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ALUMNI & FRIENDS

Dan Zingaro

WITH OISE I CAN HELP STUDENTS LEARN 

- Dan Zingaro (MEd 2009, PhD 2014)

 

 

Can you share some highlights of your career with us?

As I was finishing up my PhD at OISE, I was fortunate to be interviewed for a CS-teaching position at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). U of T has these teaching-track positions where you focus largely on teaching and not so much on research. As a PhD student, this is the kind of job that I idly hoped to get one day. So anyway, I somehow got an interview. And then the "broken clock is correct twice a day" thing happened and I not only got the interview but also managed not to screw-up the interview. And now I work as a CS teaching faculty at UTM and I am very grateful for this opportunity.

Maybe my most proud moment as a PhD student is writing this JOLT paper (please don't downvote me, I promise there's a story here): https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/42295 I was in my second year. I'd read papers and think, "wow, there's no way I could write that, these people are the real deal". And at the same time, my closest PhD colleague Murat Oztok -- he's in England now, he sat at the next desk over in our PhD office -- was publishing papers too. And Murat and I would have lunch and order pizza and play old computer games in the office and listen to music and go to Jays games and all that. And I learned from Murat that normal goofs can do this publishing stuff too -- it isn't so unachievable. So I started working on that JOLT paper and for the first time believed that I could actually publish something. And when I read the paper now, to me it has this sense that I am trying to have fun and that there was nothing to lose.

Now, for better or worse, my idea of fun hasn't matured much since my 13th birthday, so you see very determined efforts to include some completely-avoidable acronyms in there (and someone called me out on one of them at a conference -- I'll leave that part to your imagination), and some shoutouts to old music and games. But this is when I realized that I could do research and that maybe it wasn't impossible for me to be an academic.

What do you think sets OISE apart from other Faculties of Education?

I don't really know because I wanted to stay in downtown Toronto, and OISE was the only education school that I knew in the area. So I kept applying. I applied the first time and didn't get in. Two minutes ago I looked at that application, and ... to the OISE admissions committee: thank you, that thing was a mess, I hope that I have brought you some laughs. I applied again the next year and again didn't get in. Third time was a charm -- well, the charm thing plus having done my M.Ed at OISE by then so I actually knew something when I was writing the third application.

So while I can't compare OISE to other faculties of education, I can tell you why OISE worked out so well for me. We had a research group with my advisor Jim Hewitt, Clare Brett, and many research students. And we'd read papers, discuss teaching and learning, demo our own research, prepare for conferences, and so on. And while what I remember most is sending secret notes to people to try to get them to laugh during the meetings, the lasting thing was the community of people interested in student learning. And that big group of us also hung out at conferences -- going to dinner, attending research talks, going for walks -- and that was a lot of fun and a very comfortable introduction to managing academic conferences.

Faculty support is something that I probably took for granted during my time there. I have this clear memory of one of my first papers being rejected, and when I got the rejection I went moping and complaining into Clare's office. Probably (hopefully?) Clare doesn't remember this.

But if my memory is any reasonable representation of what actually happened, then I went on quite the unintelligible rant. And I can't remember what Clare said but I do know that she was extremely patient and funny and "this sucks" and "I know how this feels"... and I don't know, if a student stormed my office in that kind of state I'd probably be way less patient than that. But this isn't an isolated case -- Jim and Clare repeatedly taught me a lot about how to be a student and a teacher and a person.

Do you have a favourite memory from your time at OISE?

Too many. My first conference, in New Brunswick, comes to mind. That's the first time that I got to talk to my advisor outside of OISE and better get to know my PhD colleagues. Plus that was the time that I thought it would be fun to order and eat the 10/10 spicy chicken wings on our first night of the conference. 

What advice would you give to an OISE student currently attending OISE for their academic pursuits?

My advice would be this: you are not here only to get your degree. You are here to become an academic. Read, read, read. Don't skip sections, don't skip the results, don't skip the analysis. Read the paper as would a future writer. Why did these authors write in this way?

Oh wow -- that's a cool sentence construction. Neat word choice. Crappy section -- what does this add, anyway? Confusing organization! Read as a writer at least as much as a researcher. At the same time, write, write, write.

Don't wait. Write. We all have a lot to write. So get that out early. Then bring that to your advisor and ask them to help you make it better. They may tell you to throw it out. That's fine. That's not wasted time: that's iteration and one step closer to better work.