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Congratulations on getting an offer to study with us! Our academics look at educational issues from a wide range of perspectives, and we wanted to give you a chance to find out more about them.

Jeremy Airey is a senior lecturer in science education, and he is closely involved with all of our courses.

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Well, I was originally a scientist

I did my first degree in natural sciences. In my final year, I specialised in pathology, which always raises a few eyebrows, but I didn’t really do much of the Silent Witness stuff. For my PhD, I looked at the structure of molecules that are involved in making the immune system work. I spent some time as a researcher, but soon realised I like talking about science more than I like doing it!

So, I trained to be a school teacher. I spent about twelve years teaching secondary science in Suffolk and Yorkshire, before moving into teacher development at the National STEM Learning Centre, which is based at York. From there, I moved into Education here at the University - I’ve been here since 2013, and I teach right across our programmes.

Exploring the power of wind energy with a pop-up science demo at the National Railway Museum in York.

What is education?

That’s a question we’ll look at in one of your 1st-Year modules. At first glance, it might seem obvious: education’s what you get in school. But really, there are lots of different ways to think about what it means to be educated.

I’m interested in informal education - the things that happen outside the classroom, particularly in the sciences. I look at how children get interested in science, why they do science-y things, and how their understanding and aspirations are shaped by places like museums and zoos.

Getting children into science is a global issue

There are fewer young people choosing to continue studying science, or going into science-related careers, than many people in the UK would like. There’s an absolute mass of research on why that might be, and there are all sorts of reasons that people put forward. I think that science doesn’t always do a very good job of helping young people see why it’s important to them.

The powerful thing about informal learning is that it can make people feel more engaged with the subject. It really isn't about teaching children stuff. It’s about making them feel more positive about science, which hopefully will drive them to keep on learning.

Tim Peake at the Principia Schools Conference at the University of York. Image credit: UK Space Agency / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Space can capture the imagination

I was involved in some research around the time that the British astronaut Tim Peake was heading into space and coming back again. We wanted to know how the publicity around the mission affected children’s interest in science. So, we used surveys and interviews with children in upper-primary and lower-secondary schools to see how their feelings changed.

The results were mixed. Some children were really engaged and found it very interesting. But not all of them. Young people can quite quickly spot when things are being milked a bit too much. There’s a slight sense of weariness: ‘ugh, not space again’!

I really like the variety

Education cuts across lots of different subjects, so the one thing I wouldn’t call it is a discipline. I work with sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, economists - I’m going to miss a load of people out - who all bring different perspectives to research and teaching. There's a strong culture at York of people working together.

It might sound like a cliché, but the best thing about education is the people. I have some fantastic students here, and some wonderful colleagues. It’s just a really nice place to be.

Vanita Sundaram teaches the final-year module Learning Gender.

It’s not hard for me to pick a proudest moment

In 2019, I received the Vice Chancellor's Teaching Award. It was quite special really, walking across the stage at Graduation. It’s nice to know that your colleagues and your students recognise what you do.

It sounds like an Oscars speech, doesn’t it, but I can only do the work I do because I have a really good team of people around me. That’s what education is, really: it’s people working together to do things well.

Just ask

If you have any questions about education at York, then please feel free to get in touch. We’re always happy to discuss your course, our research, or anything else you want to know about.

Contact us

For any support or guidance on completing your journey to York, we're always close at hand.
+44 (0)1904 324000