I hold a PhD and a First Class Honours degree in chemistry, and a PGCE in secondary science. I gained my degree in Industrial and Natural Resource Chemistry in 1992 and then continued to study for my PhD. I was sponsored by British Airways for my doctorate research, which looked into clean technologies in the aircraft industry - specifically the removal of chlorinated pollutants from aircraft paint-stripper effluent using photo-catalytic methods.
It probably sounds very geeky to say it, but I do absolutely love my subject. I think it is a wonderful thing to be able to understand how and why matter behaves the way it does. Chemistry is everywhere, in every single thing we do on a daily basis, and helping people to 'get' that has kept me excited about my subject all this time.
You may notice pictures of water on the front page of my website and elsewhere. Water is my favourite chemical by far as it has such an odd set of properties! It is all around us and makes up a very large proportion of all living things, yet we spend most of our time taking it for granted and disregarding its weirdness - just stop and think about the solid water (ice cubes) floating in your liquid water (drink) for a minute... Isn't a solid supposed to be denser than its own liquid as the particles in the liquid are further apart than they are in the solid?? Chemistry can explain why water is unlike the rest!
A Career In Teaching
Subsequent to my PhD I moved into teaching, and after two years in tutorial colleges, I started working at St. Paul’s Girls' School in London in 1998, where I taught for 12 years.
My two years in the tutorial college sector taught me precision and directness – the teaching was fast-paced and examination results were the overriding priority. Moving to teaching in a school allowed me the freedom to teach a whole subject rather than just for an exam. This was when teaching became exciting for me and I knew that I was suited to it. Of course, passing exams is a very important aspect of the educational process – exams are our tickets to the next thing we want to do - but the process of learning, and learning how to learn with confidence, is just as much a part of education as the final grade.
During my school-based teaching years I learnt an incredible amount from both colleagues and pupils and enjoyed every minute of the challenge of explaining abstract chemical ideas in simple terms that all could understand. Have a look at some of the comments made by my former pupils to get an idea of my teaching style.
I studied for my PGCE in the early years of working at St. Paul's and had the good fortune to learn from some excellent mentors. With a few years of experience under my belt, in 2003 I was nominated for, and subsequently won, a national prize for teaching chemistry. I was one of 4 winners that year of the Salters Prize for the Teaching of Chemistry, run by the Salters’ Institute. The competition was a great experience and I was very excited to win, especially since it meant some prize money for me as well as some for the school!
At St. Paul’s I taught chemistry to pupils 11-18 for 12 very rewarding years. Since 2010 and tutoring in Oxford I have met students from a huge variety of schools - both locally and further afield. There have also been home-schooled students, re-take students, and mature students looking for a change in direction. Each and every student has their own story and needs and each and every one of them gets the very best I can offer - I really do want everyone to 'get' chemistry!
Something I was not expecting when I started tutoring was how much my teaching was going to evolve. I had been teaching for 12 years, after all, and I knew what I was doing! But here's the thing... tutoring allows you to review and revise your teaching in almost real time: in a school setting, you have your A level class or maybe two, so you teach each topic once or twice each year. The time gap before you can improve that topic or add another resource is 12 months away. But teaching 20-30 A level students individually per year allows a lot of possible iterations of that loop. I had 12 years of teaching experience before I started tutoring in 2010, and by the number of times I have now taught each topic of A level chemistry since I started, I think I have accumulated about 200 years of experience now!
Part of my role as a chemistry teacher at St. Paul's was to help students with their university preparation. I have considerable experience in extending students beyond A level, in providing advice about relevant reading and personal statements, and in giving mock interviews. Have a look at the Uni Advice page for more details.
Element number 29. A unique and striking colour. We discovered it in the bronze age and today we use it for the pipes that carry water around our homes and as the wires that carry our electricity.
Some living organisms, such as the octopus, have blue blood because they have copper ions within their haemocyanin - their equivalent to the iron ions in our haemoglobin which makes our blood red.
Element number 47. One of the seven elements known since antiquity - not that they knew it was an element at the time! It was used in coinage in those times, but is more commonly used in solar panels these days - as well as being rather beautiful in jewellery of course!
Element number 79. Another of the ancient elements. Revered because of its yellow colour it has been used as coinage and jewellery since ancient times. As gold is so very unreactive, today it also finds use in corrosion free connectors in computers and mobile phones.