Jamie Young is a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. In an interview with The News-Letter, he discussed his path into academia and teaching, including his journey from being a researcher in the U.K. to being a lecturer in the U.S. and creating his own online teaching platform.
The News-Letter: What brought you to Hopkins?
Jamie Young: Hopkins was a very random encounter, actually. As I was getting towards the end of the PhD, I wanted to continue on the research and was looking for postdoctoral positions, and I was coming to Baltimore to get married to my wife — she is from Towson. As we were coming over here to do that, my PhD supervisor was like, “Hey, actually, I know somebody who works at Hopkins, and he's probably looking for a postdoc, so why don't you pop [in].” So I emailed Dr. Bragg in the chemistry department. I worked as a postdoc for a couple of years in the chemistry department and then moved over to the teaching side.
N-L: Is there any moment in particular that brought you to research, or have you always been determined to go into academia? What was your path into academia?
JY: My path into academia was the same reason I got into chemistry in the first place. I like to know how things work. I like to understand why the world around me does what it does. Chemistry provided those answers to me at the time. As you progress through chemistry, you get to the point where people don't know the answers anymore. So I was like, “Well, can I find the answers?” That led me into research.
N-L: What advice would you give to current students who want to pursue a career in chemistry and go into academia?
JY: My biggest piece of advice is always to find the part of chemistry that you find most exciting. If you want to go into academia, you really should enjoy it. For me, I found chemistry very young and I was very fortunate. Now I don't do any research. I just teach. I found that sharing my excitement for chemistry and conveying complex scientific theories in a way that's understandable and approachable [is] really exciting. That's the thing I really like and, branching from the research to the teaching, I still get to stick with chemistry and I still get to learn the way the world works, and I also get to teach other people how the world works. My biggest piece of advice is to find the bit that you love the most and that will keep you engaged and interested in it. You'll do far better at whatever it is if [you] like what you're doing.
N-L: Is there any difference in terms of your experience in education and working as a researcher in the U.K. and in the U.S.?
JY: I would say research is very similar, at least in chemistry. You find a project [that] you have to secure funding for, you go and do the project and then you publish the project. The timeline for publishing work in the U.K. is a little bit faster. In terms of education, it's very different. In the U.K., at university, we don't have gen ed classes or electives, so since I was 16 years old, I've really only ever done chemistry. I get students coming in here — they're running from Biology and they're running to Roman Literature and Architecture — I find that a little overwhelming for me, but I do think it's good. There are positives to both systems.
N-L: We noticed that you had been streaming chemistry tutorials online, how did the idea first come to you?
JY: Really, it was out of necessity. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I wanted a way to keep up the social but also semi-formalized environment of learning and teaching in a way that wasn't just me recording myself. I did live streaming through the gaming service Twitch. I found it to be an interesting potential use of the platform to be able to still teach chemistry and still have that kind of interactive element because I can respond to student questions in real-time. In my teaching labs, we went from rooms of 20 to 40 students to all of a sudden everybody's in their childhood bedroom, completely isolated. I wanted to try and do something where there was still some kind of communal discussion and we could make jokes and be silly.
N-L: What impact are you hoping to make by streaming chemistry tutorials online? Do you have an ultimate goal?
JY: My ultimate goal is the same as my everyday ultimate goal, and it's to communicate chemistry and teach chemistry to everyone who will listen. I think there's something very unique about chemistry that allows you to relate to the real world around you in a completely different way than lots of other subjects. Understanding questions like, “Why is this table solid?” [or] “Why is [there] air around me that I'm able to breathe?” These kinds of nuanced facts about the world really boil down to the way the molecules interact with each other or the way they interact with light. The goal with the streaming was to just keep communicating that and keep telling people about how awesome chemistry is.
N-L: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
JY: The students — easy answer. The majority of my students are freshmen and so I get them in that very difficult transition period where they're coming from high school. A lot of them hate chemistry and/or don't want to be here. It's my job to be like, “Actually, it's kind of awesome. Look at this thing.” The reward comes from the end of the spring semester, when I can see these students have matured a whole bunch.
I had a really fantastic phone call this morning from a student, one [from] my first cohort back in 2018. He became a TA for me and we had a very nice kind of mentor-mentee relationship as he progressed through college. He called me this morning telling me that he got his first med school acceptance letter. He wanted to call and say thank you. That's not the first time but one of the most kind of impactful, rewarding moments I've had so far. It was great.