Zach Karas

Zach Karas wearing a tee-shirt with flowers, smiling and standing in front of white brick background.

About Me

I am a second-year Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University, where Dr. Yu Huang is my advisor.

My research interests are developer cognition, code comprehension, and Computer Science education.

Zach Karas wearing a tee-shirt with flowers, smiling and standing in front of white brick background.

My Research

Is reading code more like reading a book or solving a mental rotation puzzle? 

Since code is more structured than natural language, do programmers read it sequentially or contextually?

I explore these questions in my research using neuroimaging and eye-tracking techniques.

Most recently, I have used eye-tracking to study the fine-grained semantics (e.g., parameters, variables, method calls) of what programmers focus on as they comprehend code.

My current research involves using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study programmers’ brain activity as they complete coding tasks. 

Academic Background

I have a background in cognitive science, with a Bachelor’s degree in Neural Science from NYU. Before starting my Ph.D. I was a Research Assistant in Software Engineering with Westley Weimer, and in Language Development with Ioulia Kovelman at the University of Michigan.

Teaching Experience

  • Teaching Assistant for Advanced Topics in Software Engineering (Fall 2023) CS8395 – Vanderbilt University
  • Guest Lecture in Advanced Topics in Software Engineering CS 8395 (Fall 2023)
  • Teaching Assistant for Introductory Programming for Engineers and Scientists (Spring 2023) CS1103 – Vanderbilt University
  • Teaching Assistant for Compiler Construction (Fall 2022) CS3276 – Vanderbilt University
 
Awards:
  • Russell G. Hamilton Scholar
  • Engineering Graduate Fellowship

Publications

Submitted:
  • Karas Z, Bansal A, Zhang Y, Li T, McMillan C, Huang Y. A Tale of Two Comprehensions? Studying Human Attention During Code Summarization. ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology (TOSEM)

Personal Interests

I ran varsity cross-country and track throughout high school, and was Captain and four-year Varsity Cross-country and Indoor/Outdoor track athlete for NYU.

While working as a Research Assistant at the University of Michigan, I coached track, cross-country, and pole vault at a local high school.

After graduating from NYU, I spent a gap year as a deckhand and educational coordinator aboard the Clearwater Sloop. (The Clearwater Sloop is an environmental education sailboat local to the Hudson River in New York State.) I strongly recommend going on a public sail if you ever visit the Hudson River Valley.

Both my Mom and Dad are artists, and I do some painting and drawing of my own in my free time.