This August will see another instalment of the NUI Maynooth Computer Science International Summer School. Now in its 8th year, the Summer School takes place during the first three weeks of August and is a major event in the international calendar for the Department of Computer Science. My name is Joe Timoney and I’ve been teaching at the Dept of Computer Science since the close of the 1990s, and I have been involved with the Summer School almost since its inception.
There have been many attendees from China at the School, with the majority being from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. However, we’ve also had guests from Peking University and Beihang University in Beijing, and East China Normal University and East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. The number coming each year varies but last year we had a large group with 24 people altogether. All the students are in their third year and for many it is their first time abroad. This is a little pressure for me as I really want their first experience to be enjoyable and educational. To help me I always have some assistants who have been studying at Maynooth for the previous few years. Their help has always been indispensable, and there has never been a crisis they couldn’t handle!
Arrivals take place during the first weekend in August, which is a holiday weekend in Ireland. We all meet at the airport and travel to Maynooth together. This holiday weekend gives everyone a chance to settle in and relax after the long journey. Over the first few days we take a tour of Maynooth, take a trip to Dublin, and visit some well-known local sites. I think the weather and the food are the two big surprises during the first few days! Well, in China in August it is pretty hot and humid while in Ireland the temperature is actually quite mild, usually only around 15 degrees. The only downside is that it can rain in Ireland on and off through all of August. The food is a big change. Still, we go to the supermarkets together and I’ll try to point out what is the best in Irish food. We always do some cooking together. Whether my culinary skills are good is unknown but at least we can enjoy eating a number of Irish and Chinese dishes! Last year was the best – we cooked new dishes each week and had a competition between groups of us to make the best looking and tastiest food.
The classes start after the long weekend, and the pattern for the next three weeks is four days of classes per week. The classes are very interactive and are taught by lecturers in our department. The topics covered include Computer Graphics, Wireless Sensor Networks, Digital Audio Processing (taught by me) and Software Verification and Formal Analysis. It is a great experience for everyone to see how teaching and learning is carried out in Ireland. To keep each day moving along quickly there are lots of practical exercises and challenges to keep everyone thinking. For the lecturers it is also fun to come up with interesting problems for the students to solve. We also have an industry visit for one day. We have been to Microsoft Ireland and Intel, which are near Maynooth. The outlook of these two companies is fascinating as one is run by software developers and the other by engineers. It gives a good insight into how a multinational company is run and what they look for in their employees.
During the School, we always visit tourist attractions around Ireland. We have travelled along the coastal train line to Howth Head and visited Glendalough and Powerscourt. Last year we did horse-riding and Irish dancing in Tipperary. The students themselves also plan and make their own journeys over the weekends. A popular visit is to the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast. However, last year one group from Beihang managed to get to the South western tip of the country by travelling to Kerry while others went south to Cork. Ireland is great for a first visit in that way as it is small enough to travel to most places in less than a day.
Near the end of the course we have a closing ceremony that is officiated by an executive of the University management. We usually look back on all we have done, and I’m always amazed at how much everyone fits into the three weeks! By the time everyone gets to the airport to return home, they are tired, but we can talk about the different things we saw and did, and we promise to meet up again in China. The photos from previous years will give you a flavour of what we have done – you can find them on our website http://www.cs.nuim.ie/nuimsummerschool2014/. I always find fond memories when I look at the photos but I’m surprised every year when the time comes around again for the next School. The time just flies by so quickly!