Male sat at a desk working on his laptop next to a tray of science equipment

Marine Biology alumnus Tom McPherson on his role as Head of Science and how he’s playing his part in teaching the younger generation

  • 12 March 2021
  • 3 min read

British Science Week is a national event that provides a platform for educators, professionals, communicators and the public to recognise and celebrate the work being undertaken in STEM related fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). This year’s theme is ‘Innovating for the Future’ and, with so many Portsmouth graduates working in STEM, we want to showcase the important work they’re doing and how they are innovating for the future in their roles.

We asked BSc (Hons) Marine Biology alumnus Tom McPherson to tell us about his role as Head of Science at The Elmgreen School and his advice for those looking to get into a STEM role:  
I work as Head of Science in a mainstream school in London. My role is dynamic and involves being able to respond to the needs of 1,200 children, twice that number of parents and those of the science team (10 teachers and 2 technicians) who work with me. I teach lessons, design or refine curricula, run extracurricular sessions (which have ranged from lab-based to beekeeping and gardening) and have time allocated for management of the Science team. The job is heavily dependent on being able to maintain positive working relationships with a large number of people.

One of the greatest things for me about being a teacher, and how I play my part in innovating for the future, is being in a management role and being able to embed a growth mindset in pupils and in my team by making them all a part of their own developmental journeys. This allows them to have ownership of their own learning within a framework they trust. In addition to this, we do get to blow things up on occasion and who doesn’t love fireworks!

Tom McPherson, BSc (Hons) Marine Biology (2007), Head of Science, The Elmgreen School

I went into teaching a little later in my career, having worked as a lab tech and then as a builder and a pub landlord for a time, as I missed being able to engage with science in a real way. I did not want to go back into academia at a university level as I’d learned from my other roles that I am an extrovert and like working with people, face to face (or virtually as the last year has necessitated!)
The Marine Biology course at Portsmouth gave me the solid grounding in science that I needed to be a confident biology teacher. The course was a social one with a very familial feel, with many of our lectures being held at the Eastney Marine Labs campus. The bulk of our lectures also had a small group/classroom feel to them and allowed lecturers to interact with students on a much more personal level than in a large lecture theatre.
In my time working in education I have been involved in action research with the Institute Of Education, The Institute Of Physics, the RSC and UCL; working to develop ideas in areas like cognitive development, theory of learning and metacognition alongside other classroom practitioners and researchers.

My advice if you are looking to get into a STEM focused career is:

Find out what it is that drives you first. I discovered that I have an innate instinct to coach and get joy from seeing people develop and become better and more confident communicators, this has given me the drive to push my career forward and do what I can to develop the field in which I work. If you like people (even the ones who don’t necessarily like you… yet) then science teaching is for you!

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