My Journey of Learning and Teaching in Universities around the World
- Guest Post
- Dec 17, 2019
December 17, 2019
The phrase universities around the world might be a bit of an exaggeration as I would like to mention only 4 universities (or regions and cultures, to be more accurate) in this article, but every single one of those experiences had many unique contributions to me in my journey as a professional student, a professional teacher and a distinguished educator.
My name is Selim Temizer. I had always been a brilliant student with perfect scores and a very humble and friendly personality. I believe that I belong to a very special and rare group of people who have taught themselves how to learn properly. I simplify all concepts, I explain them to myself with all the gory details in the simplest form, I group them logically, I build relationships between the knowledge I already have and the knowledge that I am about to acquire. It all needs to make sense and fit together like the pieces of a puzzle before I store anything in my brain (or wherever and however the human body stores information). I focus on important concepts; I sometimes may not remember where and when I learned various things, but I lock all the useful information content in them forever in my mind. I used to be a professional student for more than a quarter of a century, and for the last couple of years, as a very important part of my academic profession, I have been reflecting my learning skills onto my students to help them learn any material in the way that I have been learning them all my life. Wherever I go, my ways of teaching are always appreciated by 99 enlightened students, and sometimes criticized by just 1 schmuck (statistically speaking), out of 100 lucky students managing to find a spot to attend my crowded classes. In the rest of this article, I will briefly present my learning, teaching and other experiences in 4 different universities around the world:
Chronologically, Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey comes first. I received my BS degree in computer science in 4 years from METU. I had a few good instructors, some bad instructors, and some in between (that I barely remember due to their insignificant positive or negative contributions to my educational experience), during those 4 years. I had instructors who were irresponsible towards students for years (and yet the system had never corrected them until their retirement). I even had a drunk teaching assistant once who was unable to grade student work in an electronic-circuits laboratory. I had never missed any classes, but I learned almost everything from textbooks during my undergraduate studies. There was nothing much offered by the lectures that exceeded the information in the textbooks, and textbooks presented the material in a very organized and detailed form that was a lot easy to follow. I spent very long hours studying every single word in every textbook, very carefully. I made sure that every sentence, every theorem and every bit of information made perfect sense before committing them to memory. I feel very lucky that most of the textbooks for the courses I took were of very high quality. I was a straight A student for all 8 semesters throughout my time at METU, yet when I was applying to universities abroad and asked the department head for a letter of recommendation, she told me that she did not know me and did not bother providing me with a letter (although she presented to me the best student award just one semester ago). Most other instructors were also unaware of my academic achievements as a student. I have been the only student who got accepted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate studies in the history of the department of computer science (founded in 1967) at METU, yet I have never ever been acknowledged by anyone associated with METU so far. All in all, education and teaching had never been the top priority at METU.
My next stop was the one and only Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA. I received my MS and PhD degrees from MIT. Highest quality education had always been one of the many top priorities at MIT. Actually, almost everything had been handled with top priority and professionalism at MIT. One needs to be there to truly understand what it means to be the best of the best. All the instructors had been the ones who actually invented the material that has been taught all around the world. The textbooks were authored by the instructors themselves. The word knowledgeable is not enough to describe how knowledgeable the instructors were. The teaching assistants were even more knowledgeable than the instructors, fresh with state-of-the-art practices and helping the students with everything they needed. Within the context of education, I should probably use the words responsibility and perfectionism for only MIT, until I get to see anything better (maybe in a thousand or so years). My supervisors were the kindest people, and all the staff were just amazing. I picked up a lot of wonderful teaching, management and other skills from the genius people surrounding me at MIT. I used to have just one and a very important problem with the dormitory life at MIT. I was probably very unlucky to have very noisy neighbors, and unfortunately the managers of the dormitories I lived in never helped me with that problem. I needed to move a couple of times over the years in order to finally settle in a quiet dormitory room, and I graduated about 4-5 months after that (i.e., I was always on the move all my time at MIT, which was really very difficult. I almost never felt at home, and I was constantly worried about noise during my time at MIT).
