After 25 years of teaching science, Mary Mullaghy tells Smart Futures she has gone back to the books to study for a PhD in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) career choices at Trinity College Dublin.
What subjects did you take in school?
English, Irish, Mathematics, French, Geography, Biology and Chemistry.
Did your subject choices influence what you did after school?
I always wanted to be a teacher. Once I discovered science, I knew I had found my niche area. Studying chemistry at secondary school was a huge advantage at college as I had acquired the fundamentals. I always regretted not having done physics for the Leaving Certificate.
What did you do after college?
I graduated from NUI Galway with an honours BSc in chemistry and a higher diploma in education. I taught chemistry, biology, maths, science and ICT in different schools in Dublin before taking up a permanent position in Eureka Secondary School in Kells, Co Meath.
I am a big advocate of life-long learning, so I did an MSc in instrumentation in Dublin City University (DCU), a diploma in school development planning in NUI Galway and many other upskilling courses. I am an officer of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association and an ambassador for SCIENTIX.
What would be your typical day?
I have a dual role – a teacher and a technician to prepare the laboratory. Most European countries employ two people to fulfil these roles. I also act as year head, organise school tours and manage the school website. Outside school hours, I prepare presentations and mark students’ work. The perception that teachers work short days is certainly not my experience.
Was it hard to move from teaching to studying?
In some respects, no. I have always been involved in attending or delivery courses in both science and technology. However, studying for a PhD is a new challenge with a steep learning curve as the research is more extensive. Fortunately, Trinity College has great support structures to help students negotiate the transition.
What inspired your love of science?
I have always had an interest in nature and a curiosity about how things work. As a child, I loved watching David Attenborough on the television. Also, although my father was officially a farmer, he had a keen interest in astronomy and was a dab hand at fixing machinery.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a teacher?
Choose a career that you have a passion for and your job will never be a chore. Teachers need an in-depth knowledge and understanding of their subject so they can inspire their students.