Please Welcome our Host for Science Week, Michelle Neil

Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

First off I should admit I am NOT an educator. Not a professional teacher although my job does involve me occasionally training freshly graduated chemistry majors and I am a volunteer scientist with CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools program at a few schools in my area. I have been with the CSIRO SMiS program since just after it started. More specifically I am a science graduate. I have a Bachelor of Science majoring in Chemistry and co-majoring in Forensics from Queensland University of Technology (@QUT).  I work in the field of chemistry in a laboratory (QC) or Quality Assurance (QA) and have done since 2001. My husband is a physics major (You know the sitcom Big Band Theory?…. Yes, I do know people similar to that… Not the same but similar!)

I am NOT an academic. I am a “lab rat” and a complete science geek!

So why a scientist on @EduTweetOz?

Simple.  Welcome to National Science Week.  #NatSciWk

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

Funnily enough I don’t see a lot of people during my work (i.e. general public). Laboratories are usually a bit “secret squirrel”. Half the time you don’t know there is even one there. Take my last job. QA Officer at one of the biggest vitamin manufacturing plants in Australia. You wouldn’t guess that it also houses a laboratory that works in 2 – 3 shifts per day too would you?

I am, however, a people person. To get my “people fix” I volunteer with 2 interesting associations: CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools and the Australian Citizen Science Association.  I am also a member of the Australian Science Communicators (@auscicomm) as well as a Toastmaster at my local Toastmasters Club. I play sax in a 20 piece big band. Nothing better for de-stressing than playing sax in a big band I find!

As I mentioned, I am one of the volunteers (or #SciVol) for the Australian Citizen Science Association. I volunteer behind the scenes on their social media (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @CitSciOz). I am one of the people who answer requests, re-tweet interesting articles and even schedule and put up posts. Not having done the whole social media “Page Management” thing before I have actually had a very steep learning curve in social media in the last 2 years. I have been taking a series of MOOCs about Social Media via Coursera (Northwestern). So many interesting things to learn in MOOCs (hint: try the Robotics one from QUT via Coursera! Challenging but really interesting)

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

Pay and respect. Teachers seriously do not get paid enough or get enough respect from policy makers and bean counters as well as parents of their students. Also, as one teacher I know said to me recently “I am no longer paid to teach. With this new curriculum I am no longer a teacher. I am a robot that measures student performance”. Powerful words but I have also noticed it is true. Teachers don’t have time to teach. Classrooms too full, parents working long hours and not able or willing to help in classes or do homework at home with kids (sometimes it is just too late too – guilty!), teachers working long hours especially at home…. The list goes on!

On the flip side I have also noticed that teachers don’t network very well. Not all teachers of course but a lot of ones I have come into contact. This I find very odd. Science people talk. We chat. We collaborate. That is where the best ideas come from. Social media makes it so easy too. You can do it on your own time here and there.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I was volunteering, as I do (haha), earlier this year at the Brisbane World Science Festival and also the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) Conference (both held in the same week here in Brisbane). At the ASC conference our new Australian Chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel said something interesting in his question and answer time. He said that he would like to see all (high school) STEM teachers have a degree in STEM before doing their teaching degree. I agree completely but I would like to take that one step further. We have music teachers at primary schools, why not science teachers too?  We don’t have enough work for the STEM graduates already coming out. Don’t believe me?  Have a look at for “chemistry” jobs on Seek in your local capital city. (PS: ignore the pharmacy ones of course. That is a different field but the Seek search engine notoriously doesn’t “know” that. So frustrating!)

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

I see EduTweetOz as being that stepping stone to collaboration, particularly  in STEM vs education. There are a LOT of scientists and science communicators here on Twitter. During my week on @EduTweetOz I hope to introduce followers to:

  • several hashtags,
  • other scientists and scientific bodies who tweet
  • #AMA (Ask Me Anything)
  • social media quirks and foibles,
  • my experience as a scientist in a primary school lab setting,
  • science in the community,
  • STEM careers (what to look for and what to watch out for),
  • Public speaking
  • Lots of citizen science
  • Drones, robots
  • Chemistry and, of course
  • National Science Week!

 

It’s going to be a BIG week!

Have fun!

Sci Girl (aka @michelle_neil)

 

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