The SACM Student COW (Choose Of Wisconsin) Award

This award goes annually to the best teaching faculty in the department, as voted on by the students. Each CS student, either graduate or undergrad, is allowed one vote. The criteria is "classroom teaching" only, NOT advising, NOT research. The award is supposed to be fun, hence the nickname "the cow award", but at the same time, it is a serious acknowledgement of good teaching.

The winner of the COW Award for 2021 is Prof Mike Swift!

2020 Cow Award Speech for Shivaram Venkataraman

Prof. Shivaram received more than twice as many votes as the runner-up! In Fall 2019, he taught CS 744, Big Data Systems, and this Spring, he taught CS 537 undergraduate OS.

Two students specifically mentioned enjoying his Big Data class. In the spirit of “less is more,” another student said “awesome OS faculty.” Another student said simply “Excellent teaching style!”

2018 Cow Award Speech for Remzi Arpaci Dusseau and Mike Swift

Comments for Remzi Arpaci Dusseau

Remzi is a phenomenal speaker who knows what he is talking about. He makes class fun with his humor, and presents information in a way that makes it understandable.Very knowledgable doesn't make us buy his textbook, website is very easy to use.

Remzi has changed the way that I approach research and solve problems in numerous ways. He has led me to think more critically about all things that I measure and has taught me about supporting my beliefs and communicating about my findings.

Remzi has been the best professor I've had yet for a Computer Science course. The combination of the resources he provides and the many student assistants and TAs the the course demands, I've learned a great deal and am now considering graduate school.

Professor Arpaci-Dusseau has inspired me to pursue a career in operating systems and file systems. He clearly has a dedication to teaching and genuinely cares about his students. Great teaching style, as well. Definitely the best teacher I have ever had!

2018 COW Award comments for Mike Swift

Prof Swift's teaching methodology is quite effective. His reasonings and explanation of OS concepts were truely helpful and helped built core concepts.All in all, CS536 taught by him was a fun and enlightening class to be in.

Most understanding, responsive, and helpful CS professor I've had. Professor Swift definitely tried his hardest to make CS 537 a great class, and I appreciate that a ton.

He is a great professor who was always open to listen to my classmate's and my questions. He has been helpful in addition since he has helped with questions about graduate school and beyond.

Best. Prof. Ever.

2017 Cow Award Speech for Aditya Akella

Excellent teacher. Great explanations. Honest about expertise. Sense of humor has improved vastly.

Aditya Akella is god.

Great professor!! I love learning about networks from him.

The best no nonsense professor I had the fortune to take a class under Excellent teaching in CS838 - an advanced graduate course.

Took CS 838 last semester. One of the best courses I've ever had :)

Amazing lecturer - taken both big data and networks this semester

Awesome teacher

Best. Prof. Ever.

1997 Cow Award Speech for Bart Miller

This year's students have spoken, and they have spoken loudly. Two professors both received more votes than in any other year I've seen. The winner, setting a recent and perhaps all-time record for votes, is Bart Miller. I had the excellent privilege of having Bart for 736. The class was one of the most interactive I've ever had, with Bart encouraging participation and fostering discussion every step of the way. In addition to teaching me much about operating systems, he also emphatically taught me the importance of being on-time, one day when I was late to class. Outside of the classroom, his efforts with our undergraduates, specifically the UPL, are widely appreciated. So it is both my privilege and my personal joy to present this year's COW award to Bart Miller. Congratulations.
Last modified: Fri May 2 17:24:00 CDT 1997 by Doug Burger

1996 Cow Award Speech for Anne Condo

Friends, faculty, and honorable, handsome, loving, wonderful members of my prelim committee:

Each year, graduates and undergraduates alike raise their voices to select one professor who has shone especially brilliantly from the brightly lit sky of talent that is our department.

The students choose a teacher - someone who has enhanced the richness that is the collective mind of humanity.

The students chose someone with compassion - gladly willing to spend additional time on a pursuit that brings neither international recognition nor the green of the grant.

The students chose someone with patience, for conferring knowledge becomes harder as your own knowledge becomes greater.

The students chose someone with empathy - for to teach someone, you must understand them.

