Emily – Science Teacher and Ex-Plant Scientist

Who are you?

Hi! I’m Emily Aslin and I currently work as a high school science teacher. I used to be a plant scientist, but realised I enjoy teaching people about science more than I enjoy working in a lab!

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Where do you work?

I currently work for the Department of Education and Training in Queensland, though I have worked for CSIRO and The University of Queensland’s School of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

How did you get into this job?

Sit down kids, I’m about to learn you something.

You don’t have to know what you want to do when you leave school. You certainly don’t have to know before you leave school. And you absolutely can change your mind about what you want to do. I did. About 20 times from grade 11 to now.

I started out with a Bachelor of Plant Science, which actually started out as a Bachelor of Biotechnology majoring in Drug Design. During my first year of uni I realised Drug Design had a bit too much chemistry, and my plant science lecturer Jimmy Botella was so inspiring that I realised plants aren’t boring and useless. I decided to change degrees, and absolutely loved it! By the end of that degree I had worked in a few different labs, including those I mentioned above. While I enjoyed the science-y work, I realised I enjoyed teaching people about it more than actually doing it.

So I graduated the Bachelor degree and moved right into a Master of Communication majoring in Science Communication. Think journalism, but specific to science, mixed in with museums, science shows, all that sort of stuff rolled into one. Throughout this degree I came to another realisation – I was focusing all my energy on what we call ‘formal’ education – i.e. teaching in schools as opposed to teaching the general public. I called myself a bit of an idiot and after graduating from that degree I embarked on a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. I had finally found my true interest and passion, and haven’t looked back since!

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Experiments are always one of the best parts of science class, but you can’t do them unless you know some of the theory first.

What do you actually do?

I teach students like you science and math! I mostly work with grades 8-10, but have taught 7, 11 and 12 in the past as well.

When I’m not in the classroom actually teaching, the rest of my working time is spent planning lessons, marking things, calling parents, filling in paperwork, answering emails, compiling and looking at data, writing curriculum documents and unit plans, attending meetings… the list goes on. In fact, being inside the classroom teaching is probably about 40% of my ‘work time’. Ask your teacher, they’ll back me up with that for sure!

What type of building (or otherwise) do you work in?

Pretty typical school really. We have 5 labs to work in, though most of our lessons are in a normal classroom, which means we have to schedule and plan for lab work in advance.

I love taking my students out on excursions, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like.

What STEM disciplines are involved with your work?

All of them! Teaching involves working with technology. Obviously I teach science and math, but beyond that I use a lot of the scientific and mathematical way of thinking in my outside-of-class work. Engineering is probably the field I deal with the least, but I do like to try getting my students to experience a bit of engineering work every now and then through our experiments.

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Doing fun things in the lab, but make sure you’re wearing your protective gear!

What other STEM People do you work with?

As a science teacher, and through building this website, I get to meet loads of different STEM people! Many of my friends are people I studied science with at university, or worked with in various labs. I’m also married to a scientist, so it’s a really big part of my life.

At school we have lab technicians who prepare our experiments for us, IT people who solve all our technical problems, statisticians who help us with data.

What does a typical day for you look like?

Get up. Go to school. Yell at kids. Go home.

No really.

I’ll generally get to school an hour or so before it technically starts, so that I can make sure I’m prepared for the day (including any relief teaching I need to do that day). This year I am teaching mostly science, with a little bit of math. I have also been mentoring student (or pre-service) teachers, which is a great experience. You never really know how well you understand something until you try to teach it to someone else!

During lunch breaks I’ll often have playground duty, meetings, or other work I need to do, so I’ll usually try to block out at least 10 minutes to just sit and eat and chat with the other teachers.

After school is sometimes more meetings, but if not I’ll generally try to go home early and do any more school work that needs to be done at home. That way I get to spend a bit more time with my husband and pets, even if I’m working.

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At Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, as part of STEM-X Academy – a week where science teachers do professional learning and collaborate to improve their teaching.

What do you like best about your work?

I love helping students to see the fantastic things about science and to get confident with math. I really love developing good relationships with my students, finding out what they are like as actually people, so I can work out the best way to help them succeed with what they want to get out of life.

I also love working with other teachers, designing lessons and solving problems.

What do you like least about your work?

I don’t like it when I have to fight with students to get them to do the work. Or when they try to tell me science is boring and irrelevant. Hello, you’re using STEM stuff right now just to read this! STEM is all around you, literally a part of every single thing you do and touch. Let yourself enjoy learning about how it all works!

What advice would you have for a high school student considering a career in the STEM field?

If you are considering a career in STEM, choose something you are interested in. At least start out following that interest, and don’t be afraid to change your mind as you go. As you’re learning about your field, trying out a university degree and working in some STEM jobs, you’ll discover your interests and passions change and evolve. Let them! It doesn’t matter how many times you change your mind about what you want to do – keep following your passions and interests and you’ll end up in a job you’ll love, even if it takes you three degrees and about 20 workplaces, like it did for me!


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