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Mike Kirby

Alumni Profile: Mike Kirby

The football games, the circus, the expansive and beautiful campus-some of the most memorable aspects of being a Florida State University student. Another aspect, rarely thought of, is the smell. How- ever, the smell of the union on Market Wednesdays is precisely what FSU alumnus Professor Mike Kirby reflects on when asked about his fondest memories of FSU. "It's the little things," he says, as he sifts through his memories. He also remembers the rule that "if you didn't bring an umbrella, it was guaranteed to rain," and the many concerts he attended-hosted by the music school (where his college sweetheart and wife was a student).

Now Kirby is a faculty member at the University of Utah, holding the positions of Director of Graduate Studies for the school of computing, Director of Scientific Computing Track and Computing Degree Program, and Adjunct Associate Professor for the departments of Bioengineering and Mathematics. Before arriving at the University of Utah, Kirby studied at Florida State,where he achieved a Bachelor of Science degree in the majors of Applied Mathematics and Computer and Information Sciences. He recalls the privilege of being allowed to take 176 course hours during his time at FSU, all while balancing 30-hour work weeks, and explains he is happy he began in Tallahassee because "FSU had faculty who were hungry for interaction." His undergraduate studies followed a chaotic path, shifting from pure math, to real analysis sequence, to computer science, then applied math, and finally numerical analysis. While strenuous, his course loads and efforts were aimed at a goal he'd had in place since he was a teenager: becoming a faculty member.

FSU had faculty who were hungry for interactionMike Kirby on choosing Florida State

After graduating Summa Cum Laude, Kirby joined the ranks of Brown University in the Master's program of Applied Mathematics under the supervision (and as the research assistant) of George Em Karniadakis. One of the things Kirby appreciated most about Brown was that "as you arrived, you were on a first name basis with faculty." He says, "They treated you as if they could see what you would be." Kirby remained at Brown to acquire a Master of Science degree in Computer Science; he reflected on fond memories of the grad student pub, and working alone from, say, seven to nine o'clock, then coming and working "together" as everyone relaxed at the pub from nine to midnight. After completing the Master's programs in his two fields, Kirby continued in his studies, receiving his PhD in Applied Mathematics, and developed an intuition for mentoring and instructing, an experience that made him unique in his area.

Mentoring in England

While journeying through his career, Kirby says that his favorite part was the experience of teaching and mentoring PhD students at Cambridge in England while on sabbatical. There he recognized a difference in PhD students, saying, "what distinguishes a PhD student is that they can learn anything on their own, but it's interesting to see a PhD student go back to undergrad material with new understanding." As a professor in two departments and a mentor of graduate students at the University of Utah, he's built his teaching philosophy upon thorough experience: "stretching students slightly beyond what they think they can do, but not until they break." This mentality has contributed to his current research interests and projects.

At the University of Utah, Professor Kirby is surrounded by a wide spectrum of undergraduate students but finds that because of this, more of his time is spent mentoring and finding "diamonds in the rough." He says that what distinguishes this school is that, although a state school, the University of Utah fosters a family-like atmosphere. And even with a limited budget as compared to FSU, he's attracted to the way energy is spent there, as well as the space to expand without the judgment. His current research interests involve material science and teaching himself new areas in his field. Kirby's strong critical thinking abilities have assisted him in his endeavor to invest his time in a variety of projects. One of the most prominent of these research endeavors is a CRA (Cooperative Research Agreement) with the army; they are funding a project to help create an energy-efficient soldier. Other projects involve visualization of high order methods and mapping algorithms.

Professor Kirby emphasizes that he is thrilled with his career choice and is happy going to work each day; he volunteers that his wife thinks he has too much fun for it to be considered work. It is clear that this FSU alumnus left Tallahassee with a bright future - a concrete source of education to grow upon, a flourishing marriage, and because of so many dates to concerts, the knowledge that he dislikes flutes alone, finding that "the orchestra masks sounds you don't want to hear."