Cora Borradaile’s unique style was evident when she interviewed for her position at Oregon State University. During her talk, she needed to point to something out of reach, and without missing a beat she pulled a chair over and stood on it to make her point.
“I’ve never seen a candidate do something like that,” Professor Karti Mayaram says. “I thought, ‘Here is a person who will be resourceful in unfamiliar situations, creative in solving problems, and fun as a teacher.’”
It is not the first time Borradaile has surprised someone.
“When I say I’m a computer scientist, people often raise their eyebrows,” Borradaile says. And she is happy to dissuade them of the stereotypical image of a gamer sitting in front of a computer all night typing out code.
In fact, she rarely writes code. “I’m a theoretical mathematician, who happens to work on problems that are interesting to computer scientists,” she explains. “I am particularly interested in graph algorithms — solving a problem where the input is a graph.
Imagine a network of intersections and connecting lines, such as a road map. The network of roads would be the graph, and the problem could be designing an efficient bike route.
It’s the kind of thing she daydreams about while getting herself to work — by bike. She proudly does not own a car. And being car-free can create some interesting puzzles to solve — the watermelon problem, for example.
Cora Borradaile proudly does not own a car and bikes everywhere she goes, for practical purposes as well as for pleasure.
So, if you bring a watermelon bike-camping, and you didn’t carry anything with you to wrap up the leftovers in, what is the best way to cut it?
She explores this question in her blog, alongside more serious math theory topics — adding a woman's voice to theory computer science blogs in order to raise the profile of female computer scientists.
Borradaile looks forward to passing on her passion for problem solving through mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. In her graduate algorithms class she will be challenging students with some classic problems that companies like Google and Microsoft ask in job interviews.
“This problem-solving aspect to computer science is really important for all the students to learn, not just the ones that will go on in theoretical computer science,” she says.
And standing on a chair was not the only thing that impressed Mayaram about Borradaile, “The way she presented her work could understand it even as an outsider. So, I knew she would be an exceptional and inspirational teacher.”
—By Rachel Robertson