Cindy Xin, an educational consultant with the faculties of education and science, interviewed Peter Ruben, a biomedical physiology and kinesiology professor and associate science faculty dean, during his SFU Research Masterclass Oct. 9, 2014, entitled "The random walk of an academic career."


Research masterclasses dispel researcher stereotypes

November 06, 2014

You might think the only serious teaching by academic researchers happens through structured curricula in laboratories and lecture halls.

But sitting those same researchers in front of an appreciative audience for one-on-one interviews with a colleague about their lives, careers and passions can produce a learning experience as powerful as any lab, lecture or seminar discussion.

Intellectual detachment melts and passions shine through as their personal and research journeys readily unfold in stories punctuated with self-deprecating humour, rueful confessions of past blunders, and remarkable insights into their work, thought processes and lives as researchers.

That’s the central idea behind the IRMACS Centre’s SFU Research Masterclass Series, introduced this year with six hour-long lunchtime events featuring some of the university’s most prominent researchers. There are five more planned so far for 2015.

“It’s a way for students, postdocs, faculty and staff to get up close and personal with some of our finest scholars,” says Veselin Jungic, adjunct math professor and deputy director of IRMACS (Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences).

“Instead of lecturing on their work, they talk about their research paths and the best practices and lessons they learned along the way.

“They reminisce about their lives and how they became interested in their topic, how their research has shifted or changed course over time, their mentors and collaborators and how they developed those connections.”

Each session ends in a Q&A with audience members, many of them students and postdocs seeking advice about their own careers.

“These events are amazing,” says Melanie Monk, the VP Research office’s manager of communications and research awards, who dreamed up the master-class concept after being inspired by the popular TV show “Inside the Actors Studio.”

The show features similar interviews with famous actors, directors and writers reminiscing about their childhood, how they got started in their careers and sharing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Plus each episode ends with personal and career-related questions from students.

"When meeting one of our faculty members for the first time,” says Monk, “what I’m most interested in is their personal story—what led them down that particular path, and who and what did they encounter along the way that caused them to change direction or shift focus.

“Not only do I gain a richer understanding of their research, but it also helps me appreciate the varied pressures and pathways of an academic life.

“These are very entertaining and informative events, not just for students in the same discipline but for everyone. You'll come away with some best practices for research, collaboration and innovation that were hard-earned by these research 'masters'."

Peter Ruben, a biomedical physiology and kinesiology professor and associate science faculty dean was featured in a recent session entitled “The random walk of an academic career.”

He says the master-class format is “a great forum for engaging students, other faculty and the general university community in our research. I love to talk about the things that I work on and how they apply to health, nature in general, and biology.”

Ruben adds, “it’s also a good opportunity to correct false perceptions about researchers and let others see us for who we are—regular, hard-working committed people involved in our communities, who can talk with anyone from parking lot attendants to Nobel laureates.”

Don’t miss the next Masterclass, “From Metallurgy Trainee to SFU Prof” with Pavol Hell, on Nov. 20, 2014, 11:30-12:30, IRMACS Centre, Burnaby campus.

For a complete schedule of upcoming SFU Research Masterclass sessions and videos of previous events, visit:

View Peter Ruben's master class video here.

Peter Ruben discusses the perspectives of new students on video here.