An English Grad Student’s First Semester Experience in HPC Staff

Amin Nash

I was probably like most students around the Claremont Colleges. I wanted on-campus research opportunities, began exploring Handshake for some jobs, and eventually came across the HPC Support Staff position in Pomona College. Though the job was under Pomona’s ITS department, I was attracted by the chance to help write reports deriving from various completed projects. I figured it was a chance for me to mix my major in the Humanities with the field of technology. I spoke briefly with Asya, was invited to the first meeting, and what ended up happening – which I hope is similar to most students around the Claremont Colleges – was the sheer overwhelming feeling of profound information that left me slightly anxious in confusion, but immensely excited for the possibilities.

A little bit about myself:  Before coming to Claremont Graduate University, I worked about four to five years in the business world of web startups and hospitality companies, using my education to write content, policies, and business plans. I also made extra cash working as a bouncer at various Hollywood nightclubs (I’m not your plug). Though I was paid well and the work was consistent, I was always left feeling unfulfilled and wanted to contribute more to society. I wanted to work harder, to grind, to struggle. So I enrolled into the Master’s of Arts program in English at CGU, hoping to finish by 2020 and to attain concrete knowledge to help prove, adapt, and innovate my thoughts into society. Specifically, I chose Claremont because of its approach in trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies: I could adapt my knowledge, my skills, and my goals into fields outside of my own.

Why English? Because I love it, that’s why.

So it goes without question that my initial experiences with HPC was met with a lot of tension, mainly from myself. During the first meeting, Asya threw out terms like “NLP”, “GIS”, “GitHub”, “Neuroscience networks and cognitive recognition reflective for sentiment analysis” (like, what the hell, man). I immediately regretted my 4-5 years of my past business work, as I realized how much I have missed in life, and how fast things change. I did not know people could share their projects into repositories (GitHub), and I did not know that C++ is becoming an “old language” as Python makes its way into modernity.

There was so much to learn! So much I missed! How would I keep up? Why am I an English major??

Then I realized how old I am. The immense speed of advancements made me realize that my experiences growing up far differed from the experiences of Pomona students. I had to admit to myself that even though I’m an “older” student, the students in Pomona will always know more than me when it comes to the current state of technology.

I really had to swallow my anxieties and my discomfort. I had to admit to myself that I’m older, that I do not know a lot about technology, and because things have changed so fast, I wasn’t able to make it seem like I knew what I was talking about.

So, My solution was to ask a lot questions. “How do I learn Python? What are projects you think I can contribute to? Can I assist with any writing or management projects?”

Asya was very open minded and honest about my position. She knew that with me being a Humanities major, it would be hard to actively “work” in technology and sciences, but that didn’t stop us from finding out how to contribute. Since I have experience in websites and blogs, Asya allowed me to use these skills to work with the research blog and assist in pumping out student blog entries. Connectivity and interaction between audience and product is essential in English, and being able to articulate the students’ thoughts was a valuable skill that kept me working. We found that being “older” and being a Humanities major isn’t a bad thing, in fact, was somewhat beneficial.

From there, I began contributing more to the In the Know Lab, working with other students to learn the equipment as well as make it approachable for new students. Most prominently, I was able to attach myself to the Digital Innovations Text Lab with fellow student Jack Weber and ITS Business Analyst Kristina Khederlarian, and that allowed me actively engage with a research project throughout the semester. Through this project, I learned the details on using Python’s ability to recall various corpora and large bodies of texts, tokenize certain sentiments and terms from the texts, and numerating them to find patterns within human logic – specifically for trustworthiness.

Things turned out alright for this “old English major.”

Just like every student, I got busy with final papers and research projects of my own. It was challenging to mix the job with research projects, but Asya made it easy to contribute while also dealing with an immense course load. I was very grateful for that.

If there’s any advice I could give to fellow students in the struggle, it would be to embrace it and to do your best. Don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t feel “out of place”. There is a place for you and it just takes some effort to really begin to contribute. Take the lessons you learned, put them in your own words, and see if you can continue to make the world a better place!

By Amin Nash