Whether or not you’ve been at UTM for a while, you’re bound to have a favourite and least favourite professor. I know I do! In my experience, a professor can make or break your interest in a subject.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about a professor that I did not get along with. This professor was inconsiderate, pompous, and patronizing, but they also had some good qualities, like their presentation skills and overall knowledge about the subject. Ever since then, I’ve been hyper-conscious about “good” and “bad” professors. So, why do some profs appeal to us more than others?
1) Engagement and interactivity
I had a professor in summer school after my second year who made an effort to create a community within the classroom. There were about 30 to 40 students in the lecture and it was only a half credit, but this professor made an effort to know everyone’s names. I had her again last semester, and she did the same thing. Most of her classes were discussion-based, and she was really good at facilitating learning through different activities instead of just a solid lecture. I find that a professor who makes an effort to engage with students is better than a professor who talks to everyone like they are a number instead of a person.
“How did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in biology?”
“I’m not sure that I recall exactly when I had decided to do that. When I was visiting my parents, five years ago, I found a diary entry of when I was really little. […] I read in it that I felt really good when I was in nature and when I was walking around, and looking at the trees, looking at the grass, the insects, [and the] bugs and birds. So, I guess I had it in me a little bit, I just wasn’t sure how to recognize it. What drew me to science completely was my undergrad experience. I was in biology (general biology) but then I took some field courses, and as soon as I took those field courses, that’s when I knew that I needed to be outside, I need to play in the mud, and play with the animals and the plants. That changed my life completely.”
“If you had any advice for undergrads in general biology, what would that be?”
“[…] I think that it’d be to go outside. Take observations, take a look around you. Have fun, and explore everything around, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Have that curiosity, don’t lose that curiosity about why certain things are, the way that they are. And, talk to other people. I think you’ll learn a lot by talking to your peers, and talking to your professors. Approach your professors! Be yourself! Have fun, go outside, and play!”
“Did you have a mentor when you were going through the transition from student to an industry professional? Did you have any struggles?”
“Yes, mine was more like life struggles because four weeks after I actually convocated, I had my first child. Actually, you can say that I learned a lot from having a child very young. As a young artist, I did look at artists. At that time we didn’t have email, so I decided to write a letter to an artist that I really admired, Mary Pratt. I admired her because of the subject matter and what she was doing … and also how she thought about her work and how she thought about herself as an artist.
So one day, I decided I was going to write Mary Pratt a letter, just an old-fashioned letter. I sent it to her gallery in Toronto, they forwarded to her, and she wrote me back… . it was just knowing that people are out there that you can take a look at [and] they have something to tell you and it’s okay to approach them and say ‘I am very interested and I have few questions, do you mind answering them?’
To my mind, I thought that was wonderful because of what she told me and how she took it seriously to write me back and say, ‘Well, I remember these struggles, you just work through it, think about this … ’ In terms of going through graduate school, I definitely had mentors that helped me, and what was nice is I taught for them as a Teaching Assistant and then I took over their classes later on … I think you find mentors in different ways, in different places, at different times in your life, but I think it is important to know what questions you want to ask of them, what they have that you want to learn.”
“What inspired you to pursue a career in psychology?”
“I think the first time I got interested in psychology was at around the age of thirteen, when I was an athlete. My sport was alpine skiing and I noticed some of the guys that were ahead of me were really focused. They had these prep routines and superstitious behaviours while getting ready for the race. It got me interested in visualization and mental rehearsal.”
“What’s your advice to the younger generation students?”
“This is the question that I always got from my students: ‘what should I do?’ ‘How do I prepare?’ I think you don’t have to limit yourself to one specific small area … just keep your mind open to everything. When you are in university, try to study as much as possible. When you are young, you have the opportunity to make mistakes. It took me ten years to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduated from college.
When I was in college, I always thought that I would get a job and I would stay there forever. But it is not the case. When you got into a firm, you will figure out whether you like it or not. If you are thinking about continuing on with school or changing your major, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world.
“I studied Finance; it was pretty hard when I was in college. It was guaranteed that I would get a job in a big firm after I graduated. However, when I was graduating, the Asian Financial Crisis happened, so nobody got hired. There were no financial jobs available in the market. All the banks were frozen. Only accounting firms were hiring people. But I knew nothing about accounting; I only took one course in college about accounting.
At that time, the accounting firm was starting up in China, so that was an opportunity for me. They did not care if you knew accounting or not; they only required you to have a CPA in China to be an auditor. They can train you so they wanted to hire people who can learn very quickly … so I joined them and I had no idea about accounting at all. Ten years down the road, I am here. I became a professor.”
“Was there any challenge for you when you started teaching?”
“Research Methods is not the most ‘sexy’ course to teach. It’s not like advertising or digital culture … I think students already have this notion that they are taking a course that is required. They have to take it, it’s about research methods—which people don’t really have an interest in—so there was a challenge in terms of how do I make this content come alive in this classroom? How do I make it really accessible to students and something that they can be interested and engaged in? So I think the big challenge was the actual content.”
“How do you want your students to see you?”
“I think I really try to let my students see me as a kind of normal person, not some detached, authority figure in the room but somebody that they feel comfortable coming up to … So I think my approach in the room is to always be very laid back and to make sure they know little things about me. [I] tell them my crazy jokes and anecdotes, just to kind of break the tension in the room … Because it’s content like research methods, you need to sort of infuse it with those moments of informal jokes just to keep people engaged.”
“You have used a lots of references from The Simpsons during lecture, is that kind of your teaching philosophy, that you want your lectures to be very light-hearted? “
“I think so, sometimes I say or I hear and I repeat ‘you catch more flies with honey’ which is this idea that one needs to entice their audience to follow them for the whole two hours or hour or whatever it might be, and I think having some easier ways into the discussion is important. In my courses, we look at difficult material often. [We look at] issues of trauma and representation, war and cultural memory … and we talk a lot about consumerism and sometimes that makes people feel fatigued or deluded … so I like to have lighter touches in there. I also think The Simpsons is a very intelligent show. It’s written by some incredible, very educated people who comment on social problems, inequality, gender, even the legal system.”