Right after graduating from MIT, I participated in an educational program called MEET (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) where MIT students and alumni teach computer science and entrepreneurship skills to a select group of Palestinian and Israeli high school students and help strengthen bonds between the cultures. The program took place at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) campus in Israel and lasted for about 2 months during summer. I had the opportunity to observe the various educational opportunities provided to the youth of the region and I was really impressed. The university campus housed not only the university students and the MEET students, but also pre-primary school children who enjoyed daily science and sports activities from very early ages. I also observed that education and knowledgeable people are highly appreciated and valued there. I had seen very successful MEET students having one-on-one meetings with professors in the university, working on robotics projects together, and being treated almost as peers with the professors. Towards the end of the summer, I returned to Turkey with all good memories, and additional educational skills that I developed there specifically to deal with multicultural classrooms with students of differing technical backgrounds.
Back in Turkey, I started working as an assistant professor at Middle East Technical University (METU). I worked there for exactly 7 years. Over the years, I perfected my teaching and management skills, I implemented lots of software applications to further boost my teaching performance and to automate many chores (like generating sophisticated excel sheets and charts to record and assess grading data), and I participated in critical departmental committees and played key roles in shaping up educational and assessment practices. I offered more than 15 different courses during my time at METU, and whichever course I was teaching attracted the highest demand from students. It has been all due to my unique teaching skills and practices, my friendly approach to my students, fairness in everything I do and every time I do them, and also the large amounts of time I spent to prepare for and perfect each and every lecture, homework assignment, lab, quiz, test and all other sorts of educational components of my courses. I organized many periodic presentations (open to everyone interested, not just students of METU) to share my experiences on applying to universities abroad, I had many of my talks (on both technical and non-technical topics) recorded and posted on the internet by my students, I prepared letters of recommendations to hundreds of students, and so on and so forth. In short, I think I can easily say that I had become the best role-model to not only the students of the department, but also to many other students from other departments and from other universities, as well. There is no end to learning, and the last thing I learned for good at METU is that no good deed goes unpunished. During my 7th year at METU, I had been shamelessly and unfairly targeted by a couple of dishonest members of the department, who were backed by all the authorities all the way up to the president of the university (by the way, the then president was not elected but appointed, contrary to a long-running tradition of METU). It just cost me a couple of months with some paperwork to fight back, and in the end I (legally) told them all to stick all of it up their assess. Nevertheless, nobody except my family supported me during my fight, it was a lot time consuming, and I decided that it wouldn’t worth my time and efforts to try to improve an environment where the inhabitants don’t support people working for their own good. Luckily, a few weeks after my unquestionable victory against; let me say the system, it was time to renew my contract with METU, and I simply did not apply for a renewal (this was probably something unprecedented, because they did not know how to handle it properly, they sent me a couple of reminders about renewal afterwards, and also METU is a state university with job and salary securities that no one can easily reject especially in troubled economic times that Turkey has been experiencing for quite some time). Quality education was, once more, not important at all at METU.
I applied to a couple of universities in Turkey and also to Nazarbayev University (NU) in Kazakhstan. NU had the best offer package among them, and I joined NU about 4 months ago. I just completed my first semester at NU. So far, I offered a must course to about 160 sophomore students and had some chance to observe the environment and the culture here. NU is a very young university, but it is amazing to see how far they have gone in such a short time. In terms of faculty, NU is truly an international university with faculty members from 58 different countries. In terms of the students I taught, almost all of them are locals of Kazakhstan, so there seems to be some more time required to have a more international student body here. Students are highly motivated to get high scores from their courses and to get involved in research projects. According to my personal view so far, NU seems to have very good infrastructural support that is fairly provided to all its members. Quality education is valued, though I have had the impression that research outputs have higher priorities than educational excellence. Still, it is probably too early to say more about NU at this stage.
My journey just continues…
Copyright © 2019 Selim Temizer. All rights reserved.
By Selim Temizer, December 17, 2019.
Online publication rights have been granted to anilbektas.com by the author.
Dr. Selim Temizer graduated summa cum laude from the Department of
Computer Engineering (CENG), Middle East Technical University (METU)
with his BS degree, in 1999 (ranking 1st in his department and 2nd in
his class with a GPA of 3.99 out of 4.00). He received his MS and Ph.D.
degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001 and
2011, respectively. Dr. Temizer’s research interests have been in
artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems, dynamic collision
avoidance for unmanned vehicles, simulation systems, and lately in
practical applications of artificial intelligence techniques on
agricultural intelligence and algorithmic trading domains.