Interview with Shayla Redlin Hume, Recipient of the 2023 CUT Award

Monday, April 24, 2023

Interview with Shayla Redlin Hume, Recipient of the 2023 CUT Award

Shayla Redlin

The Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program provides a comprehensive teacher development experience that is open to PhD students at the University of Waterloo. Completion of the program is recognized by a certificate issued by Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs and listed on the participant’s transcript. Each year, the Centre for Teaching Excellence and Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs award one recent CUT program graduate in recognition and celebration of effort, reflection, and commitment to teaching development demonstrated during their participation in the program.

We are excited to announce that the 2023 CUT Award has been awarded to Shayla Redlin Hume, a PhD student in Combinatorics and Optimization, in the Faculty of Mathematics. We spoke to Shayla about her experience with the CUT program and future plans.

Can you tell me a little bit about your graduate research? What drew you to it, what aspect do you find most interesting?

My research area is matroid theory, which is a branch of discrete mathematics. Matroids are abstract mathematical structures that can generalize both graphs and matrices, which makes them applicable in several different areas of math. By "graphs," I mean discrete structures that describe the pairwise relationships between the elements of a set. For example, think of a network, not an (x,y)-plot.

My background is in graph theory, so I initially became interested in matroids from the perspective of graphs. I think graph theory is interesting because of the variety of situations graphs can represent.  

You participated in the 2022 University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference, where you presented your CUT paper, “Confidence in Mathematics, in a joint session with another graduate student who was pursuing the CUT Program at the time. Can you tell me about your experience attending and co-presenting at a teaching conference as a graduate student? What was the best part of the experience for you?

Attending and co-presenting at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference virtually was a wonderful opportunity. I recorded the presentation ahead of time with Lia Tennant from the Faculty of Health, another graduate student whom I met in the CUT program, and monitored the live chat on the day of the conference. This format provided many pros that would sometimes be lost in other presentation formats, like the ability to answer audience questions in real time without halting the presentation, as well as avoiding the stress and anxiety associated with in-person presentations.

The highlight of this experience was definitely getting to collaborate with Lia, as she brought a different perspective to the topic area that I otherwise may have missed out on.  Our session was titled “Learner Self-Efficacy in STEM,” and we discussed the concept of self-efficacy, which is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. We explored reasons behind why students may lack this confidence in their abilities as well as possible strategies instructors and TAs could implement in order to support students in developing and improving their self-efficacy. The process of bringing together similar ideas from different disciplines and departments was a great learning experience and one that I’m extremely grateful for.

During your graduate studies, you’ve been a Course Instructor and Teaching Assistant for MATH 239: Introduction to Combinatorics here at the University of Waterloo. Can you tell how the CUT program and your teaching experiences informed each other and helped you develop your teaching skills?

My teaching experience, coupled with key takeaways from the CUT program, has provided me with a toolbox full of applicable teaching skills. I was lucky enough to have completed most of the CUT program before working as a Course Instructor for MATH 239. This equipped me with the confidence needed to thrive in a live, classroom environment. In addition, I was introduced to assessment design and the distinguishing features between formative and summative assessments. As a tutorial instructor, I tried to use active learning activities in tutorials, though, I lacked confidence that activities of such nature would be effective in a math class. However, the CUT program not only assisted me in identifying the goal of certain activities and modifying them accordingly to better suit a math class, but also challenged me to apply what I learned in creative ways to my respective discipline.

What did you get out of the CUT program? How do you hope to apply what you have learned?

I walked away from the CUT program with so many new and improved skills and capabilities. The CUT program was an excellent opportunity to interact with other graduate students across varying disciplines and became a wonderful environment for networking. As evidenced by my presentation at the Teaching and Learning Conference, this networking can lead to very unique and enriching opportunities to showcase your knowledge and passion for your respective discipline. From my CUT research project, I learned about several teaching methods that can improve learner self-confidence. This, along with assessment design strategies, are two key takeaways I plan to utilize in future opportunities.

Do you have any future plans that you can talk about?

I’m hoping to finish my thesis within the next few months, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to wrapping up. Other than that, I’d love to be a sessional instructor here at the University of Waterloo in the Fall term if the opportunity were to present itself.

Anything else you would like to share about yourself or your experiences at Waterloo or in the CUT program?

I’d like to take this opportunity to share some advice for current graduate students. While it can sometimes be intimidating, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and seek new opportunities. For instance, as a TA, I actively sought out chances to run tutorial sessions as opposed to purely doing marking, which gave me a great taste of university teaching. For PhD students in particular, ask your supervisor or department chair for opportunities to teach. Even if your department has guidelines around when students are allowed to teach, it can’t hurt to ask. Teaching courses as a grad student is an amazing experience and a great start to a career as a university instructor.