Interview with Prof. Paulo Rupino da Cunha, University of Coimbra

Professor Paulo Rupino da CunhaFor the next three months Paulo Rupino da Cunha, Assistant Professor of Information Systems and the head of the IS Group at the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra, will be a visiting faculty member at Carnegie Mellon.

Rupino completed his undergraduate work at the University of Coimbra in Electronics Engineering. While he spent five years of undergraduate work in this field, for his Masters, Rupino chose to make the switch to Informatics. The change came in part as a result of the changing face of the computer industry, Rupino says.

“What you could do with software, the low cost and possibilities, made me want to change. Computers started to become accessible. When they become more affordable, I found then very interesting to program because you could see the results instantly.” He also notes that he had already had been interested in microchips, so his background prepared him somewhat for the change.

Rupino has been a faculty member at University of Coimbra since 1993. He teaches Software Engineering and Management Information Systems.

When Rupino was going through school, students who aspired to a faculty position had a very specific track to follow. First, they applied for positions after graduation. Students who were admitted then began work as trainees. They were then expected to get their Masters within two years. After this they were promoted, at which time they were expected to get a PhD. Now, Rupino says, no one is hired without first obtaining a PhD.

“The bar is higher,” he says. “You can’t afford to go through all that process”.

Rupino says that the educational structure in Portugal used to be very similar to United States with respect to the use of lectures and what Carnegie Mellon calls “recitations.” With the inception of the Bologna Declaration, which promotes curricular uniformity across Europe, recitations are not as common. Instead, students may attend “open labs” if they need extra help, but most opt for self-study.

“I think one thing that is quite different [at Carnegie Mellon] is that you have a lot of stuff to read before class,” says Rupino, “and students actually read what you tell them to. I think the work load in this respect is higher”.

He also notes a difference in attitudes towards required attendance. While at Carnegie Mellon attendance is generally mandatory, Rupino says that he does not necessarily expect any, much less perfect, attendance from his students.

“I am quite happy if they [my students] don’t show up,” he says, “just as long as they can prove they’ve learned the subject.”