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My career change from a research scientist to a science teacher

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On July 31, 2018

“How would our everyday life look, if our modern electronic devices like mobile phones or computers had never been invented?” This was a question I discussed with my students in physics lesson at the upper secondary school. One hand raised up and a thirteen-year-old boy answered with a clear voice. “Without these modern devices, our life would be like in the 1970s.” I wonder, whether he knew, that I was born during that “prehistoric” 1970s.

 

How did I, a life-science professional (PhD in biochemistry/virology) ended up teaching chemistry, mathematics, and physics to teenagers? After finishing my master´s degree (biochemistry) at Helsinki University, Finland, I spent 15 memorable years studying viruses and their biology. I worked in medically-oriented research projects as a researcher and senior scientist at various research institutes in Finland and abroad. I specialized in immunology, hepatitis and drug discover/therapeutics. I planned and carried out lab experiments, analyzed results, wrote papers, supervised students, established connections with other experts, visited scientific meetings and presented research results. Familiar things for all scientists! How these things have anything to do with my current job as a science teacher at the general upper secondary school? In this article, I´m looking for answers for why I left the lab for the classroom.

 

Lab research is mainly lonely work under pressure and struggling with the experiments that often fail. Nevertheless, I was expected to obtain outstanding results and tell new findings in the lab meetings. Or alternatively, I gave an acceptable explanation of why the result was no longer reproducible. Peer-review and publication process of research manuscripts was stressful with many rounds of referee submissions, comments, and corrections. Simultaneously, I applied for new research funding and/or new job before fixed-term funding/work contract ended. A few years ago, during my third post-doc project, I started to consider other work opportunities. The teaching profession was an easy and interesting choice because I´m interested in looking for explanations for different phenomena, finding answers for questions asked and explaining things understandably and illustratively. In Finland, teaching is a highly prized profession and teachers are trusted and respected professionals [1]. In the Finnish education system, the trust in teachers to take pedagogical decisions is based on high-quality teacher education. This is reflected influential Pisa performance rankings, where Finnish pupils are near the top among OECD countries [2]. The competition for teacher education programs is fierce; approximately 10 % of young applicants are accepted each year [3]. After the entrance exam and interview, I was luckily accepted. I needed to carry out pedagogical studies and guided teaching practice. The studies took only two years as my previous studies (in chemistry) gave me enough credits required to become a qualified subject teacher. Simultaneously with my pedagogical studies, I continued my work in the lab. However, only one year later my teaching career started.

 

Now, four years as a teacher, it is time to summarize the differences and similarities between my previous and present career. Surprisingly, I find many similarities between research work and teaching. One of them is freedom and independence to plan, implement and evaluate the work. A scientist has usually several methods available to clarify the problem/phenomenon and he/she selects one or a few methods to address the question. The same goes for teaching; In Finland, unlike in many other countries, a teacher can decide the teaching methods and learning materials he/she wants to use [2]. For example, the current curriculum requires a teacher to use phenomenon-based learning methods in the classroom. Each teacher can choose their own way to implement the curriculum in his/her teaching. On the other hand, after leaving my white coat in the lab and entering the classroom, I have faced a completely new world. I needed to learn various issues in the everyday life of schools. In the laboratory, I worked with hard-working, enthusiastic scientists, who dedicated their efforts to their research topic. In the classroom, I work hard to bring the students´ attention and motivation to the subject being taught. As a scientist, my objective was to produce new data and deepen our understanding of the subject. As a teacher, my goal is to teach young students the basics of mathematics, chemistry, and physics; things that have already been taught for decades. As a scientist and science writer, I worked hard to convince the referees of the significance and novelty of my research findings. As a teacher, I work hard to convince my students that the basics of mathematics, such as good knowledge of percentage calculation is an important skill in life. “Summa summarum”, the teacher education and work experience in science have offered me capabilities to work independently and responsibly as a teacher, instructor, and educator.

 

As a teacher, I have a great responsibility to get my young students to learn the basics of science. I also play an important role in raising my students´ curiosity and critical thinking about new things. In the future, my goal is to work in a role where I can combine my scientific expertise and educational/social skills. To reach my goal, I recently started a company A&P Science Consulting (www.apsc.fi) which makes scientific consulting, writing and educational projects to companies, organizations, and associations. As a medically-oriented science professional, another options I can use my strengths are medical manager/MSL positions in a pharmaceutical company.

 

 

Pasi Kaukinen

 

References:
[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/17/highly-trained-respected-and-free-why-finlands-teachers-are-different

 

[2] https://minedu.fi/documents/1410845/4150027/Teacher+education+in+Finland/57c88304-216b-41a7-ab36-7ddd4597b925/Teacher+education+in+Finland.pdf

 

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/31/finnish-teachers-special-train-teach

Last modified: July 31, 2018

One Response to :
My career change from a research scientist to a science teacher

  1. Maverick says:

    Indeed the change from a research to teaching is very different. Both are rewarding in different ways. If you are more sociable and need human interaction I’m sure teaching is the choice to go. You can inspire the future generation of research scientists, teachers, doctors and lawmakers. That possibility makes teaching truly rewarding. That’s why I chose teaching as my career as well. Cheers!

    Maverick Puah
    https://chemistryguru.com.sg/

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