Tell us a little bit about you:
I’m Pia and I’m a PhD student in School of Education at the University of Strathclyde. My PhD is focused on exploring how misconceptions influence and obstruct students' learning of chemistry. I was a secondary school teacher for nearly 16 years prior to setting on my PhD journey. The current science curriculum does not meet the needs of diverse students, resulting in student disassociation with science. I love running, so when I'm not studying, I'm usually out on long runs near the water. I’m also keen on fitness, so trail walking or swimming are recreational activities for me. I have a love affair with coffee and cannot imagine my life without it.
What is your area of research and what project(s) are you working on now?
My research has the potential to contribute to theoretical models of science curriculum planning and teaching, but it can also provide real-world value to curriculum developers and teachers. Teachers are frequently portrayed as the antidote to the shift toward new curriculum content requirements and the expectation of higher-grade achievement as aspiration and target grades rise. Hopefully, the applications of my research will aid in the development of future science planning in schools. What I am actively interested in is how misconceptions affect students’ understanding.
When was your interest in STEM/your field first sparked and why?
I have always found science extremely interesting, so I just managed to keep doing it. I was always intrigued by how things really work while I was a kid. I am particularly fascinated by how science impacts everyday lives. I have to applaud a few truly inspirational teachers who motivated me to follow my passion all along way. I initially aimed to study pure chemistry, but I finally chose to learn bio-chemistry science. During my teaching career in England, I always engaged with STEM clubs and outreach activities for students to stimulate my passion for science.
Who or what inspired you to stick with STEM when you were younger?
My parents always invested in my interest to explore science and I used to participate regularly in science festivals and environmental-focused science debates and poster presentations to share my passion for science with others. I used to volunteer at schools during school breaks with science clubs and support sessions and I still feel those were the best moments of my life - sharing my passion and my love for learning science by exploring how science plays an important part in our lives.
What challenges do you think STEM disciplines face with regards to issues of diversity and inclusion and what should a supportive, inclusive STEM community look like?
Science and maths subjects have long been viewed as too hard or too difficult by many parents and children and can lead to disengagement. This is especially true for learners (parents and pupils alike) who have had unsupportive, discouraging, or unequal STEM learning experiences. In order to sustain students’ interests in STEM, work needs to be done to create more inclusive STEM learning experiences to enable diverse learners to thrive.
In your career, what are the moments that have made you proudest so far?
My energy is enhanced by my optimism for teaching science and sparking students' interest in the subject. As a teacher, I came to life in my science classroom, bringing passion and energy to my students' learning experiences. I am proud that, despite having to leave my classroom for an indefinite period of time due to medical issues, through my PhD, I will make significant contributions to improving students' science experiences. Sometimes I am proud just to have made it through a complicated day without passing out; other times, I am proud to have finished literature reviews or coached students. My dream has always been to be able to help people, and volunteering allows me to make a genuine difference while also seeing the direct impact of my efforts.
Since STEM career paths are rarely easy to navigate, what challenges have you faced along the way?
One of the best things about having a STEM related degree is that it is highly sought-after and applicable to so many industries even those unrelated to STEM, offering the freedom to work in multidisciplinary environments, learn from individuals with diverse skillsets, and contribute to society and to the economy.
Where do you find support to sustain you in your current career?
Since commencing my PhD, I have developed my own support network. Being a part of societies and groups online has also been extremely beneficial to me. They have enabled me to meet potential collaborators and make really good connections. Supervisors are very supportive and considerate. They have guided me well and helped me to depend on my independence and encouraged to develop my own academic voice.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM?
STEM research makes vital contributions to a nation's economy. Whilst the United Kingdom continues to invest in science, there is still much work to be done to bridge the gap between science and student engagement. Science and technology are critical to our future, and the people who will be making great advances and driving new discoveries are those who are currently in school.
Fun question: Tell us two truths and a lie about you.
a) I used to have a dog called Teffy. b) I once won the first prize at a state science competition when I was 15. c) I am national level swimmer and won many prizes.