This year, the students chose Anne Condon. Congratulations!
Last modified: Tue May 2 08:36:00 CDT 1996 by Doug Burger

1995 Cow Award Speech for David Wood

Fellow humans, and distinguished members of the faculty:

On this beautiful Wisconsin spring day, it is both my privilege and my honor to present the winner of the Student Association of Computing Machinery COW Award. This award, determined by the students, serves a dual purpose. It gives the SACM President something useful to do once a year, and, more importantly, it provides the students with a voice for recognizing excellence in teaching.

Twenty-three out of our thirty-something faculty members received votes this year. Given the percentages of people that vote in American elections, this result is a testament to the high quantity of teaching aptitude that exists in our department. The top four vote-getters have been invited to this ceremony. They are: Michael Carey, Charles Fisher, Yannis Ioannidis, and David Wood. Both Dr. Fisher and Dr. Ioannidis have won the award in recent years. Their consistently high performance clearly shows the esteem in which they are held by their students.

Before presenting the COW award, I would like to read a letter recommending the winner, written by a student, which shows the impact that quality teaching can have.

Dear SACM:

I would like to recommend (David Wood) for the SACM Cow Award. He is an excellent teacher, both in and out of the classroom. When I first took his class, my life was an endless succession of dreary days. I was sickly, unattractive, and regularly tormented by my peers. (Dr. Wood) changed all that. His class gave me the confidence needed to revamp my sorry excuse for a life and turn it into something better. One recent day, walking back from the CS building, three large kinesiology students approached me with menacing expressions. I challenged them to beat me at minimizing the area required for a VLSI 4-bit adder layout. When they saw that my design required 13.5% less chip area than their best, not only did they stop picking on me, they eventually became my fast friends.

It is the rare educator who can express difficult concepts in such a manner as to enlighten even the densest of students. His willingness to dose his body with massive quantities of caffeine--simply to improve the flow of information to his students--speaks of his dedication. Woe to the fool who drifts off to sleep and misses even a single minute of his erudite expoundings. Let me conclude by saying that this professor is a wonderful teacher well deserving of recognition. It is my deepest hope that he receives the COW award and subsequently reconsiders my grade.


W. Gosset

The COW award consists of a travelling COW trophy, an imminently framed certificate, an entry in the departmental award case, and undoubtedly the admiration of your peers. This year's COW award goes to the department's worst assistant professor, who also happens to be the department's best assistant professor -- David Wood. Congratulations.

Last modified: Tue Jan 23 15:43:00 CDT 1996 by Doug Burger

1997 CUD Award Speech for Yannis Ioannidis

Now that we've gotten down to serious business, I'd like to do a little something extra.

The other professor that received a large block of votes this year is Yannis Ioannidis. When I started as president, Yannis had already won the award twice. In these past three years, although he hasn't won the actual award, he has been one of the top two or three vote getters *every* year. He has therefore been a COW contender more than four times. Such perennially strong performance deserves formal recognition, and I would therefore like to present a special award to Yannis.

We all know, being good dairy state residents, that a COW has four stomachs. Such a creature is called a ruminant, and the four stomachs are called the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and the abomasum. With that in mind, I'd like to say a few words about Yannis.

He ruminants hard about each lecture, and his veal for teaching is obvious. Students say that you calve to take his class, because you can milk him for so much knowledge. Furthermore, he always leaves rumen his heart for his students, and he never reticules them. This is no bull, he always does his bessy. One undergraduate went so far as to say "dude, he's omasum."

So without further moo, I'd like to present the SACM Continuous Uddercator of Distinction award to Yannis Ioannidis.

Yannis, having been regurgitated by the students more than four times in the past decade, SACM presents to you the Decade CUD award. Congratulations.

Last modified: Tue May 2 17:25:00 CDT 1997 by Doug Burger

Graduate Student Transition Information

Now that you have made the easy, obvious choice to join the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Computer Sciences graduate program, it is time to think about starting your new life. This can be difficult, but your fellow peers who came before you would like to help make the transition to Madison and graduate life a little easier.
  • Getting to Madison

    NOTE: If you are coming to Madison for the Department Welcome Weekend (usually held in early March), DO NOT BOOK ANYTHING without first consulting the guidelines from the department. Otherwise, you may not be able to get reimbursed.

    If you choose to fly, you have several options to choose from. Use a flight search aggregator like Kayak or Bing Travel (or others) to search multiple airport codes at once. Be sure to factor in the cost of the bus trip when selecting the best-value airport!

    To get to campus from the Dane County Regional Airport, you can take a taxi (~$20). There should be several cabs waiting at a stand on the north end of the terminal. Just in case, companies are listed below. You can also take the city bus, Madison Metro bus, from the airport to where you are staying. Some hotels also have an airport shuttle service.

    • Badger Cab: 608-256-5566
    • Union Cab: 608-242-2000
    • Madison Taxi: 608-255-8294

    All of the intercity bus services from outside Madison will drop you off on N Lake Street (in the heart of campus). The Union has a Essentials Desk that also sells one-way and round trip bus tickets at a discount for UW students.

    From Chicago, at the O'Hare airport, buses depart from the international terminal (Terminal doorway 5E, lower level) and the Bus/Shuttle Center (follow signs from domestic arrivals). You can take the Van Galder which has regular trips between Chicago's O'Hare airport and the UW-Madison's Memorial Union. Note that some buses also originate from the train station downtown if you come in via Midway Airport or Amtrak. These are affordable luxury buses that are comfortable and convenient.

    Note to international students: When planning on what bus to take, allow about an hour and a half after your flight lands for immigration and customs. It is recommended that you carry some cash with you.

    If you are busing to Madison from elsewhere in the Midwest, there are several bus services that offer trips from various cities. Most notably, Van Galder and Megabus serve downtown Chicago, and Megabus serves Minneapolis, MN. For more cities served by bus service, check out WisDOT's intercity bus service page.

  • Where to Live

    Your first concern is probably where you will live in the fall. Most leases for student housing in Madison run from August 15th to August 14th of the next year. The best time to look for housing is during the spring or early summer. You might still be able to find some decent places to live at the last minute, but we don't recommend that approach especially since most of Madison will be moving a couple weeks around August 15th.

    CS graduate students live all over the place, and have a wide range of living expenses. Living close to campus has the advantage that you're at the center of life, and the disadvantage that the houses are not as nice and the rents are high. If you are willing to live further from campus and commute (students get free bus passes to ride on any of the madison metro buses) you can pay much less for a nicer place. There's almost no parking close to the department, but there are very good bus connections to many areas away from campus. So it all depends on what is important to you.

    The ballpark price for efficiencies (a small usually furnished apartment with minimal kitchen and bath facilities), 1 bedroom and 2 bedrooms are roughly around $700, $1000 and $1200, respectively (but again, it varies a lot). You want to make sure that heat (and other utilities) are included in your rent, if not, account the cost of them into your monthly rent. If you would like to look for a roommate amongst incoming grads in CS you can use the gradchat mailing list.

    If you know of a particular area where you would like to live, I suggest that you look for advertisements and contact phone numbers in that area to schedule a visit. If not, one of the easiest ways to find a place to live is to check the Campus Area Housing Listing Service through the Visitors & Information Programs especially their Most Frequently Asked Question About Finding Housing in Madison. The Isthmus and The Capital Times are also good sources. Alternative options are the university's housing, apartments, and cooperatives (or a more comprehensive Madison Community Coop listing).

    For those of you who don't have very much time to look for housing, contact property managers (especially if you can get a recommendation of a good landlord) of places you are interested in and schedule a meeting with them. If you don't like that particular place, give the property manager a description of the type of place you are looking for and he or she may be able to tell you if they manage a place like that or not.

    Once you have found an apartment, you have to sign a lease and pay a security deposit. Read all the clauses carefully. Some of the apartments do not have heating, electricity and water charges (utilities) included in the rent. Many of them are not furnished, so check for all these things before you sign the lease. If you need to furnish your apartment, you can get decent furniture for a low cost at St. Vincent de Paul Stores. You might also want to check for the availability of laundry facilities and the proximity to local bus routes and grocery stores. You can also find lots of discarded furniture after moving day; people often throw away oldish (but reasonable) furniture to avoid the cost of moving them.

  • Finding Your Way Around Madison

    Once you have moved in to a place in Madison, there are a few administrative things you might want to get done. Google Maps is pretty helpful for finding walking, biking, or busing directions.

    During the spring, summer, and fall, the weather is beautiful, and walking/biking is a great option. It will also help you to get familiar with campus. During the winter, busing can be a great alternative.

    You can get a free ASM Bus Pass that gives you free access to all of the Madison Metro buses. If you do not yet have a bus pass, note that busses 80, 81, and 82 are free.

    For location of buildings and departments, refer to the campus maps. Campus Maps are also available at the Memorial Union and Union South. For department-related help, Graduate Student Coordinator Angela Thorp is the best resource. You can also ask other students for help.

    For those who will be in Madison early, i.e. anytime before the CS orientation day, we would especially encourage you to use the gradchat mailing list (see next section) to communicate with other students to organize things to do or explore the city together. This should help you get to know your peers and places around Madison since many of you will be in a similar situation (alone in a strange place).

  • Transition Checklist
    1. Search for an Apartment (see above)

    2. Electricity and other utilities: Before you move into your appartment, make sure to make arrangements throught an energy provider for electricity and/or gas if your landlord does not pay those utilities. Ask your landlord for more information. It is most likely Madison Gas and Electric. Some places include limited internet service in rent, but otherwise, you will need to buy service from an ISP. Research your options - it may depend on factors such as cost, whether you want telephone and/or cable/satellite. Spectrum, AT&T, and TDS all offer service in different parts of Madison, though not all offer cable broadband.

    3. Register for Courses: Newly admitted graduate students will receive an email about enrolling for classes from the Registrar's office approximately six weeks prior to the start of the semester. If you are new to UW-Madison, you will not be able to access the My UW Portal or activate your NetID until you have received this enrollment invitation. If you did not receive an email by July 15, please contact Angela Thorp.

      To choose courses, refer to the Course Search tool on theStudent Portal. You can add and drop courses for several weeks after the start of classes, but be aware that some might get filled up quickly. You can look here for more info about each course, as well as to get a rough idea of how often they are taught.

    4. UW ID card (WisCard): Once you have registered, you can get your UW ID Card. It will be issued at Union South in the WisCard office next to the bank. Go to the WisCard website for requirements. Your UW ID is required for almost all university services.

    5. Get Your Free Bus Pass: Once you have your UW ID card, get your free Madison Metro Bus Pass (UW-Madison students are eligible for a free bus pass). You will be able to pick up your bus pass at the Memorial Union or Union South during start of the semester, and at Memorial Union or the Student Activities Center at any later point. Bring your valid WisCard. Watch for emails about when to pick these up - they are usually distributed about a week before the start of classes. Go to the ASM website for more information. You will need to pick up a new bus pass each semester.

    6. Getting Around: You can use the Madison Metro Bus). Cabs can be used for longer distances (Badger Cab: 256-5566, Union Cab: 242-2000 or Madison Taxi: 255-8294)

    7. International Students Services (ISS): For internation students, this is an important resource. They can help you with things related to taxes and OPT/CPT. They are located in the Red Gymn near Memorial Union.

    8. Social Security Number (SSN): Every student needs a SSN. This serves as your primary ID number to the US government. Keep it secret! You can apply for one by going to the Social Security Administration Office. Be sure to bring appropriate documentation. You can find the address of the office here.

    9. Bank Account: You may open a bank account at theUW Credit Union. There is a branch in Union South, and multiple other branches around town. It is probably the most convenient bank, but you could shop around for other banks. Feel free to ask on gradchat.

    10. Shopping: There are a lot of options for grocery shopping, with tradeoffs between cost and convenience. On/near campus, there are Madison Fresh Market and Trader Joes. If you take a bus (~15 minutes) to Hilldale Mall, there is PickNSave and Target, which are cheapest. You can also take the bus to Woodmans. Woodmans is the cheapest of all (by a lot), but also kind of a pain to get to by bus (~2 hours round trip).

    11. Health Insurance: The University's health insurance is the Students Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). This option gets you access to University Health Services. There are other many other health insurance providers out there, but be forewarned that health insurance in the US is complicated and weird. If you're parents have health insurance in the US, you might consider staying on their plan if you are under 26 years old. Feel free to ask people on gradchat what they do.

    12. Obtain a Wisconsin state ID card or a Wisconsin Driver's License: You can obtain a Wisconsin driver's licence at the Division of Motor Vehicles at any of these locations. Make sure to bring appropriate documentation!

      In order to get a driver's license, you must take a vision test. A written test and a road test is required if you don't already have a license issued in the US. There is also a small fee. Feel free to ask on gradchat if you have any questions.

    13. Set up your email: Once you get an email to establish your Net ID (see above), you can log into your email address through Office365. You will also get access to a address through CSL when your CS account is set up.

  • Using the "Gradchat" mailing list

    New students can join the gradchat mailing list to post questions and get answers on just about anything.

    What is "gradchat"?

    "gradchat" is a mailing list provided by SACM for purpose of advertising social events and encouraging discussion among graduate students in the CS department of UW-Madison.

    Isn't that what "graduates" is for?

    Not really. The purpose of the "graduates" mailing list, as defined by the CSL Web pages, is for postings relevant to a broad segment of CS grads. This has become synonymous with administrative emails from the faculty and departmental admin staff, employment opportunities, seminar and reading group announcements, news of SACM activities, and free food.

    Why "gradchat"?

    "gradchat" was born out of discussion among SACM officers in Fall 2002. Several people noted that many messages were being sent with headers such as "Sorry for the SPAM" or more extreme apologies for their notices. Messages to graduates of a social nature were regarded as off-topic and possibly unwelcome for some graduate students. Some students were wary of posting legitimate messages. There appeared to be a need for another way to reach graduate students separate from the "graduates" mailing list.

    To remedy this, the "gradchat" mailing list was proposed. The subscribers would be identical to "graduates" with the option to unsubscribe at any time. This way, those students objecting to social or off-topic emails could leave the fracas, with the remaining students able to send messages without apologizing for the disruption. To keep all the options open, the "gradchat" mailing list was mirrored as a web-archive and also a newsgroup.

    It is our hope that "gradchat" will be a good solution; remember, this is an experiment, and things will get worked out as we go along. The success of the list is up to you. Enjoy!

    Addendum: as of 2020 (18 years later), gradchat is still around! It is opt-in now, and many people choose not to opt-in, but it is still a great place for random discussions or even just sharing a funny new article or a cool YouTube video. Also, because nobody is removed from the list, there are a lot of alumni there who send out job/internship opportunities. For those interested, there is also an unofficial Slack channel, too (feel free to email on gradchat to get the link :)).

    Who is subscribed to "gradchat"?

    Gradchat is open to graduate students in the Computer Sciences dept and other affiliated students. Subscription is opt-in and voluntary. See below for subscription information. An email reminder is sent to graduates at the beginning of each semester stressing the difference of the two lists.

    Is "gradchat" available in digest form?


    How can I subscribe?


    Your subscription must be approved by the current owner of the list.

    For more information on mailing lists here in the computer science department, please click here.

    How can I unsubscribe?


    Is there a moderator/list owner for "gradchat"?

    SACM is the owner of the list, but our sincere hope is that moderation is not needed. Please be civil to each other. So far, we haven't had any real incidents.

    Who can post to "gradchat"?

    Only those students currently subscribed to "gradchat" are permitted to post messages. Due to large volumes of spam, messages originating from non-subscribers are automatically rejected.

    Are there limits to what can I post on "gradchat"?

    Posts to "gradchat" can include social events, things for sale, questions seeking advice, etc. Certain topics like politics and religion are not taboo, per se, but long diatribes on the government coverup of UFOs are discouraged, as are swearing, insulting Brian Forney's mother, and other uncouth behaviour. :)

    Please treat your fellow graduate students with respect. "gradchat" should not be a place to vent your weekly frustrations and anger. Sending an email to "gradchat" is the equivalent of going to everyone's office and saying it in person. The "gradchat" mailing list is self-policing; everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and posts. Flame-wars, abusive, or offensive posts will be dealt with as these issues arise, which we hope is never.

    I'm worried by email to "gradchat" won't reach everyone. Should I cc "graduates" as well?

    NO! Please do not post messages to both "gradchat" and "graduates"; choose only the most appropriate outlet for your message. Remember, talk announcements and official computer science related messages should go to "graduates", while posts about going out drinking, looking for a plumber, or help with a regular expression are more appropriate for "gradchat".

Useful Links

There is a large amount of communal knowledge accumulated over the years. Here is a list of things people found useful. Keep in mind that some of it may be outdated. Please let us know if it is, so we can update it.

Housing Issues

University Events

Madison Area Events