ARCHIVED: Meet Our Newly Tenured Faculty: James Marshall, Computer Science

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

James MarshallDiscipline
Computer Science

Courses
First Year Studies: Achilles, the Tortoise, and the Mystery of the Undecidable; Computer Science: An Accelerated Introduction; Robotics; The Computational Beauty of Nature; Principles of Programming Languages

Favorite writers
Carl Sagan, Douglas Hofstadter, Arthur C. Clarke

Technology you can’t live without
My Macbook Pro

Favorite thing in your office
My robots. I recently acquired a couple of humanoids.

Best trip
Traveling around Europe to visit famous pipe organs. I also spent a month camping and hiking in the Canadian Rockies.

Worst job
Working in the warehouse of a computer company. Packing boxes isn’t all that interesting.

Natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?
I’d love to be a really good pianist or organist. I’d love to be able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor BWV 543.

Favorite movie
2001: A Space Odyssey

Vices
Swiss, Italian, or Belgian chocolate

What do you love about Sarah Lawrence students?
A lot of my students are wonderfully self-motivated, and especially during conference projects, I feel they’re teaching me as much as I’m teaching them. One student wanted to study formal logic, so we spent a semester going through a formal logic textbook together. Another student wanted to study the theory of computation, which is a course I took as an undergraduate. We spent a semester doing theory of computation proofs, which helped me to relearn some of the material and get back into that mindset. It felt like we were colleagues for a semester, grappling with these ideas together.

What do you love about teaching at Sarah Lawrence?
One thing I really like is the flexibility in teaching, and being able to design courses that really excite me. I based my most recent First Year Studies course on Douglas Hofstadter’s book Gödel, Escher, Bach, which is one of my very favorite books. I always wanted to design a course around that book, and I was able to do that here. The Computational Beauty of Nature explored fractals, chaos theory, and complex systems, all topics that I find fascinating. Another great thing I love is hanging out with my colleagues in the Science and Math faculty group. We talk about quantum computing sometimes, or things like information theory or cognitive science. We often get together for social events and parties, too, which is fun.  It’s nice that we’re all from different disciplines, not just from computer science.