may be – Comprehensive, and Personal. To elaborate on the second point, I wish to point out that one student who had an interest in Artificial Intelligence, was able to take a course in that, as well as take courses in computation and neural science to compliment this – cross disciplinary work. Other Computer Science students with different interests do not need to take these courses, and can pursue what they wish. Of course there is the added benefit of having all the “breadth” as discussed prior.

The educational style plays a large role. I know personally, that I dislike lectures. I find them generic, pedantic and uninspiring. It feels like I am receiving a pre-canned package of information that I am expected to know to be considered worthy of holding my degree, regardless of how distinguished the person delivering that package may be. However, at NYUAD, due to the tiny class sizes, the classes are more interactive, discussion based and interesting. In particular in Computer Science, they focus heavily on projects – seeing as it much easier to oversee projects for such a small class (maybe one in two assignments are projects).  Much of it is collaborative, but it always involves creating real practical programs, rather than simple identical proof of concepts. One particularly amusing project was the creation of a Chess playing Artificial Intelligence, on which part of the basis of the grade was how many classmates it could defeat in a game of chess.

The overall goal of education (apart from the enjoyment many of us derive from it), is to become prepared. Prepared for what? Well that depends entirely on the individual. “I’ve learnt to learn quickly”, and when asked if they believe they are going to be fully prepared for Graduate School or even immediate employment, I was met with a resounding – “Yes”. Though you may not know off the top of your head as much technical knowledge as a student from Caltech, you have that same capacity to learn – but have been married with a greater breadth, and wider education. Now it may seem like chasing idealisms, after-all; what is a course in music going to do for a computer scientist. Well apart from the great majority of real world problems being cross-disciplinary to a great extent, a Computer Science major said that his course in digital music actually helped him to be able to write algorithms better. So there it is – proof that a broad education is beneficial. On asking which was the better choice – one faculty member put it down to “It depends how much of a rush you are in, if you want to enter industry immediately after graduating in a safe foreseeable position, go to a place like Caltech. If you want to have an adventure, expand your horizons and become a more educated person in general, go to NYUAD”. To me, my view is that a technical school may prepare you more for Graduate School, whereas NYUAD prepares you more for life.

There is little doubt that NYUAD offers one of the most comprehensive, high level and unique academic experiences available in any Undergraduate education. It equips you with the skills to undertake any further academic or otherwise endeavour, and offers us something unique, something that sets us apart from the myriad of applicants competing for jobs, research grants, and opportunities. For these reasons, I am convinced that a NYUAD education is second to none.

The Difference with NYUAD Students

Quality of Students

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of going to a “good” school is the quality of classmates you meet. Now though we hear that students at every school are fantastic, I was to discover that those at NYU Abu Dhabi were in themselves distinct from the rest of the crop, if you will.

Perhaps the root cause of this differentiation is the fact that the students come from all over the world, from many countries and therefore have all gone through a very distinct and unique pathway, both in terms of their life experiences and their individual academic journeys. What this brings to the community, is a wide range of thoughts and experiences –placing it far apart from the normal pool of over-achievers found within the traditional top US schools.

Now in my visit to Caltech – yes I was astounded by the ability of my peers in Math and Science, I was amazed at all their research projects and their internships in Labs and Research facilities. But despite this – they were all somehow ‘normal’, fitting into the mould of the hundreds of thousands of students attending these schools for the last decade or so. There is what I believe somewhat of a corruption of the American high school system, which has become somewhat of a pursuit of AP’s, Extracurricular’s, and the stacking Merit Scholarships and Olympiads until one can confidently stake their admittance into an Ivy League school. The pursuit of often hollow activities, all in the effort to improve their college application – and amongst this sea of overachievers, those from NYUAD stand out like a buoy in the Pacific.

There is a certain humility amongst the students. We aren’t walking upon a platform of the prestige of those before us, instead we are working together to build the dream and experiment, a vision we all share in. Though there may be hardships, we endure these hardships together, making the NYUAD community what it is today.

