From John Robertson…

by All Around CMU-Q (1)

Dear Tartans,

Thank you for making my time in Qatar the happiest period of my life.  Doha is the twenty-third place that I have lived and a big part of changing a life-long pattern of moving on average every two years was my experience with you all.  A university is defined by its students and CMUQ is a good place to be because you are a remarkably friendly, open, welcoming group of individuals. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know you all through spending time with you as you tried to navigate your way through the complex and challenging Carnegie Mellon curriculum.

I had little idea what to expect in coming here.  I had a background teaching world history but one of the tenants of world history is that you acquire a strong “big picture” understanding of the world but that global understanding does not always work in particular locations.  I sought advice on how I should interact with students and was told among other things that female students would not want to meet with me alone and that I should keep a desk between me and students or risk offending them.  I quickly found out how bad that advice was as female students not only came alone to meet with me but would walk around the desk to be on the same side of it as me.  I quickly rejected all of that pre-arrival advice and decided to treat you all as students rather than Qatar students and that has worked wonderfully.

You all have been generous in teaching me about local cultures and traditions.  I have bottles of ZamZam water, a smattering of Arabic, and rudimentary knowledge of cricket to show for it.  I also learned from you in the classroom.  For example, in the first class I taught here you gave me a lesson in perspective when I was trying to explain the “Romantic Fallacy” to a class. They seemed to miss the point that darkening skies, rain, and falling temperatures reflected the change in the soul of the person about to commit a dastardly crime.  We achieved a breakthrough when one of the students pointed out to me that we were in a desert and there darker, cooler, and wetter are good things.  I do not think I will ever have a similar experience to the one I had teaching Arabian Gulf history to students  that included the Emir’s daughter, Mahmoud Abbas’ granddaughter, and the grandson of the founder of Kuwait.  It was a unique opportunity to compare the historian’s perspective to those who experienced it as family history.

My time here was a period of tremendous growth for CMUQ.  When I started in 2004 we had two majors, forty-one students and six faculty teaching five classes in a borrowed Cornell classroom, supported by a writing specialist (we had been advised that we would not need to offer math support).  The only option for minors was for Business students to take the Computer Science minor and for CS students to take the BA minor.  Today we have four majors, almost four hundred students taking scores of classes taught by dozens of faculty in our own big beautiful building, supported by a comprehensive Academic Resource Center.  Students can explore beyond the core of their major by choosing from fifteen minors and a half dozen tracks.  You all have grown as well, earning scholarships and academic awards in direct competition with main campus students and in international contests.  Through all of the changes you have remained the same friendly, open, welcoming group.

I would like to leave you with one last piece of advice: do not worry about grades.  Firstly, do not worry about grades when picking classes choose challenging and interesting courses so that you can get the most out of your education.  Secondly, do not worry about grades once you have chosen a class; pursue difficult and novel approaches to your assignments so you can learn more in the course.  Thirdly, do not worry about grades, if you work hard and focus on learning the material of the course they will take care of themselves.  Fourthly, do not worry about grades as they are imperfect measures of performance in a constrained set of variables.  Finely, do not worry about grades because they have little value as predictors of what you will do in life or how successful you will be at it.   In sum, do not let worrying about grades prevent you from getting a great education.

I leave CMUQ at the end of December to become the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for New York University Shanghai, my wife to be NYUS’ Director of Research Institutes, my daughters to attend an excellent school and grow up in their mothers’ culture, and all of us to live in one of the most dynamic cities in the world.  As excited as I am about the future, I leave with fond memories and a sense of melancholy for remembrance of things past.  I will miss breaking fast with you during Ramadan at the stone table outside of my office, watching the Qatari sword dance performed to bagpipe music, looking for shade during fire alarms, the periodic rush to get into my office during OLR and too many other things to list.  I wish you all the best of fortune as you go forward in school and life and if you are ever in Shanghai please stop by NYU and say hello.



PS: Refer to the messages “To John Robertson…