A few days ago, I had the opportunity to interview a science teacher from California, Gwen Rubio. She teaches the subjects of Infectious Diseases and Biology: The Living Earth to high school students. In this article, she talks about her scientific journey, her experiences in a study abroad program, and how she ended up as a science teacher.
When and how did you know you wanted to pursue science as a career?
From when I was young, I liked to explore. I had a natural curiosity in my childhood; like many famous scientists, I would ask tons of questions and try to find the science behind everyday things. I think I always knew I was going to work in the field of science when I grew up because I saw (and still see) science everywhere around me, and I simply loved the subject!
How did you get involved in science when you were younger?
Both my parents were teachers, so I always had people in the education community I could talk to to get my questions answered. I found teachers who were willing to mentor me, and I shadowed them. They helped me find student-centered experiments that led me beyond the classroom and advanced experimentation for high school students where our research could get published.
During my junior year of college, I joined a study abroad program that took me to Europe. It was one of my best experiences as a young scientist because it combined two things I love the most: science and travel.
Who are your role models?
As I mentioned, my teachers and my parents were the people I went to anytime I had questions, so they became my role models. While my parents guided me through the education part of my job, my teachers did so with the science part. They gave me so many opportunities that taught me about both science and work ethics, and I can’t thank them enough for that. I’m so grateful that I had these incredible people there to guide me through everything.
If you weren't a science teacher, what would you be?
I always liked the idea of being a photographer for national geographic. I love taking pictures, and photographers get to be out in nature and travel a lot. In addition, it still fits with science and that role, so I think it would be phenomenal.
What obstacles did you face in your science career, and how did you get past them? Was there ever a time in your life when you wanted to be something completely different than a science teacher?
I actually never wanted to be a science teacher; I never thought I would enter the field of education. Both my parents were teachers, although they didn’t teach science, so I resisted that because I never wanted to do what my parents did. But I realized as I got older and finished my science degree, that I loved teaching. I tried to do different things when I finished my education, for example, I went towards nursing for a short amount of time. However, medicine just wasn’t for me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed substitute teaching. So I decided that teaching was what I would pursue.
What is your favorite thing about science? What inspires you to keep teaching science?
I love that science is constantly changing, and there’s always something new to explore. For every phenomenon that is intriguing, you’ll find another one that is simply incredible.
Also, science is entwined in everything we do, and I find that amazing. Look around you right now. Do you know why everything around you is happening the way it is? Why is it raining? Why does your laptop charge when you plug it in? How does the refrigerator work? These questions are all scientific, and they are questions we can (and should) explore as aspiring scientists. Science requires you to be observant and inquisitive, and that’s one of the many things I love about it.
Do your kids enjoy science? How do you get them interested in science?
Right now, my ten-year-old daughter wants to be an artist or a scientist. Meanwhile, my son wants to be an engineer. I can totally see him being one, as he has that mind for it. He enjoys solving puzzles, and the other day, he was so excited when he was telling me about an article he had read about a new discovery on Venus.
Anytime I’m filming demos for you guys, both my kids want to be right there, mostly because it’s all hands-on. If not for the pandemic, we would all do the hands-on fermentation lab in the classroom, but unfortunately, the pandemic means that experience is taken away from us.
My husband is also in the science field—he’s a software engineer—so my kids think that they’ll end up in the science field as well. But I tell them that the world is full of choices for them, and every option is open to them; I don’t want to push them into doing something they aren’t interested in.
You mentioned that you studied abroad in Europe. What did your experience entail?
I got to study abroad in Europe for 6 months in the spring of my junior year at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. One of the advantages of attending a private college was that I guaranteed my graduation in four years. I also planned really well; I had taken so many of my major classes by the time I visited Europe. This ensured that I could take European history while I was in Europe. I also took music theory in Austria, as many famous musicians were from there, such as Mozart and Beethoven. I used to swim competitively for my university, so I got hooked with local swim teams in Austria. In addition, I worked as a research assistant for a student at the University of Vienna medical school, and I got my name on a published research paper, as I had done some of the lab work associated with that research.
As I mentioned, take as many opportunities as you can get. I took the study abroad opportunity, and it taught me so much. Aside from the academic benefits, it was also a really fun experience; I enjoyed traveling to so many different countries!
With coronavirus plaguing our world today, and our entire population being stuck at home, many students don't have the motivation to explore science. What words do you have to motivate them?
Aside from being a biology teacher, I also teach infectious diseases. So I tell my students that now is the perfect time to study science by observing what’s going on in our world. I ask them to think about what they can do to help as students and to figure out how we can make the world better even in small steps, even from our homes. For example, we can make masks for essential workers and those who can’t afford them.
Being a scientist is all about the ‘how’ behind things. So, if you’re not sure what to do from home during COVID-19, ask one simple question: How? How can we create a vaccine for coronavirus? How do masks work, and are there other efficient ways to stop the spread of this deadly virus? How are scientists around the world working to create a cure for it?
Keep asking questions, and remember, you’re never too young to be a scientist.
Thank you so much for taking the time to be in an interview with The Science Behind, Mrs. Rubio! We are very grateful for the opportunity to be able to learn from someone as experienced as you in the field of science.