And amongst them, they are bright in ways that go beyond high scores in standardised testing. As evidenced by several professors’ I talked with, they have a quintessential intelligence within them. One professor even said “Because the students are just better”. However, for the sake of completeness, in terms of numerical comparisons, the SAT 75th snd 25th percentile exceed those by Yale, Harvard and the like. However, this may not be an entirely fair comparison as many students who are accepted choose not to submit SAT, and Writing is not looked at by NYU. Also, by having students from all over the world, there will be a natural disadvantage in the writing and reading session compared with their American peers (This is not to say that their English is lacking, in fact everyone I have talked with has had no communication problems, it is simply growing up surrounded by the language and the use of idiomatic expressions and the like).

Comparing apples to apples would be far more apt. One professor wrote an exam on which he expected students of Yale and Harvard to be able to score 65%. NYUAD students averaged 72%. Simply, the students are as capable intellectually if not more so, at doing well on their tests as their ivy league peers, but they are able to distinct themselves, in a community where we are not underpinned by the united experience, but rather brought together from entirely different worlds – and as hackneyed as it may sound, that is what discerns NYUAD students.

Pick a Place, Any Place

Grad School

“Logically, I know there is no way we can’t get into great schools. Illogically, we are all young and like to worry” – A very well put description of the situation at NYUAD. Of course, a significant proportion of students will be looking to advance into some of the best grad schools in the world, but with having no one graduated before them – it is difficult to tell how they will fare in the admissions process.

NYUAD is rapidly building reputation and recognition – but perhaps not at a rate so rapid that within the next 2-4 years it will be a big name. Though with talking to a faculty member they said that in selecting students for graduate school, they look at a few factors; 1. GRE, 2. GPA, 3. Research/Internships experience, and #4. Professor recommendations. I believe especially in #3, and #4, that NYUAD has exceptional ability to empower the students to reach the top graduate schools.

There is a surplus in research opportunities with some of the leading faculty in the world even from the freshman year as discussed earlier. In addition, there is the senior capstone project – somewhat akin to the successful senior thesis model taken on by many top schools (Princeton, Caltech, etc). On the side of the professor recommendations, we’ve already discussed how the interaction here far overshadows what other schools would call “great accessibility”, with perhaps the d close relationships with professors of any top research institution.

Hotel NYU

Extracurricular Life

Finally we fall onto Extracurricular life; it is last but by no means the least topic of discussion. All of us when we go to College are seeking new experiences, new things to challenge us. A wholesome college experience goes far beyond the academics and what we learn within the classrooms, with much of it coming from the opportunities we’ve had, the new things we try, the influence of our peers around us

NYUAD positioning itself as a world honour’s college, as cliché as it may be does offer the ability to have events beyond the scope of normal schools. One student said that one of his favourite and least favourite things about NYUAD was that there was simply “too much to do”. Events are held constantly. And whether they may be cultural celebrations, dining out, tramping in the desert, – they offer an incredible scope of opportunities, going far beyond the normal of varsity sports and college clubs – perhaps not in the numerical aspect, but rather in being exceedingly unique. As described, there is more going on than one has time for, which is extremely impressive for a school with only 300 students. One particular interest I have been far looking forward to pursuing is Scuba Diving, an opportunity I always wished I had, but finally do

One complaint I do have is to do with the “Downtown” campus; it is extremely small, and though it serves its purpose for now in such a tight community, it is not something any of us would show off. However, the new Saadiyat Island campus is positioned to be larger than 80 New York blocks, and hopefully incredible. When I visited Princeton, I was not a fan personally of the castle-like aesthetics of the school constant reminders of an ancient past. Hopefully, when the Saadiyat campus is completed in 2014, it will truly show that this is a school of the future.

The Dream

Conclusion

And so thus I conclude my discussions with the desert falcons. These have helped me get a closer look at the fine details of the reality of what NYUAD really is in this present time. I have to say, it is incredible what it has already achieved in its short life, the promise of what it is capable of in its future presents an unparalleled excitement in itself. It is this that makes me honoured and ecstatic to be offered a part of this community, especially in the fundamental moments of its first years– during which the very foundations of this prodigious new institution are being formed, and to partake in the great experiment that will undoubtedly offer something unlike anything in the past.

Most of all – my fears are alleviated. It is of the upmost importance to not select a school such as NYUAD whilst doubts or fears still linger in the mind. It is not for those students who do not wish to be part of the unknown, for in truth it is an experiment – but it is only through experimentation that abundant advancements are made, and from my viewing glass, there is little doubt it will be anything short of an exceptional success. Now I have no more doubts and simply wait eagerly and earnestly to be part of and contribute towards this incredible vision that is: NYU Abu Dhabi.

