Interviews with Scientists: Amy Gladwell

Interviews with Scientists: Amy Gladwell
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4 months ago

Interviews with Scientists: Amy Gladwell

Amy Gladwell is a biology lecturer at Havant & South Downs College, UK. She teaches AQA A-Level Biology and is passionate about science communication. She gained a BSc in Biology in 2018 before completing her Master of Research degree in Evolutionary Biology. Her research has taken her to Belize and the Galápagos Islands, with much of her study being focussed on bats, their biology and behaviour.

We spoke to Amy about her career in STEM education, the importance of science communication, her passion for wildlife poetry, and the teacher who had the biggest impact on her life.

 

Thanks for speaking with us, Amy! Firstly, please tell us a bit more about your current role...

I’m a Biology lecturer at an FE college. The job is lots of fun and I absolutely love it! I deliver 3, two-hour long lectures per weekday on the AQA A-level biology syllabus. I aim to always give a nice mix of my own input and independent student research tasks as well as setting group project assignments based on content recently covered to deepen understanding and strengthen science communication skills.

 

You have a master's degree in evolutionary biology - what was the focus of your research?

My research mainly involved Ecology and Evolution and I even did some Evolution research in the Galápagos Islands. Most of my research has been on bats, their biology and their behaviour, despite having no strong interest in that mammalian order beforehand. Bats are a very important animal to use in scientific research, as many people don’t realise that they are bio indicators of other species responses to environmental change as well and bio indicators of environmental change in general.

For my BSc thesis, I completed research on investigating where bats socialise and feed in agricultural areas to better understand what kind of land management is best to support the bats’ activity and conserve native British bat species.

For my MRes in Evolutionary Biology thesis, I investigated the role of the gut microbiome community composition of a Mesic bat species on the adaptive evolution of this species to desertification. As the global climate is changing and more Mediterranean regions are becoming drier and hotter, it is important to see how species are going to adapt to these environmental changes and the gut microbiome has been found to have a crucial role in host species adaptation.

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

My three favourite parts of the job are:

  1. Designing the lecture material and making the supplementary resources because I get to be creative.
  2. Giving on-the-fly explanations and drawing my own diagrams to answer insightful questions from the students. I love it when someone asks something really interesting because it reminds me that they are not only listening to me (haha), but are also having their own thoughts about the content that I couldn’t have prepared for. This excites me and makes it far easier to give detailed explanations. One of my favourite parts of the job is seeing the smile on the students’ faces when they understand a concept or when they have worked really hard to achieve a high grade.
  3. Giving pastoral support. This is something about the job that I never really thought about, let alone thought of as being one of the elements that I would enjoy the most. It can often get quite emotional for me when I need to put my happy life to the side and put myself in someone else’s shoes who may be experiencing hardships that I could never even imagine. Students can come to me for anything, from future university life advice or job advice to relationship advice or even advice on how to deal with difficult parents (which is actually very common!). I never know what will come up when I walk into my lab in the morning but it is amazing to know how much I mean to some of these students and how much they trust me.

 

What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?

The most important lesson I have learned so far is to never come to conclusions about people, even if you think you know them. It is hard sometimes because it’s only natural for humans to want to understand and make sense of the world and the people in it. There is no way to know everything about everyone or what they are going through, have been through, what they are capable of or how their mind works. Everyone deserves a fair chance at anything in life.

 

You are passionate about science communication. Why is this so important to you?

I am very passionate about science communication, but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even know what the term meant until just 3 years ago. All I knew was that it made me sad to think that some people may go their whole lives not understanding some of the most extraordinary things in our lives, like how your child was made and why they will start to look like you, why dogs truly are man’s best friend, why vaccines are so amazing, or even how human beings became so intelligent and why we exhibit all our different behaviours. For me, it all started with animals though. When I was very young I had a major connection with animals and an intense understanding of them and confidence around them and it used to confuse me as to why others didn’t have that same connection, or maybe didn’t even like animals at all. So, I just really want others to see all these extraordinary things that I see. It would be such a shame to miss them!

 

Women remain underrepresented in all fields of STEM. What can be done to improve the gender balance in science?

For women to be better represented in STEM, I think it’s all about resilience. While we shouldn’t just accept that we are often treated differently, or even unfairly, we have to have the strength to resist becoming emotional about a certain situation and act professionally to address and resolve certain issues. I have experienced it myself and crumbling under emotion when being treated unfairly just doesn’t achieve anything. My advice is; be strong, stay true to yourself and what you know is right, pick yourself back up and carry on progressing through life the way YOU want to.

 

Who has been your greatest role model, and why?

When I was 16, my A-level teacher inspired me to become an A-level biology teacher just like her. I am not the type of person to keep in contact with old teachers or professors but if I could see her again and tell her that she was my inspiration, I would! Often it is the humblest of people who have the biggest impact on our lives. Not my university professors, nor David Attenborough nor even Darwin have had as much impact on my hopes and dreams as she had.

 

How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I honestly don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years time, but if I am doing something where I feel like I am making as much of a difference as I am now, then I will feel truly happy and successful.

 

Outside of your career, what do you enjoy doing most?

I enjoy lots of nice things in life. I love to do animal drawings, write animal-themed poetry, wildlife photography, cook my own recipes, read books and write book reviews, listen to music, do fitness routines, travel to new places and laugh a lot with my best friends and my perfect fiancé.

 

And finally… what’s your favourite science quote?

‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ - Theodosius Dobzhansky. My fiancé and I usually end up saying it after one of our very long, geeky, drunken chats about some very interesting parts of human life. I mean it says it all really!

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Thank you so much for a fantastic interview, Amy!

Connect with Amy:

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