now i was giving a project presentation today and must have done this somewhat poorly in what little time i had because at the end a student asked, "and what did you do?" the implication being that i essentially just presented background work, when in fact i had actually connected ideas and done much thinking. the presentation was supposed to convey that. i guess it didn't -- i think there were a few chuckles in the audience that felt to me like people agreeing that i hadn't done anything.
first, i need to take most of the blame. it's my job as a presenter to make things clear, and i clearly didn't gauge a somewhat sizable portion of the audience. that being said, i think the question and the laughter betrayed something about what people think are the "proper" activities of a graduate student in a computer science class.
one of the problems is that engineering folks often think that a project is about a tangible output. indeed, in this class most of the projects had neat visualizations, or programs that did something. my project could have gone in that direction, but i decided to do something quite different: read much of the background theory in my area and try to construct a framework for reasoning about the design that i initially set out to build. if i had more time, i might have built something. but to me, the more interesting thing was rigorously reasoning about why what i conceived may or may not work, prior to digging in deeply and designing and building it. that can wait, in my opinion. you can disagree with that, and think my line of reasoning is unproductive, but acknowledge that there is work in my ways!
if it isn't obvious at this point, i'll come out and say it: i felt hurt when i was asked the "and what did you do?" question. it made me feel like an outsider, and it made me feel like my work isn't valued. but then again, i guess in the same way that most engineers don't think about their bridges as cultural artifacts that engage people (and how!), many computer scientists seem focused on doing things with computers (or computing automata, you theory folks), and not so interested in what others do with the things they create, beyond that it is functional/useful, if that's their goal. the creation comes first! though i suppose my creation came first as well, it just wasn't the tangible creation venerated by many people.