Episode 11: Managing Pressure and Keeping Your Options Open with Dr. Chris Eagle

Dr. Chris Eagle is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UVic. Chris is also one of the Undergraduate Academic Advisors for math and stats. He grew up in Southwestern Ontario and received his PhD from the University of Toronto. Chris frequently teaches Math 110 and Math 122, along with a variety of upper-level mathematics courses. He was one of the 2019-2020 Faculty of Science Award for Teaching Excellence recipients.

"Those expectations were built up in my mind more than they were actual reality."

Dr. Chris Eagle

Waving, Not Drowning

Transcript

Rebecca Gagan: Hi everyone. I’m Rebecca Gagan, and this is Waving, Not Drowning, a UVic Bounce podcast. Today’s episode is being recorded on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Wsáneć and Lekwungen peoples.

 

In today’s episode, I talk with Dr. Chris Eagle, an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UVic. Chris is also one of the Undergraduate Academic Advisors for math and stats. He grew up in Southwestern Ontario and received his PhD from the University of Toronto. Chris frequently teaches Math 110 and Math 122, along with a variety of upper-level mathematics courses. He was one of the recipients of the 2019-2020 Faculty of Science Award for Teaching Excellence. In our conversation, Chris shares with me some of his experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo, where he was pursuing a degree in computer science. Chris and I talk about the pressure that he felt to continue on in this degree, even though he wasn’t enjoying it and was really interested in experimenting with some other courses, like math and philosophy. And so, we talk about those pressures, some of which are self-imposed, and some of which come from family to pursue certain professions, certain degrees to take certain courses, to live up to certain expectations of academic excellence, and how difficult it can be to negotiate those pressures, to resist them, and to find a way to really carve your own path through your studies.

 

And here’s what I mean– and I’ll just share a little bit about my own experience so that you can understand a bit better what Chris and I are talking about. So, I grew up in a family of academics. So, both of my parents are now retired Canadian historians who were professors at universities in Canada. And I certainly felt– I guess pressure is a word to use… not only to really pursue academic work but to also excel. I decided to go to graduate school, and at a certain point, I had to walk away from a degree. It was a very painful time for me, a really hard time, in which I really had to grapple with feelings of failure– you know, feelings that I had not succeeded. And one of the things I was really struggling with was feeling that I had disappointed my parents, who were academics and that I kind of failed at the pursuit of that particular degree. And I wasn’t really sure what to expect of their reaction. While my parents had been very supportive of my studies, really supportive of my studies, I was very lucky to have their support, I nonetheless kind of told myself stories about what they wanted for me and how important the degree was to them, let alone how important it was to me. And so, when it came time to really talk about this kind of shattering and this kind of walking away from this degree, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

 

I’ll never forget my dad really talking to me about how this sort of, shattering or continuing on with the degree, this sort of, walking away from the degree, it didn’t matter to them at all. They told me that they loved me and that what they really cared about was my happiness. And this might not sound like such a profoundly important moment, but if you can imagine that I had just really built up in my mind how important it was to them that I pursue this particular degree. And I told myself that story over and over again for many years. And so, it really wasn’t until we had this conversation that additional shattering happened, which was that I realized, oh, wow, they, they hadn’t really, cared about this as much as I had thought– that a lot of the pressure I had put on myself around their expectations wasn’t true; it was a kind of fiction. And on that same afternoon, I sat with my dad on the back porch, and I asked him, as an academic, what had been important in his life and what was he the most proud of? And he said, “you know, sure, there was some research that I did early on in my career that I was really proud of, but what I’m most proud of is my marriage. I’m most proud of my family, of my children. And that’s been the most important thing.” And his words were really a kind of revelation to me, and certainly changed me forever in so far as I’ve realized that I had put so much pressure on myself– the pressures that were already there had been added to, infinitely, by this sense that I was disappointing other people if I didn’t pursue this particular degree– that I was a failure that I was letting them down. And in the end, it turned out that they didn’t really care about any of that. That they loved me, and they wanted me to be happy. And that at the end of the day, it wasn’t the degree that was important. It was relationships. It was my happiness that mattered. And so, I share this story with you today because, as I say, it’s something that Chris and I talk about in our really wonderful conversation, but it’s also something that I think so many students struggle with. It took me a really long time to understand that I needed to be careful about the stories that I told myself around what I thought other people wanted for me. I’m Rebecca Gagan here today with Dr. Chris Eagle, and this is Waving, Not Drowning. 

