Ciao! My name is Martina Quaggiotto. After completing my Master of research in Marine Biology at the University of Trieste in Italy, I won a MVLS Scholarship at the University of Glasgow in 2011 and moved to Scotland for a PhD working with Dr David Bailey and Dr Dominic McCafferty at IBAHCM. The project looked into the role of marine mammal carrion on the ecology of coastal systems. Through some amazing collaborations with the Australian National University, the University of Granada and Prof Felicity Huntingford (IBAHCM) I then had the opportunity to gain some postdoctoral experience on carrion ecology and fish cognition. Throughout my research career, I was always on the lookout for opportunities to get involved with scientific teaching and outreach: from volunteering with Naturally Speaking to working as a teaching assistant and helping out with the Glasgow Science Festival. I am now Lecturer in Ecology at the University of Stirling: teaching is my passion and inspiring students to study and love what they study is my priority.
Q: What first inspired you to work in academia and teaching?
A: When I was a graduate teaching assistant, I got to work alongside some really talented lecturers who were a great source of inspiration. At the University of Glasgow for instance, I assisted the undergraduate Marine Biology field course for several years where I learned how to effectively teach a topic I was passionate about. Students appreciate when you are excited about something and it becomes infectious. This overall excitement generated by both lecturers and students interacting with each other while teaching and learning is what activates my feel-good endorphins (and the students’ ones too!). The happiness, love for science and satisfaction I gain through teaching are the greatest motivators for me to work in academia.
Q: What skills do you need as a Lecturer?
A: When I think of my job as a lecturer, the first word that comes to my mind is “pedagogy”.
Pedagogy comes from the Greek paidos “boy, child” and agogos “leader” and it was first attributed to the action of slaves who took the kids of the family they were working for to school. Its literal meaning evolved through time and pedagogy is now the essence of the method and practice of teaching. Given its etymology, I personally like to think of it as “leading a young mind” through learning. To do so, a lecturer’s skills include nurturing curiosity in students, supporting the development of independent and critical thinking and applicable skills. A lecturer really needs to know their stuff well in order to explain things clearly and stimulate the students’ interest. I also believe that creating a constructive and trustful relationship with the students is crucial for the overall success of my teaching and their learning. Thus, listening to the students, taking on board their feedback, embracing differences and always working towards the best standards are complimentary ingredients to a lecturer’s skillset.
All these skills are gained not only through personal work and life experience, but also from shared experiences with colleagues and students. Naturally Speaking, for example, was an amazing school for me and the list of skills I gained there was almost infinite. From teamwork, to how to engage with guest speakers and the “invisible” audience, to formulating interesting questions and learning many of the technical skills required to edit and publish blogs and podcasts. These are both soft and hard skills that can be applied to almost any kind of job and I personally have been utilizing them as a lecturer too; in particular, when I am interacting with students and colleagues, creating teaching material or even as an interviewee.
Q: How do you see the role of science communication in your job as a Lecturer?
A: Science communication is an integral part of my work as a lecturer. However, I think that in the context of teaching there is more than just communication. In fact, communication itself can be unidirectional e.g. listeners of a podcast can only absorb its content, but not discuss it with the presenter and their guests, whereas a fundamental side of modern teaching involves dialogue between teacher and students. Thus, the main goals of teaching as a means for science communication not only include the transmission of knowledge, but also learning through active participation. This way of learning can be similar to those science outreach events where the public is engaged in hands-on activities. Another goal is to provide the students with the necessary knowledge and skills so they can create significant positive change around them and advance science itself, through their future work and/or as role models. To me, being a successful lecturer is seeing a student working hard and thriving towards great academic accomplishments through my guidance and encouragements.
Q: Any advice for wannabe science communicators?
A: Practice! I am sure there are some naturally amazing science communicators out there, but I believe that most of us need practice. They say that practice makes perfect, but I have also heard that practice makes progress, and my advice for up-and-coming scientists (and myself!) is to practice, especially to enhance your clarity of thought and adapt your communication style to different audiences.
For the podcast enthusiast, you can listen to Martina talk about her research on animal physiology here: