Meet the lecturers: Lamees Al Ethari

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

Lamees Al Ethari has been a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature since 2015. Let’s meet Lamees!

Lamees Al Ethari

What does your job include right now?

My contract officially defines my load as 80% teaching and 20% service. I teach 7–8 courses per year, mostly ENGL 109 (Introduction to Academic Writing) and creative writing courses, but occasionally also literature courses. In 2019, I developed and taught a course titled Displacement Narratives in the Arts First program.

In addition to teaching, I keep active as a researcher and creative writer. I participate regularly at academic conferences, readings, and literary festivals. I have also published a memoir and a collection of poetry. I co-founded a SSHRC-funded community writing and performance workshop, The X Page, for local immigrant and refugee women. I have been a coordinator and an editor with the workshop since 2018. I am also a nonfiction editor for The New Quarterly, a national literary magazine housed in St. Jerome’s University.

What parts of your work are you most passionate about?

I love teaching—it’s really a big part of who I am professionally. But I also love doing research—research allows me to work on projects that relate to my own academic specialization.

While some of the research I do is on pedagogy, most of my research is on immigrant women’s narratives, especially from the Middle East. I focus on their journeys from home, the trauma they endured, what they left behind, and their experiences of trying to resettle in the diaspora. I have applied that research in teaching both my writing and my literature courses.

What has your experience been like trying to navigate the process of becoming a continuing lecturer?

That’s a really interesting question. A lot of the process actually seems very much up in the air. Each person seems to have had a different experience, and my questions weren’t answered in a timely manner because no one seems to know what the process is, and it’s not the same across different departments. Originally, I understood that I could apply in my fifth year, but that turned out not to be the case. The situation kept changing, there was nothing solid to go by, no guidelines to follow.

I submitted my application at the end of 2020 and didn’t hear anything about the application for a few months. (I finally received my continuing offer in May 2021.)

The lack of information is problematic and needs to be addressed by the Faculty and the University or it will continue to be problematic for those who follow after me. I’m not the first person in this kind of situation, and it’s not just for continuing status. A clear and consistent process will allow lecturers to plan ahead and be prepared.

Have you applied for any research grants while working at Waterloo, and how did that go?

I’ve applied for two research grants. I faced some complications with the first application process because, once again, there were no clear guidelines for lecturers applying for grants. However, when I applied for a SSHRC Connection Grant in 2018, I was told that I just needed to get approval from my chair, who supported the application and the project. We were awarded the grant in 2019, which funded the first cycle of The X-Page workshops.

Research grants, like these, allow us to be part of the academic community and they help us expand the work we do in our classrooms. I know that many of my lecturer colleagues are working on interesting and innovative research. They would benefit greatly from research grants that could support and fund their projects.

Sabbaticals and non-teaching terms provide us with the time to develop our teaching, update research, and find new ways to introduce material in order to keep our courses interesting and engaging.

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Meet the lecturers: Burcu Karabina

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

Burcu Karabina is a lecturer in the Faculty of Mathematics Undergraduate Office, working in the Digital Assets Group (DAG). She came to Waterloo in 2019 with five years of online teaching and course development experience to help build online courses and digital assets equipped with the latest teaching technologies and pedagogies.

Burcu Karabina

What does your job include right now?

I teach mainly service courses such as introductory algebra, linear algebra, and calculus, both online and face to face. In addition to my teaching duties, I research and implement recent teaching pedagogies, incorporate evidence-based teaching and learning practices into our online course design. Working closely with the Centre for Extended Learning, DAG creates and designs an inclusive, accessible, student-oriented online learning experience. My workload balance is 30% teaching and 70% service. I spend most of my time developing online courses. The pandemic altered this balance dramatically, but it is slowly going back to normal. A lot of what we do in DAG is at the intersection of teaching, service, and research, so these weights are not a true reflection of our day-to-day operations.

