Prof. Personalities – Martin Pei

Aaron Propp - 2B Computer
Posted on: July 18, 2018

How long have you been teaching at Waterloo?

My first teaching job was in 2008. I was teaching on and off until 2011. I’ve done full-time teaching since then. Full-time teaching 7 or 8 years.

What courses do you teach?

There’s a linear algebra course. There’s some algebra courses, some combinatorics courses, some discrete math courses. Recently I’ve been doing some third-year courses as well. These are graph theory. I’ve taught ECE 103, for the ECEs and MATH 135 for the software engineers.

Favourite course to teach?

My favourite course to teach used to be ECE 103 until they killed it. The third year courses are pretty interesting to teach that’s for sure.

How’d you end up as a lecturer?

It’s a very stupid process. I emailed my department chair initially saying can I teach this term and he said yes. And that’s when I got my first teaching job. Pretty much for the first couple years it was just like that. I asked for a teaching opportunity and they just said sure and they gave me something. From then on, they gave me contracts so I don’t have to ask again.

Favourite part of being a lecturer?

My favourite part about teaching is interacting with the students. The students make it fun. Even if the course material is interesting, if the students look bored all the time, it is very frustrating to teach as well. If there’s a lot of banter, or questions from students or just general chatter that’s good.

Hardest part?

The hardest part is just going through some of the tedious parts behind the scenes. Things like preparing assignments, preparing solutions, dealing with logistics, TAs and marking like marking exams. Those are some of the boring aspects of teaching.

Teaching philosophy?

I don’t have one. I just try my best to explain the material. I try to make things interesting. I always try to teach from the perspective of a student who’s never seen this material before. I try to go into detail, give examples etc. That’s my way of explaining things and I’ll distract students by making really stupid jokes.

If you weren’t a lecturer what would you be doing?

Nothing. This is the only skill I have really. I mean I do have half a CS degree, but that was from a long time ago and I haven’t used that since I graduated from undergrad. I’m relying on my students to make it big in the future.

Interviews are around the corner. Any tips for engineering students?

I’m the worst person to give interview tips because I never interviewed for my job. I did try co-op when I was in undergrad and I had a few interviews then. But I never got a job.

3 tips for undergrad?

I wish I would start assignments and studying much earlier than the deadline. We always procrastinate thinking this is too hard, I really don’t want to do it. But almost every time you start doing it, It’s really straightforward.

Approaching the instructors and TAs is not as intimidating as you might think. I rarely found my instructors back in the day. But for the most part, every time I found an instructor or TA, was a pretty good experience. It’s important if you ever try to go for grad school. Later on, getting references is much easier. When I was trying to find references, it was very difficult because I just didn’t know the instructor.

Third thing, don’t apply to grad school unless you really, really want to do research. At least for a PhD. Master’s I encourage everyone to do. Apply for Master’s. But for PhD it is a long and gruelling process, unless you really love the field, research and the things that come with it. Which involves writing a lot of things and reading. Ya, if you don’t love it, it’s torturous.

Favourite memory of undergrad?

That’s so long ago now, I don’t really remember much about that. I just don’t remember anything from undergrad now. I do remember taking a Physics courses and I think I got an A+ in the Physics course. That’s the only Physics course I’ve taken at a University level.

You seem to have a lot of board games. Which one is your favourite and why?

My favourite has always been Power Grid. So Power Grid is a game that involves auctioning, resource management and money management. Basically, you’re trying to buy power plants, buy resources, build cities, power those cities using your resources to get more money so you can use that money to do more of that later. It’s quite math-y. There’s also a little bit of graph theory involved in that. The endgame is almost always very intense. The amount of thinking you need to do for that is quite crazy.

Is Mario Kart your favourite video game or do you just like owning a lot of plush toys from one particular set?

I just like these plush toys because they’re cute. I can bring them to class and people will say aw they’re so cute.

What was the process like for getting the most distracting office award?

There was a contest the Faculty Association ran late last year. Basically, they have a few categories, the cleanest office, the messiest office and they said you can also make your own category. I made my own category of most distracting office and they gave it to me. Distracting people with the most distracting office sign.

Why Olaf?

Olaf is much cuter than the princesses. But also I got this in Japan so it took up a lot of suitcase room.

Do you miss teaching the engineers?

I do miss the ECEs. I’ve kept most of my contacts with former ECEs. There’s more connection there that’s for sure. ECEs are more outgoing.

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