The Mathematical and Computational Sciences Department has been gaining traction at a rapid pace, which will likely continue for as long as the skills typically required of mathematicians and computer scientists retain incredible relevance across disciplines such as economics, chemistry, biology, and so many more.
Although many professors make up this department across UTM, last week The Medium sat down with Dr. Alexander Rennet to discuss his journey to becoming an assistant professor, teaching stream, his research, and his interests outside of the classroom.
When asked about his reasoning for focusing on the pedagogical side of his doctoral career, Rennet explains, that he always “did a lot of teaching.”
“I started in my second year of undergrad as a TA and TA’d all throughout undergrad and graduate school. So, I had already taught a lot, and I really enjoyed that part of academia,” he says.
According to Rennet, the nature of research and publication also impacted his decision to focus on teaching. “Research is great, [but] there are two features that drove me away. One is the typical ‘publish or perish’ mentality; you have to produce, you have these invisible deadlines, you have to keep pumping out research—which is fine, if you enjoy it. The other thing is that you can get pigeonholed into a particular area,” he explains.
During his undergraduate degree, Rennet had undertaken a focus in mathematics and philosophy and continued onto a combined program, attaining his master’s and doctoral degree in Berkeley. Eventually, following some mathematical research, he settled in at UTM as part of the teaching stream faculty.
Rennet typically teaches one introductory calculus course every year, MAT133, MAT134, or MAT135, in addition to MAT223: Linear Algebra I. By request, mathematical logic (MAT309) and combinatorics (MAT344) are courses that he also teaches yearly.
“Mathematical logic was my research area, and that’s a course that I’ve taught since I came here as a postdoc. I was only teaching one course when I came here as a postdoc, and it was logic. I always request logic,” Rennet says. “I didn’t initially request combinatorics, as it wasn’t my specialty, but I was offered it, and I thought it’d be interesting to teach. Since I taught it the first time, I’ve requested it [as well]. As for the rest, it’s typical for the teaching stream faculty to do some of the first and second year teaching, and to coordinate at least one.” This semester, Rennet is currently coordinating linear algebra.
Outside of academia, Rennet mainly concerns himself with family, taking care to raise his two sons along with his wife. His main pastime consists of Olympic weightlifting, which he has been practicing for a number of years.
“It was initially something that I did because it was a fun way to get to the gym; it piqued my interest. I’ve been doing [Olympic weightlifting] since before my first son was born.” Of course, consistent training is bound to be a perpetual challenge for someone with a family to raise and students to teach, but he finds ways to practice the hobby whenever he can.