Tim Campbell, 3rd-year UC Berkeley doctoral student, dies at 26

Tim Campbell, a third-year campus doctoral student in computer science, died Sept. 15 at age 26 after living with cancer for four years. He is remembered by friends and colleagues for his positivity and his innovative mind.

At UC Berkeley, he studied human-computer interaction, a discipline that examines how humans engage with technology.

According to Eric Paulos, Campbell’s adviser and an assistant professor in the campus’s electrical engineering and computer science department, he was a pioneer in a field he called “digital apprenticeship.”

Campbell was first diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in August 2011 and relapsed three times in the past four years. He was in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation treatment when he decided to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley.

“He had a terminal diagnosis four years ago, and instead of giving up, he chose to be an incredibly present and loving husband,” said his wife, Katie Campbell. “He chose to keep creating in spite of the very real possibility that he would never get to actualize any of his ideas. He kept investing in new relationships and developed best friends. He chose to start a Ph.D. program when he knew he would have weekly chemo, and he chose to just face it head on. I think that is remarkable.”

Tim Campbell was an active member of the campus community. He participated in the Computer Science Graduate Student Association, where he planned social events and mentored younger graduate students, and was also part of UC Berkeley’s Graduate Baking Club.

“He was a kind of a baking nerd,” said Campbell’s friend and fellow graduate student Cesar Torres with a laugh. “Fermentation (of yogurt and bread) was his hidden agenda, his hidden project.”

His wife noted how he would often wake up in the middle of the night and be overcome by the desire to do research on the subject, watching videos on fermentation for hours. She said he would often switch gears in the middle of conversations, frantically sketching out ideas on bundles of paper towels and other available surfaces.

While at UC Berkeley, Campbell worked for Autodesk, where he wrote instructables. In addition, he worked as a mechanical design engineer at Xerox, consulted for Adobe and helped invent hydrosense technology at the University of Washington.

“Tim was just overflowing with ideas,” said Paulos. “It was his character to always be so happy and so ready with ideas about what could be next. He never slowed down — that part of his energy and spirit here that really feels like a loss.”

Campbell was always working despite his diagnosis. According to Katie Campbell, he would ride his bicycle from chemotherapy to class and edit papers while getting chemo treatments.

Throughout middle school, high school and his undergraduate education, Tim Campbell worked with younger children as a Christian leader and mentor.

To honor his memory, Katie Campbell is working with Paulos as well as Tim Campbell’s family to create a scholarship at UC Berkeley “to fuel innovation at Cal and give other aspiring kids a chance to create,” she said.

“It’s been a tremendous loss for the human interaction community,” said Bjorn Hartmann, Tim Campbell’s colleague and an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley. “He was such a positive force. It’s been really hard for everyone to grieve his loss, but we cherish the great luck we’ve all had to have known him and had the chance to work with him.”

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].