7 years ago today….

The joys of social media tell me that 7 years ago today I was on my way to London for a job interview that would change the path of my career.  This is the story of that interview and that job, and how it ricocheted me into a whole new interesting world.

Me in 2011

Jan 2011…. I had been teaching science and chemistry for 5 years in an ordinary community comprehensive school to the west of Bolton.  I was Head of Chemistry and heavily involved in local science networks including the Ogden Trust Bolton partnership and Triple Science Network.  I was a fast track teacher completing an intensive programme of training that would propel me towards senior management.  I was also newly divorced and beginning to doubt whether a future filled with SLT meetings and spreadsheets was really for me.

The previous year, when life was most turbulent I had seen an advert in Chemistry World for an exciting secondment opportunity with the Royal Society of Chemistry.  This secondment, as a school teacher fellow (STF), would take me out of school for a year and put me into a local university to carry out a project and contribute to teaching and learning.  The time wasn’t right then but I decided to stalk the job for a year and get an application in the following year.

23rd Feb 2011….  I was shortlisted for the STF role and made my way to Burlington House in London for the interview.  I was interviewed by Phil Robinson, now Deputy Editor of Chemistry World.  The interview was made up of competency based questions, very different to a teaching interview and probably one of the most difficult interviews I have ever had.  I came away feeling like I had done my best but there were some things I hadn’t known at all (I hadn’t heard of the Spectroscopy in a Suitcase scheme at that point and the RSC wasn’t particularly high profile in science education up North).  It struck me that I would have been nowhere near their requirements had I not been so heavily involved with my local science networks.

And so the rest is history…I got the job, one of 2 STFs appointed in what turned out to be the final year of the scheme (the other being Catherine Smith who would be based at the University of Leicester).  I already knew that I would be heading back to the University of Manchester, I had maintained links with them after I did the final year of my PhD there.

Life has a way of intervening just when you think things are going swimmingly.  Not long after accepting the job I found I was expecting my daughter, I had just accepted my dream job and I was facing the possibility of it all falling down around my ears.  However circumstances meant I was going to be end up a single parent so would be taking a relatively short maternity leave (13 weeks as it turned out).  With the RSC’s support I decided I would go through with the fellowship.

August 2011…I arrive in Manchester to begin my fellowship.

December 2011…My daughter (usually known as ‘Small’) is born.


Feb 2012…Back at work (see the MTPT case study for details of how I made the transition back to work).  A job is advertised for a teacher of chemistry with biology at a local independent school for September, I decided I couldn’t face a fast track future and decided to apply for it and was successful.

Sept 2012…Begin new job as teacher of chemistry with biology at Bolton School Boys’ Division.

My fellowship year was amazing for lots of different reasons but mainly because it changed the course of my career.  I didn’t climb the ladder into SLT (and financially I am a lot poorer for it!) but life has become so much more interesting as a result.  I have reconnected with why I became a teacher in the first place and am now pioneering a new STF model working part time teaching chemistry in school and at Manchester.

  • Met the awesome RSC STF community, amazing colleagues, many of whom have become great friends.
  • Wrote Starters for Ten in my fellowship year together with Catherine, followed by Advanced Starters for Ten and Transition Starters for Ten.
  • Gained the confidence to get back into writing, first with Education in Chemistry and now with Nature Reviews Chemistry and Chemistry World.
  • Joined the chemistry education community, a whole new network of awesome people, again many of whom have become great friends.
  • Joined the editorial board of Education in Chemistry.
  • Became a mentor for initial teacher trainees on the RSC scholarship scheme.
  • Presented at UK and European conferences in science education (often with Small in tow!).
  • Joined Twitter!
  • Done a lot of government consultations on diverse issues in science education.
  • RSC Schools’ Education Award 2017.

In 2015 I took one hell of a risk and asked if I could teach part-time at school and part-time at Manchester.   A calculated risk as it turned out, I am now pioneering a new model for collaboration between secondary and higher education in chemistry.

So, where next?

Who knows!?  If I were to dream my wildest dream it would be that I could start a revolution and grow an ‘army of people like me’ working at the point of transition between school and higher education.  Will it happen?  I don’t know but I’ll try my best…watch this space….


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