Celebrating
a centenary
of Learning

  • 33
  • by Yann Shiou Ong
  • graduated 2012
  • studied MSc in Science & Education
  • from America, Singapore

It is never too old to go back to school and pursue a higher degree. I found that my prior work experience as a classroom teacher enriched and complemented my learning experience in Bristol.

My time at Bristol was one of the most enriching learning experiences I’ve ever had.

Before coming to Bristol, I taught physics to middle and high school students for seven years. I got into teaching because of my passion for physics. I wanted a job that would allow me to stay in touch with physics and, at that time, I was not interested in going into physics-related research. I enjoyed working with young people academically, so teaching seemed like an appropriate career. After about two or three years of teaching, I was appointed as the acting head of my school and, subsequently, the head of department for junior high science.

As well as my teaching commitments, I also had management duties. I served on the college management committee and was the reporting officer for the teachers in my department. I also mentored students in science inquiry and research – it was a subject for the middle grade students and an examinable subject for high school students who opted for it. In addition, I was one of the teachers in charge of the Chinese orchestra (a co-curricular activity which students could opt for) – we did not coach the students but were in charge of the administrative aspects. I also helped revise the science curriculum in my school and organised various events, including a biannual international science fair (Singapore International Science Competition) hosted by my school. 

I applied for the MSc programme at Bristol because I wanted to gain some knowledge in science education research to complement my role as a science teacher. When I searched online for relevant Master’s programmes, the programme offered by the University of Bristol seemed interesting and the description of the courses seemed to fit what I was looking for. I had already earned a BSc in Physics from the National University of Singapore and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) from the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

I enjoyed the seminars at the Graduate School of Education. They were conducted with a small, intimate group of students and included a mix of local and international students. The course tutors were friendly and approachable. As part of one of the courses (Science Update), I completed a science teaching project and was mentored by Dr. Helen Heath from the physics department. Dr. Heath also works on a project at CERN and I’ve always wanted to visit CERN – probably something that every physics student dreams of doing. I decided to make a trip to CERN during one of the holidays with one of my flatmates. Dr. Heath gave us a private tour after we were done with the standard tour for visitors. It was thrilling to be at a place where ground-breaking scientific research was being conducted.

My dissertation mentor, Professor Sibel Erduran, had the greatest influence on me at Bristol. The discussions we had about research, education matters and other issues in both formal and informal settings have helped shaped my views about science education and science education research. Her encouragement and belief in my abilities have also boosted my confidence in pursuing my PhD studies.

When I came to the University of Bristol, I had the intention of becoming more familiar with science education research. I was sceptical of how some curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions were made among teachers and the school leaders. Hence, I felt that being more aware of current findings in science education research could support stronger evidence-based decision making in schools. I also wanted to be able to conduct research on my own teaching (and my colleagues' teaching) using more robust methods to gather evidence for such decisions.

My time at Bristol provided me with opportunities to learn about and engage in some form of education research. While there, I realised that I had a strong interest in research and that I would like to dwell more deeply on what the Master’s programme offered – it affirmed that science education research is indeed my cup of tea. Through interaction with my peers and tutors, I gained confidence about my own abilities to engage in research and excel at it. My study at Bristol contributed to my decision to embark on my PhD studies and, subsequently, to pursue my career as an academic.

I am currently a PhD student with a specialisation in Science Education at Pennsylvania State University. At the moment, my research interest is in scientific argumentation. More specifically, I intend to look at how students and their mentors (which could include their science teachers and/or scientists) engage in argumentation in the context of collaborating on a project for a science fair competition. I am a research assistant to Dr. Richard Duschl (who, coincidentally, taught my mentor Sibel Erduran) and am involved in one of his current research projects on students' ideas and reasoning about a decrease in the number of snakes in Central Pennsylvania. I'm also involved with another research project on communication studies, where we look at undergraduate students' online collaboration.

I really enjoy the culture of sharing research ideas and challenges among the science education professors and graduate students. After a year or so in the United States, I guess I am still adjusting to life here. Travelling around is certainly an issue for someone who doesn't know how to drive or bike. The somewhat erratic weather patterns in Central Pennsylvania are also challenging. My advisor Dr Duschl and his wife are really friendly and they've certainly made the transition much easier.

It is never too old to go back to school and pursue a higher degree! I found that my prior work experience as a classroom teacher enriched and complemented my learning experience in Bristol.