The Silent Mentor

I stumbled across an interesting thought recently while browsing Quora.  Apologies for the morbid nature of this post.

A member of the Quora community asked about what happens to cadavers after medical students are finished with them, to which user Daniel Lim offer this answer regarding medical schools in Taiwan.  You can read his full answer linked here.

“The students spend a year dissecting the body, and at the end replace the organs and sew back the skin. They then conduct a mass remembrance ceremony and funeral for the Silent Mentors.”

The concept of the silent mentor is bound up in the following quote from Li He-zhen:

“I will give you my body to experiment; you can make as many mistakes on me, but never make a mistake on the patient.”

I found this to be a power quote that exemplifies an element of education that is sometimes overlooked in the modern economy.  From my experiences, higher education is often seen as training first, before considerations of growth and development.  When you complete your program, you will have been signed-off as competent in a field.  This competence is granted after a series of lectures and tests; tests that you must not fail.

But failure is almost always viewed negatively.  Bad grades are seen as a sign of deficiency – you are not smart if you are getting bad grades.  Failure is costly to students as it sets them back, which costs time, money, reputation, etc.  Education is cut-throat in the modern economy and everyone is in competition for a scarcity of jobs.  If you fail, you are moved backwards relative to the pack.

Yet, failure can be an opportunity.  It’s a chance to see where you have avenues of growth and development.  Rather than seeing failure as an end-point, failure should be viewed constructively as the points that we need to focus on.  Teachers shouldn’t be seen as punishing students for failing, nor should students be seen as inadequate for failing.  Students should have permission to fail.  School is the best time to fail, because the stakes (tuition notwithstanding) are so low.  It’s a chance to test ideas, try things out and learn from the outcomes.  Making mistakes should be instructive.  Expertise is not just knowing the right answers, but also about having a powerful command of all the mistakes that are possible, too.  Teacher have an obligation to instruct pupils properly, not to attempt to download the contents of their brains into the minds of the students.  Education does not work that way.

If we approach failure this way, and encourage making mistakes in safe environments like school, then students will be better prepared to succeed when something as precious as life is on the line.

You can read further on the topic of the medical education and use of cadavers in Taiwan here and here.

Stay Awesome,




Books That Helped Me Connect With People

Last year, I made a concerted effort to read more.  Having reflected on what I had read in 2015, I was disappointed with how few books I read, so I made the conscious choice to change it.  While I’m not saying that every book I read in 2016 was transformative or personally edifying, I’ve found that reading more has changed some of my behaviours as I’m able to draw up the experience of others and see connections between ideas.

A perfect example from work has illustrated this for me.  At the College, we are in the middle of several program review cycles.  A few engineering programs in my portfolio are undergoing major program reviews and revision, while every program is also currently engaging in their yearly reflection.  As with any quality assurance process, the fact-finding and documentation phases are at best detail-orientated, and at worst an endless stream of forms and checkboxes.  If left unstructured, all parties involved find the process long, boring, and frustrating.

Part of my expanded role has been to provide support to the parties involved.  The upfront result is that I can provide easier access to information and a sense of continuity with other programs in the School of Engineering, while the backend result is that I can help keep these reviews from spiralling out of control and going way over time.

Last week, I received a very warm and heartening piece of feedback from a faculty member.  After spending 3-hours locked in a room with the program team, we emerged with a decent SWOT analysis and some potential action items.  A faculty member approached me and praised me for my facilitation.  He noted that sometimes faculty can put on an air of negativity towards change or events that are beyond their control, and he felt that not only had I done a good job of redirecting negativity into something more constructive, but I also added a lot of valuable insight into the process, despite not being an engineer myself.

I thanked him for his comments and reflected on the process.  I realized that a lot of the tricks I used during facilitation were borne from books and ideas I’ve read recently.  I would be lying if I pretended to have come up with these ideas by myself.  Instead, I want to credit some of the books I’ve read with helping me to do my job better.

The following books are offered as potential sources of information.  I’m not including them because they are the best or the only authorities in their domains.  Instead, I include them because I found something valuable within their pages; value that helped me do my job better.

In no particular order, and with some brief comments, here are books that helped me connect with people and do my job better.


