Lecturer in the Spotlight: Sindo Núñez Queija
'You can learn a lot from listening to how students explain things to each other.'
Sindo Núñez Queija is professor by special appointment in Industrial Mathematics, specialised in queuing theory. He teaches third-year courses in the Mathematics Bachelor's programme and additionally teaches mathematics courses in the Chemistry Bachelor's programme and the Forensic Science Master's programme.
Sindo Núñez is a queueing theoretician, which means that he predicts and describes the efficiency of stochastic systems. 'The rise of telephony was a great initial source of inspiration for people in this field of study. Back in the day, a single telephone line would be shared by many people, so what were the odds that someone could actually make a phone call when they wanted to?' Telephone lines have since been replaced by data networks, but the fundamental questions remain the same. ‘The underlying techniques and the models used to describe them may have changed, but regardless of whether it concerns data or logistics, our aim is to find out how the infrastructure of networks can be used to its greatest potential, without the need to expand capacity.’
In response to the 'key queueing question', regarding whether or not it is a good idea to switch queues in the supermarket, he refers to the wisdom of his wife: 'She always laughs at me for approaching this matter way too theoretically. ‘Just look at the cashier,’ is what she tells me. I think she may have a point.'
Statistics for Forensic Science
As an applied mathematician, Núñez does not only teach classes to mathematics students. For example, he also teaches the Statistics for Forensic Science course. 'It's a really fun course to teach. Everyone knows what forensic science is thanks to television series like CSI, although those series do make it look slightly more polished than it actually is, but something that’s becoming increasingly important is how statistics and probability theory contribute to the administration of justice. In my lectures, I discuss cases where justice was administered erroneously due to the miscalculation of probability.'
Giving lectures to students from other disciplines also helps keep Núñez on his toes. 'You can learn a lot from listening to how students explain things to each other. When chemists, biologists and lawyers discuss matters, you sometimes pick up on things you would never have come up with by yourself.’
Learning from colleagues
Núñez also tries to improve his teaching by attending his colleagues' lectures and watching how they teach. 'One of the things you have to do to earn a UTQ is attend the lectures of colleagues, which is very educational. Furthermore, I’m teaching the Forensic Science course together with a colleague this year, Bas Kleijn. That gives you an opportunity to look at how someone else explains the material, which also helps.'
Núñez expresses a sense of wonder when he looks at the working methods of current students. 'I think it has something to do with the way secondary education has changed in the Netherlands. Students often don't have as much prior theoretical knowledge as they used to, but they have also become more independent and more creative. Personally, I approve of this development, which results in an environment where everyone can talk to each other on something approaching equal footing. Students sometimes approach me a day before the examination to request a private lesson. That is a rather disarming experience to me.'