Professor Michael Seery CChem FRSC
Winner: 2021 Nyholm Prize for Education
The Open University
For sustained and substantial scholarship in approaches to teaching and learning chemistry, and for providing leadership and support to others carrying out chemistry education research.
Celebrate Professor Michael Seery CChem FRSC
Laboratory work is an integral part of chemistry. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that many approaches in laboratory teaching do not make for meaningful learning. Professor Seery's work has explored how to design laboratory activities that fit into an overall approach, undertaken by students throughout their studies, which progressively develops students’ technical capabilities, ability to design experiments, and develop scientific thinking skills.Read more
Michael Seery is Professor of Chemistry Education, and until recently he was at the University of Edinburgh, where he was Director of Teaching in the School of Chemistry. He has since joined the Open University. His research interests focus on learning in the laboratory, with a particular focus on laboratory curriculum design. This work has resulted in significant outputs in teaching and assessment of laboratory skills, teaching of experimental design, and approaches for supporting cognitive engagement in laboratory settings. In addition, he is an advocate of practitioner-focussed education research. Michael has maintained significant engagement with the RSC in various guises. He is former Editor in Chief of the RSC journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice, as well as former Chair of the Editorial Board of Education in Chemistry. He is a Fellow of the RSC and was until recently an elected member of the RSC Education Division Council. He has been heavily involved in RSC local sections and interest groups over his career. Michael has a BA (Natural Sciences) and a PhD from Trinity College Dublin. His education work has been recognised by numerous awards, and he is a National Teaching Fellow. He is Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of the forthcoming Gordon Research Conferences on Chemistry Education Research and Practice. Outside of chemistry, Michael is a keen historian, researching social history in the long eighteenth century. With his partner, Matthew, he enjoys outdoors, gardening, and badminton.
How did you first become interested in chemistry or science?
My parents bought me a chemistry set and that prompted early interest in “experimenting”. As a teenager I loved the outdoors and was always interested in geology, which morphed into geochemistry and I eventually settled on chemistry!
Who or what inspired you to have a role in education?
I’ve always been drawn to teaching, thanks in no small part to some excellent teachers from primary school through PhD, as well as in Scouts. I enjoy helping students understand and process the world around them. Teaching chemistry is a complex affair and trying to solve the puzzle of teaching in a way that fosters understanding is an ongoing, enjoyable challenge. As a first generation academic, I am fully aware of the amazing transformative power education can have on people’s lives, and being part of that is hugely motivating.
What motivates you?
I like making things better and solving problems. Being involved in chemistry education is a great place to do that for a whole variety of reasons.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
I think chemistry is too often reduced to some clichés of bunsen burners and coloured solutions. I would find out about the role chemistry has in dealing with many global problems. Getting involved in chemistry means you get the chance to make a real difference.
How have your students inspired you?
I love working with students and among my favourite teaching activities are supervising laboratory work and final year projects. Giving students some freedom and independence to bring their ideas and insights is always rewarding; I am continually amazed by their talent! It’s taught me over the years to try to be less prescriptive, and allow for their creativity and innovation to shine through.
Can you tell us about a scientific development on the horizon that you are excited about?
I “grew up” as a photochemist and have always maintained an interest in solar energy. Moving from fossil fuel to solar is probably going to be one of the major transitions in human history, and I am excited to see it in my lifetime.
Why is chemistry education important?
Understanding much of our daily lives relies on knowing basic chemistry. It’s a significant wish that our education systems would shift their focus in compulsory years to educating future citizens rather than preparing university students. It is getting better, but everyone – including politicians – needs to know some basic chemistry.
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
I think being promoted to Professor was a career highlight. It felt like the culmination of a lot of hard work, and both successes and challenges over several years. To achieve it for chemistry education felt like an acknowledgement of the importance of this sub-discipline within chemistry.
How can good science education support solving global challenges?
I think the agenda on sustainability – in many ways being advocated by students more than the profession – is a great place to channel how we tackle global challenges. Teaching students to be creative and innovative, with a grounding in excellent chemical thinking, will go a long way to unleashing a new generation of globally conscious scientists, with lots of motivation to tackle many of the challenges we face.
What is your favourite element?
As an amateur historian interested in alchemy, I think I have to say mercury. Such a strange substance; transcending states, thought to connect the worlds of heaven and earth. It feels like it should be ephemeral, but of course as chemists, we know it is anything but!