One final sprint*

I’m by no means a genius and daily feel like an imposter at the university more than I like to admit. I sit there amongst people that are used to hacking their school library’s computers for fun during breaks, and then there’s me: big smiles and thoroughly proud that I managed to bluff my way through the most recent homework assignment with a 5.8 or so.

Recently I started the fourth and last term of my first year and this journey hasn’t always gone smoothly.

It started off really well with a Logics course which I absolutely loved, and a Cognitive Science course which I found interesting enough but turned out to be quite challenging for me with the vast amounts of texts, details, and cramming involved. As university in general and this particular study was all very new and exciting for me I dived right in. Adjusting to a new situation in life costs anyone a lot of energy, but with the decreased amount of energy I sadly have I found this was quite a high price I was paying. On top of that came the travelling, the exploring of accessibility (“which entrance can I use for today’s new building?”, “where is the closest disabled toilet located?”, “how do I open these special doors, does open Sesame work?”) and long long nights of studying. I gave it all I had and can proudly say that hard work payed off; I passed both of my classes nicely.

From there on it went downhill, with me failing both the Mathematics for AI and Modelling & Programming courses next. With the first term being so extremely draining I found myself slightly off balance. I was able to recover rather fast, but inevitably I was falling behind. I noticed this during the very first two weeks or so and that gap just kept growing up to the point where I was so defeated that I decided to just give up and walk away, and enjoyed a bit of “holiday” while the others finished the courses.

This time off allowed me to regain some strength and the third term went quite okay as I enjoyed and passed one of the two courses, being Linguistics. On the other hand I sadly failed Adaptive Systems, an interesting but extremely tough and broad course. Both the midterm as the endterm were 100% multiple choice (“nice!”) and allowed you to bring one A4 scribbled with whatever the hell you wanted (“what??! easy peasy lemon squeezy!”). Well, my dear reader, forget it. Let the fact sink in that the professor composing those rules must have still been sufficiently confident in the difficulty of the exams. Yep… I’ll admit I didn’t go at it like my first term, where I went absolutely all in and with 120% of the little energy I have. But with my strength and health this is just a terrible strategy, probably strongly discouraged by any doctor you’d ask. I can’t afford to put my physical wellbeing on the line like that again. I felt how it effected me and don’t consider that a price that one can expect me to pay.

Thing is that there’s this minimum of classes you need to pass in order to prove yourself worthy of university. In my case that’s 6 out of the usual 8 classes. I asked the university to take my disability into consideration but they’ve been rather mysterious so far about whether or not I would be granted more time to get these points.

Right now I’m doing Data Structures for AI and Computational Linguistics, which seem to be quite fun but equally as challenging from what I can gather after these first weeks. In an attempt to save my skin and not get kicked out of uni I enrolled in an extra third course called Mathematics for Poets, Thinkers, and Doers. Initially the one and only reason I took that class was to gather enough credits to be allowed to continue my second year, but to my pleasant surprise I’m actually having a great time with it so far. I mean, we spent the first lecture going over angles in the final shoot off in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly :-) so yeah, there are worse fates to walk upon.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to pass all three of these classes, and if I do I certainly will need a miracle or two to peek from around a corner. However I’m trying my very hardest, am working on that aforementioned gap with this ridiculously friendly and patient fellow student, and going all in with My 1st Term Strategy 2.0.

For a while now I was rather disappointed that I haven’t turned into this brilliant hacking super nerd yet, but I’m slowly starting to realise that I actually have learned quite some things since september. The fact that others are further along the road and going steadier than I am shouldn’t blind me from the progress I’ve made.

I’ve had the privilege to keep feeding my curiosity, walk into walls with new things puzzling me, and even though I haven’t passed all of my courses I’ve unquestionably learned at least something. Now, for this last 8 week long sprint of my Bachelor’s first year I refuse to let others’ achievements diminish my own and won’t allow my motivation to be effected by them. And I’ll be damned if I get kicked out of a place I feel so good to be in.

* I’m an excellent marathon runner, as you may or may not have expected.

A brand new path

I enjoy seeking out boundaries, so I can then take a leap and jump over them. My entire life I’ve been seeking out the physical boundaries my muscular disease puts onto me, and ever since I can remember I’ve seen them more as hurdles than actual limits. Sadly, the last couple of years have been filled with their fair share of hurdles and I had to let go of my dream to study Astronomy at the University of Leiden. That wasn’t something I admitted easily, even to myself, but “knots need to be cut” as the Dutch say. Before making rash decisions I decided to take a year off occupying myself with work so I could carefully think everything over – and search for an answer not only to the obvious question like “What makes me happy?” but also the more important question: “In what subject do I see myself excel in, and why?”

As I mentioned above, I enjoy seeking out boundaries and I enjoy exploring new things and endlessly mulling over mysteries. The technology of Artificial Intelligence is relatively new and I’ve found that it’s the unknown territory that intrigues me. I see the actual building process, the technical part of the studies, as an eventual goal. But to be able to build great things one must first understand the building bricks one is working with. To me those bricks are represented by several philosophical and mathematical parts. How can we break down an actual human train of thought into variables and parts of a bigger algorithm? Exploring limits, learning and creating new things, and using that knowledge to develop new technology makes me happy. Why? Because I find mysteries equally intriguing as annoying. When I encounter a puzzle I don’t only want to solve it, I also need to solve it. And it’s that crazy and complex quest which I plan to feed with the AI studies programme.

For the second question I’ve had more than enough time to think about it and nonetheless I concluded that the answer came rather unexpected and sudden. I never had philosophy classes in high school – a choice I greatly regretted – but after interesting and stimulating conversations with the philosophy teacher I found myself adjusting my personal timetable to be able to sometimes tag along. I find astronomy fascinating, and that fascination partly focused on the mathematical aspect of the subject. I’ve always found languages and the way we use language and words in our lives fascinating, and mathematics is really just another language to add to that spectrum. We’ve been conditioned to use words and phrases to express thoughts, and then my knowledge of language broadened when I learned that we could also use mathematical equations to express certain parts of them. It’s all about breaking down bits and pieces of information and translating them into something entirely new. To expend on my view of language it’s not too big of a leap to then consider converting it into coding – nothing more than yet another language, one designed to be understood by machines. Again, to ensure one can properly translate different kinds of languages, one must first understand what language actually is made up of and how it exactly works. Something I plan to find out.

Combining a scribbled list of my interests and fascinations a trusted advisor led me to AI. After enrolling it now seems as the obvious choice, one so obvious that I don’t quite understand why it took me so long to end up there. What I do know is that I can’t wait to be able to solve these puzzles and start the journey of evolving myself into an even more curious human being.