VIEW to the U transcribed
Season 8: We Are UTM; Episode #6
Professor Nick Rule
UTM Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean
Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto
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Nick Rule (NR): Being an academic, being a scholar, being a student or a learner, comes from a foundation of humility, recognizing that you don't know something, and that you're going to go find out.
My name is Nick Rule. I'm the Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean, and I'm a professor in the Psychology Department.
I think that that requires a desire for growth and a recognition that we don't have things settled because we're always searching for something new, something more, something that helps to explain and bring clarity to the world around us. And at the same time we tend to focus on the things that we don't know. And I think that that goes hand in hand with a feeling of being an impostor.
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Carla DeMarco (CD): The Dawning of a new Dean
Hello and welcome to VIEW to the U: An eye on the UTM academic community.
I'm Carla DeMarco at U of T Mississauga. VIEW to the U is a monthly podcast that will feature UTM faculty members and students from a range of disciplines who will illuminate some of the inner workings of UTM’s science labs, enlighten the social sciences and humanities hubs on campus, and put a spotlight on our academic community at large.
On the new season called “We are UTM,” I will introduce you to some of the people from our vibrant and ever-growing scholarly community, from some of our newest members of UTM’s leadership team to students who are doing innovative things on the UTM campus.
On today’s episode of VIEW to the U, my guest is Nick Rule, UTM’s new Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean, and a professor from the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science.
As the opening quote illustrates, Nick talks about the humility that can help drive progress in academia, as well as the “imposter syndrome,” something that Nick has written about in the past, and is also very candid about discussing – both in reconciling his own occasional feelings of being an ‘outsider looking in,’ along with the value that having the imposter syndrome can actually bring to our respective ways of being.
Over the course of this interview, Nick talks about his research related to social cognition, and how first impressions can persist in colouring our perceptions of people.
His particular line of inquiry was actually motivated by his own personal realization related to his sexuality: as a person who identifies as gay, Nick says he was curious about the fact that people recognized him as a gay man before he figured it out for himself while attending university as an undergrad. He was interested in finding out more about people’s perception of others and ended up becoming a leading expert on the concept of “gaydar,” among other related areas, such as racial bias, religious ideology, and social behaviour.
Along with his scholarly work, on this episode Nick also talks about his aims for his term as Dean of UTM, which also ties into his research expertise: that UofT Mississauga needs to break through the long held perception that some people have formed about the campus being primarily a teaching branch of UofT, and that the time to own and embrace our uniqueness is now – both in terms of the exceptional research that happens here, as well as the beautiful campus and fantastic programs UTM has to offer.
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Nick Rule earned a BA at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, before going on to do a Master of Science and a PhD at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He joined the Faculty of Arts & Science in the Department of Psychology at UofT in 2010 as a Canada Research Chair.
The recipient of many research awards, he has also held a number of leadership positions at UofT, including both Chair and Associate Chair of the undergraduate Dept of Psychology at Arts & Science, as well as Dean’s designate for Academic Integrity and Interim Vice-Dean, Undergraduate. He is a stalwart advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion and is the founder of a mentorship program at UofT for first-generation scholars in psychology.
Nick is starting his four-year term officially as Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean on July 1, 2023, running until the end of June 2027.
Just a disclaimer: there is a homophobic slur around 34 minutes in, but we are keeping it in because it is related to a person’s lived experience. If you are sensitive to this language, you can skip ahead to 34 minutes and 10 seconds, and please take care while listening.
NR: I'm a social psychologist, and my specialty is non-verbal behaviour or social perception and cognition would be sort of the broad technical term that we would use for the area that I study. And so a lot of my research is on sort of what you might call snap judgments. So the impressions that people form of each other when they first encounter each other. I mean, these can be not just sort of interpersonal interactions face to face, but they be all kinds of things. So, impressions you might form about someone when you see them. Certainly, in passing, but also through various forms of media. So, it could be that you see someone's Facebook or their Twitter picture or anything like that. And those are all sort of instances in which we start to form impressions about people. And that's sort of where my research primarily lands.
