November 2020: Kris Lui

Montgomery College, Germantown, MD

Kris Lui

  • Member since 2010
  • Professor
  • Germantown, MD

About Kris

Looking up at the starry sky, I wondered, “What is out there? How do we know?” This was the moment that guided my physics career - I was in middle school, and was fascinated by the cosmos. As a first generation college student, I didn’t know much about navigating the world of academia. Luckily, I was fortunate to be a student in Ontario (Canada), where the process of applying for universities was streamlined. Somehow, I realized that a degree in physics would allow me to study astronomy but also kept other options open. I ended up at the University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario) in a physics co-op program, gaining work experiences in creating educational web pages (this was in the early days of the world wide web), in particle physics research (with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory), and in technology transfer (with an engineering-physics academic laboratory). The co-op experience was invaluable, allowing me to stay motivated when classes were tough, and giving me insight into myself (I hated computer programming, I didn’t like large collaborations, and I am not an engineer).

I’d had the goal of being a physicist, and early in my undergraduate days, I knew that involved getting a Ph.D. So, I applied to various graduate programs, intending to study non-linear dynamics, and ended up as one of the first women to get a doctorate in experimental condensed matter physics from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta). Science grad students in Canada support themselves by working as teaching assistants, and I had a chance to co-teach a 2nd year laboratory course for several semesters. I loved it! So, as my doctorate was winding down, and I was unhappy with scientific research, I decided to try teaching.

My first semester teaching was just shy of a disaster, but I learned a lot. Getting to know my students, finding out what motivated them, and being challenged every day to help them learn was exhilarating! Nearly 20 years on, I still love this daily challenge! In my early days as a full-time faculty member at Montgomery College, I received an advertisement for the New Faculty Experience program through the AAPT, and I applied. The experience of being part of a dynamic and supportive cohort, and learning mind-blowing ways to engage students, forever transformed my teaching. Today, I recognize so much of teaching is psychology, creating the environment and motivation for learning to happen. The energy and ideas exchanged at each AAPT meeting (national and regional) are vital to this on-going process of becoming a better teacher. I cannot imagine life without my AAPT ‘family’!