Tal Malkin Awarded Columbia University Presidential Teaching Award

Columbia University bestows the award to distinguished faculty for their teaching as recognized by the Columbia community. Tal Malkin will receive the award at this year’s commencement.

“Teaching has its own reward above any award and it is something that is very important to me,” said Malkin, an associate professor who joined Columbia in 2003.  “I really enjoy teaching so I am very happy to receive this award.”

Malkin can be found in her office, where throughout the day students drop in to talk about their projects or assignments and ask questions. That is one thing that she likes – students that ask questions. She believes that it is through the process of asking questions and working through answers that students actually learn. Through this dialogue she is able to show them the “beauty of computer science theory” and how the material is interesting in its own right.

But, of course, the real joy is when she sees her students discover and understand new concepts. Computer science theory is one of the classes she teaches and it is required for all CS majors. “It isn’t an easy class so when I see that it finally clicks and a student gets it, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride,” shared Malkin. One could say she hopes that her students “fall in love with computer science” through her class, as she once did as an undergrad in Israel.

“Tal would always explain concepts both intuitively and present material in a variety of ways to appeal to different types of students,” said Daniel Jaroslawicz (CC ’19), a former student and teaching assistant. Considering that the class had over 200 students with different levels of familiarity with computer science theory, achieving that was no simple feat. He continued, “But what really surprised me was Tal’s successful effort to learn the names of as many of her students as possible.”

Aside from teaching undergrads, PhD students are another group under her purview. In this case it is more of mentoring these researchers. Said Malkin, “My PhD students usually study other parts of cryptography so they often teach me more than I teach them.”

Dana Dachman-Soled, a former PhD student, describes Malkin as unassuming and warm but at the same time very assertive, focused, and challenging. Some of her most fond memories with Malkin took place at the Hungarian Pastry Shop where they worked on research projects along with other collaborators. “While the shop is quite dark and often crowded, we did some of our best research there,” said Dana Dachman-Soled (PhD ‘11), who is now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. “She was never dismissive of new ideas, thereby encouraging me and her other students to bring them forward and develop them.”

This openness and yearning to impart knowledge to students is reflected in other professional activities. Malkin also heads the education track of the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency. For that, she helps oversee curriculum development for classes on data privacy and blockchain technologies, among other topics.

“I love teaching and my door is always open for anyone that has a question,” said Malkin. “It’s very invigorating to interact with my students and I hope that I have been able to show them how cool computer science can be.”

Tal Malkin is an associate professor of Computer Science at Columbia University, where she directs theCryptography Lab. She received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000, and joined Columbia after three years as a research scientist in the Secure Systems Research Department atAT&T Labs – Research.