Bill Cowan's Student Page

Philosophy of Graduate Education

All graduate education has two components, a breadth component in which the student acquires a mature, integrated understanding of his or her field of knowledge, and a research component in which the student learns how to conduct research. The breadth component is supposed to demonstrate the student's ability to teach undergraduate courses, and also plays an important role in research, because seeing a project in perspective means understanding its value within a social network, which is the research community. This page is not, however, about the breadth aspect of graduate education, but about the research aspect.

We do not really teach students how to do research. What do I mean by this? Part of truly understanding a subject is knowing how to teach it to others: its substance is summarized in a collection of concepts and rules, which can be learned economically by a suitably prepared student. An example might be the derivative calculus, in which the level of proficiency possessed by Newton is nowadays achieved before their twentieth year by many students, who obtain this knowledge using only a small fraction of their available thinking time. This is possible because mathematicians have developed a pedagogy of calculus: a collection of notations, instructional methods and exercises by which students learn. (These comments are not intended to imply that the pedagogy of calculus has reached anything like an optimal state, which it has not, according to the testimony of many students.)

Lacking a pedagogy of research we fall back on a more primitive method of teaching: apprenticeship. A master and an apprentice work together, doing the activity the apprentice wishes to learn. The apprentice observes the master, and models his or her actions on the observed actions of the master and, when the modelling is successful, achieving similar results. The master observes the apprentice, noticing imprecisions and false turnings, then providing commentary and correction. The advantage of apprenticeship is that the master need not be able to articulate what is being taught, and the apprentice need not be able to articulate what has been learned.

The advantage is, unfortunately, also a disadvantage. Not being able to articulate what has been learned the apprentice easily becomes discouraged, `I've been working on my Ph.D. for two years and I haven't learned anything.' The master, also a victim of this problem, cannot provide any but the most generic reassurance, which is frequently not enough. The problem is exacerbated when the apprentice is a graduate student. Why is this so? The best, and hardest to gain, knowledge re-organizes patterns of thinking in the student, simplifying conceptual schema. This knowledge, once attained, drastically changes the way the student thinks about a subject. Unfortunately, it's then almost impossible to think without it, making it invisible, or when it's visible, trivial.

Relationship of graduate education to research.

Learning to do research by apprenticeship, graduate students actually do research. So much is obvious, but what is research? It comprises three stages:

  1. finding and defining a research problem,
  2. solving the research problem, and
  3. communicating the solution.

There are many tensions among student, supervisor and university in this process. To get them out in the open, let's look schematically at the goals of each participant.

Let's note that there is an obvious consistency amoung the goals of the university, the Type I students, and the first goal of the supervisor.

Current Students


  1. Tyler Nowicki


  1. Simon Parent

Past Students


  1. Victor Klassen, 1989, Device Dependent Image Construction for Computer Graphics.
  2. Alan Paeth, 1993, Linear Models of Reflective Colour.
  3. Ben Bauer, 1995, Linear Models in Colour Visual Search, co-supervised with P. Jolicoeur.
  4. Masum Hasan, 1996, The Management of Data, Events, and Information Presentation for Network Management.
  5. Ian Bell, 1996, Spline-based Tools for Conventional and Reflective Image Reproduction.
  6. Wilkin Chau, 1999, Colour Reproduction for Reflective Images.
  7. Robert Kroeger, 2004, Admission Control for Independently-authored Realtime Applications.
  8. Jiwen Huo, 2008,
  9. Martin Talbot, 2011,