-Lingliang Zhang’16

Crossroads of the World: 7 Reasons I Chose NYU Abu Dhabi

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who learn, and those who discover.

It is with great excitement and honour that I am announcing I will be joining the New York University: Abu Dhabi, Class of 2016! But to many of my friends and family, it may seem strange that for someone who has long set their sights on the United States, to suddenly abandon such plans to go study in the United Arab Emirates. It is somewhat unfortunate that such strong misconceptions exist both from the side of the Western perception of the UAE, and of those of the UAE towards the West. Perhaps this is one of the key goals in the establishment of NYUAD, to break down these barriers.

Hence I wrote this blog, with three goals in mind: #1. To allow my friends and family who have supported me for so long to understand why I chose NYUAD, #2. To assist any current or future students who are choosing between NYUAD and another school, and #3. To better promote this new and rising institution.

So what was it that made me so drawn to this institution that would have me abandon offers from such strong “prestige” schools such as Caltech and Amherst? I assure you that it was a heavily researched and well informed decision made after long deliberations. Here I will detail my decision making, and for those who do not wish to read it all, In short: I want to pursue my passions.

Crossroads of the World

The Fit

Almost all of the applicants of NYUAD have a abundant trove of offers from many high ranking/ prestigious/ ivy league institutions. As a foreword, one must keep in mind that there exists no such thing as a school “strictly” better than another. To say so would be to assume we are simply homogenous carbon copies of one another waiting for a future to be imprinted upon us. In truth, we each have been bestowed by birth and nurture incredibly unique visions, aspirations and skills which we wish to flourish within us. Each school also has a precise personality, and each institution may be better or worse for each individual. Even with this in mind, there is no right or wrong choice for a University for an individual, it is simply the paths we choose to pursue.

With that in mind, NYUAD is definitely not for everyone, but it if s a very, very good fit for a group in which I believe myself and many of my classmates fall into. This will largely be spotted through the admissions process, but some tirelessly laboured essays and a few days visit can only do so far to convey our character. In short, NYUAD is educating towards “non-traditional” future leaders. Instead of going on the basis of what we’ve been doing for the last 400 years, it is going towards a model focussed on the future.

NYUAD is a school for someone who likes to take risks, wants to go to University to learn about the world instead of becoming the highest technical expert of their field. It is for people who want their vision and breadth expanded, to be able to perceive a single issue from multiple aspects. It is for those who want to be leaders in a new collaborative, globalised generation. It is for those who want to escape the traditional, and pursue the unknown, those who are comfortable with being surrounded by mystery and discovery. It is for those who want to live beyond themselves, and make shockwaves of impact on the world.

Below I have listed 7 reasons that I believe NYUAD deserves this reputation, it is for these reasons that I am choosing to attend this institution. Keep in mind throughout, that this is the culmination of hours of research, talking with students, talking with professors, visiting the school, reading its literature and reading student blogs – of not only NYUAD but other schools. So without further adieu, let us begin this journey (for it is a somewhat lengthy but hopefully rewarding one):

"Inspired" students from NYUAD

1. Academics

First and foremost, College is about Academics, and here NYUAD shines brighter than Sirius the Dog Star. NYUAD is a liberal arts college, meaning its education system is tending towards what is called a “T-shaped education”. That is breadth not only one’s preferred field of study, but also outside of this.

The core of NYUAD which all students must undertake includes 8 core courses, 2 each from the areas of Art, Technology, and Invention // Ideas and Methods of Science // Pathways of World Literature // Structures of Though and Society. These are designed to challenge students in ways that they would never otherwise think of, and is an integral part of the experience, regardless of major. It is to open the minds of all students.

Perhaps the best illustrator of this would be to give a sample of core courses I might take in my 4 years there: Convictions and Doubt, The Nature of Code, Immortality, Trust, Risk and Deception in Cyber Space, Our Monsters, Ourselves,  Reading the Body, The Relationship of Government and Religion (Taught by John Sexton himself), and Faith in Science, Reason in Revelation.

Furthermore, within my Engineering course, I will be taking courses that fall outside this discipline. There is ample room for general electives, so at the same time as studying Engineering, I can take courses in Artificial Intelligence, Computation and Neural Systems, Networks and Distributed Systems and possibly an economics or humanities paper. My education is completely tailored specifically to my own specific personal aspirations.