What parts of your work are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about utilizing digital technologies to bring the online learning experience to the next level for our students. In a rapidly changing world, we get a deeper understanding of how we learn, and technology is an integral part of it. We recognize that learning is an evolving process, not an end product! I find it fascinating that every course I teach is different than the previous one. I always learn something new from my students and my pedagogical research, and I always find myself trying something new in my courses. My job offers a life-long learning opportunity!

Have you applied for any research grants while working at Waterloo, and how did that go?

Last year, I had a chance to collaborate with a research group at National Research Council Canada. We prepared a proposal for a New Beginnings Initiative grant to enhance academic integrity using privacy-preserving tools. I was disheartened when I realized that I am not authorized to manage a research grant as a lecturer, and I cannot serve as principal investigator for the project. Our grant is approved, and I will still play a key role in the project, but my name will always be on the sidelines due to my job title. I am very passionate and excited about this research project, but, unfortunately, there will be no formal recognition of my efforts from the Unviersity, since research is not included in my job description. I know I am not the only lecturer in this situation, and it is very unfortunate.

We all need the time and the peace of mind to reflect on our teaching experiences and invest in our profession to serve our students better, to make this university a better place.

What would it mean for you to have professorial status and/or tenure?

The biggest problem with the current continuing lecturer promotion path is that it is very mysterious. Policy 76 states that an appointment to continuing lecturer is “understood to be unusual and offered only in special circumstances,” which is clearly no longer true but adds to this mysteriousness. As a new faculty member, I hear a lot of stories about the process. There are vague guidelines, and the current performance evaluation system does not support continuous professional development and research into our profession. Yes, there are many resources, but no structured guidance sets us up for success. Yes, professional development is encouraged, but pedagogical research does not weigh in our contracts. Service duties are not clearly defined, but they make up a significant percentage of our contracts. Many lecturers are buried in heavy teaching loads with large class sizes, worried about their contract renewals. They cannot even find time to take their well-deserved vacations.

We all need the time and the peace of mind to reflect on our teaching experiences and invest in our profession to serve our students better, to make this university a better place. A well-structured and guided career path that leads to professorial and/or tenure status would mean that lecturers are given an opportunity and space to grow into their careers, with a possible research component. With mutual support, the faculty and the university can work together toward a common goal.

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Meet the lecturers: Clive Forrester

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

Clive Forrester has been a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature since 2016.

Clive Forrester from the Department of English Language and Literature

The work of lecturers varies across campus. What does it include for you?

I was hired as a lecturer in the Math Initiative, which is an agreement between the Faculty of Math and the Department of English to offer dedicated sections of ENGL109 – Intro to Academic Writing just for math and computer science students. In addition to ENGL109, I teach a variety of courses dealing with either linguistics or technical writing.

My research is primarily in a branch of linguistics called “forensic linguistics” which investigates the interaction between language and law. I’m particularly interested in courtroom discourse, and a few years ago I served as an expert linguist in a Toronto murder trial.

I’ve had different service roles over the years in the department, including coordinating the awards ceremony, coordinating the department research series, and running teaching squares for faculty in the department. I also have a YouTube channel where I upload videos related to linguistics and writing.

What parts of your work are you most passionate about?

Teaching linguistics is certainly one area that I’m passionate about. Recently, I got the opportunity to develop a new course, “Language, Life, and Literature in the Caribbean,” to be taught as part of the Black Studies Diploma. Though a few years away, I’m looking forward to teaching that course and developing similar ones in the future.

What was the experience of becoming a continuing lecturer like for you? 

Now that I’ve been appointed as a continuing lecturer, I can say the road to continuing lecturer status has been dotted with uncertainty. In the absence of a clear formal policy that outlines the progression from the initial appointment as a definite-term to a continuing appointment some five or six years later, everything happens on an ad hoc basis. So, there are no defined milestones to hit, no mid-progression check-in, and no specified date by which an applicant to continuing status needs to be notified. Aside from the undue anxiety this could cause a lecturer, it’s not hard to imagine that a lecturer in such a position might decide to simply take a new appointment somewhere else. In either situation, the department stands to suffer—lecturers anxious because of job security or lecturers leaving for the same reason.