  1. D. R. Forsey, 1985, Transposing Harmony
  2. Mike Schwarz, 1985, An Empirical Evaluation of Interactive Colour Selection Techniques.
  3. W, V, Wong, 1987, Harmony for the VAX 11/750.
  4. Lyn Bartram, 1989, Configurable Multi-tasking: a Method of Experiment Prototyping in a Multiprocessor Environment.
  5. Frankie Sun, 1989, Using X11 to Demonstrate Visual Effects.
  6. Jim Boritz, 1990,
  7. Scott Flinn, 1990, Visualizing Program Execution in Real Time: Representing Multi-processor Real Time Program Behaviour as a Statistical View of State.
  8. Kevin Schlueter, 1990, Perceptual Synchronization in Window Systems.
  9. Marc Gauthier, 1991, Communication Firmware and Distributed File System Support for the Harmony Realtime Operating System.
  10. George Heckman, 1991, Implementation and Evaluation of a Video Compression System Based on the CCITT Standard Recommendation H.261.
  11. Marco Imperatore, 1991, Designing and Implementing Configurable Systems for Prototyping and Controlling Multitask Realtime Applications.
  12. Jim Lai, 1991, Implementation of Colour Design Tools Using the OSA Uniform Colour System.
  13. Blair MacIntyre, 1991, A Constraint-based Approach to Dynamic Colour Management for Windowing Interfaces.
  14. Teresa Lau, 1992, Cost-benefit Analysis in Software Engineering.
  15. Philippe Bertrand, 1993, A Server-less Window System for Multi-tasking, Multi-processor Systems.
  16. Heloise Doucet, 1993, Design of a User Interface for Adding Multiple Dancers to the Benesh Notation Editor.
  17. Lijiang Fang, 1993, Constraint-based Rendering for Scenes with High Dynamic Ranges.
  18. Louis Lin, 1993, Using Visual Textures in Window Systems.
  19. Ed Dengler, 1994, Perceptual Properties of Graph Layouts.
  20. Pat Finnigan, 1994, The Effect of Format on Performance in Display Differentiation.
  21. Robert Kroeger, 1994, Sonification: Adding Streams of Sound to a User Interface.
  22. Fabrice Jaubert, 1995, A Study of Delays and De-synchronization in a Multiple-view Direct Manipulation Task.
  23. Sandra Loop, 1995, Depth from Shading as an Attentional Cue in User Interfaces.
  24. Eduardo d'Oliveira, 1996, Growing Software: An Economic Analysis.
  25. Thomas Pflaum, 1996, Colour and Reflectance in Image Synthesis.
  26. Bill Wallace, 1996, A Theoretical Time Model for Searching Menu Systems.
  27. Michael Wong, 1998, Statistical Models to Guide Just-in-Time Compilation.
  28. Tom Glover, 1999, Education Strategies for Optimized Output in the Presence of Skill Obsolescence.
  29. Celine Latulipe, 1999, A Longitudinal Target Selection Study with Force Feedback.
  30. Raymond Yiu, 2000, Double-Blind Scores of an Object-Oriented Modeling Survey.
  31. Maggie Dulat, 2001, The Force Buffer: A New Architecture for Force Feedback.
  32. Chris O'Sullivan, 2001, Scalable Distributed Virtual Worlds.
  33. Navid Sadakali, 2001, Perspective and Perception in Computer Graphics.
  34. Josee Lajoie, 2002, Slow Animation: Animations as Painting.
  35. Joanne McKinley, 2002, Volume Visualisation via Variable-Detail Non-Photorealistic Rendering.
  36. Tim MacPherson, 2003, Applying Game Theory to User Interfaces.
  37. Guillaume Poirier, 2003, Human Skin Modelling and Rendering.
  38. Rui Xu, 2003, Political Aspects of Ubiquitous Computing.
  39. Erin Lester, 2005, Early Language Learning is a Good Model for Studying Early Interface Learning.
  40. Edwin Vane, 2006, Composer-centred Computer-aided Soundtrack Composition.
  41. Maria Wong, 2006, Emotion Assessment in the Evaluation of Affective Interfaces.
  42. Jeff Dicker, 2008
  43. Vladimir Levin, 2008
  44. Jingwuan Huang, 2010
  45. Cherry Zhang, 2011
  46. Eugene Greene, 2011

Undergraduate (mostly) Research Assistants

  1. Olivier Blanc
  2. Richard Billson,
  3. Elodie Fourquet, 2002.
  4. Shawn Morel, 2005.
  5. Eoghan Sherry, 2006,
  6. Calvin Ho, 2009
  7. Eric Miranda, 2009
  8. Maxime Quiblier, 2009-2010.
  9. Daniel Goc, 2010

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