Meet the Prof - Martin Williams

Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2022

Video opens with upbeat music and an animated University of Guelph: Impprove Life logo. It fades to black and then fades into Martin Williams standing outside in the arboretum laughing. 

[Martin WIlliams]: That is a funny story. I was thinking recently when I was in my 30s I look back up when I started as a faculty member in my 20s and I cringe just thinking about some of the things I did and said and I thought to myself I was an absolute idiot in my twenties then I got to my 40s and I look back and told yourself and some of the things I did in my 30s and I thought you were an idiot in your 30s when I got to my 50s I looked back at my 40s and I thought to myself

the conclusion is absolutely obvious

I gotta see that I'm an idiot.

the conclusion is sad but obvious. But I think that uh for me being in the classroom has been absolutely... the fun and the fun bits... I think I I live for those moments being in the classroom.

Video fades to black and fades back in to Martin outside with a fountain a in the background on the right and a hedge behind him. Still images of each institution appear briefly on screen when they are mentioned.

[Martin WIlliams]: My name is Martin Williams I'm a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph and I also moonlight as the Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning. My alma mater is Imperial College London and I worked at the University of Nottingham before I came to the University of Guelph in 2002 and I've been around here since then so that's roughly 20 plus years I've been at the University of Guelph. I guess it's serendipity in terms of how I transitioned from being a very research focused faculty member to spending much more time thinking about teaching and learning and that was definitely not my initial interest. I think I started out being sort of very sort of non-comital when it came to the classroom. Well to be truthful, I just didn't like that space. I just didn't enjoy being in the classroom. But that was primarily my fault because my understanding of teaching and learning was extremely limited.

Video changes to footage of Martin in his office looking at text books and papers on the desk.

[Martin WIlliams]: It still is but I said um you know the more I understand the challenges of teaching and learning I just fell in love with students and the whole process of learning

Video switches back to Martin outside in the arboretum.

[Martin WIlliams]: and now I spend much more time my research is much more focused around teaching and learning

Video cuts to an aerial view of Guelph campus. 

[Martin WIlliams]: than my traditional research area which is uh semiconductor physics. I felt a little bit as a sort of betrayal of you know proper physics

Video cuts back to Martin in the arboretum.

[Martin WIlliams]: for this non traditional sort of ideas around sort of physics teaching but I quickly realized actually that the challenges and the questions that I try to answer in physics education are definitely non-trivial and are more challenging than some of the questions that I was researching and answering in my traditional solid state semiconductor physics area because the um the samples are not very cooperative.

Video cuts to an aerial view of the arboretum with a fountain enclosed by a circular hedge.

[Martin WIlliams]: I think that um those questions of how and why things are and are not always has kept me interested and motivated in physics

Video shifts to Martin seated on a bench with a hedge behind him.

[Martin WIlliams]: and I guess it fits my personality, wanting to know and answer those questions. So I think I got into physics because I guess I'm curious and I've stayed in physics and stayed motivated because I think there are just more questions than answers anyway.

Primarily we're looking at two areas at the moment tackling the gender gap that has existed for the last 100 years I mean especially in North America and Europe and under representation of racialized minorities and I think that a lot of students and not just students there are a lot of people who are keenly interested in these two areas so so that's one of my major research focus areas.

Video switches to an aerial view of the fountain.

[Martin WIlliams]: All the students across stem are interested in these topics

Video switches back to martin seated on a bench with a hedge behind him.

[Martin WIlliams]: so they're broad enough they're not these problems don't uniquely exist in physics. I think that the the challenges of sort of gender and under representation in STEM is a problem that's pervasive across all STEM disciplines so we have students from all of the STEM disciplines from time to time who come and work with us and and it's really important because they add a perspective that sometimes it's not always accessible to us and an understanding. Well they bring a lens to the topic that's really unique based on their particular discipline or backgrounds, you know, in the various groups whether it's gender or racialized groups

Video switches to an aerial view of the campus football pitch. 

[Martin WIlliams]: and so that's really quite cool. And the second is at the intersection of technology and teaching and learning.

Video switches back to Martin seated on a bench in the arboretum.

[Martin WIlliams]: So I think that kids are, students are, very interested in technology and know more about technology so we look at starting from class engagement systems right up to AI and how they impact teaching and learning and student learning and student success in the classroom and that is, you know, a lot of interest. The students are keenly interested in their learning

Video transitions to an aerial view of Martin walking on a path in the arboretum.

[Martin WIlliams]: so um but you're right because it's the same skills.

Video changes back to Martin standing in the arboretum in fron of the fountain.

[Martin WIlliams]: We're still you know asking questions, so why and why not, because that's the bedrock of physics, of science, we constantly try to ask the questions why or why not. Why are students learning, why they're not learning, why does this particular technology seem to be effective or not effective. So it's the same, it's the same scientific approach or what we like to think we're bringing a much more scientific approach to teaching and learning than previously existed, where you just walk into the classroom and hope for the best. Our classrooms are much more controlled and designed in terms of um there are always metrics to measure the effect of what it is being done in the classroom and when I started out those things were never thought about or we never really cared.

Guelph is the best work environment that I've ever experienced. I think it's an amazing Department. I think that you know as I said before the exceptional close bonding of the different members of the Department and their care for student success

Video shifts to an aerial view of the football pitch.

[Martin WIlliams]: and student learning, that continuous care over the years, has been absolutely phenomenal. For me it's an absolute it's a wonderful work environment. I get to come to work and have fun doing the things that I really like doing with the people whose company I really really enjoy.

Video switches bavck to Martin seated on a bench with a hedge behind him.

[Martin WIlliams]: If you find something that you're passionate about and that you're good at it also I think it's one of the best gifts in life. You open your own doors, you make your own way, if you're really really good and passionate at what you do. People notice and people can't help but standing up and taking notice when you walk into a room and start talking about what it is that you do. Do the things that you're good at and that you're passionate about

Video transitions to an aerial view of Martin walking in the arboretum. Music rises. 

[Martin WIlliams]: and you bring that enthusiasm and that joy into your work and that shows through and that is to me one of the keys to that success in a career. 

Video fades to black. Then Guelph Physics logo appears in black and white.

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