Trying things out – teaching & science writing: student story

University of Edinburgh Physics & Astronomy student Sarah Rigby shares her summer work experiences and how they have helped her make some good career decisions.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to carry out two internships that helped me formulate my career plans much more solidly.

First of all, I spent a month at a secondary school in York doing a physics teaching placement, arranged by the Ogden Trust. While I started out simply observing lessons, by the time I left I was treated like a teaching assistant: not only did I work with individual students and small groups regularly, but I also got the chance to plan and deliver a whole lesson. On top of this, I ran an extracurricular club with the other intern, and of course I also had to put up a few displays. This gave me a well-rounded view of the different elements of a teacher’s job.

It’s often said that you don’t understand something unless you can explain it to someone; my understanding of chemistry and biology were definitely stretched at times! That said, having a strong foundation of physics knowledge helped me to explain things in a way I found intuitive, and sometimes to link different subject areas together to make useful analogies. I would definitely recommend the Ogden Trust’s Teach Physics internship to anyone who is considering a career in teaching, however unsure they are.

The month I spent there gave me a realistic view of life as a teacher, allowing me to make a very well-informed decision about my future career. Even though I won’t be pursuing a career in teaching, I’m really glad I got this opportunity. I really enjoyed the time I spent at the school, and I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to communicate effectively.

Shortly after this, I travelled to Bristol, where I spent two weeks doing work experience with BBC Focus Magazine, a science and technology publication. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got to write while I was there.

  • Most of what I contributed was published on the website, but one very short ‘Eye Opener’ piece – an extended caption to accompany a striking image – made it into the most recent print issue.
  • I wrote a feature on weird and wonderful pain relief
  • I contributed to the ongoing ‘This Day in Science History’ series
  • I interviewed a renowned cosmologist from MIT about his new book on artificial intelligence.

One skill that came in useful in particular was the ability to research a topic, quickly understand the basics, and distil it down to the essential and most interesting parts; for once, I was thankful that I’d done the group project the previous year!

I loved my time at the magazine: I was fascinated by the day-to-day organisation, especially leading up to their publication day, and I realised how much I love writing about science. This helped me to decide that I want to pursue a career in science communication once I graduate.

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