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Meet the lecturers: Elena Neiterman

As we work on securing improvements to the working conditions of teaching-focused faculty at the University of Waterloo, FAUW is interviewing lecturers across campus to find out more about their experiences at Waterloo—and how potential policy changes might affect their work.

First in our series is Elena Neiterman, a continuing lecturer in the Faculty of Health, at the School of Public Health and Health Systems (SHPPS). She came to Waterloo in 2015 from a contract teaching position at McMaster University. Let’s meet Elena!

Elena Neiterman from the School of Public Health and Health Systems

The work of lecturers varies across campus. What does it include for you?

I normally teach six courses per year, including undergraduate courses in Health Promotion, Public Health Ethics, Canadian Health Systems, and Sociology of Aging, and graduate courses in Qualitative Research Methods. I also supervise undergraduate and MSc students.

I do a lot of service activities. I serve on the SPHHS Undergraduate Studies Committee, Recruitment Taskforce, and Annual Performance Review Committee. I also supervise Online Learning Assistants. At the Faculty level, I represent our School as a Teaching Fellow, serve on the Online Teaching Taskforce, and am part of the working group for the Faculty of Health Strategic Plan. At the University level, I am on the CTAPT committee, which aims to provide recommendations on how the university should assess teaching effectiveness in a way that truly captures the amazing work many of our UW instructors do in classrooms and beyond. 

Since COVID, I am also casually working as a tech assistant at home, trying to fix the internet and solve Zoom problems. I have five children, and, as any other parent in Ontario, I am navigating my online work and children learning from home.

While my work assignment does not include research, I do quite a lot of it because I find it engaging and fascinating. Currently, I am involved in two big pan-Canadian projects. One examines work experiences of Canadian midwives to identify factors that improve their workplace retention. The other explores mental health-related leaves of absence and subsequent return to work among knowledge workers (academics, accountants, dentists, midwives, nurses, physicians, and teachers).

I also have long-standing interest in women’s reproductive health and work on a number of pedagogy-related smaller research projects, including a textbook on health promotion.      

What parts of your work are you most passionate about? 

Teaching is my passion. I like being in a classroom and interacting with students. Since COVID, this has become more challenging – I mostly spend my teaching time staring at a camera and I miss seeing my students, but I make do.

Since I teach some required courses in our program, I usually know most of our students. It is really exciting to see “my” first-year students graduating! 

Being hired permanently meant that I could finally sleep at night – it is nerve-racking not knowing if you have a job next term.

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People You Should Know: Lauren Byl, Copyright & Licensing Librarian

Our “People You Should Know” blog series interviews key people and offices at the University of Waterloo so you can make the most of their services. 

Lauren Byl is the Copyright and Licensing Librarian at the University of Waterloo.

What does a copyright librarian do?

In my role, I answer copyright questions about use of materials in teaching, such as those related to the Fair Dealing Advisory, as well as provide guidance on copyright during the publication process. I’m also responsible for negotiating the Library’s licenses for electronic resources.

Why should faculty members know about your role?

Much of the work faculty do triggers copyright in some way—whether it’s their own rights as authors, asking permission to use other’s work, or what they can use in the classroom. Faculty should know about my role because I’m here to help make copyright easier to understand and provide guidance on University best practices.

“There’s no end to the ways that people consider using or adapting works.”

What are the most common questions you help faculty with?

On the teaching side, the most common question is “What can I share in LEARN?” Faculty want to know if they can share slides with imagescontent from eJournals, or scans of book chapters.

On the publishing side, the most common question is “What can I do with work I’ve published?” Faculty usually sign over copyright to their publisher during the publishing process; the agreement states what an author can do with their own work. 

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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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