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I’m writing this to document my struggles “switching” to a new field and to remind myself that some people are not worth listening to. In fact, they are worth nothing. I don’t know if I will follow this path, I do doubt myself a lot sometimes and some of the people around don’t make it easier either. But one thing is sure, I will never look at my abilities and determination, the same way again after these studies are completed.

Let’s start from the beginning. I started studying chemistry in the sixth grade. Before that, I discovered some of my dad’s old chemistry books. I fell in love with it because it seemed like a fascinating world. I couldn’t wait to start the classes to learn more, to enter the lab and do all those experiments in the book. It was a subject that unlocked the mysteries of the world around me, it would make me understand the world to its tiniest core up to complex phenomena.

This is not how things went. Our teacher didn’t really care to teach, to make us understand. There was no passion and even worse, when I did ask for clarifications I was called stupid: “I said it once, why weren’t you paying attention/are you stupid?” Obviously if I didn’t get it in a second, I was automatically stupid. I had no support in solving exercises and even if I tried but failed, I got the usual scolding…you are so stupid, how can you not understand a thing so easy? No support, no encouragement and as a child I believed it. I was too stupid, that was too difficult for me. I gave up. I didn’t pay attention anymore, I started skipping chemistry classes and I declared an eternal hate and disgust for this subject (along with maths and physics – secondary school physics teacher was horrible). Never again. I was done.

I chose a humanities class in high-school and ignored science classes completely. We had bad science teachers there also. They were not interested, no passion and the usual – those humanities dumb heads, not that they would understand anything. But there was a spark. In my first year of high-school, we had a very cool physics teacher, I enjoyed hear explanations and her way of teaching. I understood things very fast and at the end of that year I got one of the best grades in physics. She left. After that, I stopped studying physics; her replacement did not live up to the standards.

Fast forward 13 years. After years of studying in humanities, and specializing myself in museum studies I fell in love with a branch of museum profession called conservation. I said that nothing will stop me to study that. Bad luck…chemistry was needed. Only the first high-school course but still. I cut my ties with chemistry right at that very beginning; it was like I never studied it. Because I never did, actually. I skipped most of the classes and barely passed. I wasn’t interested. I went to the library and took that book, opened it and tears came into my eyes. I didn’t understand anything. It seemed so difficult. But I said: YOU WON’T GIVE UP! And I didn’t, I bought the book and started studying chemistry on my own. First months were hell. There was nobody to help me, nobody I could ask. Swearing, frustration, tears, ripped pages with exercises. But time went and I started understanding. I was so happy after few hours of struggle to understand and even solve problems on my own. And at one point I realized, with amazement that I started liking it.

After going through just one chemistry course (out of five), I signed up for university. Chemistry. One of the craziest, if not the craziest, thing I did in my life. No background studies and there I was, sitting in a class with people who had a strong background in chemistry. I realized what I have done one week before I started the classes. I panicked so bad that I almost puked right before my first chemistry class. How could I keep up with these people? They are so advanced, I know nothing. You have no idea how many times I cried after classes because I couldn’t understand almost anything. But I studied on my own and in one month I went through the whole 5 high-school courses, at basic level, at least to understand the concepts. (thank you opetus.tv!) Until now I am proud to say that I have passed all courses with a very good in Chemistry of the Environment. And I think I’m falling in love with chemistry to the point of thinking to switch completely to science and start my studies all over again.

Things aren’t so easy, however. I did mention the struggles and certain people in the beginning. Let’s put it straight: chemistry, like any other subject, is not easy. Especially when you are crazy enough to sign up for university courses with no strong background. But that’s not the point. You can learn it; I’m a living proof of that. What makes it worse, are the people around you. In my case, it started with the teachers. A bad teacher will make you hate a subject or if you are lucky, you’ll be just indifferent to it. I can’t complain now, my present chemistry teacher had always had the patience to explain the most stupid questions I asked him. And that’s what makes a good teacher.

But what is worse, is other people’s attitudes. I was told that this is useless because if I don’t understand things right on the spot then I have no talent for it. Have these people heard that work is required in every field? You don’t wake up overnight and get top grades. Everything requires hard work and passion. Chemistry is not like singing, you have the voice or you don’t. Even singing requires lots of work. Very few people are born with extraordinary talents. The rest of us have to work. Giving up is not an option.

I was told that I’m at that age when you are too old to study and as a woman I should have other normal priorities (read lifescript), not dreaming of a career in a STEM field. To be clear, lifescript has never interested me. It might suit others but I always found it extremely boring. If an activity is not intellectually challenging or has a certain degree of difficulty, I drop it. I love studying, reading, thinking and solving problems a lot. Am I 100% at this point that I want to go into STEM? Maybe not 100 but I’m strongly considering it. I do love my job a lot and my present field but studying chemistry will never take me away from cultural heritage field. On the contrary, I will become one of those multidisciplinary persons with a wide understanding of various disciplines and enhanced capacity of solving problems and be innovative.

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At this point, I’m in a bit of panic as I finished my second MA and I just realized that the school year will start soon but I’m not going to be a part of it anymore. It is somehow hard to believe because I have been studying for a while with some breaks in between when I was working. I enjoy studying a lot and learning new things. Going to classes and keeping a study schedule, visiting the library, checking the courses, outlining a study plan has its charm. At least, at the university level since I enjoyed that part much more than lower education.

Anyways I did find that one can very well study online nowadays through various organizations. I did find out about Coursera (courser.org) from a friend of mine a while ago and I already managed to get and complete few of their courses. Most of them were in humanities, one in IT and one in agriculture. You can find lots of courses, from different areas and from universities all over the world. I am taking courses only in English and the universities i attended were mainly from UK and US.

Nowadays I’m taking a course in cultural heritage from a university in Italy, Rome and I can say I am very pleased with it and besides things which I already knew, I did find out new ones especially about ancient history and completing my reading list with several books.

Some of the courses follow a strict schedule and deadlines, some can be taken at own pace and assignments are not compulsory unless you want to earn a certificate of completion. Certificates divide themselves between standard ones and personalized ones which you have to pay for. Some course packages can be taken for a certain fee. I never paid for the courses I have taken and I got only standard certificates. I was thinking at some point to get a package of courses but there isn’t anything that I really want to take and be willing to pay for yet.

As about the fields, one can choose from a wide variety, although I think they do have more in IT and engineering but I would advise that one should stick to their fields as some of the courses are very challenging (it’s university level) and they do not start with introductory data. For example, I do have a humanities background and I can’t take a course in robotics. But I could take courses from social sciences, business, language learning and even life sciences. Some biology, agriculture, environment and health courses are indeed for everybody who is interested. Also there are some IT courses which are more general but if you want to really learn something, you need to make an extra effort and not just be contempt with the video lectures.

Actually, I could say that about all the courses from the site. Of course, one can pass the course just by watching the video lectures and complete the quizzes but if one really wants to go deeper into the subject, I suggest getting acquainted with the reading list, extra links and materials and do their own research if they want to know more about a certain topic.

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