John McPhee

Going Green, For Work and Play

He's an engineering professor whose ideal future includes an autonomous smart car taking him out to the golf course.


John McPhee is a Professor in the Department of Systems Design Engineering and the Canada Research Chair in System Dynamics at the University of Waterloo. We asked him everything from why he chose his field of study to what is on his playlist in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What inspired you to become a researcher?
Curiosity…. I love learning new things.

What do you like most about your work?
Two things: a new and challenging problem, and working with my graduate students and researchers to find a solution.

What do you envision in the future of your field?
Greener and smarter cars: zero emissions from fully electric vehicles that autonomously drive us to our destination while we relax and read a book.

How will your research make a difference in people’s lives?
We are developing new technologies for greener cars that will reduce harmful emissions, smarter cars that will drastically reduce traffic accidents, assistive technologies for the elderly and disabled, and new sports equipment to improve the performance of professional and amateur athletes.

What advice would you give to young researchers?
Don’t chase the latest research fads. If there is a research subject that motivates you, go out and become the expert in that field. You should love working on your chosen research.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
We developed new theories that we incorporated into dynamic modelling software that is now used by thousands of engineers.

What do you read?
Lots of fiction, every night before going to bed to clear my mind. Just finished reading The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny.

What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?
The ability to sing on-key.

What is on your playlist?
So far this morning I have played: Rolling Stones, Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan, The Clash, London Symphony Orchestra, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Adele, Stan Rogers, Talking Heads, The Barra MacNeils, Bob Marley, Bruno Mars, Jimi Hendrix, ….

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

  1. Jesus Christ.
  2. Leonardo da Vinci.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
Golf Pro. I would love to spend more time outdoors.

What do you like to do for fun?
Read, swim, play cards, hockey, and golf.

Do you have a favourite motto/words to live by?
“It’s all about people”.