Computer Science and Home-Made Chocolate: DCS's New
Acting Chair Shares his Thoughts on the Position
1) What inspired you to accept the role of Acting Chair?
It was a total surprise when
I was asked to take on the role and I had to think very carefully about what
the role would entail and what kinds of trade offs it would involve for me.
Ultimately, there were a few different reasons that convinced me to take on the
First, having come to DCS
from another institution I was very aware of just how important the department
is to my own productivity. I experienced a tremendous jump in my research
productivity when I joined DCS. This arose from a number of factors, including
having access to much better graduate students, having more engaged and
productive colleagues, and generally being in a much more intellectually
stimulating environment. So I decided that spending one year of my 35 plus year
career (less than 3%) helping to ensure that the department continues to be a
great and productive place was worth the time.
Second, DCS is a very
important community for me. Except for time with my family, I spend more of my
waking hours in the department than anywhere else. So the people in DCS form a
major part of my social life and connections. A willingness to give back to
that community serves to build stronger links with it thus making the
experience and sense of connection even more fulfilling.
Third, related to my second
reason, I was always aware that there are lots of interesting activities and
people in the department, and more generally around the University. Serving as
Acting Chair gives me the opportunity to get to know much more about what is going
on in the department, the University and to connect with more people.
2) What are your plans and priorities for the
department over the next year?
My plans are relatively
modest as I am only on the job for a year. I know that it will take me a bit
more time to do many of the regular jobs that the chair has to do, since I will
be doing them for the first time. However, in addition to these regular tasks a
number of key initiatives have been set in place over the past couple of years.
I will be working to ensure that we keep these initiatives moving forward.
Finally, I plan to be opportunistic in pursuing additional initiatives that can
serve to further advance the department's goals.
3) What do you think will be the most challenging
aspects of the position?
Juggling all of the different
demands on my time and making sure that I can still keep up some progress on my
4) How long have you been at DCS?
I joined the department in
5) What do you feel are the most unique
characteristics of the department that make DCS stand out from other CS
The quality of the department
stands out. We have a large collection of great people; faculty, staff,
students, who are engaged in exciting work. You just have to strike up a
conversation and you'll learn something new and interesting.
6) How did you initially develop an interest in CS and
what was the point in your life when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in
My interest in CS was sparked
by my first CS course. I was originally a Chemistry major and decided to take a
CS course. Even though the course involved programming with punch cards (!) I
was still fascinated that by thinking things through logically and systematically
you could produce a program that would actually do something interesting.
Subsequent to that, my fascination continued and grew as I was introduced to
other aspects of CS beyond programming. This led me to switch to a CS major.
After I graduated with my Bachelors I went to work as a programmer for about
two years. The job was relatively interesting---we were working with a computerized
process control system in a large and newly constructed cement plant. However,
the experience made me realize I had to get back to thinking and learning. So I
went back to graduate school to pursue an academic career.
7) What made you choose a career at the University of Toronto?
If you want an academic
career and you want to stay in Canada,
UofT represents the top of the heap. Who wouldn't want to pursue a career here?
8) What are your hobbies / interests?
I am a serious cook and
especially enjoy making desserts with my son. I've tried my hand at making
chocolates, but probably need to buy a tempering machine---my efforts at
getting the chocolate properly tempered have been hit and miss. (Tempering is
the process of getting the chocolate to crystallize with the right type of
crystals when it solidifies). Of course with food, and my last name, I am also
seriously into wine. I also enjoy bicycling, a few other physical activities,
and watching sports where the skill level is very high, Formula One racing in