Over the past couple of days I have discussed the same topic with multiple people in multiple situations. Scenario 1: I walk in to a conference room in the Packard Building (Packard houses the Department of Electrical Engineering). The person I am to meet is there already with the door wide open and as I walk in the first thing we land up discussing is how “the room needs to be aired out since there were a couple of EE students in there before us”. Scenario 2: We decided to use the Library in the Gates building to host an event. As I walked into the room to start setting up, my first instinct was to open the doors wide open and then proceed to open all the windows to the room. The problem: there were a bunch of CS students working in the library room before hand.
Notice a pattern yet? These are just two of several instances and a problem which seems to repeat itself everyday. In fact, I’ve had conversations with multiple people about this topic already. One particular case I posed as a question about what is the right thing to do in this situation: Lets say a colleague/classmate has a chronic case of bad B.O. (Body Odor). I don’t know if it is from a lack of showering, or lack of using deodorant or maybe even something that is genuinely beyond the individual’s control. What do you do? Do you tell them? How do you tell them? Are you doing them a favor by letting them know that their interpersonal relations and how people react to them is being adversely affected by this problem? Or are you being rude and inconsiderate? What is the correct approach to deal with the issue? Or is the correct approach to not deal with it at all? Or is it a case of you write in in a blog and hope that the people read it!
Computer Science and Electrical Engineerng are disciplines where this problem has become so endemic that it is now a stereotype. I’ve had people tell me that when they walk into the Computer Science building — it smells different. And you know what, I believe it, because every so often I can smell the difference too. Now granted that all of the really smart people working in these really hard disciplines have a lot of thinking and a lot of work to do, but is it too much to ask that people take a shower and learn how to use deodorant/cologne?
(I should put a caveat in here that I have nothing against CS/EE people. I am one of them myself. And that’s why I feel comfortable and picking on them Fortunately, the majority of the people I have encountered do not have this problem. But this maority also recognized a minority of the population that does have this problem — but I am afraid no one may be bold enough to address it and that’s why I felt compelled to write about it.)
When we talk about education, I believe that as educators it is our responsibility to not only educate people about the field, but also to educate them about how to operate in the real world — in the real world where there are other people. Even if you are going to be locked in a room for hours at end, at some point, whether you like it or not you are going to have to come within the 3-5 foot personal bubble of another person (though in some cases you can smell CS/EE people from more than 10 feet away!). So as educators shouldn’t we teach students the importance of personal hygiene? Especially if a problem is common enough that it has turned into a negative stereotype for the field, I would hope that we have enough self-awareness to be able to recognize when there is a problem that has an easy solution.
Maybe when we admit someone into the CS or EE programs we should include a stick of deodorant in their welcome kits and tell them that we not only want you to excel in your field, but also excel as a human being. And this is a very small step in that direction