How did you all meet (at Stellenbosch University)? / How long have you known each other?
I met Josie at my very first day at Stellenbosch University, and Luca shortly after that. We soon realised that we make a good team, as each of us can contribute with different but equally important skills. In our first year of studies, Josie (Josephine) and I already successfully participated in competitions (like the Stellenbosch University Hackathon), and all three of us regularly participate in the Harvard Puzzle Day – a fun online competition that is hosted annually by the CS50 Computer Science course at Harvard University.
You all met up at Stellenbosch University: did you reconnect at the University of Cambridge or have you stayed in contact since your undergraduate studies?
During our undergraduate studies the three of us became very good friends. We knew that we all applied to the MPhil ACS course and kept each other updated about it. We were all fortunate enough to get full scholarships: Josie got the Patrick & Margaret Flanagan scholarship, Luca is a Skye Foundation scholar, and I am a Gates Cambridge scholar. We all moved into Cambridge in late September this year and were a great support to each other when settling in.
When did you decide to sign up as a team for the Cambridge Misinformation Hackathon?
Luca and I found out about the event on the Fresher’s Fair in early October and were immediately interested. An event like this is a great opportunity to put the sometimes quite abstract concepts and ideas that we encounter in our studies to some practical use. We found it particularly appealing that the Cambridge Misinformation Hackathon emphasises interdisciplinary work and encouraged students from various academic fields – not necessarily with a technical background – to participate.
What inspired you to pick the topic of misleading numerical claims in media?
The hackathon was intentionally kept very broad in terms of the topics that we could focus on. When brainstorming potential angles to take, we found it intriguing how statements (or whole articles) can be misleading without actually giving any false information, but just by presenting it in a suggestive way. This observation does not only apply to numbers/numerical claims. Focusing on misleadingly communicated numerical claims allowed us to narrow the problem down to something that can be dealt with more easily from a technical point of view.
Were there any nerves going into the day?
The hackathon took place at a very busy time of the term, so we were all very short on time. We decided to participate anyway, because it seemed like (and proved to be) an opportunity that we did not want to miss out on. It was a one-day event, so the time investment was manageable, but it also meant that we did not have much time to work on the idea that we were about to present. The last hour before handing in our report was particularly stressful, but we managed to finish just in time.
What was your favourite part of the experience?
Apart from the good teamwork, watching the presentations of the other teams were what I enjoyed most. Each team focused on a unique aspect of misinformation, and the proposed solutions ranged from technical ones to policy related approaches. I think the quality of the submissions made it exceptionally difficult for the judges to decide.
What is your preferred specialism in Advanced Computer Science?
The MPhil ACS course is very broad and you can specialise in many different directions. From my undergraduate studies I have a background in pure mathematics, and I am specialising in mathematical foundations of computer science and formal language theory (i.e., the theory of programming languages).
What has been your favourite part of studying at the University of Cambridge?
I really love the collegiate university system, which I am new to. This kind of setup supports students to break out of their departmental bubbles and meet people with very different backgrounds they would not get exposed to otherwise. The exposure to people from all over the world with very different backgrounds and interests is one of the things I have enjoyed most so far in Cambridge.