Associate Professor BJ Rye Discusses Her Approach to Education

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BJ Rye is an associate professor in the Psychology Department at St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. Born and raised on Canada’s east coast, BJ obtained her bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB before pursuing her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Western University in London, Ontario.

During this time, her studies focused on HIV/AIDS preventive behavior of young women.  

While completing her Ph.D., BJ worked as a research associate and then eventually as a scientist in the Adolescent and Violence Prevention Divisions of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Since 1999, she has maintained a position as a professor at St. Jerome’s University. Her current research explores various aspects of sexuality, with a focus on attitudes toward sexual minorities and controversial sexual topics. As a well-respected scholar in her field, BJ has been published in multiple academic journals and has taught undergraduate courses on human sexuality that include psychological perspectives on gender and sex.

1. What do you currently do as an Associate Professor?

Any professor has three components to their job: research, teaching, and service. Many people think a professor’s job consists only of teaching, but teaching comprises about forty percent of a professor’s duties. Typically, I teach five courses a year to undergraduate students, which is a relatively heavy teaching load compared to professors at larger institutions. As part of my teaching, I find supervising students’ honours theses and advanced research projects particularly rewarding. I am very proud that many students consider me a mentor and keep me updated on their professional progress.

Another component of my job involves scholarly research. Writing and publishing academic manuscripts is a critical component of scholarship. Scholarly work also involves conference presentations and acting as an expert peer reviewer for academic journals. The peer review process is paramount to the scientific process. While conducting research is a slow process and some components of academic writing are tedious, publishing a scholarly paper is a labour of love.  

The final job component of a professorial position is service to the university community.  Service involves activities such as sitting on committees that approve academic policies, processes, and the like. All three of these components of a professor’s work life are inter-connected.  Our research informs our teaching, our teaching sparks research, and so forth.  

2. What inspired you to go into Psychology and become a Professor?

When I was an undergraduate student, I tried to keep an open mind about what I would specialize in, so I enrolled in many different classes to see what I liked. I ended up liking psychology the best. A dynamic psychology professor ignited my interest in the why, how, and what regarding attitudes, and this inspired me to enroll in more psychology courses.  

3. What defines your approach to your everyday routines regarding your students, research, philosophy, and so on?

One of my goals as an educator is to treat/see each student as a person first, especially in this digital age. It is easy for the person to get lost, so I try to keep their humanity in mind as I interact with them. This was a big thing during the emergency remote learning situation brought on by the pandemic.  

One of my main thrills as a psychology professor is research. The world of research fascinates me, and I love analyzing numbers and data and statistics to answer empirical questions. I really enjoy working with a writing partner or on a research team.  I find working with others to be very rewarding. 

4. What are the keys to being productive that you can share?

The big keys to success are time management and organization. Many people have the ability and skills to be productive, but they do not have persistence. My advice for those who want to succeed in academia, in particular: be persistent and learn to manage your time well. Then, learn to say ‘no’; in other words, learn how to set boundaries, because I’ve seen too many people say yes to too many requests and then they end up spreading themselves too thinly. 

5. How do you measure success?

Although academia defines success by measuring our publication record or scholarly achievement, I use the “happiness” factor as a success yardstick. To me, success probably boils down to: is a person happy or not? It doesn’t matter what a person is “doing” as long as they are happy and not infringing on others. As an example, when my father passed away in December 2021, he said to me: “I’ve lived a good life.” To me, that’s the hallmark of a successful life.

6. What would you consider to be the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout the course of your career?

One lesson I have learned is to always ask questions, listen to others, and keep an open mind.  In academia, as well as in life, it is a good idea to maintain your curiosity. While not necessarily a lesson I’ve learned, I will add another guiding principle: the Golden Rule. Treat people the way you want to be treated. You’d be surprised that people don’t seem to understand how you treat others can have an effect on the rest of your life, including your career.

7. How would your colleagues describe you?

Well, what I can say is “cheeky”. I try to be funny, and I am hilarious in my own mind. But, I believe that colleagues would say that I am a hard worker who doesn’t do anything half-way. At least, that’s how I hope my colleagues think of me.

8. How do you maintain a work life balance?

When I was working on my Masters and PhD degrees, I worked nights and weekends. My friends would try to bring me to events like movies and such, but I wouldn’t enjoy the event because I would focus on all the work I could be getting done. I would come to understand that that kind of thinking was counterproductive.  Living to work: that is no life to live. Having a balance between the work and what one does outside of work is paramount. Again, it’s about setting boundaries, making sure that work stays at work. There are times when you may have to work nights and evenings, but it’s vital to learn good work-life balance.

9. What’s a piece of technology that helps you in your daily routine?

My computer – it is a gift. When I was a student, I wrote essays on loose-leaf paper and would literally cut sentences apart and paste them together. In the1980s, we simply didn’t have the kind of word processors that we have today. You had to make sure your work was good; once it was accurate/correct, then you typed it. This meant that you read what you wrote several times.  This really helped you process the material about which you were writing. But, this was an incredibly slow process.

Computers allow us to produce much more quickly but, for me, that is a double-edged sword because sometimes it is not as refined or considered as it was with that typewriter process.  By and large, computers and their applications have made my life much easier. I am able to do a lot more in-depth work in a shorter time frame.  All and all, the computer is a wonderful gift. 

10. What do you feel like has been your hardest obstacle to overcome, professionally-speaking?

I can’t point to one event because there are so many instances that shaped me as an individual and my professional career. For me, obtaining an employment position where my interests and skills matched the job was difficult. I am very fortunate that my skills matched with my current role. In academia, our area of expertise is extremely specialized. Finding a position where the institution wants your particular skill set, research specialization, and match for your interests is not easy. I have classmates who moved half-way around the world because the right job for them was simply not available closer to home.  Finding the right academic position is more than simply finding a job teaching.  

11. What’s one key piece of advice that you’ve always remembered?

Keep wet wipes in the glove compartment of your car. I’m kidding! My mother told me: “When driving, look out for the vehicles ahead of you, behind you, beside you, and especially watch out for the ones you can’t see.” This is good driving advice but it is good, overall advice.  It makes good sense in all areas of life to pay attention and be mindful of your surroundings.

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