CD: I do have a question about that only for my own clarification. So, it's about the perceptions we have of other people. I just want to differentiate that from…I know there's a researcher here in psychology, Erika Carlson, where she talks about our own perceptions of ourselves. Right? Yeah. Does your work take that into account, not just how we perceive others, but how we perceive ourselves?
NR: Occasionally. I mean, the difference between my work and Erika's work is that Erika is really interested in meta perception: so, perceptions of the perceptual process, so to speak, and part of that is self-perception. I mean, in some of the studies I've run, we've considered people's self-perceptions. But for the most part we're interested in how people form impressions of other people, and how they do this with very limited information? And that's what's a little bit different about the work that I do is that it's kind of these snap judgments. Right. So what information do you extract from seeing a person, hearing a person, watching a person, for very brief amounts of time, as much as a twentieth of a second in some cases. So, it's really those initial judgments that you make as soon as you see someone. And it sounds perhaps to an outsider it's a bit silly, right? It's kind of superficial. It seems a little bit strange, and we, as a society, you know, in which we advocate for not judging a book by its cover. We tend to think of these things as perhaps not necessarily having a lot of weight or a lot of value.
And yet at the same time, what we find in the research that I do is that people do this. They do it all the time. And so, we are interested in understanding how they do it, why they do it, and what the outcomes of that are, and it turns out that the answer to all of those questions is that they're quite substantial. I mean the frequency, but also at the same time, what has interested my lab most in recent years is really the products of this. So, what do people do with that information?
And what's so interesting about it is that even though one knows better than to make these kinds of judgments, and yet people still do. They have an enormous influence on the decisions that people make, and even in instances in which you might come to know someone really well. What we found is that every time you see that person again you revert back to that first impression in the first few moments that you see them. I mean, this could be someone as familiar as a family member. You form a first impression of them every time you see them. But as you get more information about them, all of that sort of what we call semantic knowledge comes online and then overwrites that initial impression.
But the initial impression is happening every time. And so when you consider that, as I said, the impact can be quite large.
CD: I find this so fascinating, and your work reminds me, though, and I know he's doing something totally different work with memory. But I know when I interviewed Keisuke Fukuda, he talks about when people are studying and looking at information. Sometimes it's just about looking at it, for a brief, like a second. He was talking about the effective ways to study and things like that. And it's more about you retain information sometimes better, just by. You're talking about these snap judgments and just that quick recognition. And he kind of talks about that as well in terms of memory. I just, I find this so interesting.
NR: I actually do quite a bit of research using memory as a tool. And so person memory, so we would call it. And the things that you remember about people are quite important as well. And that's again where these perceptual mechanisms come into play. And so, when you are, say, unfamiliar with a particular social group, you see someone who belongs to that group, and you immediately encode their group membership. And then that has an effect on how much or whether you remember that person, because you remember them according to their salient category those features that stand out to you. And you say, Okay, that person is a woman, and then you might not pay as much attention to what's happening elsewhere, and that person has a perceptual stimulus, and then you might mistake them for a different woman, because all you encoded was that this person was a woman, and particularly if that is an individual in a context that you wouldn't expect them. So a woman walks through a men's change room. You just say, okay. A woman walked through, and then a different woman could walk through again, and you might just assume it's the same woman, because that's the distinctive feature for that person in that context.
But I mean, that's a toy example. But if you take that expanded out to different groups where there is more social priority on the kind of judgment you might make. That's where people often start getting into trouble with things.
CD: I was wondering, though, because you've been in this field now for a while, if you could speak a little bit to how you found that it's changed over the time that you've been working in it?
NR: Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I've been reflecting on that a bit. And I think, you know, certainly the ways in which any field changes that we know more right? And, as I said, the process for my lab has been that we've shifted to thinking more about the outcomes of these things, now that we understand a little bit more about them as a phenomenon so initially, our pursuit was in discovering different domains in which this was happening, and then we looked at the common mechanisms that underlie each of those manifestations. And then we've turned our attention to thinking, ‘well, what does this now mean? How are we seeing this play out in the world?’ So that would be sort of, I guess, the progression within my own lab as a field.
