Skip to main content

A short biography

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, short, things I had to write anyway

Once in a while, I get asked to write about myself. For example, this past fall, I had to write a biography for a poster in the department. This week, I got asked to write a shorter biography [1]. Why? I accidentally agreed to be on a panel at Alumni College [2] and they felt like they should have something better than what I put on the College’s Web site [3]. But what goes in a short biography? For Grinnell, I consider it important to include my honorary membership in two different classes: the class of 2001, which is my class because I started at the same time they did [4], and the class of 2017, which included at least two graduates who I’ve known since childhood. Broadening participation in computing is a key aspect of what I do, so it belongs there. And I suppose I should say something about my scholarship and professional responsibilities [8].

I also find myself wondering how I should refer to myself in a biography. I don’t really like to use the name Sam in print since it encourages people to refer then list me as Sam Rebelsky, which I really dislike [9]. I sometimes try the casual SamR, but it usually doesn’t work for more than a sentence or two. Professor Rebelsky feels ostentatious [10]. Samuel is a bit long and it’s not how most people refer to me. So I end up with Rebelsky [11]. It’s not perfect, but it suffices.

Here’s what I sent.

Samuel A. Rebelsky is professor of computer science at Grinnell College, where he has been teaching since Fall 1997. SamR, as he is known to his students, is proud to have been designated as an honorary member of the class of 2001 at their tenth anniversary and of the class of 2017 at their Baccalaureate. Rebelsky’s current scholarship explores the intersection of arts and computing, particularly non-traditional computing tools for creating artworks. Rebelsky also makes diversifying computer science a key aspect of his mission. He says, If computer technology is changing the world, we have a responsibility to ensure that a wide variety of people design that technology. His commitment to diversity reveals itself in a variety of ways, from running summer code camps for middle-school students to redesigning curriculum to be more inclusive to initiating a broadening participation in computing fund at the College. Rebelsky also serves as vice chair for the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group in Computers and Society, as a member of the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics, and as list manager for the ACM Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education.

What was that comment I just made? It’s not perfect, but it suffices. Does it? I don’t mention most of my service at Grinnell. Rebelsky serves on the boards of the Wilson Center for Leadership and Innovation, the Faulconer Gallery, and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment [12]. It doesn’t mention the musings. Rebelsky writes daily about his life as a faculty member and Grinnellian. It doesn’t mention the implications. Because of his personality and vocal [15] commentary, Rebelsky is feared across campus. Or is that revered? Maybe just valued. Perhaps ignored. Maybe I started it wrong. In spite of … Rebelsky is tolerated …. Best not to comment on the musings or my reception on campus.

What’s that Michelle says? Perfect is the enemy of good. In the first reading, that’s obvious: When you strive for perfection, you don’t accept good. But that’s not what she means. She means that if you keep trying to make something that’s good enough perfect, you often end up with something that isn’t even good enough.

Perhaps I’ll try another aphorism. Close enough for folk, or at least for a musing [16].

In any case, I’ve submitted it already, so it will stand. Maybe I’ll spend more time on the next one.

[1] More accurately, I got asked about two weeks ago. I wrote it this week.

[2] I forgot to ask my advisory board first.

[3] Let’s see … Samuel A. Rebelsky is a Professor of Computer Science at Grinnell College. SamR, as his students call him, has been at Grinnell since 1997. (He therefore considers himself part of the Grinnell class of 2001.) I’ve written worse.

[4] Also because the Roses, Like Cake [5], some famous comedian, Joey, that awesome woman from the class of ’01 who graduated in three years [6], that Pixar guy, the documentary filmmaker from Iowa City, and many others are members of that class. These students shaped my teaching identity at Grinnell. I appreciate being considered part of their class.

[5] Now that I finally understand pronunciation, I want to call him Live Ache. But I don’t think he’d appreciate that.

[6] Also known as That student who not only graduated a year early but also became a Java trainer, effectively doing much of what I did, except with higher pay [7] and more travel.

[7] She was the first of many graduates whose starting salary was higher than my current salary. It seems no matter how much my salary goes up, I have a new graduate who makes more than I do.

[8] If I’d been really sensible, I would have remembered that I had written a biography this past fall and looked at it.

[9] My professional name is Samuel A. Rebelsky. You show respect by using it. You show disrespect by assuming that I’m okay with Sam Rebelsky.

[10] My children would also insist that I use Professor Rebelsky 2, since my mother was Professor Rebelsky first.

[11] Yes, I realize that Rebelsky and Samuel have the same number of syllables.

[12] I hate the commas in CTLA [14]. They require that I either have to put it at the end of a list or separate the items of the list with semicolons.

[14] Yes, I know that they are necessary. But couldn’t we have just called it the Center for Teaching and Learning, like most schools do? That way, it could also be a TLA instead of including the letters TLA.

[15] No it’s not ableist in this context. Or at least I don’t think it is.

[16] Or close enough for alumni college.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-03.