Interviewing a professor

Learn more about Dr. Cadieux’s journey navigating post-secondary and now teaching at McMaster University.

Learn more about Mac101

These blogs are part of Mac101: Introduction to University Life, a collection of events, workshops and more to support your university transition.

July 19, 2023

By: Nabeelah (McMaster Graduate, Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)

Hey Marauders! Today’s topic is especially exciting to explore as I got the opportunity to interview a special guest. I would like to introduce Dr. Michelle Cadieux, a professor you will most likely be familiar with if you decide to take any of the IntroPsych courses. Learn more about Dr. Cadieux’s journey navigating post-secondary and now teaching at McMaster University.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How did you become interest in your field of study? 

I’ve been a member of the MacIntroPsych Team for 10 years, but I’ve always been interested in psychology. From a very young age I wondered about how our brains worked and how we made choices. I knew this was the field for me during the introduction to Psychology courses in my first-year. They were by far my favourite and my best grades.

What inspired you to become an instructor? How did your journey lead you to where you are now? 

Teaching wasn’t initially something I wanted to do. Like most science students, my plan was med school. About halfway through my undergrad, I realized that didn’t really interest me anymore and I became a little lost. During my fourth-year thesis, I discovered I really liked research, so I followed that path to graduate school. My Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. David Shore, was incredibly passionate about teaching. He helped me develop my presentation skills and near the end of grad school, I had a few sessional teaching gigs. I really enjoyed everything about it. I knew that whatever job became my career would need to have a teaching component.  

How would you describe your teaching philosophy? What methods or approaches do you use to engage and inspire your students? 

Lectures need to be informative, but they also need to be reasonably fun and entertaining. A little bit of humour goes a long way! When something is fun, students are more engaged, if they are more engaged, they learn more. Durable learning is the goal and an entertaining lecture stays with you more than a boring one. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching? Is there a particular aspect of your job that brings you the most satisfaction? 

I love being in front of a classroom, especially in the larger classes. When you are teaching a really good lecture and you can tell that everyone is listening and engaged, it’s just so rewarding. The energy of a big class that is not only learning, but also having a good time is amazing.  

Can you share a personal challenge or obstacle you faced during your academic journey? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from the experience? 

Deciding what I really wanted to do with my life was very hard. I was so med school minded when I started that when I realized that wasn’t what I wanted anymore, I really struggled. Eventually I discovered new things I was interested and followed that path to where I am now, but when I think about all the different “plans” I had, it makes me laugh a little. I think I am currently living my “Plan E” at this point becayse Plan A through D did not work out, and to tell you the truth, I can’t picture myself being happier doing anything else. This taught me that the road to happiness and success is not a straight one and sometimes something not working out can be the absolute best thing in the world.  

Can you recall what your transition from high school to university was like? What advice would you give students who may be struggling to adjust to university life?  

I was a top performing student in high school. While I worked hard, everything just sort of came naturally to me and things generally worked out. In first year, I became surrounded by other high achievers, and I really struggled to keep up. My grades in first-year were okay, but in second-year, they were mediocre at best. To tell you the truth, I really didn’t know how to properly study or manage my time with my newfound freedom and much more extensive social life. I figured things out in my third-year, but it was a messy one. My advice would be to understand that university is fundamentally different than high school. The workload is larger, and the expectations are higher. A lot of the strategies I used in high school just didn’t work at this level. You need to be willing to let go of old habits and adapt to new requirements.  

Are there any extracurricular activities or hobbies that you enjoy outside of your work as a professor? 

I love to cook, read and play video games. I love to prepare a meal for others. Creating new recipes and seeing my family enjoy them is a real passion for me. When it comes to reading, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels. I read about a book a week and it really helps me relax at the end of the day. For video games, I own a Switch. Right now, I’m playing the new Zelda game (Tears of the Kingdom). I think I’ve logged over 150 hours at this point.

How do you stay connected with your students and build relationships with them outside of the lecture hall? Do you have any advice for students on how to approach their professors? 

This can be harder for me since I teach such a large class. However, I always remember the students who regularly come to my office hours. I enjoy students who ask me questions that show they are really trying to understand the content on a deeper level. My advice would be, don’t be afraid of your professors. We really are here to help. We host office hours because we want to meet you. I know it can be intimidating, and that some of your professors will be more approachable than other, but just give it a try!  

How do you continue to grow and learn as a professor? 

I really try to stay connected to the other instructors and coordinators for the large science classes at McMaster. Just by knowing what they are doing and what they have tried, that either worked or didn’t work, is huge. I also love working with Dr. Joe Kim. Between the two of us, he really is the creative one. Keeping an open mind when he proposes an ambitious project is important. It helps keep the course fresh and exciting! 

Signing off: Is there a piece of advice or life lesson that you would like to share with students? What is its significance to you?  

It’s okay not to be perfect. When we are used to success it can be hard to accept failure. This is particular true for most McMaster students who were all pretty much high achievers at the high school level. Expecting a perfect transcript or to get every opportunity you apply for just isn’t realistic at this stage. I’m not staying that you shouldn’t strive for greatness or to achieve your dreams, but if you encounter challeges along the way, that’s okay. That’s life. It’s important to learn from your mistakes and move on to the next thing.  

Nabeelah student blogger

Nabeelah (she/her) is the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. She has recently graduated from the Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour program here at McMaster University. Outside of school, she loves to play tennis, bake and hang out with friends and family.