Another blog from me regarding our daily experience as a PhD candidate, with today’s topic: education! At the WUR, PhD candidates are required to use a percentage of their working hours for teaching students. Some find it stressful, annoying or a waste of time, others deem it funny, relaxing and a relevant experience. I find myself mainly in the latter group as I will try to explain throughout this blog.
My teaching varies from a group of first year rookies, to supervising master students one-on-one. Recently I have had the pleasure of supervising said rookies. Who can deny it is not (slightly sadistically) enjoyable to see people struggle with things you yourself have already overcome. Allow me to give you an example. The first ever experience of these students in a lab is to perform an extraction of ether and water with a separation funnel. At the beginning of this particular day, you elaborate on the safety rules of the lab, where to find the necessary equipment, the chemicals and finally how to use these three in harmony to accomplish the required extraction. To you it is simple: combine the chemicals, shake the funnel, hang the funnel in a clamp and tap the two layers. However half an hour later, you see the most peculiar things happening. First off, they take off their safety goggles, because those are inconvenient – a quick reprimand is enough to fix that. The next thing you notice are the most creative ways of hanging up a piece of glassware. You had no idea it was even possible to hang a funnel that way, let alone that there could be a use for hanging the cap of said funnel on a second clamp. Thirdly, you notice that a few of them have no layers at all for some reason, whilst the laws of nature clearly state that water and ether do not mix.
All of this had me seriously question the capabilities of the students, yet it also made me curious about how I was at that time. As such, I looked up my own very first labjournal and sure enough, I encountered similar things there: ‘remove the stopper before opening valve’ and ‘don’t forget to clean after using’. This once again underscores the joy, but mostly the recognition I have when teaching students things I have already dealt with.
I should also add that besides entertainment, tutoring can be useful as well. Although it is perhaps common knowledge, I found out through experience that when you explain a concept to someone else. I remembered and understand them better, because it made me think about it as a whole in order to paint that whole picture to person you are clarifying it for. Educating students therefore allows me to better recollect the basic principles underlying chemistry and to use these to tackle the problems of my own research. Admittedly, it also helps me to remember techniques that I hardly ever use in my current work, yet which I am expected to have mastered.
That is it for this blog. I hope I gave you a little insight in how teaching can be funny and useful at the same time. Please stay on the lookout for our uploads and be sure to check out the our twitter page as well (https://twitter.com/orc_phds).