What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

A resting Greyhound.

The lessons listed in this blog link are good for students, and anyone for that matter.  Plus it features a greyhound, one of my two favourite dogs.

I wasn’t always a dog lover. I used to be a dog-liker and most of the time a dog-tolerator. I never understood why people would get bumper stickers with their favorite dog breed and I …

Source: What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

2019 Chemical Engineering Capstone Design Projects | Capstone Design | University of Waterloo

This link gives a list and brief description of all of our fourth year design projects this year.  Quite a range of project fields, from polymers to green buildings, water treatment, hydroponics, and waste treatment.  The one on chocolate processing catches my eye!

Source: 2019 Chemical Engineering Capstone Design Projects | Capstone Design | University of Waterloo

Three engineering subjects rank in the world’s top 100 | Engineering | University of Waterloo

See the link below for the full story, but nice to see my department (Chemical Engineering) ranked in the top 100 worldwide.  The two others are Electrical Engineering (49th) and Civil Engineering (51 to 100 range).  Mechanical Engineering ranked in the top 150.

Waterloo Engineering notched three top-100 results in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) worldwide university subject rankings released today for 2019.

Source: Three engineering subjects rank in the world’s top 100 | Engineering | University of Waterloo

Autism and Air Quality

Autism, or more accurately Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is in the news and public view a lot in recent years.  According to some recent reports, it is now diagnosed in 1 out of 68 children (1.47%) in the U.S.  Reasons for the apparent increase in diagnoses over recent decades are complex, but they lead us to wonder what is happening and what are the causes?

Recent scientific literature suggests that the specific causes are largely unknown, but there is a very strong genetic component (heritability of 80%).  Unfortunately, even the genetic aspects are very uncertain and probably highly complex, not just a simple set of genes like the ones that determine your eye colour.  Although genetics may play a large role, there are also indications that environmental factors are involved, perhaps in some sort of interaction with the genetic factors.

The popular and social media keep going in circles about vaccines, a factor for which there is no reliable scientific evidence at all.  At the same time, there seems to be complete ignorance of a growing body of scientific literature linking ASD with air quality.  A quick search through peer-reviewed scientific literature using the Scopus database shows at least 160 papers that mention “autism and ‘air pollution'” somewhere in the publication over the past 20 years.

I don’t know a lot about ASD, but I can comment on air pollution and so here I’ll discuss what I see from some of this literature.  Much of the research literature is only fully available if you have access to a university library (like me), but I’ll try to provide some links to at least the summary or abstract of the studies.  Much of this literature is highly technical however, so don’t worry if it’s not so easy to digest.

Continue reading

Formula For Writing An Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter

HR managers say that many job hunters are not writing cover letters anymore. Learn how you can standout if you use these proven cover letter writing formula.

Source: Formula For Writing An Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter


Comment:  This is a pet peeve of mine, after having served on multiple hiring committees for faculty (and some staff) positions.  I’m surprised at how many applicants don’t provide a cover letter to start off their extensive faculty C.V. and other documents.  My practice is to generally ignore applications without a cover letter.  Why?  There are several reasons:

  1. I suspect that the lack of a cover letter implies that the applicant is not that serious about the position, or
  2. the applicant doesn’t actually meet the requested qualifications and doesn’t want to highlight that fact,
  3. If there is no cover letter, the applicant essentially expects me to sort through 20+ pages of C.V. and other stuff, and try to figure out how they fit into our advertised requirements for teaching and research experience.  There are sometimes 100+ applicants and my time is quite valuable.  Why not provide a cover letter where you can highlight your key features and experience and tell me how it may meet our needs?  Then I can spend my time looking into the details and considering whether I agree.  Job seekers should not expect hiring committees to do their work for them.

So if you’re truly interested in a job (especially a professional or higher level position), spend some time researching and analyzing the position and do a brief cover letter that highlights things of interest to the employer.  It might not get you the job, but at least it’s more likely to pass the first stage of screening.

Toronto Engineering Program Enrollments

Waterloo Engineering has direct program admission, meaning that there is no general first year.  The co-op program you start on day 1 is where you stay, unless some other path opens up to you and you take it.  This also means that the number of students in each program is relatively stable from year 1 to 2 to 3, etc.  A few drop out for various reasons along the way, but nothing too drastic.

Toronto Engineering has an interesting “hybrid” admission process, where some students are admitted directly to a program (like us), and some are admitted to a more general “Track One” program for first year.  The Track One students move into other programs for 2nd year.  I thought it might be interesting to see how that admissions approach affects program enrollments in 2nd year, and luckily they publish their data in their academic calendar so it’s easy to figure out.  You just have to pick a calendar from a previous year, look at year 1 data, then pick the calendar for the following year and look at year 2 data to see the progression for a cohort of students.  For the example I compiled below, I picked the 2014 and 2015 calendars. Continue reading

Cruise Ship Air Quality

An interesting news story about the measurement of air quality on cruise ships appeared recently.  Specifically, it dealt with the concentration of ultrafine particulate (UFP) matter in the air on four cruise ships, measured by a researcher from Johns Hopkins University.  UFP is invisible matter with diameters of around 100 nanometres (nm), which is about  1,000 times smaller than a human hair, and it is implicated in airway inflammation and effects on other organs in the human body.  Being interested in air quality, I looked up the actual study report which you can also read here.  Here is my take on the work and meaning… Continue reading

Chemical Engineering Imagery

My department put together a nice short video about Chemical Engineering.  It shows some quick images of areas where chemical engineers work, such as alternative energy, pharmaceuticals, water, food processing, and others.  And there are more images about the laboratory research and teaching going on in our facilities.  Have a look and see what you think.

Ontario’s Refundable Fee Plan

The Ontario government recently announced a 10% tuition discount, as I mentioned earlier.  Along with that, they also announced that many fees will have to be made refundable for any student that doesn’t want to pay them.  The theory is that it will give “students more choice over the fees they pay” and save students money on top of their 10% discount.  It’s quite unusual for governments to start micro-managing university fees, many of which were set up to address local conditions and concerns with student support via a referendum.  There is an exception in the announcement however, and fees that “fund major, campus-wide services and facilities or fees which contribute to the health and safety of students are deemed mandatory”.  These mandatory fees include walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support.  So, I was interested in how this affects engineering students at Waterloo, and compiled a list of fees (to the best of my ability).  It’s complicated but here they are with some comments and observations. Continue reading