More broadly, there was a lot of excitement about this work in the early 2000 s. Not least because UofT alumnus Malcolm Gladwell published this book Blink in 2002 that featured a lot of this work in its initial stages, and that having to be a time in social psychologies, a field where the media was really interested in what was happening in terms of various discoveries. And so, there was a lot of excitement. And then, as with anything, you know, you pick the low hanging fruit, and then people aren't necessarily interested in in reaching up further to those higher branches. And that's where the real work begins. It's all fun and games, very sweet fruit that's falling from the tree. But then, once you have to start climbing a bit, then you get into the nuances of it, and it's perhaps a little less exciting, less interesting, and it becomes a little more dry and scientific.
And so, I think that the public's love affair with social perception might have grown a bit stale over the last 20-some years, but we're still very excited about it, and we do lots of cool things, and some of the work that my students have been doing most recently, really moved beyond some of the context we were looking at before. And now we're starting to explore ways in which people manifest aspects of themselves and things that they create. And so, one of my former, PhD students, who just graduated, her dissertation was about the ways in which people leave traces of themselves in the art that they make, so painters. And that's been really, really fun work. It's been really interesting to see the ways in which we leave this residue of ourselves. Everywhere we go. And my current students have been following up on some of that in other domains as well. And so, yeah, I think there's plenty of evolution along with it. But there's still lots of great questions to answer and things to map out.
CD: So, your UTM's new Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean, your term starting in July and extending until 2027. I'm curious about what your priorities are for your term, and are there items in particular that you hope to accomplish while you're steering the boat here?
NR: Yeah, absolutely my number one priority right now, I think, for this term is really to help UTM embrace its identity a little bit more. I think that UTM is an incredibly special place and so unique within the tri-campus structure, and I think that oftentimes appreciation of that uniqueness has been a bit lost. The dominant narrative often for the University of Toronto centers around the urban experience of studying in downtown Toronto, and all that that in and I think when people imagine UofT that's sort of what they're thinking. Whereas when you come out to UTM, you see that we have this extremely gorgeous campus that is in so many ways idyllic, and I think that it would appeal to a lot of students, faculty and staff, who otherwise have a different impression of what UofT is. And so, I would like to see us do more in terms of letting people know what UTM really has to offer, what's unique.
Here we have some particularly excellent academic programs that are only offered here. We're doing fantastic research out here that I think that gets captured often within sort of the broader context of UofT's research powerhouse. But at the same time, I think the ways in which we're able to do that research here connecting with the local community and the Peel region allows for an elevation in the work that our researchers are able to do. And so, I think that leveraging our place, and particularly doing that within the priorities of the strategic framework that the principal has laid out for the campus, particularly around Indigeneity and sustainability. I think those are all really profitable areas that we can continue to gain momentum and really capitalize on in the years ahead. And so that's my primary focus for the next 4 years.
But apart from that, I would like to also see us evolve those programs as well, along the lines of those priorities, not just within the academic sphere, which is where my duty lies, but also in an integrated way with the rest of the campus. And I know that this is envisioned within the Strategic Framework, but really thinking about ways that we can connect with our partners in the Peel community and thinking about, not just what's unique about UTM, but what's unique about this region and how we can have it, really, not just healthy – because I think we have a healthy relationship with Mississauga in the Peel region more broadly – but rather the ways in which we can see that relationship really flourish in a symbiotic way. And so, I would really like to see us thinking about ourselves as the premier research institution in this area and servicing this extremely large community within the country, and also a really vibrant one, with lots of cultural diversity, socioeconomic diversity. And that's another area that's a particular interest to me. But I think that those are real assets that we have, and that right now, oftentimes, within the broader narrative of the university some of that isn't necessarily getting recognized for the opportunities that those assets provide.
