It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post, or at least it feels like it has been. This summer was super busy, and now that the fall semester has started up again, it’s gotten even busier. On top of all the research that I want to get done, I have two chemistry labs that I am a teaching assistant for, and this semester I even have a MUCEP (Memorial’s Undergraduate Career Experience Program) student working with me. Trying to schedule times for us to get in the lab together is pretty crazy.
The last few weeks have been extra busy, as I attended two conferences here in St. John’s related to the aquaculture industry. For those who haven’t read my previous blog posts, I am trying to make new materials from fish oil that is extracted from aquaculture waste. I have read many papers on both the materials themselves, as well as the methods to make them, but never really investigated the background of the aquaculture industry in Newfoundland. I knew that my project was largely influenced by the fact that aquaculture will be expanding in the province, therefore producing more waste. By then taking the oil from the fish waste, the waste is reduced and turned into a potentially valuable product. Beyond this, I didn’t know much else about the industry in the province. Going to these two conferences helped me get a better picture of the aquaculture industry in Newfoundland, and how important it is to many rural communities.
At these conferences there were many attendees who are also working towards making the aquaculture industry more sustainable, whether that be by designing new equipment, monitoring fish species, or testing new formulations for fish feed that are produced more sustainably. There were lots of interesting sessions with great speakers, but I didn’t get as many opportunities to speak to people as I would have liked. One session I attended had a panel of journalists and one scientist, who spoke about communicating science in today’s world. It was very engaging and nice to hear some different opinions. During the Q&A session, I wanted to ask a question, but being a young scientist in a room full of senior and well-established professionals who I don’t know, I ended up staying silent. What if my question was something simple and silly to them? What if I stumbled on my words and the question didn’t make sense? I froze and couldn’t put up my hand and ask my simple question. Chickening out, I decided that it would be better and less panic inducing to approach one of the journalists after the session. There was a lot of time between sessions, so I thought I had plenty of time.
Once the session was done, I slowly went up to the table while I built up my courage. There were many people who were already friendly with the panelists, crowding around the table and chatting. I waited behind them, hoping there would be time for me to squeeze in. A few minutes later, several people went in front of me to say hello and chat with them, completely blocking my chance to ask my question. I’m not one to be assertive, so I continued to stand there. Then, a man who was sitting at my table earlier, reintroduced himself and asked me if this was what it was like to be a young scientist starting out. He knew every single person standing around talking to the panelists. Meanwhile, all the other graduate students or young scientists were crowded on the other side of the room, looking over for a chance to sneak in. As soon as one of the panelists were free, this man went right to him, said hello, and introduced me to them! I introduced myself, asked my question, and had a nice conversation. I’m glad that I got to talk to them, but I would have missed that opportunity if that man didn’t jump in and introduce me. Being more assertive is essential if you want to get that time to speak to people at conferences or events. I know that I’m not the one to be preaching about being assertive, but it made me realize how important that time is. If you want to talk to someone, you should, although it’s not that simple. I get bad anxiety and can’t get myself to put my hand up and ask a question, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s something that I’m working on, but getting these experiences and building my confidence as a scientist is slowly getting me there. As someone who is just starting out in my field, and I’m sure this is true for most careers, it can feel like you’re on the outside looking in. It’s difficult to be the new, inexperienced person in a room full of professionals. While it may be difficult to build the courage to talk to someone, you should do it anyways. Find a way to force yourself to ask those questions and talk to those people, and eventually, you’ll get over that fear or anxiety. Eventually, you’ll feel like one of the professionals and it won’t bother you anymore. The important thing is to not forget how you felt when you were first starting out and help those who are new to your field. It can be hard starting your career, so introduce yourself and get a conversation started. It can do wonders.
The main thing that I wanted to talk about today, was an amazing experience that I had this week. I got to teach a chemistry class for the whole week! First, let me go way back and paint a picture for you. I always loved school, but back in grade 9, I distinctly remember sitting in my math class at St. Joan of Arc High School in Ontario, and thinking, “Yup, I want to be a teacher. I want to do this for a living.” After moving to Newfoundland and finishing high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought that being a teacher wouldn’t be a good idea, because I would have a hard time finding a job. At the same time, I would always joke with my friends that I would be in school forever because I loved it so much. I loved science and math but didn’t really know where to go with it. After talking with the Mun representatives who came to my high school, I decided on Chemistry. Then on my first day at Mun, I switched to a joint program in Chemistry and Earth Sciences. Along the way, I changed my mind many times on what I would focus on. I thought of going into the oil and gas sector as a geologist, then I took an analytical chemistry course and wanted to do something better for the environment. I then started focusing on environment related courses in both Chemistry and Earth Sciences. I did my honours in analytical chemistry – looking at phosphorus in precipitation samples from across the province – then looked at what to do when I graduated. I started applying for the Bachelor of Education, but second guessed myself and didn’t complete the application, deciding instead to apply for graduate school.
Now here I am, a Master’s student at Mun. As part of being a graduate student, I teach at least 2 labs a year, which I found out I absolutely love doing. It made me revisit my old dream of teaching. Maybe teaching is in fact what I want to do. I mentioned this to my supervisors, and then a few weeks ago, I was approached by the former head of the department (now Associate Dean of Science). He asked me if I wanted to cover his class while he was away for a week. I was incredibly excited, but also insanely nervous. It turns out that his class is in the big lecture hall in the Science building, so it’s a very large class. I’m definitely not the most confident at speaking in front of large crowds, and while I was very nervous going into it, I think it went very well! They were getting the examples right and I was really enjoying myself. This week really confirmed it for me. I never liked that question that all adults ask when you’re a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” How am I supposed to know that? Now I finally have the answer – I want to be a teacher when I grow up. So super long story short, do what you think will make you happy. It’s never a straight path to where you want to go. You never know, I might not even become a teacher. Maybe another opportunity will come my way that peaks my interest even more. The important thing is to keep doing what you like, and if a different opportunity comes around that you’re more interested in, then don’t be afraid to change directions.It also helps to have someone in your life who pushes you to achieve the goals that you want to achieve. Talking to my boyfriend about all my options helped me get a better picture of what I want to do. It’s important that you have someone who, no matter what, will have your back. I know that even if I put aside job hunting for now and go get an Education degree, he will still support me and make sure that I’m doing what I love. It definitely makes it a lot easier when you have the support of those around you.
Goodbye for now and have an excellent fall semester everyone! I’ll talk to you all in the new year.