Prof Personalities – Douglas Harder

Aaron Propp - 2B Computer
Posted on: June 1, 2018

How long have you been teaching at Waterloo?
I’ve been teaching here since 2002.

What courses do you teach?
I teach ECE 204A and 204B (Numerical Methods), ECE 250 (Algorithms and Data Structures), MATH 211 and MATH 212 (Advanced Calculus for Electrical Engineering), MATH 215 (Linear Algebra), MTE 241 (Real-time Systems), and NE 216 and NE 217 (Advanced Calculus for Nanotechnology Engineering).

Favourite course to teach?
I really like the Linear Algebra course, but the Algorithms and Data Structures course is also fun. So is Numerical Methods. I don’t have a favourite per se.

How’d you end up as a lecturer?
It started before then. I joined the reserves and when I took my infantry section commander’s course, part of that is learning how to teach. You spend a week preparing lecture plans and delivering those, getting every single aspect of your lesson plans nicely cut out. And then as a master corporal you give lectures and you teach courses. I learned how to teach from the military. Then I did my undergrad and my master’s. I started working at Waterloo Maple. This opportunity opened up at Waterloo for lecturer position in ECE. I applied for it. Part of the interview process was to deliver a lecture in front of a class. They evaluated you compared to the other applicants. I got the position. And the rest is history.

Favourite part of being a lecturer?
The best thing about being a lecturer is coming up with ways to describe ideas to people who don’t yet understand those ideas and having them become enlightened as you present them.
Hardest part?
Dealing with plagiarism. Policy 71, which deals with academic misconduct and misrepresentation. It takes me well over an hour to document and to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that plagiarism has occurred. Of course, the frustrating thing is you can always figure out which prof evaluations come from students who are caught plagiarizing because they grade you one out of ten on your ability to speak English.

Teaching philosophy?
Very methodological. I can always find the path of understanding. We are learning this concept. We know this concept because we have previously learned this concept in this order. I guess the colloquial term these days is scaffolding. You are always building up on previous knowledge. You are always making sure the student has that previous knowledge. I guess the easiest way to explain it is making sure there’s a path from A to B and the path is reasonably clear. As well, giving students the opportunity to go from there. The last project in the Algorithms and Data Structures course is always somewhat of a contest. Students don’t go for awards or for extra marks. They go for either monetary prizes which I award or free dinner or both, depending on whether or not they can beat me.

If you weren’t a lecturer what would you be doing?
I’d still be working at Waterloo Maple. It’s a great place to work. For mathematicians it’s great, it’s one of the few places where you are one of the more important players. As a mathematician/programmer, you tend to be a service for another group. Whereas at Maple that is the entire point of the company. That was a lot of fun. Great people, challenging problems and interesting problems. You can do things your own way, interesting people to talk to. They have a gym onsite.

Interviews are around the corner. Any tips for engineering students?
Don’t talk about why you’re so great or why you’re so wonderful. Explain why you will benefit the company. Why is worth the company’s time to pay you and to employ you over a 4-month period. What are they going to get out of it? That is their interest. You’re interested in your self and that’s great. But, the company wants to be able to understand what they are going to get out of the transaction. The same thing for applying for graduate studies. What is the professor going to get from taking you on as opposed to someone else?

3 tips for undergrad?
As early as you can try and figure out what your final objective is for doing an undergraduate degree. What is your final goal? What is your goal in 5 years? Not here’s a course, pass it. Here’s another course, pass it. Don’t let us set up the rungs. Figure out what your final goal is and then as you take classes, you can see how they point to your goal. Or helps you achieve your final goal. It’s more difficult in math because in math, I at least did not understand what the final objective was.
You can do five exams in two days. It’s possible. It was one of my best terms. One of my Bulgarian friends had a great saying from his culture: “The higher the bar, the higher the dog jumps.” I tried to do that for myself as well.
There’s nothing wrong with failing a term and repeating it and doing well.

Favourite memory of undergrad?
IRS (Iron Ring Stag) breakfasts. I get invited once and awhile. IRS is always the highlight of the year. When you see what the students come up with as non-destructive entertainment. The funniest was a circuit that just makes a beeping noise every ten minutes. They threw them into the ceilings. At first it sounds like an interruptible power supply.

Tell me about chasing down a student for cheating?
That was prior to the days I checked every student individually for their own ID. In this case the TAs checked the IDs of the students and missed something. And would’ve missed something. Except I require all students to remain seated until all exams are collected. Easy enough. That way I can ensure no one walks out with an exam and I don’t have to count the exams afterwards. As long as every TA picks up one exam from each student, there can only be all the exams collected. So in ECE 250 in the fall, it must have been late October, it was an evening exam. So it was quite dark outside.
End of the exam I asked students to remain seated until the exam was collected. One student got up. I said “you there, sit down.” All I wanted him to do was sit down. He kept on walking. I pointed to him again, “you there sit down now.” Well he starts running. So I ran after him. And he’s running. I’m fortunate I have some great TAs that term. I trust them, they collect the exams in my absence. Anyways, I started running after this guy and this guy was sprinting.  I was just maintaining a steady pace, running on the edges of my feet so as to be quiet. He assumed I stopped. He started walking. I’d slowly catch up. He’d see me again, he’d start sprinting again. This is not a good idea for sustainability in running. He runs across Columbia street and he essentially collapses right next to Columbia Lake. I catch him in the fetal position, so I guess I am one of the very few people who’s chased another human being to exhaustion. At this point, I was more worried about his health than anything else. I asked him he wants some water, I lectured him on professionalism.
Then I ran back after he said that he was OK. I ran to the class rep. Anyway, I’m there talking with the class rep. I’ll skip part of the story. “By the way, who was that” I asked the class rep. And the class rep looks at me and says “we don’t think he’s in our class.” I said some profanity and I start running back. The class rep is on a bike. The guy had not moved more than 50 meters and was leaning against a light post. He turned out to be a graduate student who was writing the exam for an undergrad.

Anything else?
Join the reserves!

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