Pictured: Parham Pashaei. Image credit: Paul Joseph/UBC.

Quantum computing education has become Parham Pashaei’s niche, and his work toward developing as a teacher and his commitment to improving the learning experience and outcomes for students in Applied Science courses has earned him a Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant award. The award is given each year to just a few graduate students who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and learning at UBC, particularly those who are to solve teaching challenges or initiate new principles to improve the learning environment for UBC students.

Pashaei is an emerging leader in quantum computing education, having worked as a Teaching Assistant, initiating quantum computing lectures through UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and most recently as the Curriculum Development Lead for the Diversifying Talent in Quantum Computing project. The project, led by Lukas Chrostowski at UBC, brings quantum computing themed workshops, local events, summer camps, and public outreach to youth in the K-12 grade range.

“I realized that bringing topics in quantum computing and quantum electronics to undergraduate students in engineering would be valuable for them, and so I started teaching in a few courses, which over time expanded to more courses as people became more interested in these topics,” said Pashaei.

In order to hone his teaching skills and develop his confidence as an instructor, Pashaei has relied upon the resources offered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology (CTLT).

“Teaching courses is not just about lecturing,” says Pashaei. “It’s about creating an environment for learners to experiment, to explore, and to ask questions. I always try to bring in an experiment to show the class because for me, nothing compares to the experience of seeing 60 students share in your excitement over science and technology.”

Pictured: Parham Pashaei leads a demonstration in a quantum science lecture in a Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering course. Image credit: Peyman Servati.

Pashaei has been eager to improve as a teacher, and the CTLT has offered a wealth of resources. While these have been beneficial for his work at UBC, they have also helped him as he designs curriculum for younger students, including teenagers.

Recently, Pashaei has led a series of Master Classes in Quantum Computing through Quantum BC, in partnership with Microsoft, D-Wave, UBC Geering Up, and Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster. The classes are aimed at high school students, and have proven popular.

“When we launched, we expected maybe 10 people to sign up – we had 110 kids in Level 1, and half of them were girls,” said Pashaei. The courses are designed to teach theory and practical quantum computing basics, including how to write code for a quantum computer. Level 2 concluded recently, with a smaller cohort due to the more complex material; still, more than 50% of the students were girls, a marker of success that is important to the Quantum BC team.

“Our master class is a unique program, one of the first of its kind in Canada, but with the popularity of quantum computing as a topic and enthusiastic support from industry, classes like these are important in developing a culture of people who are passionate about learning to use quantum tools; we’re essentially training a generation of kids from a variety of backgrounds to be comfortable with quantum computing,” said Pashaei.

“Parham’s enthusiasm for his field, and his eagerness to make it more open to those who may not feel welcome is both a pedagogical and social contribution, and evidences leadership in helping UBC to implement its strategic priorities,” said Joseph Topornycky, Manager, Graduate Student Programs at CTLT.

As Pashaei looks forward, he expects to always be teaching in some capacity.

“I love research, and I want to continue my research, but I think I will always teach; teaching is an investment, and it’s an enjoyable process and working with the students has been a great way to understand the topic in new ways,” said Pashaei.

Teaching opportunities for graduate students

Graduate students interested in teaching have a number of options available to them.

TAships are a great way to get practical experience teaching, and many departments, supported by CTLT, offer TA training to address some of the fundamentals of teaching with direct application to TAing. The very popular Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) for Graduate Students, offered by CTLT, the CIRTL course Foundations of Pedagogy, or the CIRTL Summer Teaching Institute are all great places to start digging into pedagogy, and immediately implementing those ideas in practice.

Those interested in Research into Teaching can apply for a Teaching as Research (TAR) internship, which includes an opportunity to engage in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) with a Faculty mentor. For those interested in a going even further, the Certificate in Advanced Teaching and Learning (CATL) is a competitive entry program that encourages students to explore teaching in their discipline through teaching and learning theory, SoTL, and through a practicum/mentoring experience