How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Slight disclosure – I haven’t had a chance to finish this book!  Perhaps a bad choice to kick off this list, but of the material I read it was already incredibly valuable.  Sure, this book is quite dated and perhaps is a reflection of a era that we have since abandoned.  However, as a person who found connecting with people difficult, I found the simple advice of empathy and seeking to solve the problems of others from their point of view to be useful in the workplace.  I often approach problems more collaboratively and with an open ear to the issues concerning others, which makes working with faculty a lot more productive.


Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss

Another confession – I haven’t finished this book yet (I only started it last week).  Chris Voss was an FBI hostage and terrorist negotiator, and has distilled his experience into this book.  Many of his suggestions run counter-intuitive to previous practices, but his claim is that they are effective.  Am I negotiating for the lives of hostages with faculty?  Absolutely not.  But am I working to find common ground with a group of people with diverse and unique needs?  You betcha I am.  Negotiation is all about establishing a report and making a connection with the other person, and I found that information in this book helps to open those doors with people who may or may not be fully invested in the process (or have agendas of their own).


The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch

Finally, a book I’ve finished reading!  Including this book is less about helping me communicate with others and instead has helped me think differently on what we, as a team, need to put our effort towards.  Not every problem is worthy of our attention.  Through this book, I gained an appreciation for understanding that there is often an imbalance between the number of things that cause the bulk of our problems.  I’ve since started playing around with our review process and am proposing a radical reversal of how we think of program reviews.  Early feedback from Chairs and the Dean are quite positive, so I think I’m onto something when I propose that we find the key performance indicators for the top reasons why college programs do poorly.


Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Rather than a practical application book (though don’t misunderstand me, there is a lot of practical advice found here), I found the leadership philosophies discussed in this book to be insightful.  In order to get a collection of people moving in the same direction, you need to focus on what’s important and establish a top-down view of the organization.  Leadership starts at the top, but you need to also ensure that the people all down the line are empowered with a sense of direction, purpose and autonomy, and most importantly, a sense of trust.  While I don’t pretend to lead the team of faculty I’m working with, I can take steps to set up a safe environment where we can be free to discuss hard ideas, and we have a common direction to push towards.


Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley

I’m not including this to suggest that working at a College is like being in a war.  However, the same principles that this book discusses that keep Marines alive in combat can also be applied in everyday life.  I originally read this book to help me identify danger as a security guard at the bar, but I’ve also found that cluing into behavioural and environmental cues helps me to connect with others.  You learn to pick up on subtle nuances about how others think and feel, which can help you avoid problems and find common ground to work together.  Combat might be the extreme outlier, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it.


Tribes by Seth Godin

Another leadership entry on this list to close things off.  While I don’t pretend to have any authority over my colleagues, I make sure to, at minimum, function as a supportive member of a team, and often provide leadership to help guide and decide the direction of the process.  This isn’t necessarily a top-down authoritative act, though.  Leaders need to help the group feel cohesive and unified, and more importantly, needs to give a sense of purpose and direction to the group.  At the College, we are seeking to provide the best educational experience for our students so that they go out and become supportive, contributing members of their communities (whether that’s the larger social community they live within, or the workplace they belong to).  To get people on board, you have to be willing to make others feel like they are a part of the team, rather than a means to your own ends.  We all have jobs to do, and we rely on others in order to do our own jobs, but that doesn’t mean you can make the process feel more like a collaboration.


Let me know what books you’ve found helpful to connect with others.  I’m always looking for book recommendations!

Stay Awesome,


Evolving Job Description

Having lost out on the competition for the new job at work, I’ve been motivated to consider how to position myself for future advancement at the college.  I’m trying to figure out what steps I can take to make myself a more attractive candidate.  One way I’m looking into is to turn back towards education and find a part-time online program I can take to add more credentials to my name.  I won’t dive too deep into what I’ve turned up yet, but I’m exploring a few options that could result in an additional bachelors degree in education, or even have me return for doctorate graduate studies.

Setting those aside for now, another way of improving myself is taking on additional roles and responsibility at work.  This is not to say that I’m looking to make myself busier, or becoming a martyr to work.  Instead, I’m looking at selectively adding roles that require me to learn more about curriculum and post-secondary education delivery.

I just got out of a meeting with my boss, where we discussed some avenues of growth she’s looking to take me in regarding student academic advising and program review process management.  By necessity, these new roles will require me to understand how curriculum fits together, and how students progress through their programs.  This deeper understanding will benefit me in the long-run and expose me to new areas of the college.

Coming out of this meeting, I reflected on my job at the college to date, and how it has evolved over time.  I realized that for each September I have been here (new academic year), my job changed from the previous year.

I started out as a temporary research assistant.

The next year, I was an assistant for the program advisory committees.

Then I added program review support the following year.

At the start of this year, I began teaching and I took on a more significant role with program reviews.  With this increased responsibility, my boss has also added academic advising at the start of 2017 – both to current and prospective students.

At each level, my job description has changed and evolved.  I’ve lost some minor, menial tasks, and I’ve automated others to free up cognitive space.  This is ultimately a good thing for me.  While I’ve been slowly improving my place at work (moving from contract, to part time, to full time permanent, and slowly earning more money along the way), I’ve been turning heads and catching people’s attention.  I may feel stagnant a times during the day-to-day grind, but it’s important to remind myself that I’ve been going nowhere but up since I started here.


Stay Awesome,


The Motivation of Failure

Last week, I was passed over on a job opportunity for a more qualified candidate.  Such is life, and I don’t bear any ill-thoughts for the results of the job search.  I’m disappointed, but not soured by the experience.  It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, and I find that more important to focus on than to give in to a fixed mindset of self-pity.

After the feelings of sadness ebbed, I found myself experiencing a different feeling – motivation.  This has happened a few times in my life, and it was strange to be reaquainted with it.  There have been a few critical moments in my life where I failed at something important, and that failure created a fire within that motivated me.

It happened when I climbed Mount Kenya in 2007 after I failed my summit in the summer of 2003 of a mountain in Alberta whose name I’ve forgotten.

It happened when I joined the Campus Response Team and became a Coordinator after I failed twice to be a residence don.

And it happened again last week when I wasn’t selected for the job.  The self-critical sadness was overtaken by a motivation to go to the gym.

As I’ve written previously, It’s been a while since I’ve visited the gym.  According to my fitness journal, the last time I was in the gym was around Hallowe’en.  I’ve been rowing this last month a few times a week in the mornings, but I haven’t lifted iron in around five months.

Initially, I stopped going to the gym after my routine was disrupted by travelling to Scotland.  Then I didn’t go out of laziness, and then I didn’t go because I didn’t feel like I could justify going to the gym when I was supposed to be marking assignments and prepping my lectures.  By the time December rolled around I had regained my weight, but I also proposed to my fiancee, and started the planning process for moving out of my apartment.  Along the way, I was tired from a lack of sleep and dissatisfied with what I saw in the mirror.  Yet, it was never enough to overcome my inertia.

Failing to get the job was the final push I needed to hit the gym.  Maybe I needed a physical outlet to vent some frustration.  Maybe it was a form of punishment.  I’d like to think it was something more constructive – I accepted that I failed but I also saw that I could do better next time.  It is within my power to learn from the experience and grow.  The failures seemed to stack until it hit a critical mass; a line was crossed that set off the warning bells that I was heading in a direction I didn’t want to go.

It was time to make the first step and correct my course.


I vlog occasionally for my buddy’s YouTube channel, Artpress, and posted this immediately after I got out of the gym.

So, I hit the gym and pumped some iron.  I was nervous to go back as a beginner again, and overcoming inertia was incredibly uncomfortable, but I did it.

Now the trick is to keep it up.  That’s, perhaps, the greater challenge I face.


Stay Awesome,


(Update) I Didn’t Get The Job

On Monday, I briefly commented that when it comes to job interviews, I am not particularly good at interviewing.  My native pessimism seems to have paid off because when I arrived at work yesterday morning, I had an email from HR thanking me for participating, but they will move forward with a more qualified candidate.

Yep, it stings and I’m disappointed.

I’m trying to keep my outlook positive, though.  I’m glad I went through the process – I had a chance to practice some skills I haven’t touched in a while, and I will learn from my mistakes and do better next time.

My immediate next step was to reply to HR, thanking them for the opportunity, and to ask  them for feedback or comments on my performance in order to grow.