Chris, it’s such a pleasure to have you here today. Thank you so much for joining me. How have you been doing?

 

Chris Eagle: It’s been an interesting time. I’ve been mostly working from campus until very recently, but I’ve started working at home now more often. And it’s… there’s some goods in bads, working at home is nice, sometimes. Mostly, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed as much as I think many other people’s has. For me, I think this has been a somewhat easier time than it has been for many other people.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And, you know, I’ve been talking to other guests, and they’ve been mentioning for different reasons that the time working at home or the various shifts that have been brought by the pandemic, they’ve been reminding me that not all of it is negative.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah, I think certainly I’ve enjoyed getting home earlier, having more time to cook dinner for my family or spend time with my son. That’s been nice. I certainly also, though, do miss being in the classroom– I miss having face-to-face contact with students and doing those things.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Why did you make the switch from campus to home, if I can ask?

 

Chris Eagle: Several reasons. One is that I live in Lake Bernie, so it saves me a bunch of commuting time that I don’t really need to be spending on the road anymore. We were able to get some upgrades done to our home internet, so I now have enough sort of technological capacity to do that. And also, on occasional days when my son’s school has a professional development day, he’s home with me. And so, I needed to be able to teach from home for the days when he’s home, and my wife’s at work. My students have been incredibly kind and gracious to the interruptions that happen on those days.

 

Rebecca Gagan: I have those, too; from children, from dogs, from cats, dogs and cats fighting. And yes, my son now he’ll always… he comes into my office, and then he’ll look at the screen to see if– like he’s trying to figure out if I’m live or not. And so now he’s like, “is this one where you just listen or is this one where you talk?” And I’m like, yeah, this is one where I’m talking. You know, he’s trying to figure it out as well, but I’ve been so aware that this is their space, and this is their home, and I’m working really full-time from their home. And I’ve been trying to be aware of that, but you mentioned the commute, and I think that I’ve been hearing from some students who live, for example, in Langford or outside of Victoria, that one thing they have found as a benefit of the pivot to online teaching is that commute has been taken away.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. That’s certainly been the major benefit for me is having about an hour a day recovered from time spent in the car.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yes. Even though they’ve improved the highway, I think, out there–

 

Chris Eagle: They have. It’s better, but it’s still a long enough journey.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. And I think, as you say, we’re sort of, in that slowing down in some ways there’s and moving into the home, then as you say, we are getting back some hours that might be spent, as you say, commuting, and those hours can be used to do things that we enjoy like making dinner for your family and whatnot. So I think that’s an important point to raise because things are so hard, and we do tend to think a lot about the ways in which things are not working right, or that the pandemic has changed our lives for the worst. There’s no doubt– there has been so much loss and so many challenges, but I do think it’s helpful to also think about where we can, those small changes that have also allowed for the kinds of shifts that can actually be positive. So, thank you for reminding us of that.

 

Chris Eagle: I think I should also say that I am aware that for many people, the situation has been much more difficult than it has been for me to think that, you know, there are people for whom even those small benefits are hard to see at the moment.

 

Rebecca Gagan: I think so. And as you say, I think that we recognize the kind of privilege that there is in being able to work from home, to not have faced those challenges of losing employment, as so many have, and that as you say, that being able to recognize the ways in which even in the small ways that there may be some, maybe, just spots of joy, you can call them, in the day-to day-grind and within all of those losses. So, I do think that that is important.