CD: I totally agree with - there's something about UTM trying to break out of it…because it started out more as sort of a teaching arm of UofT, and then, of course, research really branched out and expanded here. But I think sometimes people still think of us as a teaching institution. And, as someone who used to work in the research office, I remember going to one of my first conferences, and someone said, ‘Oh, is there research that happens at UofT Mississauga?’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
NR: Yeah. And I think one of the challenges is that that reputation is both within and outside of the UofT community. And, in a way, I think it's the more difficult constituency to convert is that within, because people often have this assumption that they already know something, and it can be difficult for them to revise their thoughts and impressions, as I know from my own research. And so, I think that's some of the work that lies ahead here. And I would like to see us develop that identity more. And, at the same time, I think a lot of the heavy lifting is really just, and letting people know and reminding those and correcting misperceptions, because this is Erindale College no more for a long time now. And I think a lot of our colleagues in the sector, and even within the University, probably haven't necessarily heard that that's not the case here anymore. And so, I think that exerting a little bit of effort to let them know that, and advertise all the wonderful work that's happening here in so many ways is a real opportunity for us.
CD: You did mention about this being an idyllic campus, especially on a beautiful day like today. And I know former president of UofT David Naylor always referred to UTM as “Camelot,” because he just always thought this was such a beautiful campus. But what have been some of your first impressions of UTM?
NR: UTM is such a remarkable place. It's situated in this forested environment that's beautiful. And I've been here in the winter, I've been here in this summer, and in the fall in the spring. And so, it's not based on just sort of the fortunate weather we've had in the last couple of weeks since I started, but rather, it really is unique and beautiful, and I think that President Naylor's his term of Camelot for UTM is quite appropriate, because while we have this sort of natural wonder here that I think is really quite distinct from the other campuses.
At the same time, you look around and you see just these first-rate buildings modern architecture, and no matter where that was situated, it could be in the most rundown area, the worst city you can think those would still be beautiful, marvelous buildings, right? Literally marvelous. And so, I think that the combination of the two really makes this seem like a 21st-century university, which it is, and I think that's often lost, because a lot of the branding and marketing of the University more broadly doesn't necessarily incorporate them as a feature. And, I mean, when you think about our size here, we rival major universities in Ontario, and then the rest of the country, and yet at the same time, often the thinking is that UTM is almost a vassal of this larger UofT enterprise. And I don't think that that's actually the case – we’re the second largest division and I think a lot of people don't necessarily know or recognize that.
And so, my impression has been that this is a really magical place, and when I have come here over the years, because my appointment until now has been in the Faculty of Arts and Science, I've always been really impressed. It has so many features that, for me, as a faculty member working downtown in Sydney Smith Hall, were a target of much envy. And it's interesting: in my previous administrative roles, UTM was often cited as an example of the future. The future of the University was at UTM, and the work that was happening here, the things that are being tried, in terms of practices and policies and processes, that in Arts and Science they didn't feel they could do because of their size. And so, UTM was considered this incubator of these really great ideas.
And so, my impression coming here has really been within that context that this is a place experimentation can happen, and where things can get done at a level that we can then scale up for the rest of the university that other divisions might adopt. And so, I think there's just so much excitement in that to be here in a place that I think even the ideas about our administrative processes, which often seem to the average listener of this podcast, I'm sure, quite boring and dry. But when you start to think about this as a place for and experimentation around the administration of this very complex and fascinating organization that we call UofT, this is the place to be. And so, I'm incredibly excited about that. And I think that, for me personally, I went to an undergraduate institution that was located in the woods in New Hampshire, and people loved it, loved it there, and they flocked. I mean, it was a very selective school, but people were just die-hard about it. And I know that those students are here as well. And once they know about UTM, and what it's really like, I think we're going to be attracting a whole different cohort of students that might have overlooked UofT. And thought, ‘no, no, I don't really want to live in Toronto.’ And here we have the opportunity to offer them not living in Toronto, actually living in an environment that is beautiful and extremely safe and pleasant, with access to one of the world's most diverse and vibrant cities. You're just minutes away. And so, what a winning combination.
