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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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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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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Meet the Faculty: Nada Basir

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.

Nada Basir is an assistant professor at the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.

What do you teach and research?

My PhD is in strategic management, but a lot of my research looks at entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social impact and change. I tend to make these worlds collide when I teach. I teach social entrepreneurship in our Master of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program, where I focus on building innovative, financially sustainable businesses to tackle pressing social problems. My entrepreneurial strategy undergraduate course is very much focused on business strategy but there is definitely an element of leveraging businesses for social good in there.

What else do you do on campus?

There are many exciting entrepreneurship initiatives happening at the University, and I think it’s important for someone like me, a female visible minority, to be present and involved in as many as I can. The start-up space has a diversity problem, especially when it comes to female representation. Things are starting to get better, but we are not there yet. I help judge some of the campus competitions, such as the Norman Esch Awards and the World’s Challenge Challenge, and I speak on panels and act as a mentor for some student-led entrepreneurship clubs. I see and hear first-hand some of the challenges the female entrepreneurial students face and this has shaped my research and community involvement. For example, a few years ago, I was involved in organizing the Waterloo Women: Ideas, Makers, and Innovators event.

I’ve been working on building a network for faculty across campus who research innovation and entrepreneurship. Since UW doesn’t have a business school, this incredibly interesting research is happening across campus, with few connections between projects and people working on very similar problems. We’ve been playing around with a few models of how we can build better connections between all of us.

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

The more I learn, the more excited and passionate I become about leveraging ‘business’ for social good. Whether you are a Walmart or a social enterprise developing an affordable infant incubator for rural India, there are diverse and creative ways to make a positive impact in this world. Capitalism is an incredible force—let’s unlock that force for good. My teaching revolves around this, and much of my research does too. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to come to work and spend my days asking questions that really excite me and working with students who are exploring how to make all of this happen.

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Meet the Faculty: Kelly Anthony

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.

Kelly Anthony is a continuing lecturer in the School of Public Health and Health Systems.

What do you teach and research?

The influence of poverty and inequity on people’s health. Health Sciences students tend to expect that there are biomedical explanations for health outcomes; I show them how social factors are involved in why some people are more likely to develop certain conditions than others. I don’t push any specific political belief system, but the conversation gets political very quickly! Students should leave my classroom angry and wanting to change stuff.

What else do you do on campus or in the community?

I’m fortunate that my director understands the significance of service in the community. I do more external service than internal. I’ve been on the board of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council for the last four years; I’m currently on the executive and also two subcommittees, one on high risk youth, the other on cannabis legislation. These committees include representation from all kinds of sectors; we’re trying to ensure that people don’t end up in the criminal justice system.

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

I try to bring the community into the classroom, and send my students into the community. Even something as simple as suggesting that they go into an emergency room and really look at the demographics of who’s there—who doesn’t have access to a regular family doctor or other health care options. They come back with a whole new understanding of the issues. I feel incredibly privileged to be doing what I’m doing, in a situation where I can be both angry and effective. The second I think my students aren’t leaving my class angry enough to change things, I’ll leave here.

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Meet the Faculty: Judith Koeller

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.

Judith Koeller is a lecturer with the Dean of Math office and the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing.

What do you teach?

I teach Classical Algebra and Linear Algebra for math majors. I also teach online in the Masters for Math Teachers program. And I’m working on a course with Peace and Conflict Studies on the peace implications of math. A lot of professions have some kind of ethical training—there are things that have to be reported and protection for whistleblowers. Some fields in math, like CPAs, have professional associations. But for many math and CS graduates, but there are a lot of social implications to their work without much clarity around ethics and whistleblowing. This course will get students thinking about what kind of ethical issues they might face in their careers.

What else do you do on campus?

I do a lot of service through the Centre for Education in Math and Computing. We create math contests for grades 7-12 that are written around the world, and visit a lot of schools to get students thinking about what they can do with math. I’ve visited schools in five or six countries as well as across Canada.

