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Crafting Your Career (CYC) | 16 Informational Interview with Pragya Verma — Science Education | Part 2

Lakshmi Ganesan

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This is part 2 of the eleventh “informational interview” in the season on Crafting your Career in science. Here IndiaBioscience chats with Pragya Verma, a researcher-turned educator, who still manages to do her science and take along with her school students as well as carry out social projects to promote application-based learning among students of all levels.

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Note to listeners: This recording was done during the COVID-19 lockdown over a zoom meeting call. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio quality recording.

TRANSCRIPT WITH TIMESTAMPS

Lakshmi Ganesan 0:02

You're listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one stop resource for science news and careers.

Listeners, welcome back to part two of our informational interview with Pragya Verma. We've been talking about making a paradigm shift from a theory based curriculum to one that is more application based. Pragya has been an enabler of this change, a much needed one, I must say.

Pragya, this seems to be already aligned with the new education policy that has been tabled recently. It is a really progressive and forward-looking change compared to say, when I was in school. Although, I must say that I was lucky to have good teachers. One particular teacher that I wish to mention is my high school biology teacher Irene Stella to whom I owe much of my scientific temper. What she did to me as a teenager is pretty remarkable where she set up reward mechanisms especially when did they did not exist to think out of the box and to take initiatives to do something that's not particularly required of you, or even simply recognising that you are doing this as a student can help nurture and allow that quality in you grow. Pragya, being in the school ecosystem, I am sure will have its own rhythm. Can you share what a typical work day would look like for you?

Pragya Verma 1:34

My typical day starts at 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. I am exclusively with kids teaching them science and working on various projects with them. After 2:30 p.m. with some of the students who are motivated, we do the same activities of teaching science through our social service projects. In the present scenario, regular classes and after our classes are still going through various online meetings and WhatsApp calls, whichever works for the kids. After 4:30 p.m., the children are welcome to call me anytime if they come up with a great idea or question...The children nevertheless are very adjusting and they are both mindful and considerate not to disturb me and they are very patient. They also bond very well and if I do not reply soon enough for any reason, they get worried and enquire about me and my three year old son…

Lakshmi Ganesan 4:30

Pragya, to someone who is interested in seeking a teaching career, especially teaching in a school curriculum and as someone who has found your footing there, what would be your words of encouragement or words of advice?

Pragya Verma 4:50

I want to share that it is OK for a PhD to come into teaching. You may consider it a risk since it is not the norm, it is unconventional or may be less well accepted, but I find it very rewarding and to have an extraordinary return of investment To have teachers who love the subject, means to instill the same love in the students. This helps create well-founded and well-rounded science professionals of any kind for the future. One will also be surprised to find that it is also lucrative and pays well to be a teacher at the schools. It is personally gratifying to see so much positive change and to be able to mould impressionable young minds. It also helps me read and keep up to date with nuances in the sciences to be able to convey and work with students to design well-thought out projects with them. If you have done research and are looking for a way to give back then this is probably the best way. You are not only working with students at the right intellectual age, you are also working with innocent and impressionable minds that can be moulded and steered in a positive direction with relative ease. Their level of enthusiasm and eagerness is hard to find.

Lakshmi Ganesan 7:45

Pragya, now a young graduate may think teaching is a great way to give back, it could even be lucrative and there are examples of people who have done this well. Now, what does it take to be a good teacher? What skills does one need? Does one need to cultivate or does one need to be a natural to be able to teach? What are your thoughts?

Pragya Verma 8:24

Lakshmi, I find myself naturally gel well with the kids. When I started, I was an introvert and a bookworm. When I entered the school I found myself transforming, where the kids turned me from an introvert and extrovert. While I used to be shy to give lab presentations I found myself interacting with relative ease with the children. Regarding the skills required, someone with a PhD or any science graduate is already equipped with the requisite knowledge and also the ability to apply the knowledge to solve a problem. One thing I do is to prepare for every class by doing my pre-reads so that I am best able to answer the questions the kids might have. Overall it is a very relaxing job where you already have the essential skills and need not acquire any special skills. Perhaps, one can put themselves in teaching situations, during their training period, especially with the age-group that they would eventually like to work with, as a preparation and to test the waters so to speak.

Lakshmi Ganesan 11:44

Pragya, I must say if I put myself in a teaching situation in front of a bunch of teenagers, I would probably be terrified...haha, so how do you deal with, say, troublemakers in class?

Pragya Verma 12:21

Lakshmi I have had the worst troublemakers in class. But I found that if you give them something to think about, some alternate thing to chew on, some food for thought and healthy food for thought, one can get them hooked that way. This is a skill of a good teacher, to engage and teach, to entertain and teach, and teach not just to know but to apply the knowledge. This skill grows with time and one learns to deal with and work with students of all kinds. There is tremendous personal growth as well, alongside gratification of course. Children at this age, even if they create trouble or get into arguments of any kind they tend to forget and let go. They move on very easily and you learn to do the same. You accept and embrace them and even influence the situation in a positive way.

Lakshmi Ganesan 14:11

Yes Pragya and I think that's the beauty of being a teacher. a teacher always gives without expecting anything in return and very unselfishly so. He or she is the proudest when someone does well. Pragya are there any words of career wisdom that you would like to leave our listeners with from your journey so far?

Pragya Verma 14:46

Yes, Lakshmi. As a science graduate, never hesitate to take risks. Even if everything around you seems unfavourable and you may face resistance, if there is some instinct in you that tells you that is the right path for you, do not think twice about going for it and be unmindful of the opinions of others. As a science graduate you already have achieved the highest, you are equipped with many skills and the knowledge. If ultimately you are happy doing what you are doing, people around you will also change, the environment will become conducive and your path will pave itself to support your pursuit.

Lakshmi Ganesan 16:27

Pragya this is really well said. If you are happy doing what you do, that itself gives you the strength to overcome little challenges here and there. There is really no such thing as a challenge-free career path. As long as you have made a conscious choice, and the pros outweigh the cons, things will work to your advantage. Well, I must say that it was very inspiring to chat with you today Pragya, and what you are doing is genuinely laudable.. I also would like to make this episode a tribute to all the teachers, particularly the ones in my life who helped mould me into what I am today. Without you, where will I be? Thank you all for listening, and do subscribe to our season on Crafting your Career in Science for more such inspiring stories from various science professionals.

Pragya Verma 17:24

Thanks a lot Lakshmi. It was a pleasure being here and stay safe everyone. Thank you.

Lakshmi Ganesan 17:31

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Shreya Ghosh 17:42

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Manoj Rangan17:48

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Shreya Ghosh 17:51

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Manoj Rangan 17:58

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Shreya Ghosh 18:03

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Manoj Rangan 18:09

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