Skype Interview with Colin Bucks

I have been recording some of the lectures by Professor Siegel in his Humans and Viruses course.  ”Dr. Bob” had also taught a SOCO course in  September called “Viruses in the News”, which dovetailed with the moment the Ebola epidemic entered the 24 hour news cycle, so it was not surprising that updates to the story became a topic of conversation in his two quarter seminar.  He has taught this course for decades,even had illustrious guests like Paul Berg and Linus Pauling come speak to his students in the early days, but now he can Skype in guests more easily.

Photos from Berkeley’s Visit to the ATS Program

Our guests

  • Quinn Dombrowski, DH Coordinator (Research IT)
  • Patrick Schmitz, Associate Director for Architecture & Development (Research IT)
  • Aaron Culich, Cloud Computing Architect / Berkeley Research Computing Community Coordinator (Research IT)
  • Camille Villa, former Digital Research Assistant (Research IT)
  • Harrison Dekker (Head, Library Data Lab)

The Big Picture and the Long View

Specialists…we live in an age of specialists. Stanford is a land of specialists. We ATSs have it right in the acronym. Specialization is what you need to do groundbreaking research, to keep complex systems running, to fix tough problems quickly.

Reflections on the ATS Program

Recently, the ATS team came together to answer the question: What is our value to Stanford? The Program is quite unique in that we report through the Library, but we have our offices and spend the majority of our time (officially 80%) within the unit (department, program, or center) where we are assigned. This is an unusual but wildly successful program. How does it work? What makes it successful?  We identified eight themes and each wrote individually on one of those themes with the assumption that no single theme could capture the program as a whole. Instead the set of posts together draw a picture of the program that is more than merely the sum of the individual posts.

On Accountability

Each one of us regularly produces written summaries of our day-to-day activities that serve as evidence for our productivity.  Below is a word cloud of my bi-weekly reports for the past year.



In seeking a goal state, one would desire the capacity to be flexible: flexible to respond to changing environments, to drifting perspectives, to technical evolution.  This adaptability operates not only as internal trait, but can also manifest within an organization, with both entities, whole and part, seeing the search space and tracing a path that addresses the immediate need with an eye towards creating a sustainable solution.

The Broad View of Pedagogy: Teaching, Instructional Technology, and the ATS

After so many years of watching other areas reap the benefits of technology, like e-commerce, using new tools to improve education seems to finally be a genuine focus for many people. It is easy to see that the Internet will change education in very profound ways, just like it changes everything. The ability to access information online is as revolutionary as the introduction of printing, book-binding, and libraries, all of which were fundamentally tied to education as well. Even beyond insiders, most people also realize that the promise of instructional technology is not just wide access to famous professors’ lectures, it is something much more important. The opportunities for collaboration, formative and summative assessment, and deep analysis of student progress are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The ATS Service Model

The service provided to the University by the Academic Technology Specialist is one of both creative problem solving and invention within the context of research and/or teaching. It is starkly different from any other service offered within Academic Computing Services and even within the Library as a whole in that the boundaries of the service are not defined centrally within the Library, but within the department, program, or unit within which the ATS works. And even there, the role that the ATS will play is not pre-determined, but shifts and changes according to the needs of the faculty and the opportunities for innovation. What distinguishes the service the ATS provides is the way it marries specialized disciplinary training and broad experiential knowledge. Each ATS has an abiding interest in the domain within which he or she works and often holds a doctoral degree in the discipline. That level of specialization makes it possible for the ATS to engage intellectually in research questions or pedagogical approaches with faculty. Working side by side with faculty across the department on research projects or in the classroom, the ATSes often participate in a wider range of theoretical and methodological conversations within the discipline than even the faculty have the opportunity to do with each other. This puts the ATS in a unique position to act as intellectual conduit or connector as well as problem solver.


One of the unique benefits that ATSes offer departments is our role as problem solvers. Faculty and graduate students approach us with a variety of research and teaching problems, and most require customization for a solution. There is no one-size-fits-all technique. Academic research means tailoring approaches and frameworks that contribute to unique approaches to the questions asked by the researcher. Often, our problem-solving means finding creative solutions to unique issues. We not only bring ideas to problems, but execute on those ideas to help create.

Innovation, Skunkworks, and the ATS Program

Despite our broad range of projects, academic backgrounds, and organizations, one characteristic distinguishes the work of the ATS Program: innovation. That word, as overused as it may be in Silicon Valley (and everywhere else), is at the core of our mission. Our embedded position in departments affords us an autonomy and nimbleness unavailable to others even within our own “home” organization of the Stanford University Libraries (SUL). The ATS Program is like distributed skunkworks responsive to needs of the departments, centers, and other units which we support. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of skunkworks, Bethany Nowviskie describes it well: