What do you do?
I teach Physics and Applied Maths on pre-undergraduate courses in Further and Higher education establishments in the Northwest. I’m currently teaching international students studying for their Foundation Engineering qualification.
I’m passionate about sustainability and how best to embed the subject into my lessons. This interest probably took root during my PhD project investigating materials that would improve solar power efficiency. Since then I’ve worked on several sustainability science projects, including the removal of toxic chemicals from electronic devices, and the use of thermal energy stored in disused coal mines to heat homes.
I regularly involve my students in this research, and they have completed their own investigations into potential local sources of tidal, wind, geothermal and osmotic power. My students and I have also worked with the Royal Society and a local university to investigate the effects of cloud coverage on the performance of solar panels. I believe that students learn best by helping to solve real-world problems!
Why did you choose this field?
I have always enjoyed Physics, having completed a BSc in the subject at the University of Liverpool. As a second-year undergraduate I elected to study Materials Science, and fell in love with how it allowed me to apply my scientific knowledge to real-world engineering problems. I remained at the Materials department in Liverpool to complete my PhD in semiconductor growth. It was then I first had the opportunity to teach, and although initially nervous, I found that I really enjoyed helping people to understand what can initially appear as complex topics. Following time in industrial research, I opted to study for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education with a focus on Physics education. At this time, there was a severe shortage of Physics teachers in the UK, which was an additional motivation. Since then I have taught at every level from high school to post-graduate, and have learnt something new from each and every class.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I’ve learnt that there’s no fixed order to your career, and that there are as many different routes into a role as there are people working in that role. For example, I recently took a year out to study for a Masters degree, which was definitely not on my original ‘roadmap’. And last week I met an archaeologist who works for the National Grid helping to plan the installation of high voltage power cables – which wasn’t part of her initial plan either. As for teaching, I’ve learnt that it’s much easier to stand up in front of a classroom or lecture theatre when you’re teaching something that you love. Your passion will always shine through.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I enjoy understanding how anything and everything works, and then sharing this knowledge with others. Physics never ceases to astound me. For example, even introductory level quantum physics can be used to explain phenomena as varied as the operation of microelectronic devices like transistors, to the beauty of the Northern Lights. I also believe that if we apply our collective STEM knowledge to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals together we can start to build a better world.
Best advice for next generation?
Study subjects that inspire you, then apply this passion and knowledge to make something better.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.” Dr Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize Winner, 1937