 

So, Chris, you know that I have invited you here today because I’m very eager to know a bit more about your experience as a student, so UVic Bounce is really focused on trying to de-stigmatize conversations around challenge and difficulty and that we’re doing that by really just sharing stories with each other and having conversations about our experiences as students so that students in our community far and wide can feel that it is easier for them to share their own stories and to reach out for the help and support that they might need. And so, I’ve been talking to faculty from across our campus who have shared with me their experiences as students, and I was hoping that maybe you would be able to share a bit of your own story with us today.

 

Chris Eagle: Sure. So, I want to say, before I say anything about challenges, that I’ve had an unusual amount of privilege and benefits growing up, so while I will be talking about some challenges, I did want to make sure to mention that the story may not resonate for some people, just because of the benefits that I came in with. So, I guess I’ll start by saying something from high school. So, coming through high school, as many of our students did, I did very well in high school. It was sort of expected that I was going to go to university, and that was the plan my parents had and everyone else had for me from the beginning. I was doing well in school. I was doing well in math and science courses; therefore, everyone’s opinion was you will be an engineer. It was sort of decided somehow in advance that was the right thing that I like to go on. So I did. And actually, I remember at the end of high school, basically looking at engineering programs entirely based on how hard were they to get into, so I can go to the one that was hardest to get into because this was somehow supposed to be some kind of measure of accomplishment or something.

 

And so, I ended up at the University of Waterloo in the software engineering program, which at the time was among the harder ones to get into, and I did pretty well at that too. I Did my first-year courses. I did well. I got a Co-Op job. Things were going very well, except that I didn’t actually like it. So, I was taking these courses… and so I was in this program, in large part, because there had been pressure to do something prestigious, and I wanted to show off that I could. And it took me quite a long time to realize that those weren’t good enough reasons for doing what I was doing. The thing that ended up happening was though I was doing well in this program, I guess I was complaining a lot because my girlfriend, who is now my wife, actually asked me why I was taking these things if I didn’t really like them very much, and eventually convinced me that I should start looking into other options, but this took a lot of convincing because I felt a very strong pressure that I was supposed to do something prestigious. I was supposed to do something that was going to lead to a prestigious career. I was supposed to do something that my parents would be very proud of. As it turned out, my parents were going to be very proud, no matter what I did, but it took a while for me to be able to see that. I was trapped in this world of thinking that I needed to do something prestigious in order for that to happen.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And Chris, can I just ask, so this was in your undergrad at Waterloo, and at what point did, so you say that it took a lot of convincing for you, and I’m just curious at what point did something start to change?

 

Chris Eagle: I think what I would say is that the signs that I wasn’t enjoying the program I was in started pretty early. And there was some evidence even pretty early on that the things that I did like about the engineering program were the math courses, so it wasn’t even necessarily a big surprise what I was going to end up going into, but it took me a while to realize that the reason that I wasn’t very happy in the program I was in wasn’t just because it was a lot of work or anything like that. It was that there were parts of it that I really just wasn’t interested in.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And so, were there certain courses– so when you talk about signs, what were the signs that it– you said you were at an unhappy, and so I’m just curious what were the signs that you started to get that this wasn’t for you?

 

Chris Eagle: As I mentioned, I’m not so sure that I picked up the signs myself so much as people around me pick them up first. But what I understand from what my wife has told me about the time my memory is terrible, I should say. So, some of this is me remembering through other people, but yeah, I would apparently talk all the time about a couple of courses that I was taking and then just grumble with having to deal with the other ones. And the couple of courses were routinely the math courses I was taking, which is what led eventually to her saying, “so why aren’t you a math student if those are the only ones you have any interest in?”

 

Rebecca Gagan: So those around you could see where your interests were resting, right? That they–

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. So, people around me, especially my closest friends, could see much more clearly than I could what I was interested in, what I was passionate about, what I really wanted to be spending my time on.

 

Rebecca Gagan: So, what happened?

 

Chris Eagle: I stuck with the program that I was in for a while, and I agonized over whether or not it would be okay to change programs. I worried about what would the future look like if I did. Eventually, I had a Co-Op placement that I could tell that I didn’t like. It was a very good job that just wasn’t a good fit for me. And eventually, I went and started talking to advisers in the math department about what would it look like for me to change programs? Would it delay my graduation? What would I be able to do afterwards? Those kinds of questions.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Okay. And so, you were doing some fact-finding, and you said– so is this part of the sort of extensive convincing that was required, so you could make this move?

 

Chris Eagle: It was for sure. I had a lot of worry at the time that I would be perceived as having dropped out of the program that I was in, but somehow the perception would be that it was too hard. I mentioned at the beginning that part of the things I went into was looking for this kind of prestige of doing something that was hard, and I didn’t want to be perceived as having failed at that. And so, then I made another terrible choice, which was– so the way that the undergraduate program in math is structured at Waterloo is a bit different than it is here at UVic. They have separate programs for various different branches of math– pure math, applied math, combinatorics, nominalization, and various different things. And so obviously, what I did was switched into the one that was perceived as being the hardest.

 

Rebecca Gagan: That makes sense given the trajectory you have shared.

 

Chris Eagle: So, I didn’t necessarily know, really, what pure math was, but what I did know was that amongst math students, there was this perception, which in hindsight, I don’t actually think it’s necessarily justified, but there was a perception that it was the hard one. And so, I convinced the academic advisors that was what I wanted to do, even though I didn’t really know much myself about what it was, but I wanted it to be able to say I switched into the hardest thing.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And so, you made the switch?

 

Chris Eagle: I did. Okay. So, in the long view, I got extremely lucky because, as it turns out, I really do love that area of mathematics and it worked out very well for me, but in the short term, it was quite a painful switch because I was not really prepared for what I was getting into, so I made the switch and then the first semester rolls around where I’m no longer engineering student. I’m now a math student. I signed up for all of the required third-year courses that I’m supposed to be taking at that point. And I discovered that I just didn’t have the background for it. I hadn’t been thinking in the way that most of the other students had; they had background that I didn’t have. I spent that semester practically living in my professor’s offices. They were having office hours. I was there and asking sort of every single question I could think of. And this was, in the end, a positive but a very frustrating and humbling experience going into something because I wanted to show off that I could do this hard thing and then finding out that actually, it was really hard.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. So once you got into it and realize the decision you had made and that you were in this program, then you had to find a way to be successful in it, so you were getting all the support.

 

Chris Eagle: That’s right, and I’m glad that I did. My professors were wonderful and supportive, and I got a lot of benefit from spending so much time talking to them about things, but it was a very hard switch. So, in the end, I’m glad that I made it. I found something that I was much more passionate about; I ended up going in a direction that I’m really happy with, but that it wasn’t an easy thing to do at the time. And I certainly wish that I had taken the time to get a bit more information about what I was getting into before doing this, but in the end, it did work out well. Although, that’s not the end of my story of not knowing what I wanted to do and choosing things hazardly.

 

So, I had this interest from really from high school in philosophy, and so I decided to take some philosophy courses as well. And the next thing I know, I’m very interested in philosophy in addition to mathematics. And so, I ended up taking a minor in philosophy, and at some point during one of my philosophy courses, I get back in a paper I had written, and the instructor’s comment on it was, “this is really good work. Have you considered graduate school in philosophy?” Twist? The answer was, well, certainly no. I haven’t considered.

But at this point, it was– I was starting to have a better sense of what I wanted to do, and actually, the idea that I wanted to go to graduate school, at all, was becoming more comfortable. That was something I was already thinking about. So, I did apply to graduate school in philosophy. And in fact, I went to graduate school in philosophy. And so, I did a master’s degree in philosophy, largely on the basis of this one instructor who said, “Hey, have you thought about this?”

 

Rebecca Gagan: And put the idea out there for you?

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah, which I would have never really thought about it. It wasn’t something I had considered as an option for what I might do next; I think in part, still because there was this worry of what kind of prestigious career might come out of that.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And Chris, have you been enjoying your philosophy courses?

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah, absolutely. I was having a wonderful time with those courses. I really enjoyed the material, so eventually, I decided to go ahead and do this degree in philosophy, which I did. Along the way, I got very interested in the interactions between philosophy enough, and then I discovered I needed to know more math to be able to do the kind of philosophy I wanted to do, so I went back to math grad school and again, the story goes on from there. But I think what I learned from that experience was the importance of being open to different paths than the ones that I thought I was going to be following. So, by that point, I was a little bit more willing to say, I don’t know what the future of this looks like, but I know that I’m really interested in this. And there’s an opportunity here for me to go do something that I’m going to really value later on in life. And so that is what happened.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Okay, so you were doing the masters in philosophy. You finished that. You realized you were interested in the connections between math and philosophy– needed to know more about math, so then you went and did– did you do then like an MSc or something?

 

Chris Eagle: So, I went back to Waterloo, where the master’s degree is called Math, but yes, I did a master’s degree in math. And by the end of that, my idea of where I wanted to go had settled down. It became clear to me that what I wanted to do was do a PhD in math and go on to be a musician.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And how hard was it for you, I’m just curious, to actually jump into the masters in philosophy?

 

Chris Eagle: So this was another experience of not really having the same background as most of my peers in that program and discovering that I needed to pick up more things along the way to be able to keep up with what was going on, so it was quite challenging, but it was challenging in a way that I really enjoyed because it was material that I really liked and I was taught I wanted to learn about. So, it was a good challenge.

 

Rebecca Gagan: It sounds like it was a leap of faith and probably took some courage to say, “okay, I’m going to pursue that master’s in philosophy.”

 

Chris Eagle: I think I surprised myself by deciding to do it. I know I certainly surprised my parents. At that point, I think that they had certainly had no objection to me being a math student; the idea that I was going to move to another country to take your graduate degree in philosophy with no direct plans of where that would go next, I think was a bit of a surprise to them, but they were very supportive of it, and I think it was a good leap of faith, but it was definitely a surprise.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And you’ve talked about something in sharing your story, Chris, that I think is so central to certainly the undergraduate student experience and even the graduate one, which is that sometimes we get very invested in a certain narrative of ourselves and of what we think others think of us and want for us, so when you talked about you had an idea that you would go to the most, you know–like a very prestigious school to take engineering– that this is what you were good at, which is another really interesting piece– that we can sometimes get really locked into a certain trajectory because it’s something that we’re good at and others see that we’re good at it, and so we then say, “well, I should do that because I’m good at it.” And that it isn’t until somebody says,” oh, hey, you’re also good at this, and maybe you would enjoy this,” that we start to entertain other ideas, but I think it can take a very long time to– and a lot of wrestling with the way that kind of narrative can shape us– to get to the point where we realize, “oh, hey, that’s not where my passion is. That I’m not in this story,” right? This story is something that is about other people and other people’s perceptions of me, and where am I in this? And when you say that you reached a point when you went to do the degree in philosophy where your parents were– you know, they didn’t care, they were happy, right, that you were choosing– they might’ve been surprised, but they were happy, and I don’t know if you had that moment of, oh, actually, the people around me now are saying that I like they don’t care as much as maybe I thought they did.

 

Chris Eagle: I absolutely did have that experience, in fact. I think that I had built up in my mind quite a lot that other people had certain expectations of me. And those expectations were built up in my mind more than they were reality. And the people around me, my family, my close friends, really, of course, what they wanted was to see me doing something that I was excited about and see me being happy about things. And the pressures that I felt were partly because of them saying, “oh, it looks to us like you might like this,” and me misinterpreting that as you must go do this.

