"[My classes] have helped me in that they have caused me to think more deeply about the world that I live in..."
Sam is a senior majoring in SymSys with an individually-designed concentration in the Artificial Intelligence and Logic.
Why did you decide to major in SymSys over related majors such as CS, linguistics, etc.?
I took CS 106a winter quarter freshman year and really liked it, so I knew I wanted to do more programming. I was debating doing CS and found that the department had a lot of requirements I didn’t want to fulfill. I really liked cognitive science from a class I had taken at UCLA when I was in high school. I also don’t consider myself a techie or a fuzzy, I really like both, and SymSys seemed like a perfect way to blend the two. I also liked how Symsys allowed for a lot of flexibility. I was also thinking of doing CS + X, but the unit count made it such that I would have had to take pretty much all my classes toward my major, rather than leaving room for the classes I wanted to take for fun.
How do you think your SymSys background has benefited you (in your current job, in the way you approach problems, etc.)?
I don’t really view things in terms of how they’d benefit me. I don’t know if philosophy of mind will ever benefit me in the workplace, or if human behavioral biology will ever come into play in what I do professionally, but I think that they have helped me in that they have caused me to think more deeply about the world that I live in, and they have been enjoyable experiences.
What is the ‘must take’ class in the SymSys curriculum? ('must take' can mean favorite, most rewarding, etc.)
I think the most interesting class that I’ve taken at Stanford was Human Behavioral Biology. You learn a lot of cool anecdotes, and the professor is amazing — even though the class is pretty long. It’ll make you a more interesting dinner guest.
If you could have lunch with one faculty member associated with SymSys, who would it be and why?
I feel like Ken Taylor would be an interesting dinner guest, even though I’ve only heard one lecture by him. The reason I’m not listing Robert Sapolsky is because you shouldn’t meet celebrities. I don’t know if who he is in person could live up to his performance in lecture.
When someone asks you “what is Symbolic Systems?” how do you usually reply?
I think it depends on your concentration. I feel like my version of SymSys is cognitive science, but with more of a focus on computer science. In general, I think that SymSys is what you make of it.
Which subfield of SymSys (e.g. CS, linguistics, psychology, philosophy) were you least familiar with before declaring? Did anything surprise you?
I kind of had an idea of what all of them were before declaring, because I had taken a lot of classes before declaring. Coming into Stanford, I didn’t really have an idea of what CS was like, so I was most surprised by how interesting and fun programming can be. I definitely think CS has the most fun coursework.
If you could go back in time and be a Stanford student again, what would you have done differently and why?
I would have realized that classes can be a lot more fulfilling than they were in high school. I think that in high school, I supplemented a lot of classes with extracurriculars, but I think that you can have a fulfilled quarter by focusing on classes. In high school I wanted to be a part of everything, but in college, I think that you can benefit by taking the time to engage with the material.
Outside of SymSys-related topics, what else are you interested in?
I’m really interested in world mythology and reality television (especially Survivor).
Sam is one of many profiles featuring selected alumni, undergraduates and graduates who are involved in the Symbolic Systems community.