Initially I wanted to study medicine but I had a really, really enthusiastic GCSE chemistry teacher, who was previously a postdoc at the Institut Pasteur – the world-leading biomedical research institute in Paris. He was the only teacher I ever had with a PhD, and he was very passionate about chemistry.
“During lessons, he was always telling us stories about exciting things he did, like the experiments and the conferences he went to. I was so engrossed when he was speaking and he was so inspiring that I thought, yeah, that's what I want to do.”
Thanks to his devoted teacher, Shane went on to study Chemistry at Liverpool University, doing a year’s placement in Johnson Matthey, in Billingham, as part of his MChem degree.
“While on placement in an industry lab, I realised that path wasn’t really for me. Actually, I really liked studying chemistry. So I stayed on to do the PhD at Liverpool.”
It was during his time at university that Shane first encountered the Royal Society of Chemistry.
A colleague from the RSC had come to talk to us about membership. To begin with I actually signed up was because he was giving out little glowing pens! And they said you can put AMRSC after your name – which I thought was cool! But once I was a member it was the events and networking side of it that encouraged me to keep renewing. The RSC provides this amazing platform for like-minded people to meet, which you otherwise wouldn't have come across.
Coming to the end of his PhD and not knowing what he wanted to do, Shane saw an outreach position going at his university that he successfully applied for.
“Groups of pupils came from secondary schools across the North West to our refurbished research lab, and it was my job to develop and deliver fun workshops for them. I really enjoyed it because every time I had a new group of pupils, it was different. That's when I realised that I like jobs where you meet a variety of different people all the time.
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“I’ll always remember the time when I had a group of pupils coming in from a deprived area in Liverpool. I was getting them to make gold nanoparticles using sodium borohydride and Earl Grey tea leaves. There were two students at the back who really didn’t want to be there. They thought that chemicals were ‘dangerous and toxic’.
“I explained to them that the chemicals we were using for the experiment were general household products - borax and tea! And that helped to change their attitude towards the whole thing, towards chemistry. And I found out later that one of them actually went on to study science at university! It makes you feel so good to know that you've had a positive effect on somebody's life. I will always remember that.”
After finding himself thriving in this teaching role, Shane went on to become a full time teaching fellow at the University of Sussex. Moving down south was also when Shane reconnected with the Royal Society of Chemistry.
“Being a teaching fellow, it’s a great job for me. I get to see different people every day. But when I started out, and as the first person appointed to a teaching fellow position at Sussex, I realised that I needed a network around me, so I got back in touch with the RSC. ”
The big benefit of attending RSC events is definitely the networking aspect. Going to a chemistry education focused conference is a good opportunity to meet other people involved in teaching. A lot of us were quite new to the teaching fellow role, so it helped to share our experiences with each other and figure out solutions together.
Looking to inspire and enthuse students, just as his teacher had once done, Shane worked with the RSC to organise and host the Analytical Division's National finals of the Schools' Analyst Competition at Sussex. The event saw teams from across the UK compete in carrying out a number of exciting experiments, devised by Shane, to win a cash prize for their school or college.
Now, as an active RSC member, Shane attends as many conferences as possible. As a committee member of the Higher Education Group (HEG), Shane works with other RSC members to provide a network of higher education focused people, as well as organising the annual Variety in Chemistry Education/Physics Higher Education (ViCEPHEC) conference and helping to support people with kickstarter funds.
Shane’s slightly unconventional route to becoming a teacher is one he’s keen to raise awareness of with others. One way he has sought recognition is through the RSC’s Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach) scheme, which is designed to highlight a person’s commitment to teaching and learning.
“It's not a straightforward path that I’ve taken, but I’ve really enjoyed it. It's a different way of getting qualified that people might not be aware of.
I decided to enhance my career further by getting my CSciTeach, which has been great to have on my CV. While applying I had to reflect on my work, which helps your future because you can see what has worked well and what hasn’t, so hopefully you don't make the same mistake twice. It boosts your confidence and it helps me when I’m talking to students about careers, as I can tell them about what I’ve done through the RSC.
Life has now come full circle and in addition to his teaching, Shane has recently signed up to become a mentor with the RSC, to pass on his knowledge and experience to others looking for direction.
“I was doing mentoring already without realising, so it made sense to do it more regularly through the RSC. I meet with my mentee monthly and help him with career development – he has just started as a teaching focused academic as well. It feels good to be able to give him advice and support.”