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Pamela Fox | Australia | Computer Sciences

As my friends often joke—in a very serious way—, “I was raised by a computer.”
While my dad spent most of his time traveling to exotic cities to deliver not very exotic
computer science lectures, I mostly entertained myself playing on the computer, a toy that
seemed to offer endless new games and programs to discover. Even when my dad
actually was home, the most time I spent with him was when I accompanied him to his
university office to play on his extra computers. He soon realized that he had a budding
computer scientist for a daughter and began teaching me computer languages, or more
accurately, began urging me to teach myself computer languages. One of the first
programs I remember making in high school consisted of a cartoon drawing of my friend
Lynn and possible clothes that users could see her cartoon dressed up in. I loved the fact
that I could give anyone the URL and they’d be able to interact with something I made.
Another program I made was a quiz about my dad, teasing him for his obsession
with programming. That’s all my dad has ever done, and all he ever wanted me to do. But
that’s the difference between us; I’ve always wanted to do more, learn more, experience
more. In high school, I actively participated in such a broad range of extracurricular
activities (class presidency, newspaper, varsity gymnastics, science Olympiad, yearbook,
etc.) that my classmates voted me “Most Involved” senior year. I never really told my dad
about my involvements; I simply reassured him that, yes, I was programming consistently
and yes, I was planning on succeeding in life and paying for his retirement.
In college, I have continued the extracurricular involvements but now have also
had the opportunity to broaden my academic interests. On top of an obviously chosen
major in computer science, I first added a minor in 3-d Animation, a hobby of mine in
high school that let me get out my artistic tendencies and could possibly become a career.
Then I became a Spanish minor after doing a study abroad in Spain and absolutely loving
the classes. In the following fall, I started dating a Brazilian traveler and enrolled in a
Portuguese class that semester. I soon realized I couldn’t limit myself to learning just one
language; I’d inevitably get distracted by the wonders of a new language and want to find
out what makes that language tick. Taking a general education class in linguistics the next
semester introduced me to the beautiful structures of parse trees and to evolutionary
linguistics (which renewed my high school puppy love for etymology), and cemented my
growing decision to replace the Spanish minor with a Linguistics minor.
Though I originally intended to entertain linguistics only as a side interest and
focus on 3-d animation as my career-oriented interest, I applied to be an undergraduate
researcher at the annual John Hopkins 2005 computational linguistics workshop on a
whim, and was given the position. The first two weeks of the workshop, deemed
“summer school,” introduced a group of us budding undergraduate researchers to the
current research in nearly every field where computer science intersected with linguistics.
I quickly learned exactly what I loved about computational linguistics – and what I hated
– and most importantly, realized there is still a lot that computer scientists can do with
linguistic information.
My dad finally did accept my decision to do more than just computer science.
After visiting me in the graphics lab that I’ve researched in since freshman year, he
reluctantly admitted that somehow, because of my divergent interests, I’d acquired a
unique skill base and secured a successful future for myself. Though my recent interest in
linguistics has added even more uncertainty to my future career plans, I don’t mind. All I
need to know is that I will thoroughly enjoy whatever I end up doing.