Davey Does Harvard

categories: Cocktail Hour


At my tenth college reunion I was an unemployed, unpublished ultimate Frisbee player. So it was kind of a big deal for me that on my thritieth I was one of five professors in my class of 1983 who were invited to give talks modelled on the Ted Talks and Harvard Thinks Big.


I was pretty nervous about it but it turned out to be a blast. It might be my favorite talk ever, and defintely to the most receptive audience I have ever had.  It helps when everyone is exactly the same age with the same frame of reference. 


The audio was good in the room, but not so great here. We were each asked to speak for ten minutes. Shockingly, I went long.  Here is the talk:



 I was honored to be in the company of four other speakers, all great, and all incredibly accomplished. Below are the program notes and bios: 

1983 Thinks Big:  5 for 10

Friday, September 27, 2013, 1:30–2:45 p.m., Science Center D

Modeled on Harvard Thinks Big and Ted Talks, five classmates who are professors in various fields and at various universities each give a 10-minute talk on their work and ideas. 

The Five Talks (presentation order):

Obesity and Diabetes:  The Science of the Epidemic

Tony Hollenberg, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical Investigator Training Program, Harvard Medical School; and Chief of Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

From Nasty to Normal:  Reframing the Study of Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality

Deborah L. Tolman, Professor of Social Welfare and Critical Social Psychology at the Hunter College School of Social Work and The Graduate Center of The City University of New York


Cosmopolitanism and the Liberal Arts

Cyrus Patell, Associate Professor of English at New York University and Visiting Associate Professor of Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi


Automatically Scalable Computation (or “Why don’t my programs run any faster now than they did in 2003?”)

Margo Seltzer, Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, and Architect, Oracle Corporation


The Evolution of a Career

David Gessner, Professor of Creative Writing, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Writer


The Five Bios (alphabetical order):

David Gessner is the author of eight books, including Return of the Osprey, Sick of Nature, My Green Manifesto, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and the Association for Study of Literature and the Environment’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012. He has published essays in many magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading.  He taught Environmental Writing as a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard, and is currently a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he founded the award-winning literary journal of place, Ecotone. He is currently working on Properly Wild, about following the ghosts of Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey around the American West.    He also puts a lot of energy into Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour, a website he created with the writer Bill Roorbach.  He still dreams of winning the national championship in ultimate Frisbee, but knows it will never happen.

Tony Hollenberg received his M.D. from the University of Calgary in Canada.  He completed his Internal Medicine residency in 1989, then completed a fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1993, and was recruited back to Beth Israel to start his laboratory.  As Chief of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Dr. Hollenberg leads a Division that is internationally recognized for its superb clinical care and research. Dr. Hollenberg’s own research focuses on the hormonal regulation of metabolism, with a particular emphasis on the role of thyroid hormone.  His work has important ramifications for the regulation of body weight and metabolism.  Tony is also Director of the Clinical Investigator Training Program at HMS, one of the country’s most important efforts in training the next generation of clinical/translational investigators.

Cyrus Patell is a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, and is presently a visiting professor of literature at NYU’s new campus in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. His recent scholarship and teaching has centered on the theory and practice of cosmopolitanism and on the literature and culture of New York City. He has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Undergraduate Honors for the English Department at NYU.  From 2010-2013, Cyrus was the Associate Dean of Humanities for NYU Abu Dhabi.  At NYU Abu Dhabi, Cyrus teaches a variety of courses including “Foundations of Literature I & II,” “The Cosmopolitan Imagination,” “Speculative Fiction,” “Classic American Literature,” and “Global Shakespeare.” He is a two-time winner of the Golden Dozen Award for Undergraduate Teaching and is a recipient of NYU’s highest pedagogical award, the Distinguished Teaching Award. Recent publications include The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York City (co-edited with Bryan Waterman) and The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls (Continuum). A new study, Marginal, Emergent, Cosmopolitan: An Introduction to U.S. Emergent Literatures after 1968, is forthcoming from NYU Press. Cyrus is presently at work on a manuscript entitled “Cosmopolitanism and the Literary Imagination” and is co-editing (with Deborah Lindsay Williams) volume eight of the twelve-volume Oxford History of the Novel in English (general editor Patrick Parrinder) on the American novel after 1940.  Patell holds a Ph.D. in English and American literature and language from Harvard University. He blogs regularly at http://www.patell.org and http://www.ahistoryofnewyork.com

Margo Seltzer‘s research interests include provenance, file systems, databases, transaction processing systems, and applying technology to problems in healthcare.  She is the author of several widely-used software packages including database and transaction libraries and the 4.4BSD log-structured file system.  Margo was a founder and CTO of Sleepycat Software, the makers of Berkeley DB, and is now an Architect at Oracle Corporation. She is currently the President of the USENIX Association and a member of the Computing Research Association’s Board of Directors.  Margo is a Sloan Foundation Fellow in Computer Science, an ACM Fellow, a Bunting Fellow, and was the recipient of the 1996 Radcliffe Junior Faculty Fellowship.  She is recognized as an outstanding teacher and mentor, having received the Phi Beta Kappa teaching award in 1996, the Abrahmson Teaching Award in 1999, and the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising in 2010.  In addition to her A.B. degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard, Margo also earned a Ph. D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1992.


Deborah L. Tolman is an applied developmental and social psychologist.  She is a feminist scholar who studies constructions of gender and experiences of sexuality among adolescent girls using an array of research methods. Before joining CUNY, Tolman was founding director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University and Professor of Sexuality Studies at SFSU. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, co-author of the APA’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls, and author of 60+ peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and five books, including Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality, which won the 2003 Distinguished Book Award from the Association for Women in Psychology. Tolman earned her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1992.  She is the co-founder of SPARK Movement (www.sparkmovement.org), a girl-fueled, intergenerational movement building organization challenging the sexualization of girls.  She lives in New York City with her husband, Luis Ubiñas (Class of 1985), and, like most feminist psychologists, has two sons, Maximilian (Class of 2017) and Benjamin (Collegiate School, Class of 2015).







  1. Carol de Gramont writes:

    Absolutely fantastic, David! So interesting and funny. I laughed along with your

    appreciative audience. Bravo! And now I’m going to watch it all over again.

  2. George de Gramont writes:

    All of a sudden today I just received 10 Bill & Dave’s . And am i glad I did. I got to see your wonderful blog “Dave does Harvard”. Spectacular and I am in awe of your not using any notes.You are a born performer! And the response you got proves it. GdG.

  3. Richard Gilbert writes:

    Very enjoyable, Dave. I couldn’t help but grimace-smile at your tale of being dissed by students—misery loves company. What college teacher has not had that humbling if not humiliating experience!

  4. monica wood writes:

    David, this is wonderful. So entertaining and theatrical, and yet endearingly sincere. Outta the park, baby.

    • dave writes:

      My roommate’s nephew was there and we all went out for beers after. His first words were “You burned the place down.” That made me happy.

  5. james campbell writes: