QUESTION 01 | 08
When did you develop an interest in your chosen field and in private tutoring?
Siobhan — I've always had a passion for science from a young age, my dad is an engineer and would often tell me how things on the oil platform worked from fractional distillation to ways to get oil out of the ground. While I didn't go down the engineering route myself, it did fill me with a fascination for chemistry which I pursued until I left school and carry on tutoring in. While at school, I developed a love for biology, to look into tiny structures of cells and microorganisms and chemical reactions keeping us all alive, right up to animal conservation and the differences between an elephant and a mouse. This inspired me to undertake a degree in biology that I am currently in my second year of (2020-2021).
QUESTION 02 | 08
Tell us more about the subject you teach, the topics you like to discuss with students (and possibly those you like a little less).
Siobhan — I teach maths, biology, and chemistry, all the subjects I studied to A-Level, and these give me a wide range of talking points. In maths and chemistry, there's a certain elegance to the fact there can only be one right answer. "Find 87% of 25." The right answer will always be 21.75, but there are different ways to work it out that work better for different people. In biology, there are so many concepts that no one fully understands, they're surrounded by speculation, and eventually, someone makes a breakthrough and it's astounding. We didn't know how DNA replication took place, and then one-day Meselsohn and Stahl came up with the famous experiment to discover that DNA replication is semi-conservative, and myriad new conclusions were drawn from the results of said experiment.
QUESTION 03 | 08
Did you have any role models; a teacher that inspired you?
Siobhan — While at school, I did work experience in a vet's clinic, cleaning kennels, feeding animals, observing surgeries, all the mundane things that I enjoyed because I was happy to be there, and got rewarded with said surgeries. There was a vet there who made a lasting impression on me, she inspired me to study hard to get into university to do what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I didn't get on the course I wanted but there's always time to get a job using the degree I'm currently working on and study to get the one I've dreamt about. The vet I worked with always had faith in me to get where I wanted in life and I'll get there with her encouragement.
QUESTION 04 | 08
What do you think are the qualities required to be a good tutor?
Siobhan — To be a good tutor, I think one needs to be passionate about the work they do, knowledgeable on the subjects they talk about, yet open-minded to new ideas and advancements in a subject, or even different examples of a phenomenon like epistasis. I never knew it affected labrador dogs until a student of mine told me it was the example given in their school of how epistasis works to determine coat colour. In working with a tutee, it's important to be enthusiastic about their learning, face the problems they bring intending to ensure at least one of you learns something. In the case of younger students especially, it's important to be engaging and inspire them to want to learn. It's no good trying to explain something to someone sitting there thinking "I don't want to be here, I don't need to know this, I'm going to pass this test then forget everything because maths doesn't matter." Learning isn't about passing tests, it's to see the beauty in how numbers or words or societies or atoms behave and to always want to learn more.
QUESTION 05 | 08
Provide a valuable anecdote related to your subject or your days at school.
Siobhan — As a biology student, there are a couple of moments that stuck out to me. First was learning about stem cells for the first time, they're remarkable on their own, a truly amazing tissue found in animals and plants alike, with endless potential. Secondly, I developed a love for the science behind cancer. It truly is fascinating from a molecular standpoint how such small changes can have such radical effects on a cell and even a whole animal. The last subject that grabbed my attention and won't let it go is epigenetics, the chemical modifiers acting above the authority of DNA in a cell to modify and control gene expression. My biology teacher at school gave me a book to borrow on the subject and I have never been so engrossed in a non-fiction book to the point that I read it to cheer myself up when I'm feeling down. Within this book, I learned that epigenetics controls stem cells, my first biological love, they're responsible for creating stem cells and making them specialise into everything from a placental cell to a skin cell to a neurone to a liver cell. And just like everything else, epigenetics can go wrong, causing diseases we can't even begin to number, including certain cancers. This is a fantastic example of my favourite thing about biology: everything is connected. There are no isolated functions within a cell, or body, or ecosystem. Everything works together in harmony to withstand outside interference, inside interference, and other things trying to do the same.
QUESTION 06 | 08
What were the difficulties or challenges you faced or still facing in your subject?
Siobhan — A big struggle in biology is learning the vocabulary. Someone told me that in studying A-Level biology, I learned more new words than I would have if I were studying an A-Level in a foreign language. I don't know how true this is as I stopped learning a foreign language at GCSE level just before A-Levels, but with the words involved in respiration alone, I wouldn't be surprised if it were true. Juggling new words like glycolysis, glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis, and all the different chemical stops along those pathways can get pretty crowded in one's head if you don't know what each bit means. Taking the time to learn that lysis means splitting, genesis means making, and all the other prefixes and suffixes it takes to describe one chemical pathway really does draw from the time that could be spent learning the steps involved.
QUESTION 07 | 08
Do you have a particular passion? Is it teaching in general or an element of the subject or something completely different?
Siobhan — My particular passion is veterinary medicine. Caring for animals has always been a big part of my life from my mum's collies who were already 8 years old when I was born becoming my guard dogs and accepting me into the pack to my now 11-year-old Saluki who fought with cancer and won, I love learning all their behaviours, how their bodies work, and how to help them when things go wrong. There's a quote from James Herriot's books along the lines of "I could always treat the animals. Treating the people is the difficult bit." Reading such a thing that cemented my inspiration further, all I want is to prevent anyone from feeling as helpless as I did when my first dog died of cancer. This passion took me down the route of science and biology, to find the answers to what's going on inside our animal friends.
QUESTION 08 | 08
What makes you a Superprof (besides answering this interview questions :-P) ?
Siobhan — Everything from my dad explaining the science behind his work to my old physics teacher dealing with me asking questions about science on TV made me appreciate the help we can get from people who take the time to explain something we don't already know. In all my sessions, I try to emulate my dad and his way of breaking things down from concepts I would learn at school 3 years later into ideas I already knew so even if I've got a 17-year-old student asking for A-Level or Higher help, I break the ideas down to things they would have learned when they were 12/13 and build-up the ideas to the concepts they now need to understand, with the vocabulary being the finishing touch sprinkled throughout.