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.

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Meet the Faculty: Patrick Lam

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.

Patrick Lam is the soon-to-be-ex-director of UWaterloo’s Software Engineering program and an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He’s also an at-large representative on the FAUW Board of Directors.

What do you teach and research, and what drew you to that work?

I am trained as a computer scientist and my subfield is programming languages and their applications to software engineering. When I came to Waterloo, I learned that Electrical and Computer Engineering departments tend to be quite scientifically diverse and include faculty from a wide range of disciplines, from physics to mechanical engineering, and fortunately passing through computer science as well.

Specifically, I develop techniques and tools which automatically understand what software developers are saying (and what they meant to say) when writing computer software. A common misconception that developing software is a solitary task where it’s just you telling the computer what to do. That’s totally not the case, especially today, and developers absolutely must communicate with their teammates (and others). My research aims to dig out some of the implicit communication developers are performing and make it explicit.

I believe that many of us just happen to fall into doing what we’re doing by coincidence, and I think there are a lot of interesting things to study in the world. But often there are mentors that help us find our own area. In my case it was my professors for undergrad, Prakash Panangaden and the late Laurie Hendren. I hope that I can similarly inspire my own students.

What kind of work is involved with being the director of a program?

Being a program director is a rewarding but high-volume service task. The two main parts are managing operational challenges and providing academic leadership to students and committees. Operational challenges include supporting instructors and balancing the concerns of the parent units; for software engineering this is especially challenging because it is jointly offered across Faculties by the School of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and these units are quite different. Academic leadership includes thinking about what the students should learn (and what they don’t need to learn) and guiding curriculum committee discussions. I strive to be a well-rounded intellectual role model for students.

For Software Engineering, we have an associate director who is the primary academic advisor. However, I do serve as a secondary advisor and work with students when they feel more comfortable with me. That is one of the most rewarding parts of the role, even if it’s somewhat peripheral.

At this career stage I feel like one can get stuck in what I call “associate professor purgatory.”

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Graduate student supervisors: share your thoughts!

The Task Force on Graduate Student Supervision is seeking feedback from faculty members who supervise doctoral or research master’s students. The mandate of the Task Force is to investigate the mechanisms by which the quality of graduate supervision at both the master’s and doctoral levels is assessed at the University.

The survey is designed to gather your experience with and opinions about supervisory expectations or standards, evidence of effective supervision, strategies for communicating supervisor/student expectations, and what kinds of support/training you believe will be effective.

The survey will take approximately 3-5 minutes to complete and remain open until December 6th 2019 (midnight). This survey is anonymous; participation is confidential and voluntary.

If you have any questions about the survey or the work of the Task Force on Graduate Student Supervision, please contact Angela Rooke (, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Meet the Faculty: Brian Doucet

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.

Brian Doucet is the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Urban Change and Social Inclusion and an associate professor in the School of Planning. In this extended interview, we dive a little deeper than usual into Brian’s research and its local applications.

What do you teach and research?

My main focus is trying to understand how people experience big forces of change that shape their neighbourhood. A lot of my previous work has focused on the lived experiences of gentrification and I am increasingly focusing on the relationship between neighbourhood change and mobility, with a particular emphasis on cycling and transit. In teaching, that connects to some of the big trends taking place in cities today: inequality, polarization, housing challenges.

Where does your interest in these aspects of cities come from?

I’ve always been interested in the ordinary, everyday parts of cities, and curious as to why things are where they are and what is driving change. There’s a lot of inequality in our society, so there’s a lot of inequality replicated in our cities and I’m trying to find genuine ways to reduce those divisions, whether it be through housing or transportation—and not just superficial ways, but looking at the root causes of some of that inequality.

When and where do you do your best work?

I find now that I have children, almost out of necessity, I tend to work well in the mornings. One of the big pressure points of the day is around dinner time, so I like to try and get home for that. Having a very spacious office that’s only a 15-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk from home, I find I tend to come in to work much more than I did when I lived in a different city from where I work. Sometimes I’ll even come back up here after the children have gone to bed because it’s a better place to work than the dining room table.

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Indigenization Reading Circle Notebook: Academic Gatekeepers

The FAUW Indigenization Reading Circle meets monthly to discuss readings relating to Indigenization and reconciliation in the university context.

In “Academic Gatekeepers,” Devon Abbott Mihesuah (pronounced “My-he-sue-ah”) examines the various ways in which academic knowledge production is subject to white settler norms and values that hinder the advancement and success of Indigenous scholars and teachers.

