Bob Stewart was working as a chef when he first considered studying science. Ten years later, he is preparing students for careers as laboratory technicians.
Bob had developed an interest in the food science side of being a chef, so started thinking about enrolling in university.
“My kitchen hand bet me that I wouldn’t last a semester. I kind of proved him wrong,” he jokes.
He enrolled in the Bachelor of Science at Massey University, majoring in Human Nutrition and Physiology, and minoring in Biochemistry. However, he had little science background.
“I didn’t do much science at school, so when I got to university I had no idea what a carbon atom was, for example. In that situation, you have had to work really hard in that first semester to catch up and be at the same speed as everyone else. I had to teach myself, so I would come up with my own analogies to understand and remember new concepts.”
He feels that this experience helps him relate to a lot of students today.
“I guess a lot of students now go through a similar kind of experience, where they can go through NCEA and collect their credits but not actually collect many in a certain field, like chemistry for example.”
Bob got his first taste of teaching during his Honours year.
“I started tutoring students one on one and helping out with labs. I really enjoyed that. I think that’s what put me on the path to where I am now.”
Bob went on to gain first class Honours majoring in Nutrition, and was awarded a doctoral scholarship. He continued tutoring while working on his PhD, taking on more and more students.
“I was doing one to one tutorials, then one to ten, and by the end I was holding free tutorials for 60 or 70 students at a time. From that, I really felt that I had found my calling.”
His success in tutoring led to him suspending his PhD for two six month periods in order to take up teaching jobs in Nutrition and Physiology.
He completed his PhD in 2014 and then took on a role as a Research Officer, looking into how the body absorbs iron.
Bob started teaching at UCOL in June 2015, and was immediately impressed with the student-focused culture.
“I get to spend a lot of time with the students, which is great. I like having dialogue when I’m teaching, instead of just me lecturing. The classes here are a maximum of 25 students, so it’s really easy to talk with the students.”
Bob likes to use analogies and online tools to engage with his students and reinforce his teachings.
“If there is a concept I am trying to teach, I try to relate it to things that the students associate with, or ideas that are common to them.”
“I find things like YouTube videos and Kahoot quizzes helpful in reinforcing concepts.”
“When we do experiments, I like to draw it step by step on the whiteboard instead of using a slide show. That way it stays on the board for a while and I’m going at a speed that the students can follow.”
For Bob, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing students understand new concepts. “That’s why we do it; to see someone truly understand the mechanism. When I’m reading through students’ assignments and exam answers and think, ‘That’s about as good as you could ever answer that question,’ that’s a really good feeling.”