A Q&A with Honors Computer Science and Mathematics Major Christina Trexler
Sophomore Majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics
2018 Honors College Bodenhamer Fellow
In this conversation, Trexler talks about studying the computational neuroscience component of artificial intelligence, gearing up for the MIT Summer Research Program, the amazing professors she’s had, her experience being Honors College Student Dean for A Day, trying classes and experiences outside her degree path, tackling “imposter syndrome,” and her new-found love of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I am very passionate about the future of computing technology, and I am specifically interested in the computational neuroscience component of artificial intelligence.
In order for artificial intelligence to become more human-like, we need to discover how humans derive, process, and understand information, and design machines which mimic these characteristics.
One of the most interesting areas of this type is the study of how humans derive information from sound. This is why I contacted Dr. Josh McDermott at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an interest in his Computational Audition laboratory, and he agreed that I should apply to work in his lab through the MIT Summer Research Program in collaboration with the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines.
In the future I would like to extend this interest to the research of brain to computer and brain to brain interface technology. I, along with many others, believe that the next big technological revolution is bound to come with these extremely high bandwidth machines. Though these interfaces are still in their infant stages, at the rate of which technology advances in the modern age, I expect to be conducting my graduate studies through the truth birth and expansion of this technology. Thus, when I obtain my Ph.D., I will have gained an expertise and authority to help guide them in the right direction, through my own academic research, to improve humanity.
I am very excited to have been accepted to MIT’s research program and I am eager to take my first steps toward contributing to the field of computational neuroscience.
Though I’m still early in my undergraduate career, the computer science and mathematics courses I have taken and will continue to take at the University of Arkansas are crucial as they supply me with the skills and background knowledge I need to succeed in this area.
I am affiliated with Fulbright College through my major in Mathematics, which I have actually had from the start of my undergraduate career before adding Computer Science through the College of Engineering. Thus, I have been a proud member of Fulbright College throughout the four semesters I have attended the University of Arkansas.
My favorite part about my time here has been getting to know the different instructors and majors within the math department. It’s somewhat rare in my day to day life to encounter someone who gets as excited about math as I do, so it’s a very unique and fun dynamic to be around these people.
I was lucky enough to have Dr. Goodman-Strauss as a professor for three consecutive semesters, and it was extremely refreshing to see his passion for the field. He takes the award for coolest office because his office is covered in mathematical artwork.
Q: What has your favorite class been so far and why?
It’s super hard to pick a favorite class because I have thoroughly enjoyed each class I’ve taken within Fulbright College. Every single one of my math courses have been super fun.
I actually took Organic Chemistry 1 before I decided to major in Computer Science, because my initial plan was Chemical Engineering, and it was surprisingly one of my favorite courses.
I thought drawing the different chemical structures was super fun and it forced me to use learning strategies that I don’t use as often in my math courses.
Definitely leave room in your schedule to try out courses that may be outside of your degree path.
Fulbright College offers so many interesting classes and there’s no reason to restrict yourself from taking a class you’re interested in purely because it’s outside of your major. You might discover something you love.
Also, don’t be afraid to have big goals as a freshman.
For some reason, I had bad imposter syndrome coming into college and told myself I should “wait until next year” to apply for leadership positions, research, or competitions. Luckily, one of my mentors gave me this advice early, so I pushed myself freshman year.
To my surprise, I became Student Dean of the Honors College, got accepted to a research lab on campus as well as a summer research experience at Vanderbilt University, and won the Planet Forward Storyfest competition and the Summer Science Academy 17th Annual Research Symposium poster competition all during my freshman year.
I actually don’t have as much time to pursue these things now that my coursework is more difficult, so I’m very glad I did.
It’s very important to me to try to balance my time in and out of the university. Because I struggle with this balance sometimes, I try to have at least one main activity outside of academia that I can devote time to doing every day.
Last year I would rock climb and hike a lot, but this year I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I absolutely fell in love with the sport, and if I’m not at the university, there’s a 90% chance I am at the gym.
Q: When do you anticipate graduating, and what’s up next on the horizon for you?
I will be graduating in May of 2022, so I have some time left. Like I previously mentioned, my current plan is to attend graduate school and study computational neuroscience, perhaps in a field specifically related to brain-computer-interface technology.
However, I’m keeping an open mind because I have two more years of undergrad, and I know that two years ago from now my plan was nothing like it is now. I’m excited to see what my future holds.
I’m definitely not in a place where I can give general statements of “wisdom” about life or even college, but I have had my fair share of experiences.
I’m not sure who will be reading this, but if anyone, especially prospective undergraduate students, have any questions about undergraduate research or need some “college-advice-for-dummies,” please feel free to reach out to me!