Within engineering itself, there exists a breadth education, with the first 2 years studying a solid foundation in both Engineering and Science. This includes studying for a strong foundation of understanding in all fields of engineering and science, from biology, chemistry, physics, to the fields of civil, electrical, and software engineering. Following this, there is a strong specialisation in the preferred field of study, hence a T shaped education, broad yet focussed all at once.

In order to lead/work on most modern engineering projects, one has to work cross-disciplinarily, synthesising the work of many experts of distinct fields. By having a strong command and understanding of all the primary fields of science and engineering, I could not imagine how one could be more prepared for these challenges, equipped and empowered to handle any task that lay ahead.

Me and my future classmates from Candidate Weekend!

2. Classmates & Professors

The entire Class of 2016 of NYU Abu Dhabi will feature approximately 150 people. One-Fifty – approximately 3% of the average audience of a College Basketball match. The school population will be 450 in freshman year, and there is currently a 3:1 Student:Faculty ratio (which will converge on 8:1 when the school reaches full capacity). Yet with this in mind, my class is estimated to speak around 55 languages, and come from 60 countries across 6 continents. This international perspective will be fundamental in the increasingly globalised world, where we will be working, living and learning with and from people from entirely different walks of life.

Even more interestingly, it is easy to spot the potential and vision the classmates have. Though it boasts a 1.5% acceptance rate (200 admits vs. 15,000 applicants), in reality it would be fairer to say this gravitates towards 10% (2000 put it down as their primary choice). And though the median SAT scores are very high, we must look beyond prestige, SAT scores and acceptance rates, for these do not make up a school. It is the fact that after only spending 3 days with some of my peers, we are still able to have interesting and engaging conversations on Facebook 2 months down the line, that gives credence to the fact that these are some remarkable individuals each with their own sky high aspirations and unrestrained potential.

In such a small community, tight bonds are made. It is impossible to get “lost” in the sea of students, for that sea is more like a small pond. Claustrophobically close connections are made, and the classmates really do introduce you to their worlds. I wait in excitement to gain the empathy to understand the same issues from the point of views of those with non-overlapping beliefs. I’m sure the alumni networks will be some of the most expansive, diverse and coherent in existence a decade from now.

More interestingly is the interactions with professors, with such a small ratio and class sizes ranging from 1 (they run solo classes!) to around 20 for most lectures (my entire engineering cohort will only feature 20 brilliant people), the professors know the students more than well. Combined with the fact that we all live in the same building and share cafeterias, athletics and social events, the degree of interaction is far beyond that which you would find anywhere else.

In the same vein, it is easy to get involved with the research of the professors, and also assumedly, to get some very personal and powerful letters of recommendation for grad school. The opportunities are just so far in surplus of those with the capacity to take them up!

Rendition of Saadiyat Island, where NYUAD's permanent 2014 campus will open

3. Support! – Financial and Otherwise

I recall my experience with Sydney University offices when applying there. Because of my situation I wanted to be able to defer my enrolment for a half semester and I only ever got 3 resolutions after many emails  and phone calls. #1. Being ignored, #2. Automatic copy/paste responses, or #3. Half-hearted hastily typed replies. Not once was I shown a drop of sympathy, understanding or even an indication of whether or not they even cared if I came to the school.

At NYUAD in comparison, I am far more than just student #301. They gave me a full expenses paid trip to just visit the school and get to know 1/3rd of my matriculating class! Upon acceptance, I found out I have a full-ride (all expenses paid), including travel, personal spending, accommodation and food. Furthermore support goes beyond synthetic financial aid!

Due to its pioneering nature, requests to run new activities or clubs can be fully supported if a group of enthusiastic candidates is gathered. In terms of resources, it seems nearly endless. The soccer team recently visited Jordan to play some matches with the blessing of the school.

One experience which solidified this was reading about the experiences of one student from NYUAD who got sick. The nurse followed him all the way to the hospital and stayed with him until he was fully admitted, and during his stay there the doctor and nurse constantly kept in touch with him and his parents –several faculty members even came and visited to make sure he was fine.

