Nov. 2, 2021
Class of 2021: 6 questions with Rachel Mclean
This is part of series of articles where we asked the fall cohort of the class of 2021 to reflect on their time at the university and share what they learned and loved about their time here. For more student responses, visit Congratulations, Class of 2021.
It’s not uncommon to pass time playing computer games. It is uncommon for that computer game to be one you created. For Rachel Mclean, the “dots and boxes” game was one of her first computer science assignments while she was earning a Bachelor of Science degree in computer graphics (she graduated in 2019).
It helped convince her to switch her focus away from English and history and, this fall, she is graduating with a Master of Science. Her thesis uses data modelling of Calgary’s downtown to analyze and develop recommendations for the City of Calgary’s e-scooter program.
Ahead of graduation, Mclean took a few minutes to answer our questions about her time at the University of Calgary.
What advice would you give yourself on your first day of university?
Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether it's asking a professor for a much-needed extension, or going to a TA (teaching assistant) for help with a difficult assignment or even just asking a classmate for a copy of their notes. Challenging courses and new experiences can become a whole lot less overwhelming when you realize that your teachers and TAs really do want you to succeed.
Is there a project, discovery or moment from your time at the university that you are most proud of?
I have a couple projects from my time at the university that I'm very proud of, but honestly one of the ones I'm proudest of is still my first computer science project. The assignment was to write a program to run a fun and playable version of a simple game. It was my first group project at the university, but I had a pretty good team and we managed to put together a really nice "dots and boxes" program, which I still have saved on my desktop and will sometimes play to pass the time.
Tell us about one person who supported you through your studies and powered you along the way.
There are definitely a couple people I could point to, but I need to single out Carey Williamson, who was my co-supervisor through my master's degree. I took a few courses with him in my undergrad and he approached me to apply for an NSERC undergraduate student research award, which gave me the opportunity to get some experience working on a research paper over the summer. He was also the first person to really recommend I apply to a graduate degree and has been immensely helpful and supportive throughout the whole process.
What was the most unexpected or surprising thing you learned in your studies at the University of Calgary?
All through high school and my university application process, I was certain I wanted to study English or history. But, after two years of mixed arts courses I realized that, as much as I enjoyed those courses, I didn't want to base a degree around them. Then my sister — who is right most of the time, and this is no exception — suggested that computer programming would be a good fit. I took a quick look at some intro programming courses on Khan Academy and enrolled in the university's foundational computer science courses. I've been hooked ever since.
What is your favourite physical space on campus? When you come back to visit in years to come, where will you make sure to stop by?
In the basement of Mac Hall, near the aquarium hallway, there's a little nook tucked away between the ramp and the stairs to the main floor. It contains — or did at one point — a pair of very comfortable chairs and has a convenient wall socket nearby. Between classes, whenever it was free, I used to settle into one of the chairs with a tea from Tim Hortons and my laptop to catch up on reading, or work on assignments or just watch stuff on Netflix.
Now what? What’s your next big move?
The immediate next thing is a paper that I'm presenting at the 2021 IEEE MASCOTS conference in November.