If U of T were a parent, its parenting mantra would be “tough love.” Students at U of T are constantly pushing themselves to overcome tough courses, strict professors, long days and extensive competition. As motivating and rewarding as that can be, it’s very important to also have an environment of encouragement and understanding. Over the past three years at U of T, there has not been a professor as understanding and motivating as William Ju.
Ju was a U of T student before he started teaching here. He did his undergrad in life sciences, proceeded to graduate school, and completed his post doctorate in the Physiology department at U of T. Like many undergrad students at U of T, Ju remembers feeling overwhelmed while in school and insists that he would not have been as successful without his extensive support system. Once, after receiving an almost-failing grade on a physical chemistry midterm, Ju claimed he felt “lost” and would have seriously considered dropping out if it had not been for his parents’ support. Many students go through similar struggles, and how the people around them respond is crucial in a time of such dejection.
The support he received from his graduate supervisor, Beverley Orser, made a world of difference: “Bev gave me a chance and believed in me. Even after I was no longer a part of her lab she supported me and helped me out when I was looking for what I wanted to do next.”
By the end of his graduate studies, Ju was married with a daughter, and was not sure what he wanted to do next. He had decided that a career in research was not for him, but he loved teaching and wondered if that was the path he was meant to take. While working in the lab, Ju noticed he was often being asked to explain procedures and techniques, and never minded explaining them. At the end of his post-doc, when Ju felt like he had nowhere to turn, he received the opportunity of a lifetime (for which he credits Orser’s support). He was asked to begin working as a sessional lecturer in the Cell & Systems Biology department, teaching CSB331 and BIO270/271. Eventually, Ju received an offer to become a full-time lecturer and member of faculty at U of T.
Ju prefers to look on the bright side of his negative experiences, realizing that the lessons he learned from them have molded him into the professor he is today. He says that his goal is to “try and make the whole experience a little less intimidating [for his students].”
Ju’s most rewarding experiences are when he sees students from his second or third year neuroscience class growing into bright neuroscientists in fourth year and at times carrying on to pursue graduate studies.
“My favourite courses to teach are the fourth year ones where I get to interact with my students.”
Ju’s commitment to his students is also shown through the class photos that he takes every year as souvenirs for himself and his students.
Ju would like to return to lab work at some point. Although he originally decided that research was not for him, Ju has had a slight change of heart. “Eventually I would like to dedicate some time to the lab again,” he admits. “A lot of students approach me to ask if I have a lab where they can volunteer, and I know that if I did, I would be able to help them out more with their career development.”
Ju would love to continue to teach, but he also enjoys the one-on-one interaction when teaching his students in the lab.
Ju’s compassion for his students shows through his actions and willingness to be a support system for anyone who needs it. Whether you need advice or just want to chat about your future, he’s available to listen to you. When asked what the best advice for a struggling undergraduate is, he said, “I know all of this will sound cliché, but everything happens for a reason. The best thing is to ensure that you have a good support system and find a mentor.
“Even becoming a mentor yourself for fellow students can make you stronger as it helps you grow as a person. Ultimately, if you have your heart set on something, work hard and you’ll make it.
Even if you have to take a longer route, persistence will get you there eventually.”