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A Pastry with the Prof: Weaving life experience with the pursuit of knowledge

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future…
– Steve Jobs

Title screen for HKU Sociology 'Pastry with a Prof' series

I have often wondered: What leads academics down their path of inquiry? How does a person become so committed to a research area that they dedicate their whole lives to its exploration? In the process of my PhD research, I have received great inspiration from the writings of scholars like anthropologist Tim Ingold who reflects upon his childhood and career to weave a narrative connecting these experiences with relevant academic theories and trends. This art of reflection — or of ‘connecting dots’ in Jobs’ words — seems to hold keys to wisdom, to knowledge that inspires.

Our classrooms rarely provide the time and space for the sharing of these insights, and so when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to produce a video series that got up-close and personal with the professors in our department. The main question that I asked all my interviewees was simple: “How did you end up doing what you do now?” For each professor, the answer was different, and yet their stories held striking similarities: they chose unconventional life paths, were fiercely curious, made mistakes, and grew from them.

Temily Jaya Gopan interviews Dr Tommy Tse

Inspired by the style of Jerry Seinfeld’s hit series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I named the series A Pastry with the Prof. Whereas Seinfeld’s show literally features coffee, I use the word “pastry” in a more symbolic sense: It represents the bite-sized chunks of wisdom encapsulated in each episode. The interviews are deliberately filmed and edited to give the viewer the sense that they are having a one-to-one, candid conversation with the professor. The episodes were filmed at various locations across campus, in places where students might themselves stumble into these conversations.

Temily Jaya Gopan interviews Dr Tom McDonald

I hope that viewers will draw as much inspiration from watching this series as I have from the process of creating it. Beyond a deeper appreciation for the power of storytelling, I have gained insights into the systematic pursuit of curiosity. Watch all episodes of A Pastry with the Prof in the YouTube playlist below.