CD: Yeah, absolutely. Gauging from your previous work at UofT’s Faculty of Arts and Science, and in EDI specifically, you have established a great reputation for fostering student success. And I'm just wondering why it has this been so important to you over your time in academia?
NR: Yeah, there's a long story behind that actually. So, I'm a first-generation student. I grew up in a part of Florida that is fairly rural. It was sort of, I was situated in orange groves, and my family lived in what the U.S. government defined as “extreme poverty.” So, I'm the youngest of 4 children, the first in my family to go beyond high school. My brother-in-law didn't even go to high school, which is unusual for this generation. At the same time, I know the importance and the value of education, and it isn't hyperbole for me to say that getting an education literally transformed my life.
I mean, it lifted me out of poverty, and gave me opportunities to have an existence that I never imagined for myself, and that frankly, my parents didn't imagine, and that the people in my community didn't imagine. When I went away to university, numerous people, teachers at school, my parents, my boss, at work: they all told me that I would be back in a few months. And so, I went to university, thinking that I wasn't going to last. It was my first time on an airplane going there, which was, I had always wanted to fly on a plane, you know, as a child, you know. It just seemed like this really cool thing. Much less exciting in reality. I'd be happy to never step on a plane again now, but, at the time, that alone was a big step, and I went with whatever I could carry on me.
I arrived in a place I had never been, in a climate that I had never encountered. I had never seen snow. I didn't own a winter coat. I only had two pairs of long pants. It was a big adjustment, and I think people were right to have concerns that was going to be a challenge for me. And also, you know, at the time that I was a high school student, Florida was 48 out of the 50 States in terms of its public education. And so, I was really behind my peers coming to this Ivy League School. And I had to do a lot of remedial work on my own to catch up. But I went in with this mindset that I'd been told that I wouldn't last, and I got there and thought I'm going to take the most exotic courses that I see things I would never be able to learn elsewhere. And I'm going to just make the most of this experience, because I know that it's time limited, and eventually I'll go back and kind of end up doing what my brothers did, you know, working in manual labor jobs, and I would still have an okay life.
NR: I started working, actually, when I was 11. And so, I'd had several jobs. I loved the job that I had when I was in high school. I was working in a bakery of a supermarket, and it was fantastic. I would have been perfectly happy to go back and work there for the rest of my life, a respectable job in my community. And instead, you know, I gave this university thing a try, and I just worked and worked, and before I knew it, my last year I remember as a fourth-year student, one time I was walking along one evening with some of my friends. And they had gone to these prep schools and things, and we were all taking this course that we just needed to take to satisfy a requirement, and we had the final coming up, and we were discussing what we needed to study and everything. And there was this moment when I realized that I knew more than they did, and that was the moment – I mean, it took me four years - but I was like ‘well, I caught up!’ I'd surprised myself that I was even still there.
And from there I just kept going. I went to graduate school, and I had the same attitude when I went into graduate school. I thought, ‘well, maybe if I'm lucky, I'll manage to get this Masters’ degree,’ and I doubt I'll even be able to continue into the PhD, though that's what they expect. And then, frankly, when I was hired here. It wasn't until, I remember distinctly in my office getting a paper letter, from President Gertler, letting me know that I had been and awarded tenure, and that was the moment that I actually said to myself, ‘well, I guess I won't be going back to the supermarket.’ [laughs]
And so, I mean, in retrospect, it seems silly. But those are the reasons, I think, that I've been really motivated, particularly around first-generation issues, which I would like to do a bit of more development here as well. And for me, at a personal level, I would like to do outreach and connect with those people living in the Peel region that come from a background like mine, and give them the opportunity and the hope and the chance at the life of their choosing. That is more than what they imagined for themselves. And that's really sort of my driving motivation there.
Separately, I would say, here today, it's the National Day Recognizing Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia [May 17, 2023], and I identify as gay. And this was a challenge for me growing up, in an environment that as I described that was not only impoverished, but also quite a dangerous one. So, where I was raised there was a large neo-Nazi community and a lot of violence against sexual minorities just steps from my home. There was a lot of violence in my community around drugs and prostitution. One of our area’s most active crack houses was just across the street from my parents, and, you know, at times there would be conflicts there that would spill over into our yard and things like that. And so, I had to be very vigilant growing up.
