“I've always had great teachers. In school I originally liked history, but then had a really good science teacher, so got inspired to follow science from them. When I came to university I took the first opportunity I could to do some teaching. I’ve done peer mentoring, lots of demonstrating and some tutoring. I really love it all.”
Patrick Yates is in the first year of his PhD at the Research School of Chemistry, and with a passion for teaching has recently been appointed as one of three new teaching fellows in the school. In doing so he believes he’s taking both his research and his teaching to the next level.
“I'm originally from Melbourne and I came up here to do the PhB, actually looking to do something that was a mix between biology and chemistry.”
Yates’ research is looking at a new technique to develop a drug for malaria.
“For any drug you develop,” Yates explains, “the big problem is that things evolve. Life finds a way and the drugs lose their efficacy over time. So we're looking at a somewhat different way of dealing with that. Instead of targeting the problem that is there with the malaria itself, we're looking at doing something in our cells.
“Malaria lives in the blood. It has many stages of its life cycle but the one we're interested in is when it's in our blood. There's enzymes in our blood cells to do with heme and iron and things essential for our function as well. The malarial parasites hijack the functionality of these enzymes to survive and multiply.
“We’re looking therefore at developing drugs against our own enzymes. The theory there is if we can sort of knock out the malaria that way without interfering with anything critical to us, we shouldn't have any selective pressure to evolve resistance to that drug, therefore making us more susceptible to the malaria again. Hopefully that kind of circumvents the resistance issue to a degree.”
While Yates loves his research, it is in many ways the teaching that is the driving force behind his academic endeavours.
“I started demonstrating, lab-based teaching, in my third year of my undergrad. The year before that I was doing some peer mentoring, which is sort of quite informal, just sort of group run sessions. In my third year, I did demonstrating for both semesters and in my honors year I did some tutoring and demonstrating for the bridging course. I have continued both demonstrating and tutoring now that I am doing my PhD.
“My favourite kind of teaching is lab-based. The bit I enjoy the most is the "click". It’s when people go "Ah yes. That makes sense now."
“Doing tutorials and very theoretical things, it’s often quite hard to get across experimental concepts. But then you go into the lab and you say, "now this will change colour," and they go, "oh wow." That's my favourite moment. They can connect the dots, you can see it happening in their brains. The part where I derive the most enjoyment from is seeing people sort of understand and progress throughout a period of time.”
Yates has now taken the next step in his teaching journey, becoming a teaching fellow at the School.
“The fellowship will give me a more formal teaching role. It provides me with a guaranteed 130 hours a year of anything that may be related to teaching. But it will be more advanced. So I’ll be leading lab groups, taking more leadership roles, and will have an opportunity to do some lecturing, which I’m really excited about. It's lots of the same stuff I’d already been doing, so the experience will carry over, but it's a more structured design to improve my development and allow me to progress more towards a higher level of teaching standard.”
In doing so Yates believes he’s creating a more balanced approach to his studies, one that will serve him well into the future.
“I'm very happy with the variety of things I get to do,” he says. I think you need balance in your PhD, right? If you're spending 60 hours a week in the lab and you can't make the time to do something else, then I think I’d really struggle.
“This way I can get can get the balance, but also improve my own understanding of the concepts I’m working on. Students ask questions that you wouldn't even dream of or couldn't even consider, not always but sometimes directly related to your work. So I think the research and teaching really complement each other. That’s why I love doing it.”