My Inner Nerd Emerged

What do I do when I’m not running? I’m working on a PhD, of course! I am part of the Engineering Education Team at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto – short story I study engineering mathematics in undergraduate engineering. This past week U of T played host to the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA) conference, a place and space where fellow EngEd geeks got together to talk engineering education.

Over the course of the four days I had two presentations and a workshop. My research centers around engineering mathematics, with general themes such as rigour, deliberate practice, motivation, relationships, & relevance.

Here are some of the lessons I took away from the conference and how I think they relate to sport:

1. Rigour versus Regurgitation: This was the last question I was asked in the conference. I talk a lot about ‘plug and play’ with equations not just in engineering mathematics but other engineering courses. Rigour is the ability to practice mathematical equations and apply that knowledge in other engineering classes, and understanding what mathematical theory that method is derived from. Regurgitation is asking for a formula to solve a problem and not understanding the mathematical theory. Regurgitation is doing repeat 400 to do repeat 400’s, where as, doing a 400 workout with intent and knowing it’s based on a theory to make you faster.

2. Motivation: What gets those students to come to class, do the assignments, and homework? Grades of course! The really good ones are intrinsically motivated to study to have a deeper understanding of the material. You know when you have an intrinsically versus extrinsically motivated athlete; they’ll let you know they’re there for the accolades and results and not the love of what they’re doing. Now, don’t get confused here, those students that are studying for deeper understanding want the high grades too, just like the athlete who loves what they’re doing wants to achieve success.

3. Mathematics is the foundation for every decision you will ever make: Yup, it’s true, so you might as well get your kids to memorize the A, B, C’s of mathematics (i.e. the times tables). Every time you take (or do not take) a risk there is a calculation that goes on in your head. You may not see it as a formula but there is math in there. Plus, you really want to be able to calculate those splits you’ll need training and racing! Mathematics is also the most underrated communication tool.

4. Metacognition: Traditional engineering mathematics courses are taught one way, with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard, and if you didn’t learn that way, well, you were up sh*t creek without a paddle (unless you were one of the few that just ‘got it!’). Metacognition is understanding how you think and learn. With technology abound if you cannot learn from a chalkboard then you have several outlets you can go to, often ones that are offered within a program. As an athlete I think you need to know what makes you ‘tick,’ you need to have an intrinsic needle that can reflect and say ‘yes, this is working’ or ‘no, let’s try something else.’

Other lessons learned, you cannot have it all, all at once. You can have at it all, just not necessarily at the exact same moment. I tried to fit a race in the night before my workshop, which was the most stressful of my three presentations.

Yup, still human here! Sure the race didn’t go as planned, but I absolutely rocked my presentations, most importantly that workshop, at CEEA. Trying to race was just too much strain on my mental capacity. I could train and feel great but the high stress of racing and presentations all at once was a mistake. And that’s ok. Grieve. Reset. Remind yourself what you love. And go get it!