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Mike Ryan
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
North West
First Degree: 
BSc Chemistry
Head of Chemistry Department of a Grammar School.
Works For: 
Lancaster Royal Grammar School
BA (Hons) (Oxon), PGCE, FRSC, CChem, CSci, ACIEA. Working towards an MA in Education (part-time)
Pet Hates: 
Being “led” by (some) leaders / managers who don’t understand the problems they or I should be trying to solve.
Burning Ambition: 
To see my wife and sons comfortable. To see my two sons fulfil their potential. Professionally, it would be to see my school do the same.
Apart from wishing I could fly, I would love to be able to make everyone try their best. If you don’t aim high, you will never get there
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A train driver
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I always enjoyed the sciences at secondary school, especially Chemistry. I had a fine teacher (Mr Metcalfe) who inspired me. I suppose the first thought of Chemistry was as a primary schoolboy when an older friend told me of what they were doing at “big school”. Chemistry sounded like fun!
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I love trying to explain the wonders of Chemistry to children who want to learn. Although I may think I have planned a really good approach to a concept, it is wonderful to have to think on your feet to try to explain it a different way to suit somebody’s problem. Over the years, I have helped to develop a variety of schemes to bring new ways of teaching and learning. I am constantly on the look out for new (and hopefully better) ways to do things
What would you change? 
Although I understand that the Government is trying to encourage a wider understanding of science, I would love to break science down into two sections: one “Science for All” and the other “Science for the Future”. It is vital that everyone can take part in the important scientific discussions of today and tomorrow, but the people who are going to make a difference need to be stimulated and challenged and inspired to love Science as I was. This cannot happen if science lessons have to be brought down to the lowest common level for everybody
What qualifications did you take at school? 
O-levels (Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Maths, English Language, Geography, French, Latin (failed English Lit!).) AO-level (Additional Maths) A-levels (Chemistry, Physics, Maths, General Studies)
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
First degree in Chemistry. I loved Chemistry (still do!)
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
PGCE (teaching qualification) No m-level qualification yet (working towards an MA in Education). My experience (25 years at present) and seniority (Head of Department) counted a lot towards the CSci
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
It usually goes one of two ways…. Something like…What do you do? Teacher. What of? Chemistry Oh...I could never do Chemistry….All those equations and things OR What do you do? Teacher. What of? Chemistry Wow, I used to love that! I sort of wish I’d carried on with it. Unfortunately, it is usually it is the first one!
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
No cutting edge Science but I try to keep abreast of educational issues
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Change of government could cause another raft of changes in education
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
It varies. It could be a child achieving a very high level and just as easily a child getting a basic thing right after loads of effort
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
Teacher of Chemistry….Head of Chemistry (with all sorts of little bits tacked on the side from time to time)
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
Form tutor, personnel issues, science issues, education agenda etc etc
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
Not a bad starting salary compared to other graduates but it must be remembered that all teachers do at least one year of post-graduate study. There are various golden handshake schemes. Pay progression is also not too bad, provided that the pension rights are protected. The current pay structure looks a bit poor if the pension rights are eroded. Next few years of education reforms? Nobody can tell but you can guarantee that it will mean teachers needing to be up to date with on-the –job training. The “M-level agenda” may have an effect. The other certainty is that the press will be convinced that standards are falling!
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
Moving more towards being a coordinator of various learning media so that each child gets the best out of what is available for them.
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
Hard to tell. There are so many peaks and troughs each day / week / year. Strangely, one thing I am most proud of is Stage Managing a production of Les Miserables, barricade, flying bridge etc. The West End has hydraulics and skilled engineers to build and run the set. I had “boy power” and it worked!
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
I spend too much time working. Some of it because I have to simply to get the job done properly, some of it because it is the kind of job that haunts you even when you are not actually doing it. Overall I enjoy the job but there are good bits and bad bits
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
Most friends respect the job. Some make fun about the “long holidays” but they soon realize that this is a balance for the long working days of term-time. My school is generally well-respected in the community, so that helps
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Not too much time for hobbies etc but I do enjoy music, drama and quizzes. There are loads of things to look forward to when I am retired!
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I applied for CSci because I felt it would be like a “kitemark” showing that I had reached a high standard. Doctors, engineers etc have similar things and I thought that Scientists (including Science teachers) should have a similar thing. The professional bodies help me to keep up to date with current discoveries etc as well as help to provide useful information and resources for my teaching
What is the value of professional bodies? 
The training provided by RSC is first rate. I could access this without being a member but it would cost the school a bit more. It is good to try to keep up to date with chemistry developments. RSC supports schools (although I believe it could do even more). ASE also provides useful support as well as the security of legal and financial cover for any job-related litigation
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
CPD is vital to a career. This might be in the form of specific courses but could also be simply reflecting on what you are doing and trying to do it better. Too many teachers focus only on their own classroom or laboratory and can miss developments outside. This can sometimes be achieved by changing schools but why should everyone have to move about in order to develop? My school has a slow rate of change of staff. Some are stuck in their ways but I like to think that I have kept up to date with what is going on outside. Some changes are good, some not but you cannot consider tem if you don’t know they are happening! Revalidation of CSci is important because it should not be seen as a badge for life. It seems strange that a PhD etc is considered to be really valuable, even if it is fifteen or thirty years old. The CSci qualification shows current prowess. The two kinds of thing need to be complementary
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Teaching can be a great career but try to decide whether you want to be a teacher or simply want to stay in a familiar environment. It will be hard work and the pay won’t be brilliant but your last ever lesson be as challenging as your first! From day one, you will have to be able to grab the attention of the children whose minds have “far more important things” to consider. If you can make a positive difference in someone’s life (and it does happen from time to time) the reward is fantastic….it is a kind of immortality! It is worth remembering that you don’t just get to teach your own subject. If you want to, you can be a sports coach, adventure leader, dramatic producer and just about anything else too. The other thing is that regardless of any equipment you may have in the laboratory, the teacher is the most valuable resource in the room so it needs to be looked after properly. The children have potential, the facilities may make learning more technological but the teacher has to make it all work
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
Mentoring is important but the most important thing is to be able to get on with the job. I try to offer background support to my juniors….I am there if they need me but far enough away so that they can make some little mistakes for themselves and learn from them. When I first started, my Head of Department said to me, “Here is the teaching scheme, there are the books. If you need help, I am here for you.”. He was always available if I needed him but was never in the way of me trying to do something for myself
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Professionalism….doing it right and following your conscience
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
If starting out now, I would push myself forward more for promotions etc. I don’t regret taking my time to gain promotions because I think I have gained a lot of experience on the way which has helped me. It is frustrating, though, when those who have positioned themselves carefully and played the politics get into senior positions without the full set of tools to cope. That probably happens in all fields!
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
One of the nicest thank-you cards I ever received said “Thanks for the Chemistry teaching, and all the other stuff as well!”. I hope that many of my classes thought that. I have helped some brilliant scientists to achieve top grades. I have helped some weaker ones to survive. They were all important and special in their own way.
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