Q&A: Dr. Jake Bobowski on being Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science’s first Full Professor of Teaching

The Department of Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics and Statistics’ Dr. Jake Bobowski was recently promoted to Full Professor of Teaching, making him the first with this title in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. We sat down with Dr. Bobowski to discuss his new role, and why he chose to pursue the Educational Leadership stream.

1. You are the first full professor of teaching in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science – what does that mean to you on a personal and professional level?
Becoming the first Professor of Teaching in the Faculty of Science was definitely rewarding. While I try not to be overly focused on titles, I feel like reaching this milestone gives me the freedom to pursue longer-term projects and goals. In a lot of ways, I’m glad that I was one of the first hired into the Educational Leadership stream. Many of my colleagues are doing remarkable work that continuously raises the bar to new heights.

2. Did you always know you wanted to pursue the teaching stream, or was there a defining moment in your career when you came to that realization?
My wife and I moved to Kelowna in 2009 after she got her position as the Physics Lab Manager at UBC Okanagan. At that time, I was still writing my PhD thesis and, to gain some valuable experience and get my foot into the door, I started teaching a few courses as a sessional instructor. Up until that point, I wasn’t aware of the Educational Leadership stream. Over the next couple of years, I taught a wider variety of courses and completed a post doc in Electrical Engineering at UBC Okanagan. In 2012, a teaching-stream position in physics was advertised. I could see from the job description that the position was a good fit for my skills and interests. I was excited to submit my application and, ultimately, fortunate to be offered the position.

3. For those who may not understand the difference between a professor of teaching and a professor – can you explain how the roles/responsibilities differ/are alike?
In the research stream, the major responsibilities of faculty members include research, teaching, and service to the university. In the teaching stream, the research component is replaced with educational leadership, which is defined to be an activity undertaken to advance innovation in teaching and learning with impact beyond one’s own classroom. Faculty in this stream also typically have heavier teaching loads which can make it a challenge to find sufficient time to fully engage in educational leadership activities.

4. What do you teach, and what are your research interests?
I’ve taught a wide variety of courses, but my main interest is experimental physics. Much of my educational leadership has focused on the development of the experimental physics curriculum at UBC Okanagan and, in partnership with undergraduate students, the development of lab-based projects. My research interests are in low-temperature physics and microwave techniques. Through the supervision of undergraduate research projects, I have managed to maintain a modest independent research program. I have also been fortunate to collaborate with some excellent researchers at UBC Okanagan and to participate in a couple of international research projects.

5. Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to talk about specifically?
In 2015, drawing on experiences from my PhD and post doc, I developed a novel lab project for one of my experimental physics courses. Specifically, a custom microwave resonator, called a loop-gap resonator, was used to make sensitive measurements of the electromagnetic properties of water and saltwater. Since then, students and I have used loop-gap resonators to study a wide variety of systems including magnetic nanoparticle suspensions and split-ring resonators used to fabricate metamaterials that have physical properties not found in nature. Currently, we’ve come full circle and are again investigating loop-gap resonators submerged in saltwater. This time, the aim is to efficiently transfer power wirelessly from a transmitter to a receiver through the conductive saltwater medium. That all of this activity has come from an idea developed for our teaching labs has been very rewarding. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many talented undergraduate physics students on these projects.

6. What goals do you hope to accomplish in your role?
One of the challenges of being an experimentalist in the teaching stream is the lack funding to acquire equipment and have custom parts made. I take some pride in developing low-cost projects that produce useful results. I rely on equipment that can be found in the undergraduate labs, the generosity of others, and finding good deals for secondhand equipment. I am now beginning to increase my capacity to fabricate parts on my own which will open the door to a wider range of potential projects in both teaching and research settings. Recently, relatively low-cost, but high-performance, microwave equipment has become available which allows me to consider higher frequency and broadband experiments. A longer term goal is to develop a low-cost apparatus for low-temperature measurements. A second challenge that I’ve encountered is a sense of isolation that results from being in the Educational Leadership stream with the majority of my colleagues in the research stream. To build a greater sense of belonging, a Physics Education Research (PER) group was established in March of 2021. It is my hope that, over the next several years, this group will continue to grow, support one another in activities to improve teaching and learning, and establish productive collaborations with like-minded colleagues at the Vancouver campus and at other institutions.