In this case, HR assured me that they went with a candidate that indeed had more experience related to the job than I; it was a competition, and I did not perform badly, all things considered.  I’ve heard through the grapevine who the successful candidate might be, and if it’s who I think it is, I feel at peace with losing to this person.  They are a great colleague, very good at their job, and will excel in the new role.  To put it in perspective, the person I believe got the job is also the person who has been instrumental in creating new, standardized processes for program reviews – templates and workflows that many of us at the college have adopted.  Further, I’ve been working with my manager to redefine my current position in order to qualify for a higher payband, and we’ve been using this person’s job description as an exemplar.  I don’t feel so bad losing if I lost to this person.  I wish them the best.

HR did have two bits of feedback that I can use to improve next time.

First contrary to what I said on Monday, they said I didn’t say enough, and didn’t go deep enough in my answers.


Ok, maybe we need to unpack that.  Keep in mind that I am a verbal train wreck at times, but the interview lasted maybe 20-25 minutes out of a 45 minute time slot.  So, what I’m taking from this is that while I may have said a lot of words, I wasn’t saying the right things.  They wanted more than direct answers – they wanted clear answers and elaborations.

I should have taken a cue from the fact that for a couple questions, the interviewers asked follow-up questions that prompted me for more answers.  It’s obvious now, but in the moment I missed that connection.  My answers needed to be commensurate with the level of responsibility the role requires.  In all likelihood, I would have done the right thing in the job, but at the interview level, I wasn’t able to articulate the depth needed to satisfy the interviewers.  It’s hard to pay attention to those cues in the moment when your mind is in a million different places and you are trying to summarize your experience in a coherent response.

The second bit of feedback I received was that I didn’t give a good explanation of why I was interested in the job.  HR’s feedback was that my reasons for wanting the job didn’t really align with the PDF (our initialism for the job description).

Sure, I played it smart by not being up-front that the pay raise played a huge role in it (it would have been 2-steps up from where I am).  What I had told them was  that the job was the next evolution of what I’m currently doing at the college, and since I started teaching last term, I’ve been seeking ways of further developing myself at the college.

A fine answer, sure, but it doesn’t really say anything about the job itself.  I could have given that answer for literally any job I applied for.

Instead, HR suggested I read the PFD and apply what the job description says to my answer.  Upon reflection, I should have mentioned that I’ve found an aptitude for program development and review.  I should have said that I enjoyed my experiences working on the 3 engineering degrees and the 3 post-graduate certificates we’ve developed since I’ve started at the college.  I could have discussed how I’ve taken on some leadership when it comes to program development to help the Chairs share the workload.

Those would have been good elaborations as to why I want to seek out roles that expand myself.  A hard lesson to learn, but important to keep in mind.  If I learned anything from my personal development reading last year (Covey, Sinek, etc.), it’s that you should have a clear sense of why in what you do.

Next Steps

There isn’t much more I can do at the moment but work on making my current position better with my manager and keep an eye out for the next opportunity.

However, one thing I did do is send thank-you cards to my interviewers.  I drafted them up last night and dropped them in the inter-office mail system this morning.  It’s not a common practice for people at my level, so it’ll a.) make me more memorable; and b.) signal my gratitude for the experience.

It may also send some good karma my way.


Stay Awesome,



I Don’t Interview Well

I had my interview on Friday for the new position I discussed last week.  At present, I haven’t heard anything back, and I don’t expect any news until probably tomorrow at the earliest.  Regardless if I get the job or not, I find value in the experience and I’m glad I attempted to advance myself at the College.

I tend to be fairly critical of myself, and the interview was no exception.  While I wouldn’t say it was a bad interview, I felt like I made a few mistakes that were easily avoidable if I were more mindful.  You see, a couple of times in the past, I’ve received feedback on my interviews that I am a tad verbose.  Actually, one friend commented that I’m like a fire-hose when I talk.  I tend to blast the person I’m talking to with all sorts of information.  In some contexts, this is a good thing, but in an interview, it’s better to side with caution and aim for brevity.

Friday was no exception.  I’ll give you a perfect example of this in action:

Interviewer: “Just a few more quick questions – first, does your current manager know you applied for this position?”

