Student Spotlight: Alec Steele Maxwell


1. What is your area of study at UT Dallas?

I am working towards a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Specifically. I’m researching methods of automatically detecting and collecting information related to human ambulation.


2. Why did you choose UT Dallas to get your doctoral degree?

During the last semester of my undergraduate degree, I was invited to visit UT Dallas with my research lab. Since my undergraduate institution did not have a graduate program, my advisor works hard to show his students the value of attending grad school by scheduling annual visits to UTD with his lab. This trip quickly convinced me to apply for a Ph.D. and sold me on attending UTD.


3. Tell us about your experience as a TA.

I love being a TA. I have always liked helping other people understand new concepts, and my role as a TA presents the perfect opportunity to do so. I enjoy building relationships with my students and working with them through the various challenges they experience in their coursework, and my own understanding of the concepts I teach has greatly improved as a result of my role. I find that being a TA is a very fulfilling role, especially when students express their appreciation for my help.


4. How have you adapted your role as a TA in the face of virtual education?

My duties have shifted from mainly face-to-face student interaction to adapting labs for virtual education, answering many more questions via email, and meeting with students virtually to help them understand their coursework better. I am working very hard to proactively identify and eliminate new hurdles that may arise due to virtual education before students have the chance to run into them.


5. What can a current student do to be successful in virtual education?

My research right now uses images from a webcam to extract information, so I can do most of my work at home. The main adaptation I have had to make is managing my time so that I can coexist with those I live with. In a research lab, the environment is very focused on getting your work done. We coexist and work around each other so that everyone can get what they need to be done.


6. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome with the move to virtual education in regards to your PhD?

I would have to say staying focused is the biggest challenge for me. I focus the best when I’m alone and being alone is a rarity for me now. Also, there are many more things to distract me all day, like my cat. I have been working really hard to remain productive by carving out times to do my work and eliminating as many distractions as possible.


7. Is there any advice you would give to current doctoral students as they adapt to this new environment?

Have a routine and stick with it. Getting into the habit of doing certain things at certain times has been the biggest benefit for me when it comes to adapting to this environment.