I’ve also served on the FAUW Equity Committee, responding and advocating for policies on campus for equity seeking groups. Through that I’ve become a facilitator for the University’s Making Spaces workshops, which specifically advocate for LGBTQ+ people.

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

When I connect with a young kid who really has an interest in mathematics and a lightbulb goes on that maybe they could pursue that in more depth than they realized. Sometimes it’s a kid who doesn’t think about themselves as being strong in math, but maybe there’s a particular problem that they do really well at and they see themselves in a different way. That’s really exciting.

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Meet the Faculty: Naila Keleta-Mae

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.

Naila Keleta-Mae from Communication Arts
Photo by Jay Parson

Naila Keleta-Mae is an assistant professor in Communication Arts who teaches courses in the theatre and performance program and the speech communication program.

What do you teach and research?

My research is focused on Black expressive culture in North America with an emphasis on Black women’s cultural production, including music, videos, performances, plays, and poetry. I teach a range of courses: from Theories of Theatre and Performance, to Gender and Performance, to Public Speaking. I also teach an Arts First course called Black and Free that is about how Black people have expressed their freedom in North America even in the midst of the violent institutionalized anti-Black racism that has plagued the continent for centuries.

What does a good day at work look like?

Teaching students a range of materials that challenge them to develop their critical self-reflexivity skills, expand their worldviews, and consider the possibilities of their agency. Having time to write and writing academic prose in a way that nods to the work of Audre Lorde in terms of its concision, accessibility, and content. I remember reading Lorde’s Sister Outsider long before I went to grad school and being aware that she was offering me other ways to think about the world, my place in it, and what I could do. I’ve aspired to do the same with my writing ever since.

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Meet the Faculty: Ian VanderBurgh

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.

Ian VanderBurgh is a lecturer and director of the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) in the Faculty of Math.

What is the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing and what do you do as director?

CEMC is the outreach arm of the Faculty of Mathematics. We do activities in elementary and secondary schools to promote mathematics and computer science to students and teachers: contests, school visits, workshops and conferences, and an online master’s program for teachers.

My role is to help other people do what they love and need to do, and to try not to get in the way. And help solve problems when they need to be solved.

What do you teach these days?

Most of my teaching comes in our Master of Mathematics for Teachers, which is an online, part-time, professional master’s program for active high school teachers—and occasionally undergrad classes.

What other roles do you have on campus or in the community?

On campus, I am the chair of the University’s Complementary Teaching Assessment Project Team. We’re looking at ways of assessing teaching other than student course perception surveys. That’s been a great experience for me so far and it’s an important thing for the University to be looking at. I’m heavily involved in undergrad admissions for Math as well.

Outside of the University, I’m the pianist for the Grand Philharmonic Choir and also accompany the Wilfrid Laurier Concert Choir sometimes, too.

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Meet the Faculty: Kim Hong Nguyen

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.

We’re starting with Kim Hong Nguyen. Kim Hong is an assistant professor in Communication Arts and a faculty representative for Waterloo Women’s Wednesdays.

Kim, what do you teach and research?

My research and teaching explore the relationship between equity, power, and identity in public controversies related to communication practices. I teach students how our communicative practices and interpretative frameworks intersect with race, gender/sexuality, class, and other visible identity markers. I write about controversies that raise new questions about how to perform and talk about identity. Controversies that interest me are ones that focus on the use of one word, a trope, an expression, or a cultural practice and create questions about who can say, do, and perform them.

What are you passionate about in your work?

Though I might not be the best public speaker, I am passionate about communicating well and all that that entails. This means I want all of my students to communicate well, but also learn how to be good, forgiving listeners. I hope my teaching provides them a space to explore what that means and a space to practice. This also means that my research explores how the public communication practices of visible minorities are interpreted and tries to identify the different frameworks that allow for that public communication to be seen as effective and not effective.

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