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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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I’m the typical woman when it comes to my studies. I always followed humanities path. Sometimes during my childhood years – I think it was primary school – I decided I wanted to become an archaeologist. I didn’t have the rosy colored image of digging and finding lost treasures and solving mysteries as many of the kids have (lots of them want to become archaeologists) but I was rather more into research. Since then I flirted with less feminine jobs so to say including truck driver and train engineer. My parents were quite an authority when it came to my studies so in the end I had to choose something that would get me an university degree and a job.

How was I drawn to humanities though? Archaeology belongs to humanities but it involves a great deal of science though. It started in secondary school to be more exact. Then we began studying, besides mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics. I was very excited to learn new things and I never thought for one second that I would hate any of these subjects. I was wrong. After I met the teachers and especially their style of teaching, I started loathing these subjects.

To start with, the teachers were women well in their 50’s and had a horrible style of teaching. They followed their teaching schedule and had absolutely no interest if we remained with something after the class or not. It gave me the impression that they didn’t even enjoy what they were teaching. We got into the lab very few times and there wasn’t enough material for everybody to do the experiments. They went really fast when teaching and when you asked them to repeat smth. because you didn’t understand, they called you stupid. “Didn’t I explain that thing once? Are you stupid?”

My biology teacher got a weird pleasure in teasing me for an unknown reason. In fact, at a test she marked two of my good answers as wrong and when I confronted her about that she didn’t take it too well. Since then she was always testing me – getting me in front of the class to recite the previous lesson and to draw cell structures on the blackboard. And insulting me occasionally. I remember that one of my pens dropped on the floor (unintentionally) and she started yelling at me saying that she’ll throw me out of the class if I don’t behave. Plus commenting on my outer look or making snarky remarks about me and my back then boyfriend.

I can’t say I hated the respective subjects but the teachers made them so horrible, I had no will to learn them anymore. And another thing specific to my birth country were the private lessons. All students took and are taking private lessons in order to succeed at exams because most of teachers fail to do their duty in class. If you don’t have private lesson with your class teacher then you should expect small grades for no reason. That’s what happened with me in math. Although my dad knows math and he was helping me, the grades started going up the same time I started private lessons with my math teacher. Which was weird, because I can’t say my math improved at those private lessons.

I do look back at these things sometimes and cannot help but wonder if my path had been different would it not been for so bad science teachers. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing I know for sure: I don’t hate these subjects and they are not particularly difficult for me. My interest in sciences came back across the years to the point that I am reading medical books just for fun and I want to learn chemistry as I wish to specialize in conservation.

I didn’t realize the power of a teacher until I had to deal with bad, uninspiring people who represented a field and basically turned a subject (that was otherwise interesting) into a repulsive burden that one needs to pass in order to get a diploma.

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