When the student becomes the teacher

Sheila Macharia is a student on the Teaching and Learning in Biology, Medicine and Health Sciences PGCERT. Here, she talks us through how the biggest challenges she’s faced as a student pushed her to be proactive and how these challenges have enabled her to become an effective educator.

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Doing the PGCert course has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Having spent the majority of my life as a student I always approached teaching as the end goal to my career. Something that I could pursue once I was ‘established’. What the course has taught me is that teaching and learning go hand in hand. The skills I’ve gained have already impacted me positively and are helping shape me into a better communicator.

As an undergraduate student I always struggled to connect with my lecturers and supervisors and was convinced that the ways in which I learned made me a poor student. One of the biggest challenges as a student is identifying the topics that you are more proficient and being aware enough to identify those that you aren’t. This way of thinking benefited me a lot as part way through my undergrad I switched courses on to a Dual Honors in Human Biology and Biochemistry. This was not only a better fit for my learning style but also gave me more flexibility moving forward.

It was on this course that I encountered a teacher who not only helped me see my capabilities in immunology but also sparked the interest to one day be a teacher. Once I graduated from my undergraduate I did a Masters in Immunology of Infectious Diseases where I was exposed to other teachers who further fostered this interest.

Clinical immunology.jpgDuring my master’s degree I figured out that a PhD in Immunology was what I wanted to do but the teaching aspect was still unclear. I held myself back as I was still waiting for the ‘eureka’ moment where I finally felt I could broach teaching. Needless to say this moment never materialised.

When I applied for the PhD in Immunology programme at the University of Manchester I was offered the PGCert pathway and it occurred to me that if I was still hesitant to teach then what better way to prepare myself than to acquire skills needed to be an effective educator. In my first class ever we were asked to say where we fell in a spectrum of teaching experience. I remember being acutely aware that people in the same course had already been teaching for years whereas I had little to no experience.

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The support I have received on the course has been invaluable and the ability to freely discuss any aspect of teaching has been a great addition to the course content. The tutors on the course are very open with not only their knowledge but also with the different challenges within teaching that they themselves still encounter. This sense of camaraderie has been great and the ability to have an open dialogue has been an added learning tool for me.

Additionally the other students on the course have been a great wealth of knowledge and support. Hearing their different experiences in education and the experiences that set them on their own paths to teaching has been a great way to not only connect with others but to also identify the commonalities between us.

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Once I had signed on to the PGCert course I was worried that I would struggle to manage the workload of my PhD which is on ‘Exploring the Role of Eosinophils in Gut Barrier Function’ and the coursework on the PGCert course. Fortunately this wasn’t a worry for long as the course has been designed to fit with PhD schedules and the coursework is designed in a way that not only helps reinforce the teaching within the course but I’ve found myself employing some of the techniques in my own work and group lab meetings which is a great bonus. As I go on to the second year of the course I’m looking forward to growing more confident as a future educator and hopefully acquire more techniques that will make leading my own classes feel less daunting.


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