In addition, there is a career centre which helps you plan your professional career and helps in securing internships. There exists support for personal academic research endeavours at all levels. This is a school which takes every student as a prodigy and takes all their goals and aspirations as very real and very serious. Everything you need is laid out before you, and all it takes is for us to go and ask.

You are much more than a number at NYUAD!

NYU Global Network

4. Travel Opportunities & Experience!

One of the greatest differentiators of NYUAD is the abundant travel opportunities and living in the centre of Abu Dhabi, near the long beaches and perpetually sunny year. Against common belief, Abu Dhabi is not a desert with a large camel infestation. It is an up and coming metropolitan city, highly developed with great services and sky scrapers as far as the eye can behold.

Included with the experience are 4 January terms, two of which are expected to be spent in one of the 11 campuses of the NYU Global Network. These are located in Accra, Ghana; Berlin; Buenos Aires; Florence; London; Madrid; Paris; Prague;  Shanghai; New York City; and of course Abu Dhabi itself. In addition to those, academic and extracurricular trips are frequently made to the surrounding nations (the Gardens of Eden class visits India for a weekend).

Even more exciting is the possibility of spending two semesters overseas in the aforementioned centres. Being able to study at Buenos Aires for a semester and in New York City for a semester is unbelievably exciting. The range of experiences made available to all NYUAD students easily surpasses what one will be exposed to anywhere else.

From getting a Scuba certificate, rock climbing, advanced capoeira, to camping in the desert, tramping – there seems to be an overflowing profusion of experiences, and as students, we are limited only by how much sleep we want to have each night.

Perhaps most important of all, is the wealth of culture we will experience. Apart from the livid life of Abu Dhabi itself, there are celebrations of all cultures and religions all year round, from Christmas to Diwali, the understanding and appreciation of the world as a whole will be stretched beyond the scopes many of us believed possible.

The man: John Sexton himself!

5. John Sexton & Alfred Bloom & The Crown Prince

It may seem peculiar to write about the leadership of the university, but in this case it holds strong. NYUAD is not an established place that runs automatically on hundred year old traditions, it is an up and coming project, literally growing and developing every moment. It is still taking form, and it is the leadership it is in that makes me confident in its success.

Having had the privilege of listening to John Sexton talk, it is easy to see why one can trust him to make this a success. From his personal life story of rejecting Harvard Admission to follow his passions, the way he talks with an absolute magnetic personality, his enrapturing stories to his unprecedented vision, he leaves in awe any who have the pleasure of talking to him. He is a man who is not only able to dream big, but to inspire those dreams with those he works with and thus making them a reality.

The Vice chancellor of NYUAD is Alfred Bloom, a man renowned for transforming Swarthmore in his 18 year term into one of the best Liberal Arts Colleges in the world. Having had the pleasure of having dinner with him, I could see his wide perspective, his kindness yet determination and wisdom were what NYUAD needed exactly to become the thriving success it longs for.

But of course the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan deserves credit for empowering this movement. The leaders of Abu Dhabi have always had a reputation for excellent decision making and strong long term growth, but economic and social. The Crown Prince has invested in the University entirely, empowering it to have the resources that make its potential and those of its students limitless. He has entrusted unto us a great gift, and to whom much is given, much is expected.

The faces from around the world outside the NYUAD campus

6. Pure Academic vs. Wider education

Whilst it is true that my knowledge of Electromagnetic waves might not be as strong as if I went to Caltech, or my knowledge of computer science not as strong as that of a Stanford student, there is an entirely different aspect with which you do excel at in NYUAD. That is knowledge of a wide perspective, both in terms of academics and worldview. You can learn to look at a problem and its possible solutions from a wide range of different disciplines, or more likely perhaps an amalgamation of them. Even more, issues can be empathised with and understood from the backgrounds of many from all around the world. With such a deep appreciation of so vastly distinct worlds, one can truly see a problem in a much more multi-faceted view than what we knew even existed, let alone were capable of before entering NYUAD.

On asking a friend who now works at one the biggest companies in New Zealand, (who has their masters in Electrical Engineering), how much of the technical knowledge applies to the job, they replied almost nothing. Rather it was the skills they learnt, designing systems, conducting research, these things which they applied to the job, and the ability to learn and apply new skills on the Job, these are what mattered to being successful in their career.

