Behind The Podium, with Prof Arnold (II)

A quote about Professors, I typed in my Google Search window, and the very first quote I receive is-

“A professor is someone, who talks in someone else’s sleep.” – W. H. Auden

I was worried. Is this what we really think of professors? As a distant figure disturbing our sleep? It’s shocking almost and that is why this interview with Arnold Rosenbloom, a professor @ UTM, is so valid and necessary. Continuing from last week, here is the latter half of the interview. Enjoy!

At this moment, do you have an idol you look up to? Someone who inspires you, influences you?

Let’s start with the local people. Lots of the local faculty- Andrew Peterson, Dan Zingaro is great, Larry, all the first year instructors, everyone. And in some ways, I try to find the best in people and I say ‘oh that’s the aspect, of that person, I’d like to have.’ Also, Steve Cook, he’s my PhD Supervisor, I look up to him- you should look up who he is! Charlie Rackoff, the office we’re sitting in- this was his office.

But people I admire- I admire those whose ideas went past their lifetime, they made a change in the universe… and I mean positive changes hahah, there have been people who’ve made negative changes too, not those! But you know, people like Einstein were great.

Has a student ever inspired you in the past?

OH yeah, all the time, yeah, lots of times, students teach you about teaching. If you pay attention, students will change your perspective on life, on things. I have this saying, use ‘means, motive, and opportunity to get an A in my class.” It’s like in those American crime shows, where if you had a means, motive, and opportunity, they find you’re guilty, and you did it. Anyways, so I provide the opportunities. So if some students come to me, say they want to do a project, I feel it’s my responsibility to try to say ‘yes’. Students provide half the motivation; I’m supposed to provide the other half. And the ‘means’, that the students thing. For example, students have taught me that just having the means is not enough. Very early on, I had students who wanted to do projects with me, I had some who were 4.0 students, and I said fine. And some who were more like a B-, C+ student, and I said no, no, no, your marks aren’t good enough. Then they come back and say, here’s what I’ve done, I really want to do the project! And this went on until I said yes. Turns out, that project turned out to be one of the best projects! And I’ve had students, with A’s, and their projects could be terrible. Just having the means isn’t enough, motivation really counts! If people really want to do great things, I think they can do it, it’s just how much effort they’re willing to put in it. The question was, did I learn from students? I trailed off there, but that was something I learnt from them.


You’ve seen many first year students, later on graduate with their degrees, be successful, etc. Is there any advice you would give to first-year students?

I think the gist of it all is you have to be willing to put the time and effort into learning; and know when you do and know when you don’t. That’s a funny thing- you have to know when you don’t know. And then you do something about it. Most times people don’t understand, not because they’re incapable, but because they just didn’t try.

The last few questions are just fast questions asking about your favourite things, ending on a lighter note!

Yeah, sure, this is like how they do it on TV shows!

Favourite Sport:

I can’t pick, but either karate or body-building.

Favourite Food:

I was in Singapore on sabbatical, and over there I liked Mee Goreng and rice [fried noodles], but I like lots of things.

Favourite Music Genre: 

I like Rush a lot, I like classical. Usually I listen to the words, what the words mean. But classical has no lyrics, I still like it though. Oh and I like dance music.

Is there music you listen to while working?

Yeah of course, but it’s usually something I’ve heard lots of times before, so I’m not concentrating on the music but rather what I’m working on. It’s funny, I have a theory of this: mathematicians always walked while they were thinking. It helps your idle part of the brain to focus on something else, while your other part focusses on the main thing you’re doing. Same with music, background stuff keeps your brain moving, dynamic.

Biggest Pet Peeve:

When students are cheating, that’s about my only one. Even if they get away with it, I feel like they’re devaluing the experience of the other students. It’s very hard to cheat at UofT, but even then, you get through it, get a job, and not know anything… it hurts the reputation of the university. I mean, if they’re not interested in learning the stuff, they should just find stuff they are interested in, I don’t think they’re evil people, but they’re not helping themselves. It’s like with my kids, they tell me “oh I practiced piano”, if they didn’t, sooner or later it’s going to come back and haunt them, because they won’t have that ability. I wish people would realize that, and once they do, they should seek help for it.

That’s it, thank you Arnold!

Thank you!

Just as professor(s) are inspired by students, it is safe to say that students are equally, if not inspired by professors.

I agree, it’s our first year, we’re barely able to get to our class on time. But it’s important to not see professors in an intimidating light, but rather a colleague, a mentor who was once in our shoes.  Hope you all enjoyed the interview, and be sure to say Hi to Arnold if you see him around!

But perhaps less awkwardly than Ron here.


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