Dedicated to improving chemistry education, Michael Seery’s research interest began around 10 years ago.
“My PhD was in physical chemistry photochemistry, but early in my career I decided to switch to chemistry education as a research discipline,” says Michael. “Chemistry education is important for our society as we need informed citizens to prompt good decision-making by our elected leaders.
“But it’s also important from a student’s point of view – as a teacher, we’ve got these really keen students who want to know more about chemistry and become chemists, so we need to give them a good experience and challenge and excite them about the subject. That was what struck me about 10 years ago when I realised I needed to do more than teach – I needed to improve the way we deliver teaching too.”
Realising he wanted to improve the teaching structure and bring change in how students are taught and assessed with particular focus on diversifying the curriculum, Michael moved from Ireland to the University of Edinburgh to work as a professor of chemistry education.
“Day to day my role involves a mixture of teaching, research and additional duties, but each day is different from the last. I teach all years of students physical chemistry, and my research looks at how students learn in laboratories.”
Joining the Royal Society of Chemistry when he was a student, Michael has taken full advantage of his membership, and until very recently was the editor of the well-known journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice.
Chemistry Education Research and Practice is one of the go-to places for publishing the latest insights about chemistry education. As editor, I was able to showcase good work and good practice, as well as share the importance of continually researching and evaluating how we teach our students.
Michael is also on the Education Division Council and has joined three interest groups – two of which he is heavily involved in.
“I’m in the chemistry education research group, the higher education group and the historical group. I really enjoy being part of those communities and working with people with similar interests.
“As an Education Division committee member, I showcase, promote and act as a champion for chemistry education. I have previously organised lots of events, webinars, conferences, prizes and everything, which is great to promote your discipline.”
As recognition for his dedication to improving chemistry education for students and inclusion and diversity in his community, Michael has won two RSC awards.
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“I won the Higher Education Teaching Award about 10 years ago. It was essentially for my interest in improving teaching for students, and it was a real game-changer in terms of my profile. That award is probably why I have my current position now. It was fantastic to win.
“The second award was the Inspirational Member Award, which was for the activities I was doing in interest groups. I’m the chair of the local section in Edinburgh, and my work there is about diversifying who can access the group, broadening and engaging with people aside from the typical academics, like part-time workers or those with caring responsibilities. I received the award as a way of recognising the increasing number of activities and the diverseness of people who were able to attend.
Aside from the awards, the RSC has also given me funding for my inclusion and diversity work in chemistry education, looking at the representation of women in textbooks and exploring the use of sign language for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Also supporting a whole range of activities outside the classroom, Michael participates behind the scenes in outreach schemes for his university. Coordinating a huge range of activities, his main focus is on making sure the chemistry performed as outreach reflects that which is taught in labs and workshops.
“We send our PhD and undergraduate students to conduct outreach, which they are brilliant at. We get funding from the RSC to do it and use Spectroscopy in a Suitcase, which we have managed to extend so we can send it out to students during lockdown. The PhD students cleverly organised that, and they are calling it ‘workshop in a box’.”
Throughout his many years of membership with the RSC, Michael has valued one thing above everything else – the networking opportunities.
“There is quite a large chemistry education community in the UK and Ireland that I just wouldn’t have known without the RSC. For most subdisciplines of chemistry, you’re likely to be the only person in your department that has that particular interest, so you might feel like there’s no one to talk to. The RSC’s network enables you to meet other individuals in other universities, so you’ve always got someone to talk to whenever needed.
“The community it opens you up to has no doubt enhanced my career. Whether you engage in interest groups or journals, the ability to work on your profile with other people of similar interests has been so beneficial to me, and it absolutely has the greatest value.”