This week our team member Emma had the pleasure of virtually meeting Robert, a former STEM Minds employee who is just completing his undergraduate degree in chemistry, to discuss how STEM learning affected his work in his field. Read the interview below to find out what he has to say!
How did you get to STEM Minds?
I started in the 10th grade as a volunteer in the summer camp. I immediately got into the digital media and really developed a passion for it. That then turned into a job in which I was able to teach and research many different topics. I thought it was great not only to be able to explore so much of the technical side of things, but also creativity, especially designing music. It was so fulfilling to create music and listen to it again and realize that your own music is not garbage, but pretty good! I am very happy that we recently started the computer music course. If our computer music students get a fraction of the experience and satisfaction I got from researching this topic, they’ll be pretty excited!
What are you studying at the university right now? Why did you want to study that?
I am currently working on an Honors Degree in Chemistry. After working at STEM Minds and being exposed to so many people who work there and want to be pioneers in the STEM movement, I was really inspired to take the direction I went in my school. When I chose chemistry, I knew I didn’t want to distance myself from the lab’s actual work. Of course, I wanted to learn all kinds of sciences, but I really wanted my work to be practical, which made me work on the research team I currently belong to. STEM Minds is so involved in hands-on education, and this was part of what made it clear to me that I really wanted to be in the place where science was doing happens, don’t just work theoretically, so I really enjoy my research!
We work with many students who are looking for a higher education in STEM areas. What skills helped you during your studies?
In my area I found that it is an advantage to be able to work mechanically. Sometimes you have more than 10 hours a week in the laboratory, so it is very important that you can work with your hands. Before I started my studies, I was never very mechanically oriented, so this was a great learning curve for me as I learn to behave in the laboratory!
Apart from good learning habits, it was of course so important to me to go beyond the courses I took, e.g. B. Finding my own resources on certain chemistry topics that interest me (in my case, the history of chemistry). There is still so much in chemistry that we don’t really understand it, so there are many connections between old theories and the work we do today! It was really important to go beyond the content of a university course and make connections to your passion and connections to the real world.
What I appreciate about working at STEM Minds is that so much of what we do is based on current issues. This makes students think critically and be creative, but it also enables them to identify with something that is important to them and makes learning really meaningful.
Were there surprising ways in which your STEM skills helped you in your studies?
Yes, my STEM experience was extremely helpful! There are many things, but I will only give a few examples for now.
You really have to be ready to focus on technology if you want to be at the forefront of the field I’m in. So that helped me a lot. In my case, my experience with Arduino was very useful in the research team I work with in the summer. I had no formal education before entering this research project, but after working with Arduino in the past, it was much easier for me to learn what to do now than if I didn’t have this experience.
My STEM experience also helped me to be willing to learn things that some other people were more tired of. For example, we had access to a CNC machine, but none of the students really used it because they didn’t know how. Although I didn’t yet know how to use it, I had seen my STEM Minds colleagues use it and it seemed to be something I could do. Since I was only ready to try it out, I was able to learn how to use it, no problem! These past experiences have made me ready to learn all new things and not worry so much about trying something out.
Another example is the use of MATLAB, a professional software that is used for data management. If I hadn’t had any coding experience, it might have been really overwhelming and felt complicated. However, it’s really very similar to Python, so I couldn’t learn a problem. And this can be an example that some people may not immediately think of because you usually associate coding with computer science and not chemistry. In reality, it is a matter of course for many software used in chemistry that you can code. So I’m really glad that I had this experience.
What would you like to say to students who want to complete a higher STEM education?
Always always always Be open to personalizing your experience! Especially in something like chemistry, where there can be a very rigid and dry curriculum. In this way I became so attached to the history of chemistry and I also realized that maybe I would prefer to be an electrochemist than anything else. If I had only followed the curriculum as it was designed, I might never have found what I was most passionate about!
A lot of people in my program can just go through each course and then be done with it. But it seems that these people don’t always enjoy themselves as they would if they immersed themselves in the elements of a course that are most interesting and meaningful to them. It is much less inspiring to take a course if you are only passively involved. That’s why I always try to make connections to coursework that are important to me.
If you decide what you do at school, you will learn more about what you like. Just learning what the school gives you is not as important as making learning your own. It is important to find out what is important to you in each course, and as I said before, it is so important to make these real connections! If you can personalize your learning, you will gain so much more, and you definitely don’t have to wait until you’re at university to do it!
Many thanks to Robert for meeting me for this interview! Robert is certainly an interesting case study of how useful STEM learning can be in a variety of areas.
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