PGDE PhysicsSoma Szentivanszki, Hungary

PGDE Physics student Soma SzentivanszkiTell us a little bit about your background...
I was born and raised in Pécs (a city of a similar size to Dundee) in South-West Hungary, where I finished both primary and high school. In Hungary traditionally there is a big emphasis on Mathematics and Physics education and it is a very competitive environment for talented students. To me, it was natural to go to Maths competitions from the age of 7, and to Physics as well, after I started to learn the subject. It turned out that I am good at both, but much better in Physics, so I studied a specialised Maths-Physics course at high school (which was similar to what is called grammar school south of the border). Being taught by excellent teachers there and participating in every possible extracurricular activity available both in Pécs and Budapest, I was among the most successful students of my year group in the country. For students doing well in the national competitions it is common to apply to Oxbridge, and so did I. From 2017 I studied Physics in Oxford. There I had to realise that academia is very different from the way I like doing physics, and checking all the options teaching seemed the one I thought I would enjoy the most. I finished my undergraduate course this June, and now I am here.

What inspired you to become a teacher?
As I said, I realised during my Physics undergrad, that I do like the subject, but I do not like academia. At the high school level, I can see the fundamental nature of science and the way it works. At the university level, if one is not careful enough it is easy to get lost among equations and overlook reality. I also consider teaching an extraordinary opportunity to influence the world positively. There are more than enough physicists all around the world, but the lack of physics teachers is a problem almost everywhere. Finally, my experience in working with young people has been good so far. I hope this will not change during my placements and I will see teaching as the best option for myself after the end of this year.

Did you have a favourite teacher when you were growing up?
I was lucky enough not to be taught by bad teachers through my studies. Of course, my high school physics teacher influenced me the most. He enabled me to reach as far as Oxford and to later see teaching as a valid career choice. We still keep in touch and meet regularly when I go home. It would be unjust not to mention here the retired physics teacher as well who used to go back to my primary school to lead an extracurricular physics club. He started me off on the road to enjoy physics and I loved his teaching style.

Why did you select the University of Strathclyde?
When I was looking for teaching courses I first had to choose a country to study in. Scotland was not an obvious choice at all, but seeing how the system works in Hungary and England I decided to come here. To me, the Scottish teacher training system seems clearer and a higher standard than what I would get in the other two countries. To be honest, before applying I did not even know about the existence of Strathclyde University. Fortunately, I had my interviews in February, before the madness of Covid, thus I could visit the universities I applied to. The atmosphere of Strathclyde was special, I enjoyed my visit here a lot. I did not feel the same after my other interviews so that was the decision-maker. Unfortunately, I do not get the full Strathclyde-experience now, but I am still happy with my choice.

Did you seek any support during the application process?
Not really. I have a lovely sister, who double-checked my application and did not let me leave any mistakes in my Personal Statement and UCAS application. Otherwise, I did not need support with the application.

What has home learning been like for you?
Home learning obviously makes the university a bit more difficult. Coming straight from my undergrad I experienced what home learning is like when I was preparing for my final exams, and I have already adapted to the situation. It is often harder to concentrate on my studies or to have relationships with others on the course. On the other hand, it is a big advantage, that if I feel stressed or tired I can have a break anytime to make myself a tea and have a wee conversation with a flatmate before continuing. Saying it is harder to build relationships with others, I also have to say, that it was superb to gather on Zoom a couple of times to work on tasks we were given. Group work can be almost as effective online as it is offline, and we had good fun together so I more or less know whom I am studying along with.

What would be your advice for people considering taking the PGDE course at Strathclyde?
First of all, I would like to encourage them to do so! Teachers are needed in this country and elsewhere too. It is important to be passionate about teaching and interested in how it works. The PGDE does not prepare you to go into a class, say things about your subject confidently and then leave. It prepares you to see the individuals and be open to them. In that way, you will be able to help them develop both in your subject but more importantly as complex human beings. Furthermore, I have a piece of general advice, which is not to worry and stress too much about anything. This is a supportive environment, your tutors are always there to help you and I think you have to try hard to mess things up. As long as you follow the guidance of the university there will be no problem.

Have you had to overcome any challenges in your time here?
Fortunately, my time in Glasgow has been great so far. It can be challenging to move to a new place but we get on well with my flatmates who made the transition easy to me. The university is also challenging, yet I did not feel overwhelmed by the workload. We were told that our first placement is going to be tiring and tough but I believe I am prepared to face it. The only thing I am afraid of is the coming winter. I was amazed by how beautiful September was in Scotland, however, I see days getting shorter and in the darkness it is harder to keep my good mood. I trust our flatmates to help each other through winter as good conversations can cheer up dark days.

What do you think of the support available?
To me the available support seems to be more than enough. I turned to my subject tutors to ask for help a couple of times, but most of the times what we were already given was sufficient to go on. I have been informed about several ways the university supports its students, which I do like and think to be important. The one I particularly esteem is the possibility to contact with university staff via Zoom if you have to self isolate and indeed you feel isolated. I did not have to self-isolate, and as I said before I have not had many difficulties so far, but I see the supporting net and I do appreciate it. 

What are your ambitions for the future?
I am not too good at planning my future so most of the time I just go with the flow to see where I end up. Of course, I do have plans and ambitions, I just do not want to set them in stone. This is my 4th year at university in the UK, so in the short term I would like to go on a gap year from June 2021. In the long run, in 10-15 years I would like to work in my hometown because I feel the most comfortable there. I have no clue what will happen in the meantime, the only thing I know that I would like to teach and work with young people. I can see myself doing that for a couple of years in Scotland, but in other countries as well, it shall turn out as I go along the way.