An advocate for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Catherine Finch has made the most out of her membership since joining in 2011.
“I kept receiving Chemistry World magazines and looking through them for opportunities, as even though I loved chemistry, I wasn’t totally sure what was out there for me,” says Catherine. “While reading, I noticed there were always articles about things people were doing and what jobs there were in the chemical industry, and I also saw that there was an RSC scholarship for teacher training.”
Catherine had been working towards her PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry, before realising that what she really enjoyed was working with other people and helping them learn, sparking her interest in teaching.
“I didn’t know I wanted to teach until the end of my PhD. I was quite lucky as I was given lots of opportunities to teach undergraduate and postgraduate students, supervising them through their dissertations. I think it was throughout that process that I realised I wanted to teach, and I remembered the scholarship from the RSC and decided to apply for it.”
Resolving that her next step was to do her Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), Catherine applied for a place at the University of Nottingham, as well as for the Initial Teacher Training Scholarship with the RSC.
“The RSC application process was straightforward, and it overlapped with the requirements of what I needed to do for my PGCE, so it wasn’t like starting from scratch. I was accepted, and they asked if I’d like a mentor. Deciding I would, I gave very specific information about what I wanted from them – they had to be female, have children and work in teaching with a PhD in chemistry. I was really shocked that they were able to find me exactly that!
“I spoke to my mentor a couple of times with questions about work-life balance – which is a constant battle in teaching – and she was really helpful and responsive. She was really good.”
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Catherine has now been working in classrooms as a teacher for a few years, but still finds ways to get involved with the RSC.
“I’m the lead contact for the RSC in our department, and everyone sees a real value in what the RSC has to offer. The shared resources for teachers are excellent, like the ‘Starters for ten’ worksheets, which are a series of ready-made starter activities ranging from GCSE to A-level. They’re so easy to use and they come as a PDF with answer sheets.
“There’s also the Teach Chemistry website where you can find useful articles for lesson ideas or a piece of literature that is already written for children. They’ve definitely supported me in keeping children engaged with chemistry and in keeping my lessons relevant, helping to link the content of the curriculum to the everyday lives of the children.”
To keep her teaching knowledge up to date, Catherine has attended several teaching events and CPD workshops organised by the RSC.
“When I was a PhD student, I used to go to a lot of different conferences, where I felt an overwhelming pressure to take in everything that was going on. I’d sit at the front and watch presentations delivered by experienced professionals and feel the need to absorb as much as possible, without really being able to remember and process a lot of the information given.
“It’s so different at RSC events because they’ve really focused on delivering an amount of information that you can process while you’re there, and then they give you handouts or emails containing zip files with the session materials in. I think that’s important because you’re not missing anything valuable, and you can take in as much as you can process at a time. Another great thing is that all the speakers have been available to email after, which is important as you can ask additional questions about the topics they have presented, increasing your knowledge further.”
As well as a chance to enhance her skill set, Catherine has seen the RSC events as a networking opportunity, which has resulted in her meeting three people that she now considers close friends.
“Two of them actually ended up being on my course at Nottingham. At the time I didn’t know that they were considering doing the same thing as me, but it was great as at the beginning there were so many people on my course that I just wouldn’t have ever gone up and spoken to them, or even known that we had the same background in chemistry. Meeting them through the RSC resulted in me having that extra support throughout the academic year.
“If there’s one thing to join the RSC for, it’s the sense of community. I feel like there’s always somebody there to discuss any concerns that I have.
“The RSC has consistently pushed for the right things to be done within the chemical industry. There’s a report called Breaking the Barriers, which is about women’s retention and progression within chemistry. Because I’ve seen how many women there were in my bachelor’s degree through to PhD level, and then through to senior academics, I know there isn’t really gender parity, and that’s an issue. The RSC has researched and published results about that, including suggesting actionable things that employers and institutions can do, which is amazing. They’ve always said that they will shine a light on any issues and address them, which they do and that is really, really important.”