Meet the Faculty: Julia Williams

Our “Meet the Faculty” interviews provide a window into the work lives of faculty across the University of Waterloo. Faculty members talk about the day-to-day joys and struggles, and share tips for getting the work done and staying mentally and physically healthy in academia.

Julia Williams is director of the English Language Studies unit, co-ordinator of the Applied Language Studies plan, and a continuing lecturer in Culture and Language Studies at Renison University College.

What do you teach and research?

I teach English for Multilingual Speakers (EMLS) courses and Applied Language Studies (APPLS) courses. I also carry a substantial administrative workload. Although research is not part of a continuing lecturer’s official workload, like many CLs, I do engage in research. I have written several textbooks for EMLS courses and conducted collaborative research with colleagues in Economics, Optometry, and Earth Sciences. Currently, I am working, with a colleague, on a survey of units administering English language programs at post-secondary institutions across Canada.

You have a number of service roles, including directing the English Language Studies unit. What else is filling your days right now?

I’m fortunate to have a varied and stimulating workload. I’m teaching and in the midst of providing feedback on student assignments, I’m the chair of Renison’s Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Committee, and I’m a departmental representative on the College’s Academic Council and the Community and Professional Education (CAPE) Council. I’m also a reviewer for two disciplinary journals and am developing a presentation for a conference in early December. Outside of work, my family and I are becoming more involved in the Ride for Multiple Sclerosis.

The Renison Association of Academic Staff has demonstrated that faculty have shared interests and can work together for our shared benefit.

You work at Renison. How would you describe your relationship to the University of Waterloo?

We have strong ties to the University of Waterloo through a variety of connections. English Language Studies offers communication skills courses, and we are integral to the Math and ARTS First communication skills initiatives. We participate regularly in community of practice groups run by the Centre for Teaching Excellence and the Writing and Communications Centre, and we have links with the Centre for Extended Learning as well. We also develop and maintain strong ties to the larger university through our undergraduate and graduate students who come from faculties all across campus.

Renison has the newest faculty association in Canada. Has that changed things for you?

Yes, I think it has. The Renison Association of Academic Staff (RAAS) has brought faculty together from Renison’s two departments and one school (Culture and Language Studies, Social Development Studies, and the School of Social Work) for regular meetings. In the past, faculty in these three units have worked relatively independently, but our meetings demonstrate that we have shared interests and can work together for our shared benefit. Our executive members are working tremendously hard to bring everyone together.

Editor’s note: As part of the service agreement between RAAS and FAUW, Renison faculty who are members of RAAS are also FAUW members!

What parts of your work are you most excited about?

Like many of my colleagues, I’m excited about the impact our instruction has on our students. I love to see students who have excelled in our courses return to tell us of their successes in other areas of their study, work, and personal lives. We have recently hosted several events at which former students have returned to speak with current students, and those events generate a lot of enthusiasm and contribute to our understanding of how our work supports student achievement. In addition, contributing in numerous ways to the advancement of our profession is stimulating work.

What’s your biggest struggle at work?

One of the most intractable challenges of being a lecturer is that while research is not included in our job descriptions, in fact, many of us are involved in research activities: researching teaching and learning, writing books, presenting at conferences, and writing and reviewing journal articles. The administration is appreciative of our accomplishments in these areas; however, there is no official allocation of our time to these activities. As a result, finding time to carry out research activities is a struggle.

What does a good day at work look like?

A good day usually involves some form of teaching – either in a classroom or in conferences with students, and planning for that teaching is usually a pleasure. Faculty in our unit are interested in incorporating the use of educational technology into our pedagogy, so we’ve been having fun with various tech platforms. Reflection on teaching practice is a part of every day. On the administrative side, I also feel good about days when I meet with my colleagues and find ways to support them in their work.

We might think that checking in regularly with colleagues is time consuming, but it leads to all kinds of administrative efficiencies.

How do you strive to stay healthy and balanced?

I’m not sure I’ve found a balance yet, but I try my best to stay physically active (swimming, biking, hiking, and skiing) and find time for creative pursuits (quilting).

Are there any productivity tools or practices you find essential?

Faculty in our unit have developed an electronic feedback tool that we use to facilitate the extensive amount of feedback we provide on student writing. That’s been very helpful. And on the administrative side, communicating regularly and well with people is the best way to work efficiently. We might think that checking in regularly with colleagues is time consuming, but it leads to all kinds of administrative efficiencies.

What do you wish you’d known when you started your academic career?

Doing anything that has a lasting impact requires collaboration and takes time. It takes at least several years to build working relationships and learn how administrative systems function. I keep in mind that we are building curricular and institutional infrastructure that will support students for many years to come.

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