It’s been seven years since Becky Williams graduated from Manchester with a BSc in Developmental Biology with Industrial/Professional experience. Since then, Becky has pursued a PhD, which centred around breast cancer research, before realising that her heart lay with teaching.
After becoming her school’s Head of General Science so early on in her career, it’s clear to see that Becky’s passion for teaching could take her a long way. With ski trips thrown in twice a year and the added bonus of the holidays, perhaps Becky’s obvious enthusiasm for teaching could help inspire others to follow her down the same path…
The best piece of advice I received growing up was to study the subjects that you find interesting, and not to worry about your career if you are not sure what you want to do yet. This advice led me into the world of science, as I was fascinated by human biology and biomedical science.
I was quite sure that I did not want to become a doctor (the hours sounded dreadful and I fundamentally wasn’t interested in looking after sick people!) but I had no idea what I actually did want to do. In the first year of my degree I became fascinated by developmental biology, and decided to switch my degree to this area. However, at the end of my degree I still had no idea what I wanted to do, and felt a little lost.
I had enjoyed my sandwich year doing research at AstraZeneca so I decided to pursue a PhD in developmental biology, specifically in breast cancer research. The people I met during my PhD were some of the most inspiring and interesting people I have ever met, and I loved talking about the science we were doing during group meetings.
However, the lab work itself I found tedious and stressful, and at times even a bit lonely. I decided to get involved in public engagement of science during my spare time, and it was here that I finally found my calling. Explaining the wonders of genetics and development biology to the public, school students, teachers and adult learners opened my eyes to the fun you can have in teaching.
I had a job in Manchester Museum as a Lab Demonstrator, and a job for the University working as a Widening Participation Fellow, as well as setting up my own organisation called Fastbleep Biology, and I loved every second I spent doing these activities during my PhD. I remember walking away from my first session teaching at the museum and I just knew that teaching was the career for me.
However, being open about this decision was not easy, and I did not tell my supervisor until nearly the end of my PhD. My supervisor was one of my inspirations to go into teaching as he was an amazing teacher, but I still felt like I was letting him down by leaving research. Unsurprisingly, he was completely supportive of my decision, which was a huge weight off my shoulders.
My mum is a fantastic teacher (she was my Chemistry teacher during sixth form), and her and my dad were both supportive of my decision too. I think they could see how much I enjoyed teaching and my public engagement work. My husband was already a teacher, and he was sure that I would love the role, but he did warn me about the hours involved.
I think any decision you make in life can be plagued with doubt, but in the end I just went for it! I met lots of teachers who told me I was making a mistake and to steer clear of the profession, but I knew I was going into teaching for the right reasons. From growing up with a teacher as a parent I knew the reality of the job involved a lot of time, effort and hard work, but I was sure that teaching young people was the right choice for me.
Four years on, I am still sure I made the right decision going into teaching. There are weeks that are very difficult; long hours, after school commitments and lots of marking makes for a difficult home-life balance. However, I have found ways to make it work for me, and in my own time I am playing for a netball team, learning to play the piano and learning to speak French!
My enthusiasm for science was essential in achieving a promotion early in my career to Head of General Science (ages 11-13) and I love the new challenges of having this extra responsibility. However, it is the pastoral side of teaching that I enjoy the most; helping students navigate the ups and downs of life is difficult, but so rewarding.
I have taken a particular interest in developing the schools provision for LGBT+ students, and two years on from starting this we now have a thriving Pride Society in school, which I am so proud of.
Teaching has brought me endless opportunities; I am now a qualified ski leader and go skiing with school students twice a year, and I have visited both New York and China on school trips!
My advice for anyone wanting to go into teaching is to make sure they get experience in schools so you know what it is really like. Don’t go into teaching for the training bursary or for the holidays- both are lovely bonuses but teaching is a vocation and it must be your passion or you won’t survive the long days and weeks where you have more to do then you possibly have time for.
If you do decide teaching is for you, then I wish you the best of luck on what is sure to be an exciting, demanding, challenging and inspiring career! No two days are the same and every day you will make a difference to someone.