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Faculty Profile

Brian Wilson Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in Undergraduate Physics Education
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Congratulations on your new position Professor Wilson!

Your PhD in Astrophysics is from U of T, why did you choose this field for your doctoral studies?

When I was around 10 or 12, my father got interested in reading about physics and mathematics. He bought books like A Brief History of Time and The Emperor’s New Mind. I started reading them too, and while I didn’t understand them, I decided some day I would. So I knew from a young age that I was going to do a PhD. The choice between math and physics, physics, or astrophysics was made after my first year of undergraduate studies. I didn’t like the way my calculus and algebra courses were taught, and my very first lab was embarrassing (I got a value of 13 +/- 3 m/s^2 for g), but the physics classes and tutorials were great. Astrophysics had fewer labs than physics, so that was my choice. From there, the cosmology material was what most interested me, hence I wound up studying General Relativity.

You have been a sessional lecturer and part-time faculty member in the Department for a number of years now. What do you love most about teaching?

Like many teachers, I love witnessing the “Ah-ha!” moment when a student finally understands a difficult concept. It’s hard to witness this in large courses, but the buzz of conversations in a room full of excited and engaged students is the next best thing because I know that good learning is happening. I especially love watching students who didn’t think they would succeed prove to themselves that they can figure things out.

What are your favorite subjects to teach and why?

Thermal physics and lab courses. Thermal physics is so broadly applicable to the world, and it has so many connections with astrophysics that it’s the closest I’ll come in the physics department to teaching an astrophysics course. Also, I always enjoyed statistics more than the other branches of mathematics. The lab courses may seem odd given my experience, but it turns out it’s not physics experiments that I disliked in first year, it was the lack of clarity in what I was supposed to be learning in the labs. I am keenly interested in making sure that future students do not get turned off from experimental physics the way I was.

What are you looking forward to the most about your new position?

The extra stability from my new position will let me invest more energy into various projects I’ve been interested in. For example, it lets me get involved in the second- and third-year lab courses, hopefully for several years. Those courses need some modernization, which I expect will take years to complete. I’ve recently begun to give more thought to providing better support to teaching assistants. This will be easier to implement as a full-time faculty.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Right now I enjoy playing with my young children, which is my only hobby that hasn’t been negatively impacted by the pandemic. When social gathering is allowed, I enjoy playing ultimate frisbee and volleyball. But my favourite hobby is playing board games. I used to spend a fair bit of time at Snakes & Lattes on Bloor Street. As a PhD student, my supervisor told me to spend less time in the chess club, which was a wise decision.