I know from my own research – I've done a lot of research on perceptions of sexual orientation or “gaydar,” as it's commonly called – and I'm well aware from that work that even if people don't consciously recognize that I'm gay, unconsciously they absolutely know that I'm gay. And it's within the last month I've had two instances of homophobia: one in Toronto; one I was back in Florida visiting family. And so, I'm aware that these things, they continue to happen for me, and that has motivated a lot of my recognition of the need for that as well, at a personal level, and it goes beyond, of course, sexual orientation, but understanding that these are common processes that affect underprivileged groups in a variety of ways. So, the targets of stigma are diverse, and yet the mechanisms that motivate that stigma, and the prejudice and discrimination that come along with them are actually quite basic and common and simple from a psychological point of view. And so, understanding that and working with it, I think, is extremely important, because it actually is a large patch in the fabric of our society, and one that we need to work with quite assiduously.
CD: I did read the material you sent, and that you also speak a lot about the “imposter syndrome,” and I think, recognizing some of what you've described here with your background, and I actually have some of it written down, because I found it very interesting in the piece that you sent, that you say that “sometimes the imposter syndrome lands heavier on academics and in some other fields, for various reasons, because rejection comes in a lot of forms like grants.” You don't get the grant that you applied for, or you don't get to publish the article you wanted to, etc., to the point where “repeated rejection fosters a condition where you see success as an exception rather than recognition of ability.” So, I'm just wondering, though now, at this point in your career, when you have obviously reached a level of achievement and accomplishment, do you still sort of struggle with that impostor syndrome? Or do you feel like you're moving past that? And I just wonder, too, if you have words of advice for people who are also feeling like that impostor syndrome.
NR: Yeah, I think it's definitely still there, and I don't think about it every day. But I continue to think, ‘well, I can always go back to the supermarket.’ [laughs] And it's true.
CD: That's ‘plan B.’
NR: Yeah. And so, it does persist. And I think, for those reasons that, yes, in academic life, there's just a tremendous amount of rejection that's the majority of your experience, and I think it's unfortunate, perhaps, but at the same time, I think it's a necessary part of the academic or scholarly enterprise, and I don't mean that we necessarily need to be rejecting things all the time, but rather that, being an academic, being a scholar, being a student or a learner, comes from a foundation of humility, recognizing that you don't know something, and that you're going to go find out.
And I think that that requires a desire for growth and a recognition that we don't have things settled because we're always searching for something new, something more, something that helps to explain and bring clarity to the world around us. And so, I think in that way. The conditions of our work do require a sense of perhaps not settling into complacency about things, but rather always asking and always recognizing that you don't have the answer. And it's a tricky thing, because you get to a point as a professor where you know a lot of things that most people don't know. And at the same time, we tend to focus on the things that we don't know. And I think that that goes hand in hand with a feeling of being an impostor. For me personally, given the background that I just described, academia is not necessarily a place where people like me belong, because we're not common here, and I think there are a lot of other people who have backgrounds similar to mine, who've had experiences like mine, and yet we're not the mode. Most people who go to university come from a background where their families also went to university, ‘like begets like,’ and so on. And they have a different sort of mindset about these things. And so, in the article that I shared with you, I talked about one experience in an academic conference.
It happened to be in Tampa, which was, where I grew up was between Tampa and Orlando, kind of equidistant, but Tampa was a nearby city. I probably had only been to Tampa maybe twice in my life, actually, mostly just to go to the airport to pick people up, and for my own journey to university. And so there we were, and the conference happened to fall on a weekend when Tampa hosts this festival called “Gasparilla,” that is sort of a pirate festival that celebrates Tampa's heritage with the buccaneers and all of this. And so, it's just a celebratory event, kind of a fun thing.
