Computer science professor Hany Farid to leave College for Berkeley

by Abby Mihaly | 4/23/18 2:35am

After 20 years of teaching at the College, computer science chair and professor Hany Farid will leave the College for a position at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently teaching his final course at Dartmouth, but will subsequently stay at the College through next year to ease the transition.

After Farid’s wife, psychology professor Emily Cooper, received a job offer from Berkeley, the couple made the decision to leave the College following long deliberation, he said.

“There are a lot of opportunities, given the scale of Berkeley, for things that I can do there that I’m really excited about,” Farid said.

Farid specializes in digital forensics and image analysis. Some of his most well-known projects have applied computer science to test whether images have been doctored, using his expertise to tackle issues such as crime prevention, child pornography and scientific integrity. But he is perhaps best known to Dartmouth students as one of the professors for the introductory computer science course — Computer Science 1: “Introduction to Programming and Computation.”

Farid said he sees teaching as his way of making a lasting impact. While academics both conduct research and teach students, it is their teaching that will ultimately have the greatest effect on the world, he said.

“Do a good job in the classroom, inspire somebody, change the way they think, you’re affecting the next 50 years of their life,” Farid said.

Moyo Okeremi ’19 said Farid has a way of explaining that ensures students can get something from his classes regardless of their math or computer science background.

“He tries to carry everyone along and simplify things as much as possible,” she said.

Computer science major Amara Gordon ’19 and Okeremi took Computer Science 1 with Farid their freshman year. Gordon said that she and Okeremi often went to Farid’s office hours. Though they initially asked for help in the class, Okeremi and Gordon soon began to have conversations about computer science and the larger tech world.

“It was really interesting to be able to not only learn about the things we talked about in class, but actually be able to apply it to other issues that were broader,” Gordon said.

Julia Dressel ’17 co-authored a paper with Farid on her thesis research examining a risk-management software called COMPAS, short for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions.

She said Farid’s strength in both teaching and research “exemplifies what Dartmouth cares about in a professor: someone who is producing incredible research and really at the top of their field, but really cares about their students and loves undergraduate teaching and really puts so much time and effort into his classes.”

Farid explained that professors often struggle with the tension between research and scholarship, and teaching. Universities, Farid said, often choose one to focus in, either producing a place like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with an emphasis on innovative research, or a place like Williams College, with a focus on teaching.

“[Dartmouth] has ... found a sweet spot … we are not all about the teaching, we are not all about the research, but we try to find a balance. I know it’s a little cliche, but honestly there are very few places that do this well,” said Farid.

Farid added that he was “never a good student,” and it was “never easy” for him to learn, which is what gave him the ability to understand where students may struggle in their learning process.

“I try to think about where are they going to get tripped up, like what’s confusing here,” Farid said, adding that he makes sure to tackle concepts from more than one angle.

At the same time, Farid is a highly respected researcher outside of the classroom. Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering Joseph Helble described Farid as one of the pioneers, if not the pioneer, of the digital forensics field.

Helble described one project, presented at a Thayer Advisory Board meeting, in which Farid analyzed a photo of Lee Harvey Oswold, taken around JFK’s assassination. Though the photo had long been rumored to have been fabricated, Farid proved through detailed digital analysis of shadows and lighting that there was no evidence the photo had been doctored, according to Helble.

He added that Farid is an outstanding professor, researcher and partner to work with.

“He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor, and he is charismatic in a way that is positive and engaging,” Helble said

Helble said Farid had been a huge asset to the new joint building project that will host the College’s computer science department and Thayer.

“It has been for me, genuinely enjoyable — it has been fun to work with him,” Helble said. “He’s just got a very creative mind, there are always ideas being put on the table.”

Biology professor Robertson McClung praised Farid’s excitement for collaborating with professors in other fields of study.

“He elevates people around him because he is so open to new ideas, and so open to collaboration,” McClung said, describing Farid as a “fabulous resource” after collaborating with him to develop a code that allowed McClung and his students to compile and analyze data points surrounding the circadian rhythms of plants at a much faster rate.

One of Farid’s strengths is his ability to present his findings “in a way that immediately breaks a problem down into its most fundamental components and makes it understandable to people who are not technical experts,” Helble said. He added that this skill is unusual among scientists, who are more commonly skilled in publishing findings in scientific literature.

Farid described the decision to leave Dartmouth as an incredibly difficult one.

“I’m pretty loyal to this place,” he said. “The place has been incredibly nurturing, I’ve made my career here.”