March 8, 2014
Award-Winning Professor Began Honing Teaching Skills as a Student
Aug. 23, 2013
Dr. Mohammad Akbar discovered his love for teaching early on when he tutored students and helped his friends with their undergraduate classes. (Photo credit: Tyler Justice)
What began as an altruistic way to help college friends understand the complexities of physics and math has flourished into a full-fledged academic teaching and research career for Dr. Mohammad Akbar.
When he was in sixth grade, Akbar decided he was going to be a scientist. It was by tutoring school students for extra pocket money and helping his university friends that he discovered his love of teaching.
“I’ve been teaching essentially since my undergraduate years,” Akbar said. “I had the privilege of teaching my fellow friends – something I enjoyed very much. With friends, one should be prepared to step back and be able to explain every step leading to a concept, which I loved doing, and it was great training for how I teach now.”
Dr. Mohammad Akbar
TITLE: Assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Differential geometry and mathematical physics
OTHER ACCOLADES: Earned the 2013 Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Coming from a family of academics, Akbar lived and grew up on college campuses, and believes that had a big impact in his career choice. He credits his parents for emphasizing clear communication, which he said is crucial to helping others understand complex material. He also was inspired by the great instructors he had himself.
He began his studies at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh before moving to the University of Cambridge, where he completed his master’s degree and PhD. There, he worked in the research group of famed scientist Stephen Hawking. He also ran problem sessions for undergraduate and graduate students as a supervisor, which is roughly the equivalent of a teaching assistant.
After Cambridge and before UT Dallas, Akbar worked at universities in Australia, Canada and the United States. He honed his ability to convey complex information to students in a way they could understand and, therefore, ask better questions. Keeping the lines of communication open, Akbar said, was the best way to overcome roadblocks to comprehension.
“I like for my classes to be interactive, and I want my students to talk,” he said. “When I get divergent answers to a question, I often like for them to discuss it openly and settle on the right answer.” When he discovered he was selected for the Regents’ Award, he credited his students, his wife, young daughter and colleagues for their support.
Earlier in the year he earned the 2013 Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
“I was so pleased to have been chosen for both of these awards this year,” Akbar said. “I’m very grateful to the regents for instituting this award. It certainly encourages my commitment to the work.”