Usman Afzali, PhD

Lecturer (Teaching and Admin), Psychology, University of Canterbury

Teaching Statement

English is my third language. Although I did learn it back home, I have never been to an English medium institution. Remembering my first days at university, I oftent struggled to understand what my professors were saying. If it wasn’t for their support and persuasion, I would not have survived undergraduate school, let alone qualifying for a doctoral scholarship. Their support inspired me so much that I wanted to become like them, to help those who need support. 
I started working as a teaching assistant with the first opportunity in graduate school. As I have also had a natural tendency towards mathematical problem solving, I applied for a teaching assistant role in research design and statistics (Year 2). In the meantime, I was taking a postgraduate (Year 4) statistics course and my professor offered me to work as a teaching assistant in the same postgraduate course starting 2019.
In 2019, I was also offered the teaching assistant coordinator role in the Year 3 research methods course. The coordinator role included various administrative duties besides teaching. The teaching assistant and teaching assistant coordinator roles have continued for four years now. To date, I worked in 16 such roles (please refer to my CV for details). My teaching rating has increased on a yearly basis (official reports available on the request of potential employers).
My teaching philosophy builds on efficiency, dedication, and fairness. I was the first teaching assistant to advocate and adopt anonymous marking of student assignments when applicable, so no student would feel unfairly treated while their work was being marked. This idea was based on my personal experience.
In addition, since I was heavily involved in teaching statistics, I pioneered use of the R-based graphic user interface software Jamovi in our School in 2019. Jamovi is an open-source software with a user friendlier interface compared with SPSS. This move was heavily appreciated by my students since many of them could not afford SPSS licenses.
I was also the first teaching assistant who advocated for a total stop of using printed teaching material when applicable for the sake of efficiency and for environmental causes. Instead, I campaigned for an increased use of online technological means (e.g., Moodle). In the beginning of 2020, I raised this with the Head of School and implemented it in all courses that I worked in.
Moving to Jamovi and adopting online means, both, happened before New Zealand was hit with Covid-19. So, when the lockdown happened, my courses had an almost seamless transition to an online format. This extensively helped students  resulting in a highly positive evaluation of their experience.
Starting from 2020, I also volunteered to offer guest lectures in various courses. I have so far presented three lectures in statistics (undergraduate), one lecture in cognition (undergraduate), two lectures in cognitive psychology (postgraduate) and two lectures in forensic psychology (postgraduate). I was also contracted in both 2020 and 2021 as a fixed-term lecturer in the Year 3 research methods course. I presented 7 lectures on t - test, exploratory factor analysis, formal modelling of processes, robust statistics, and The New Statistics.
Many students who attended my lectures in cognitive psychology or forensic psychology found my research interesting as well as intriguing. Some of them applied to become part of my lab, and since the beginning of 2021, two of them are completing their BSc Honours research projects and one is completing their Master’s research project under my direct supervision. They are examining various individual differences with respect to the Think/No-Think task (detailed in my research statement).
I have also entertained applications of students who wanted to gain research experience in forensic neuroscience. Two such students collected data in my neuroscience research and gained substantial experience and understanding of the technology. In addition, I also help as many students as possible when my timetable permits. Many prospective postgraduate students contact me for career advice and I share my experience so they can make better decisions.
I regularly found that many psychology students struggle with statistics. From my own undergraduate experience, I think there are three contributing factors: a) many available textbooks are heavily theory-based and this puts students off, b) students are not familiar with modern statistical tests and tools, and c) they do not know how to use these tools. For instance, many psychology students do not know about the modern robust statistical methods (re-introduced and developed by Rand Wilcox) that could replace parametric and non-parametric null hypothesis significance testing and help us avoid involving in questionable research practices. Besides, the textbooks on these statistics are heavily theory-based and students find them intimidating to use. I have a very easy solution to this, and am willing to share with a potential employer.
I am mostly not comfortable with the status quo. I consider myself an early adopter of innovations, I take lead rather than waiting for others to lead my way, and I am extremely committed to advancing the state of research and teaching in psychology.