 

Rebecca Gagan: It’s so that you hear something– and especially as a young adult, and in those relationships with family, and there could be– there absolutely can be a lot of pressure there as well, but I think we also can hear it differently than it’s being said, that, “oh, you should do this and you’re good at this, and this is what we expect of you.” And then when you realized that you had just like invested in a story that kind of wasn’t true, it’s– and this happened to me, and it happened quite– I would say– quite late in life, but it was this moment of realizing, oh, all of these people around me whom I thought were so invested in this idea of me doing X actually only ever cared that I was happy.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. I think that’s a bit– that’s a very accurate description of what the experience was for me as well. And I think the biggest barrier for me to seeing that was my own investment, and I want to impress people, make people proud of me, this sort of thing, which made me think that their suggestions were the rules for how to do that much more than what was really true.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And I feel just so really delighted though, that you were able to pursue– that you did ultimately choose to pursue philosophy, at least for that one degree, and to be able to wrestle with those feelings and at that moment, still go on it and do that, and then ultimately come back to furthering your interest in math. And obviously, here you are. But that you– you’re also sharing, Chris, that it does take time to figure all those parts out, so that you can then, sort of free yourself a bit from other people’s stake in your own life, really, and those choices, but also so nice that you had people close to you who could say, “Oh, I see your eyes light up when you talk about this course.”

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. I think that was really crucial for me– was not only having those people around but eventually listening to them, realizing that sometimes it’s easier for other people to see what is, what you actually valuing than it is for you to see that yourself. Sometimes, the way that you act about things tells more about what’s going on than what you might tell yourself in your own story.

 

Rebecca Gagan: That’s right. And as you say, we can tell ourselves those stories, and it can be a lot of wrestling to try to figure them out. So, it sounds to me, Chris, like you have– I mean, you’ve already given just some really helpful support here in sharing your own story. And as I said, it’s certainly something that I’ve experienced, and sometimes it does take, as you say, somebody else to put the idea in your head. I’ll often write on a student’s paper, “have you ever thought about English?” And some of those students are in science, and they would say, “no, I’ve absolutely not thought about it, though I really do enjoy it.” But sometimes I think it can, as it was the case for you, trigger a little more reflection about that and then go, “Hey, I’ve always thought that I was going to do this, but maybe I really have a passion for this discipline and would like to at least try it.” So maybe just taking some more courses or something.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. And for me, one thing that worked out really well was that– so I was interested enough in philosophy to go off and do that master’s degree, and what I discovered was actually areas where the two things I was most interested in came together, and so I got interested in a part of math where the sort of influence from philosophy was still present. And so that was– that ended up being a big driver for the kind of mathematics that I’m interested in my professional life now.

 

Rebecca Gagan: I was just about to ask you– does philosophy still have a role in your academic work now?

 

Chris Eagle: So, okay. Here’s my answer there. The humming. Yes, it does. It’s not necessarily a very visible role in a lot of what I’m doing, but the kind of math that I’m most interested in is things that has ties to philosophical questions. It is sort of a short journey from the kind of math that I’m doing to things that are involved with philosophy.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And so you were able to combine those two interests, which I think also is a really important reminder that it doesn’t have to be an either or that there are ways to bring your passions together and to actually create a unique program of study, a unique career, that really reflects those passions, that you don’t necessarily have to choose.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah, actually, it’s interesting that you mentioned the career. And one of the things that I was worried about a lot and that I certainly hear students worry about a lot as well is what am I going to do after? What kind of job am I going to be able to get after? And, of course, those are good questions to worry about. One needs to have enough money to be able to live. And so, it’s important to ask those questions. I think that one thing that I have come to understand more later is that it’s tempting to see how does that lead to specific careers rather than paths that lead to a variety of options. And sometimes, it’s worth remembering that the extent to which you directly use the things you learn in your degree program isn’t necessarily a measure of how valuable that experience was for the career you end up in.