And when I was at the conference – the conference was located downtown in a place where the parade went by – and a couple of professors, who I admired, one of whom was actually, it was at a mentorship lunch where I was sitting with this person, who I had signed up competitively to have the chance to have lunch with this person and some other students, and they referred to the people outside, the people going to the parade as “white trash.” And that is, first, a racist term, and second, a really painful and hurtful one for me as an individual. And I was crestfallen to hear this person that was one of my academic heroes referred to the people that I grew up with the people from my home community in this way. And what was worse about it was that the people who went to the parade when I was a child, those were the rich people, the people who I never thought that I would ever be like them. And I mean, they weren't rich by Toronto standards, but they owned their houses, they lived in communities, they had jobs, they had health insurance. They were like people I envied, and I had this moment where I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh! Like if they think that these people are white trash, what would they think if they knew about me? They knew what I grew up with?’
It was shocking, and the worst thing was, I was upset about this, and I also went to an academic talk that same day in which one of the speakers, again, someone I really admired referred to the people attending the parade as “white trash.” And again it was a really hurtful, hurtful thing for me as an individual. I was extremely sad. At the end of the day, I left the conference, and I was walking back to the hotel. And on my way, the parade goers are all still there, and, you know, at this point, they've been at the parade all day. They've been drinking, and they start calling me “faggot.” And so, I left the conference, thinking, ‘well, ivory tower academics, like, I don't belong with them. I never should have left home. I should have stayed here. These are my people.’ And then I go outside, and it's like, ‘no, no, no, you don't belong here either.’
And I think that was a really marked experience for me, and which I felt that I was stuck between these two worlds where I didn't belong anywhere. And so, the sense of being an impostor was extremely salient for me in that moment.
I think, in terms of what to do about it. On the one hand, having a sense of imposter syndrome for me personally, I think, helps to remind me of that humility that I need to be an effective scholar, and I think also to be a productive member of society in a way, understanding that – especially in this age of what appears to be rampant narcissism, which, in the TikTok era, humility is an under-appreciated value, I think – and at the same time, I think what we can do about impostor syndrome isn't necessarily something that one does so much as an individual apart from just talking about it. And I think I can't point to anyone that I knew, that was a mentor for me that had a background like mine. But my hope is that there are surely other students who are going university, and it might be their first time on an airplane, too, and they might be coming from a background where they think that coming to a place like UofT isn't for them, and that they're going to struggle, too, and that they won't belong. And it's a competitive environment, and all of their peers have had these advantages.
And I want them to know that they're not the only ones who feel that way, and I know that there is a community of people who also feel this way. And that we can be there to support each other and encourage each other. And so, I think the important thing about imposter syndrome is sharing that: for whatever reason one feels like an impostor, just letting people know that, because I think one of the things about imposter syndrome, by definition, is that we want to hide and keep it to ourselves, that we feel that we don't belong. And I think there are a lot of people who feel that they don't belong and feel that they need to kind of fake their way through it. And maybe we could actually just sort of embrace our differences and really use those for the advantages that they confer that.
CD: That's great. And so, you've been very candid and open about sharing a lot about your background in yourself and your ideas. This is my last question. I'm just wondering, is there anything that people don't know about you, maybe an interesting hobby or something that you like to do?
NR: Yeah. So, I'm actually trained as a professional chef.
NR: Again, sort of, this probably won't surprise you based on what I've already said today, but we definitely had a big food scarcity issue when I was growing up. Food is extremely important to me in so many ways, and I've gone from a place where, when I was a child, I went to bed hungry a lot of nights. And the average person in Western society, they know what it feels like to feel hungry, but they don't know what hunger feels like, and it's awful. And it's also really scary when you don't know if and when you're going to eat again.