Me: “Yes… I was conflicted about applying for the position because of the loyalty I feel to the department and the School of Engineering, so I spoke with my boss about it last week.”

*I look down at the Interviewers sheet of paper and under that question is written one word: Yes.*


There were a few other things that tripped me up a bit, but overall it was a good interview in my opinion.  I realize that I’m always critical of myself, and rather than seeing it as a failure on my part, I try to frame the experience as a growth opportunity.

Hopefully I am the right candidate for the job, but if I don’t get the job, at least I know I was good enough to give it a shot.

Stay Awesome,


Work Loyalty

I’ve got this problem with loyalty.  Well, it’s not a problem per se.  It’s a problem for me, but it’s great for my employer.  This might be a product of my tenancy to let inertia guide me, but when it comes to career progression, I tend to avoid rocking the boat as much as possible.

I’ve been at my current full-time job for 3.5 years.  I feel lucky that I got the job initially, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by wonderful people who are committed to making the School of Engineering what it is.  There are obviously little petty stuff here and there, but it’s par for the course when you have to work on teams.  I, without reservation, like working with all the people I interact with on a regular basis.

I started here as a lowly research assistant on a 9-month contract.  I got lucky when my position’s predecessor decided to retire and positioned myself to be the likely next person in line.  I was hired to fill the outgoing assistant’s job, and I’ve been steadily building myself since by accepting new challenges and seeking out ways to improve my profile (getting involved in program reviews, offering my analysis to the Chairs, accepting bigger projects, teaching, etc.).  But I have always been in the same position in the same office.  My boss has encouraged me to keep an eye on career advancement within the college, as my talents are well beyond what my original role was intended for.  I appreciate that my boss, whom has a vested interest in me staying in my current role, has always encouraged me to be open to advancement.

When I was given the opportunity to teach, I felt conflicted bringing it to my boss.  I was worried that it would signal a disinterest in my job, that I was keeping one foot out the door in case I wanted to bolt.  I pitched the job to her as an opportunity to broaden my experience at the College.  She was supportive, and I had nothing to worry about.

A few weeks back, a new job was posted within the College.  It’s a few pay-grades above where I am, and will expose me to some pretty high-up work across the entire College.  One part of me wanted to go for the job – it’s about a 10% raise minimum, it’s an entirely new role for me on a new campus, I like the people I’ll be working with and for, it’s a soft-reboot for my job, and it puts me in touch with the highest levels of administration at the College.  That alone should have had me applying automatically.

But what held me back was the loyalty I felt to my department.  My boss and I have been working on formally redefining my job so that I would qualify for a higher pay-band (we are bound by the union rules, so she can’t arbitrarily change my salary; I am stuck on the prescribed annual raise amounts).  She has been giving me more autonomy and responsibilities over my projects and the work I am doing is both valued and appreciated by the Chairs and faculty I interact with.  Plus, I’m in the middle of some big program reviews, so leaving partway through would be an inconvenience for others.

I consulted with peers at the College, I talked it over with my fiancee, and with my supervisor at the bar for different views.  I know, deep down, that loyalty to a company doesn’t necessarily make sense.  The company isn’t necessarily loyal to me (though I feel that my supervisors and boss look out for me, so there is loyalty there on an interpersonal level).  But clinging to loyalty means I don’t grow and expand exponentially within my role.  Instead, it would be a slow, iterative progression up the ladder.

As a final move, I spoke to my boss about the opportunity.  After our regular monthly check-in, I told her that I was interested in the position.  She looked it over and flatly told me that while she’d hate to lose me, it would be a shame if I didn’t at least throw my hat in on something she couldn’t offer me (salary-wise).  In the end, she knows the game: people are expected to grow and fill opportunities that they stumble into.  I wouldn’t be quitting my job since it’s an internal position at the College, so there was no harm in applying and continuing to work as per normal.  She gave me her blessing, I revised my resume, and applied to the job last weekend.  I think my boss appreciated the heads-up, just in case.

An hour ago, I received a notice from HR that I’m being offered an interview in a week for the job.  As of writing, I have no idea how this will turn out, but I guess this means I know what I need to do this next week – it’s time to dust-off my interview skills.

Stay Awesome,