 

Rebecca Gagan: If we’re thinking about the means and ends of an education, that sometimes students might come into their undergraduate degree, for example, even having predetermined what the end will be, and that it’s a singular focus. And I think what you’re sharing is that you don’t know what’s going to pop up along the way.

 

Chris Eagle: Exactly. And so of course, it’s important to be thinking about future careers, but it’s also important to be thinking about not being too committed to one direction from the beginning because coming from high school, one of the things that we know students’ experiences– there are a lot more things in the world than we realize as high school students. And so, I think it’s quite important to be open to those ideas that your career could go in a number of directions and the things you learn will be valuable for that, whatever it may be.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And even if you can’t see that, at the time– you can’t think, “how could philosophy be valuable to my work if I’m following computer science or math.” And then, it’s about having a kind of, just opening your mind a bit to those possibilities or having somebody else help to open your mind and convince you that you might want to try that. So, Chris, if you were to leave our listeners, many of whom are students, with any sort of words of advice or support– not to put you on the spot, but what might that be?

 

Chris Eagle: There’s a couple of things from this conversation that I would want to bring out specifically. One is, listen to the people around you, the voices around you often have a good understanding of you in a way that can be hard to see yourself from the inside. I think that we all have a sort of version of ourselves that is what we imagine we are, and that’s not always the same as what other people see. And it’s important to listen to what others are seeing as well. Another thing that I would say is that one thing that I want to draw it from that story is that it’s okay if you make a decision and it turns out to be hard. So, after I decided to switch programs, I ended up working extremely hard to catch up in a sort of area that I was a bit deficient in background for that wasn’t a sign that it was a bad choice, just a sign that there was hard work to be done. And that’s okay.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Right, and so sometimes we can make choices and students make choices, and then it becomes– it can be very difficult, but you shouldn’t read that as part of your story, meaning that you shouldn’t be doing it.

 

Chris Eagle: Exactly. And part of that also, I would say, take advantage of the assistance that is available. I mean, sometimes I have students come to my office hours, very worried about that they’re taking up my time or something like this. I understand where that comes from, but your instructors are there to help. We want to support you in learning things, and so take advantage of those opportunities. I certainly would not have succeeded at the direction I went in if I hadn’t spent so much time in my professor’s office hours in those first couple of years.

 

Rebecca Gagan: I love how you said that you were just always there. If there was an office hour, you were there.

 

Chris Eagle: And sometimes if there wasn’t an office hour, I was there too.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Just waiting for the door to open for the office hours to be open. I think that students, yeah, absolutely can feel that. And I certainly felt that as a student, that I didn’t want to bother my professor, that they were very busy and I always, like you, I always tell my students no, no, no, no. Like I’m here. This is part of my job, but also, I’m really happy to talk with you about the course content or career trajectories or any of those things, and that, whether that’s face to face or on Zoom, can just be so useful.

 

Chris Eagle: Yeah. I think that’s exactly right.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Chris, it has really been such a pleasure hearing your story and talking with you today. And just, I’m so grateful that we’ve had this chance to have this conversation. So, thank you so much.

 

Chris Eagle: Thanks very much for having me.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Bye for now.

 

In next week’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talk with Dr. Celina Berg, an assistant teaching professor in the department of computer science at the University of Victoria. In our conversation, Celina talks about how she stepped back from a degree, started to work, had a family and returned as a mature student to pursue a degree in computers. This is such an engaging and inspiring episode, and I can’t wait for you to hear it. You can keep listening to episodes of Waving, Not Drowning on Anchor FM, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. We’d love it if you would give us a like and a follow on Instagram @uvicbounce. Tune in next week for another great conversation.

 

Until then.

 

Be well.