And so, food is something that's really important to me that I…I really value a lot. I waste nothing when it comes to food. And so, I don't. I've had this long-standing interest in food, obviously. I think a lot of people do. And I eventually found the time to go to night school at George Brown, and it took me many years, but I managed to complete the certificate in culinary arts, and I love it. And so, for me, the way that I show affection to the people I care about is through cooking. And it's a creative outlet and it's something I really enjoy doing. And it's funny when I think about, I'm also a scientist. And so, my house is full of food-science books and cookbooks, and when I consider, if I reflect on it, the amount that I've read about cooking and food science, it definitely dwarfs the amount of work I did for my Master's degree. [laughs]
So, I know a tremendous amount about food and cooking, and it's a real passion of mine, and something I really enjoy. And so, it's easy to distract me with a conversation about food, which I probably shouldn't reveal as the Dean. [laughs]
CD: Do you have a favorite dish that you like to make?
NR: Oh, my gosh, I couldn't choose just one! Yeah, I know. I mean, there's so many things yeah.
CD: Do you like to bake as well? Because sometimes people like to cook, but they do not like to bake, or vice versa.
NR: So, I have no training in baking, apart from the fact that I used to work in a bakery for many years. I mean, they didn't let me do too much, but I do have a background with that. And so, I do like to bake.
My husband is a pathologist now, but he has a background in biochemistry, and so it's useful to be able to lean on his knowledge as well at times to get things working in the kitchen. But yeah, I enjoy it all. When I really started getting into cooking was because it mostly was just about survival for the majority of it. My husband and I met as undergraduates. We've been together a long time and through graduate school he did all the cooking, I basically did nothing. And then I moved to Toronto to take the job at UofT on my own, and we were apart for five years. At that point, he did an MD/PhD combined degree, and so he was a little bit behind me. And then he had to stay in the U.S. to do his residency.
And so, when he was a resident, there was a moment where I went, he was working 20-hour days, seven days a week at one point, which is illegal, but this is what happened, and he just didn't have time. He couldn't even get take out, because by the time he'd get home everything was closed, and so I thought, ‘well. I'm going to start making his meals, and I'll just put them in the freezer.’ And, at that point I was like, ‘I need to learn how to do things.’ And I, again, I took a very scientific approach, which was to apply what I'd learned about doing experiments in psychology to do experiments with food. He would arrive home from work, and when I'd be visiting it, I'd set up a 2 by 2 by 2 blind taste things to figure out what he would like. And the challenge was to find things that were healthy, that could freeze well, and it would also taste good. I mean, that's really how it got started. And from there, as a typical academic. I went down the rabbit hole, and here I am now. It's fun.
CD: I love this story. I think food…there's so many associations for people that, yeah.
I just wanted to thank you so much. You've been a very generous with your time. And just thank you for taking the time to tell us about your work.
NR: my absolute pleasure. I mean that.
CD: Thank you.
NR: Thank you.
[theme music fades in]
I would like to thank everyone for listening to today’s show.
I would especially like to thank my guest, Professor Nick Rule, UTM’s Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean, for being so generous with his time and chatting about his research, as well as his vision for his upcoming term UTM.
UTM has had pretty exceptional leadership in the past who have laid the foundation, and now between VPP Alex Gillespie and VPAD Nick Rule, I think UTM is in great hands with a very bright future.
Personally, I just hope, after all this talk about first impressions and initial snap judgments, that I came across okay to my new boss Nick, who I only met for the first time in conducting this interview – [gulp] no pressure!
If you are a faculty member or student at UTM, please get in touch with me! I would love to meet as many people from our campus’s scholarly community as possible and think through other people to highlight here.
On this topic, listen in next month for my interview with Professor Ai Taniguchi, who will talk about her fascinating L’IMAGE project that highlights the stories of multilingual students, but she also covers her linguistic research and art-infused work, as well as her challenges associated with neurodiversity.
I will be coming back, for my seventh year of podcasting at UTM, continuing on with Season 8 and “We ARE UTM” theme.
And please – if you can take the time to rate the podcast in iTunes, it helps others find the show and hear more from our great UTM academic community.
Lastly, and as always, thank you to Tim-Terrific for his tracks, tunes, support!
[theme music fades out]
NR: You're editing this, right?
CD: Yes, I’m editing.
NR: I'm sure I've said too much already.