The conversation began by noting the broad context of academic gatekeeping on the University of Waterloo campus: the recent ranking of Indigenous visibility for the University of Waterloo, the importance of indigenous participation in high levels of the administration, and the inclusion of inclusivity and diversity in the 2020–2025 strategic plan. Participants wrestled with the challenges of including Indigenous academics, discussing peer review and merit as an objective façade, the lack of Indigenous voices in various fields, and how academia and academic culture is structured to exclude people.

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Shifting gears on cycling: 8 ways UWaterloo supports biking to work

—A guest post from the Sustainability Office.

Fall may be in full swing, but it feels like spring is in the air for cycling in Waterloo Region.

There is a growing push for cycling across the community, catalyzed by concerns for accessibility and safety, effective use of space, economic development, affordability, and climate change, just to name a few. New segregated bike lanes on King, Columbia, University, Queen, and Belmont are kicking off much-needed infrastructure transitions outlined in municipal policy and planning. Trail improvements through Waterloo Park and soon the Iron Horse are making for a more pleasant cycling experience. Bike racks and spaces on busses and the iON make multi-modal transportation more accessible.

Efforts have been building on campus as well. Waterloo has been expanding programs and services to make riding a bike a more convenient commuting option.

  1. All campus buildings have adjacent bike racks, some of which are covered (QNC, B1, ESC, and EIT, for example).
  2. Parking Services manages a secure bike locker program, and there is a new secure bike cage under construction between EV3 and ML!
  3. Police Services runs a program to register your bike, so they can better help return it to you if it is stolen.
  4. Cyclists can access an emergency ride home program, $75 per trip 4 times per year, to help with unexpected circumstances (unfortunately, weather doesn’t count!).
  5. If you only ride during the summer, you can suspend your parking permit and regain your spot when the winter weather returns.
  6. Better yet, employees can purchase transit passes for winter months at a 15% discount off the regular transit price (no minimum monthly commitment) so you can bike in fair weather and bus in the cold.
  7. Waterloo has piloted a bike sharing program in 2019 to make getting across campus more convenient.
  8. The Sustainability Office organizes events like Bike Month to recognize cyclists, provide free bike tune-ups from community partners, and offer prizes for logging bike trips.

Of course, these don’t address every barrier. Bike theft remains a challenge, which is why the new secure cage is a critical step forward. We hope the cage is a model that, through partnerships, can be replicated in additional areas of campus if there is demand.

And the University is certainly not an island. It is connected to the network of roads and trails leading to the campus, many of which lack robust cycling infrastructure. It is a familiar sight to come to the end of your bike lane or trail and have to merge into morning or afternoon traffic. Municipal improvements are accelerating, but there is still a lot to do.

Nevertheless, the efforts underway are already shifting the gears upward. Cycling is not just for veteran riders. Diverse members of the University community—from a wide range of ages and abilities—arrive on all types of bikes every day. We’ve put thank-you cards on thousands of bikes across campus, so we know! Efforts to improve infrastructure will continue to make it safer and more comfortable.

If you are curious, explore your options. Google and can pull up routes and directions that optimize bike lanes and trails, including new infrastructure, and the Sustainability website has more information and links to the above services that can help.

Mat Thijssen is the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Manager. He coordinates the University’s sustainability activities and efforts, in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders on and off campus

Meet the Faculty: Bin Ma

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.

Bin Ma is a professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science and co-founder of Rapid Novor Inc.

What do you teach and research?

I teach and research in bioinformatics. In particular, I developed a new technology to read out the sequence information of protein molecules. This is an analog to the better-known DNA sequencing, except that we deal with protein molecules, which requires a totally new method.

What is it about your work that you’re really excited about?

I am most excited about the fact that my work can help patients and improve human health.

Tell us about your start-up.

I cofounded Rapid Novor Inc. in 2015 to commercialize new protein sequencing technology. We started a residency at the Accelerator Centre in 2016 and started offering antibody protein sequencing service to pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Recently, the company moved to a purpose-built facility at Catalyst137 in Kitchener. We employ 25 full-time employees—computer scientists, lab scientists, and a business team—and have served more than 200 customers worldwide, including nine out of the ten largest pharmaceutical companies. The company has also developed a clinical assay to detect the relapse of Myeloma, a special type of blood cancer.

It is very important to have full-time business partners. This allows me to participate in the company only on a part-time basis.

How do you balance that work with your role at Waterloo?

It is very important to have full-time co-founders and dedicated business partners. The other two co-founders, Mingjie Xie and Qixin Liu, work full-time for the company as the CEO and CTO, respectively. This allows me to participate in the company only on a part-time basis.

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