There has been a long prospering dogma that more technical academic knowledge = better success, but I would like to tentatively challenge that. In some careers yes that is necessary, but is not all the other aforementioned skills offered in great depth at NYUAD also profoundly important? Perhaps being able to look at a problem in the shoes of a scientist, a philosopher, and a humanitarian might serve more use than having a deeper understanding of its technical functioning. In a society where information is literally always at our finger tips, it certainly is a point to consider.

Perhaps the wide range of experiences at NYUAD educates us and prepares us better for life than pulling consistent all-nighters trying to get ahead on the GPA curve at selective schools.

The Campus

7. Pioneering

I have always imagined the trip through college as like a 4 year road trip. You begin at some destination, and you may have a goal to head towards at the end. The well-established colleges travel along a path they have known for over 400 years, and you are taken along for the ride. You might be the 4 millionth student to go for this ride, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. After all, it has been tried and tested and has proven to take you to a nice hotel on the other side, where you can expect fortune and a good future await you.

At NYUAD, this is not the case. At the time of writing, I am only entering the third class in its short history; therefore no one has yet graduated. We are still at large, travelling through the vast unknown, and the path before us has not even been seen before, let alone travelled. We are surrounded by mystery, making discoveries at every turn. Perhaps the most fundamental difference; we are in the drivers seats, in control of our own fates. We have the ability to form our own traditions (the students recently elected their mascot, the desert falcon), create our own pathways, and tailor our own education. And the greatest thing is, no one really knows where we end up – but we do know that we have control of it. Because of this, perhaps we will end up in some palace, or perhaps we will end up at a place grander than anyone has thought to imagine, yet undiscovered, and we will be able to enjoy something that perhaps no one in the past before us has ever enjoyed. Such is the joy of pioneering.

I was once asked – “You have no idea how the reputation of the school will be in 5 years, aren’t you scared?” No I am not scared, and though it may seem like I’m taking a huge chance, in reality there is no more chance than entering a competition or starting a project. The reputation, the progress, the achievement of the school entirely rests in the hands of the students, faculties and our leaders. And having met them – I can say I am most assuredly in confident hands.

New York University: Abu Dhabi

Conclusion

I thought it may be apt to include the conclusion of my Common Application essay below:

“So many of have dreams of changing the world, but we think we’re not smart enough, brave enough or skilled enough. And maybe we’re right. But what we need to realise is that we each have something invaluable that only we can offer – our way of seeing the world. Each of us can be an integral part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than all of us. You might look at me and say I’m a Scientist, a Speechmaker, a Lion Dancer or even a Leader – but I am more than these. I am an individual and this is my perspective. Through my eyes I’ve seen the amazing things that happen when we embrace diversity. I want to be there, sowing the seeds of understanding, so that together we can push the frontiers of science, technology and knowledge further than they have ever been before.

Together we are limitless”

I hope you now have a better understanding of why I chose NYUAD over everything else, and why I hope many more of you will take this leap of faith in the future. I will leave you with a point to ponder, a quote by John Sexton, President of NYU himself. I believe single line sums up the entirety of the core of NYU Abu Dhabi – a line I could write another essay on entirely, but I’ll leave that for another day. There is still so much more to discover.

“That’s the greatest thing about NYU Abu Dhabi; there is no centre of gravity.” – John Sexton

–          Lingliang Zhang’16

I’m Back!

Hey All!!!

Image

I bet you all thought that I had given up – and I don’t blame you! For a moment there, I thought I had given up too. But you know what, I like to think of myself as someone who sticks to his word, so even though I had a huge lapse of absence, I’m BACK!

Let’s just bring you up to date with my current situation. I’ve finished High School, am currently working fulltime for Greenpeace NZ, and need PROJECTS to do to stop myself getting bored out of my mind. I figured the heavily structured-ness of my blog was part of what was holding me back – so from now forward : I will post AT LEAST 2 times a week, and my topics will range from the following:

Tech
Science
Random Ideas
Tinkering
Religion

Everything I post will be original content and I won’t post anything debating any hot events (Elections, Politics, New gadget release etc). Basically I won’t “recycle” any news. In addition I hope to gain a good readership, and hope to see a lot of you guys around. I’m working through this great 700 page book called the “Robot Builder’s Bonanza“. Hopefully I’ll be doing a lot of tinkering, all as part of a great learning experiment!

 

Wish me Luck! 

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