I have become an RA & TA in January. While being an RA was immensely beneficial, I have my doubts with being a TA.

Being a Research Assistant

I spent a significant time of the semester and the whole summer on Türk Telekom's D4R Challenge in the team gathered by my thesis advisor. I do not know if we will have a success, but I learned so much (especially from a GIS perspective) and became fluent in R while also improving my Python skills. Some of the things I was occupied with include web scraping various data, matching geographical data using ArcMap, matching seemingly non-matching datasets by writing multi-step fuzzy matching algorithms to work with location names, data analysis, data visualization, creating interactive reports using Shiny, and maniacally proofreading things (I think it was sometimes annoying for the others). Some of the things were cut due to the page limit, but I really appreciate the experience. Meanwhile, I could not find time to update my Facebook Messenger bot, update my Chrome extension, and complete the niche and location-based social network application I was developing. It is hard to have personal projects while working and studying.

Update: We have won the honorable mention award in labor category! There were one first prize for each of the five categories and one honorable mention for two of them. I have mentioned this in my new blog post.

Being a Teaching Assistant

Apart from a computer literacy course given to all the undergraduates, since our institute only offers graduate courses, the students I helped/evaluated as a TA were all graduate students. Despite being the top student (as far as I know) in Introduction to Software Engineering course before, the fact that I had taken the course only a year ago and I had not developed myself in that area ever since then was making me question my competence to be a TA. Many of the students had more formal and/or practical experience than I had as well (although most of them were not that successful with the assignments). Anyway, this caused me to write the longest feedback reports I have ever seen not primarily because I wanted students to get better but because I used the detailed feedbacks to compare the students and grade fairly. It turns out crawling various resources to establish some standards, creating grading criteria, grading people while also comparing everyone's subtotals at every step, and giving feedback takes a lot of time. Although I think I made a decent job, giving this kind of important job to relatively inexperienced people who have not mastered the subject is also unfair to the students (this also gave me an idea about why I had aced the exams prepared by the instructor while getting low grades from the assignments prepared by the TA in a different course). Having this paradigm shift and unavoidable inconsistencies between the instructor and the TA make the students uneasy.

Other than the Introduction to Software Engineering, this semester I am also assigned to Software Design Patterns although I had voiced my concerns about not internalizing the subject, not having a very good grade from it, and not having a special interest. Now that I should deeply understand the subject, it seems like it will be a very busy semester and I will not be able to take Social Network Analysis course as an extra. I admit that the job pays well in Turkey's conditions, but this workload creates a conflict of interest with my educational goals, which is frustrating. Also, being a TA seems much less efficient compared to being an RA, considering the learning outcomes. Too bad we cannot choose between being a TA and being an RA. Also, I have some doubts about how the workload is being distributed among the research assistants.

Moving the website and keeping up with the rules

I finally moved my website from a shared hosting to a VPS. I can now use the latest versions of PHP and even deploy Python stuff. There are still things I should do to optimize the loading time, but it already got much faster. Moving the WordPress stuff was not as cumbersome as I feared as well. I actually considered ditching WordPress, designing an online CV, and using Medium for the blog posts, but I learned that Medium no longer supports custom domains and I do not want to spend time to alter something that already does its job. Also, my blog posts are mostly not particularly interesting, they are bits of thoughts and personal news that may or may not be interesting for people who are interested in me. For now, I will be sticking to WordPress.

Even the smallest projects are not that commitment-free. Google changes some stuff and I have to comply with them to make them re-publish my mobile apps. I have just created some privacy policy pages for my apps. I should tweak some stuff in my Google Chrome extension as well, due to a feature relying on a third party product. Facebook makes some changes with the API and I have to update my Messenger bot. Worst of all, Google changed its Maps API use limits in June, essentially making it impossible to create a service/collect data using it without paying a couple hundred dollars. I was collecting certain types of nearby locations for the D4R Challenge I mentioned above, and I realized that I owed Google $202 within couple hours of use (even deducing the $200 free credit they gave). Considering the exchange rates, I paid them more than 1300 TL (about $40 cheaper than the minimum wage in Turkey), which is huge, but I was afraid they could ban me and other accounts that they could easily associate with me from using their services. Google's image in my mind is certainly less positive now. Anyway, keeping something up over the years can be pretty challenging if it relies on third parties, especially if you keep coming with other new ideas that you want to implement. I could use some free time.

Irrelevant fun fact

A literal translation of my full name is "Unique/Genuine (Özgün) Bard/Shaman (Ozan) Sword (Kılıç)." However, it turns out I am not that "unique." I came across a young woman on the Internet that has the same unisex name that I have: Özgün. We also shared the same last name, so I decided to casually stalk her a bit. She has a similar, design-focused interdisciplinary background and she works with data! Moreover, I was surprised that she writes on her web page: "Thinking like a scientist, tinkering like an artist." This motto is somewhat similar to my own, "engineer's mind, designer's eye, artist's soul." Also, her niece's name is "Leyla," the name my girlfriend I gave to the cat we accidentally adopted. Interesting.