Yamila Cajal is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at the Research School of Earth Science (RSES), ANU. Her current research investigates the geochemistry of the Platinum Group Elements (PGE) applied to the prediction of copper-gold fertility in mountain belts.

The first time I had the chance to apply for a tutor position at university, I was halfway through my undergraduate degree at the Universidad de Concepcion (Chile). At that point, I had no idea what it was going to be like, or if I was going to like it or not, but I decided to give it a try. I am very grateful for this experience because it made me discover my passion for teaching and after that, I continued working as a tutor every time I had the opportunity. Even after graduating, when I was working in mining, I did not lose any opportunity to participate in outreach activities with the community, bringing rocks to local schools and talking to the students about what geology was.

For this reason, soon after I started my PhD at ANU, I did not hesitate to apply for a demonstrator position when I saw an email inviting HDR students to do it. During my time at RSES, I have had the privilege to teach in different Earth Sciences courses for first, second and third-year undergraduate students, both in the classroom and in the field. Teaching has been one of the most valuable experiences for me during my PhD because it has allowed me to get more involved with the broader RSES and ANU community and it has helped me to find motivation in my own research.

Yamila Cajal, teaching from home.

Working in these courses has taught me about how different education is in different places and it has helped me to understand better the ANU teaching philosophy, as well as discover my own. I think tutoring is a very rewarding experience, because you do not only use your abilities to help others to understand scientific concepts and processes, but you also learn more about those topics while finding a better way to explain them to others. Also, it is a constant challenge because you have to adapt yourself to different circumstances, for example, explaining something in the classroom is quite different from doing it in the field or using a virtual platform such as Zoom. For these reasons, I think that working as a demonstrator has helped me to improve my science communication skills, adapt myself better to different scenarios and gain more confidence while speaking in public.

Summer voluntary fieldtrip to Eden, New South Wales

During my short career, I have also been involved in different outreach activities that promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to students of different ages, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. These activities have been opportunities to share my passion for Earth Sciences with others outside university, but also to connect with the reasons why I decided to pursue a career in Earth Sciences in the first place. Teaching and getting involved in outreach activities has been good not only for my professional development, but they have also made me enjoy my PhD more because these activities are actually really fun.

WINGS – Women in STEM initiative, Hawker College

I hope this post will encourage other graduate and undergraduate students to get involved in different teaching activities. Like everything in life, trying is the only way to discover if you like it or not, you definitely have nothing to lose and maybe a lot to gain.