Mark Weiss interview: Selected quotes

Mark Weiss

On a separate page: Overview page for this interview

Target the parents

There’s a lot of talk about how you attract students and stuff, but sometimes the students have nothing to do with it. Sometimes, the parents have so much influence on the kids and you’re doing all these programs targeting the kids. Maybe, if you want to make some things happen, maybe you need to target the parents too and I’m not sure how much targeting the parents people are doing lately. But, in my case, somebody could have targeted my parents if they really wanted me to go somewhere … if they really wanted me to pick a different major or go to a different college. So target the parents. Target the parents.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 170-177
  • Audio clip [39 seconds] located at 13:43 in full audio of interview

People who teach should be funny

I always think people who teach should be funny. You want to convey the information but it’s also … it’s not like life and death, so you try to have a good time with it too a little bit. And he definitely was like that so you could always go to his class and learn some stuff but also get a decent show at the same time.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 170-177
  • Audio clip [27 seconds] located at 24:42 in full audio of interview

Thesis topic sort of random

My topic was basically … sort of random. Every week somebody would come in and give a talk. One week it was Bob Sedgewick’s turn to give a talk. He was talking about something and he said, “Oh, here are some open problems” he was interested in. And I was … one of them caught my attention. And I went off and did some computer programming and stuff and made some progress on it. And that’s not a thesis right there, but that’s how I got involved in that particular area. And the thesis had to do with shell sort and those kinds of sorting algorithms. So … back in the day, that stuff was in vogue.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 530-536
  • Audio clip [51 seconds] located at 41:29 in full audio of interview

“Publish or perish” or write a book?

When you’re an Assistant Professor, you’re out there trying to publish or perish. And “publish” means journal papers — back then. I guess now it means more conference papers. But back in the day, that’s … you had to try to do as much of that as you could. And so I did that for a while. But somehow I also wrote my book, while I was still an Assistant Professor. Not really too smart a thing to do, generally speaking. I wouldn’t really … when you hire Assistant Professors, I don’t tell them “Hey, why don’t you write a book, great idea for tenure.” It’s not really a great plan. But it worked out okay. You would see you had a paper in a journal; you had a book; and what did people know? What was actually making an impact? Very obviously, it was much more with the book.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 607-615
  • Audio clip [1 minute 8 seconds] located at 46:19 in full audio of interview

Student comments as a source of joy

I think what most professors would tell you, especially the ones who are doing any reasonable amount of teaching, is when you hear back from the former students. And the former students will tell you something. Sometimes they’ll say, “I went on an interview and they asked me this question and it was on the test or it was our assignment and it was almost like it wasn’t fair.” So those … I think everybody would say that kind of … that’s what you’re looking for. It’s certainly … I think it’s from the students more. It’s not like your annual evaluations don’t … nobody cares about those anymore. You’re tenured … you’re a tenured, full professor. Who cares what the annual evaluations say? So I think that’s what keeps a lot of people going. You have a class full of students and especially, I think, they’re coming and they want to … they do want to get educated.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 677-688
  • Audio clip [1 minute 18 seconds] located at 53:11 in full audio of interview

Every student should learn something every class

[A]ny class that I give, I always want every student to walk out of the class and be able to say they learned something. I don’t think they have to learn everything I talked about, but that they learned something in that class. If they learned nothing, then it was a complete waste of 50 minutes or 75 minutes or whatever it is.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 694-697
  • Audio clip [20 seconds] located at 54:51 in full audio of interview

Video recording lectures ‒ a good thing or a bad thing?

One of the things with the video recording, it seems like more … when I do the recording, as you get deeper into the semester, students feel like they can skip the class more easily because they know there is a lecture that is being recorded. And I know at the end … as they’re getting towards the end of the semester… I’m kind of struggling with it. I know maybe they need to skip the class. Maybe the work is piling up. As I said, a lot of our students work and they have all these projects getting due and maybe they need … maybe they just have to skip the class and they know the recording is there. But they feel more entitled to skip it if the recording is there. But I’m still struggling with whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not so sure yet.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 707-715
  • Audio clip [54 seconds] located at 55:35 in full audio of interview

Teaching without notes

I haven’t used notes since my first semester. My first semester, I used notes. I had my whole lecture planned out like they … I think people tell you, “Oh yeah, you got to prepare for class. You got write all the notes out. You got to have this.” So I have these notes and I’m looking at them and I couldn’t read my handwriting. But I’m trying to follow my notes and I’m trying to write this code for the queue. And I’m screwing it up because I can’t read my notes. So after that semester, I decided, “I don’t need notes. I’m going to do it without notes.” Because … well, for the first couple of years I practiced it more, before. And … but then after a while you teach the same course, I can just walk in. And some of these I can do completely cold.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 725-733
  • Audio clip [52 seconds] located at 57:18 in full audio of interview

Professor vs. Doctor

[A]fter a while I think [my mother] started to appreciate a little bit of … part of the perks of … what people who are tenured full professors like. There are some things that are nice and … in some cases it could be better than being a doctor. She has friends, and my sister has friends, we all have friends who are very high-paid doctors. But they have these … pagers — well, they don’t call them pagers anymore, beepers, whatever they are now, I guess they’re cell phones right? — and these things go off no matter where they are and there’s an emergency and they have to get to the hospital. Now, I work a lot. I work at night. I work past midnight sometimes. You do too. All the professors do that. But if we’re out doing something, nothing is that important that we have to … we don’t have to leave the hockey game in the middle because we just got something on our cell phone work-related. So, there is … there are some things maybe that doctor life wasn’t … isn’t everything.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 818-828
  • Audio clip [1 minute 19 seconds] located at 65:37 in full audio of interview

Context of service courses provides insights

B: What does your wife do?
M: She’s also a professor in Computer Science at the university. But she’s off the tenure track, so she’s …
B: Teaching?
M: … in the teaching sphere. Doing a lot of our service courses. She sees tons of students. She has thousands — two thousand students a year maybe — in these service courses. And whenever I need to hear about what’s really going on in the university — what are these students really … what are their real problems, what’s the real things — she’s always quick to tell me that when I teach a class I just have a little club going. She’s got all the masses there. And she can tell me anything I need to know about why some solution is not really going to work.

Quote from interview with Mark Weiss
  • Transcript lines: 839-852
  • Audio clip [57 seconds] located at 67:24 in full audio of interview