Ten Questions/Ten Minutes: STEM Tutor Interview with Atul Rana

We are so proud of the wide variety of tutors we have working with us at Athena Tuition, so we are running a series of Ten Questions/Ten Minutes interviews with some of them to highlight their expertise. Our first tutor is Atul Rana, a highly experienced tutor of Maths and Science who is truly passionate about his subjects and we are delighted that he has shared some of his insights into tutoring and STEM. So, without further ado…

1. Atul, thank you for taking the time to talk to us at Athena! For those reading who aren’t familiar with you, please tell everyone a little about yourself. What did you do before tutoring?


My pleasure! I am a full time online maths and Science tutor. I did a degree and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College London. As part of my degree I worked for Rolls Royce Plc for around 2 years in Diesel Engines, Steam Turbines and Electrical machinery. Later I worked in the city of London in a software design team for a company that does Economic modelling forecasts of metal prices.

2. What drew you to tutoring, and how long have you tutored for?


Going into tutoring was never part of a career plan, and 11 years on I am so glad I entered the world of tutoring by accident. When I finished my PhD I was in debt and a friend suggested tutoring, so I joined an agency and they gave me my first tutoring assignment. It turned out I was a natural tutor from day 1. After good feedback, the agency just got me more and more jobs. In the meantime I got a full time job in the city and no longer needed tutoring for income. I didn’t stop tutoring though, and I felt more alive tutoring for 2hrs in the evening than I did working as a corporate cog. I was respected and recognised by high profile clients, and I just kept getting more and more word of mouth work. So in 2009 I took a paycut of about a third, and committed myself to tutoring full time. The gamble paid off as I earn more than I ever did in any of my previous jobs.

3. What, for you, is the most rewarding aspect of being a tutor?


That lightbulb moment when a student finally cracks something is what I live for. You can’t put a price on that feeling. It’s so satisfying to help young people. I can honestly say tutoring never feels like work to me and all my friends know I can never stop talking about it.

4. And now for the other side… what do you find to be the most difficult thing about being a tutor?


Tutoring admin is certainly not glamorous. You are running a complex business that entails responding to enquiries swiftly, arranging tutoring diaries, writing feedback to parents, generating invoices, chasing some late payees and getting feedback from clients when the job ends. And then there is the tax return too. It is all part and parcel of being an independent business and the benefits far outweigh the costs. I’m looking to automate a lot of my admin through technology and have a great accountant now who helps keep my books and tax in order.

5. In the subjects you tutor, how do you try to get (or keep) students engaged?


I have a very practical, hands on and real element to tutoring both Science and maths. I always absolutely loved making and breaking things as a child and that inspired me to do Engineering. So making things relevant to students is always very important. I do practical demonstrations and also show videos to students. But perhaps the biggest thing that keeps students engaged is I creatively angle the lesson to the child’s hobbies and make the subject relevant to their lives. Maths is everywhere after all. I once tutored a 12 year old cricket mad student how to work out his strike rate in batting, which is basically a percentage. He kept working out his strike rate long after our lesson!

6. With exam season rapidly approaching, what one key revision tip are you always sure to pass on to your students?


Exam season is a great time to focus. One thing I always ask students to do is make a tally of the past papers they are doing and to keep their scores. As they do each past paper, and fix issues, the marks rise slowly but surely. Seeing that progress clearly and visually on a table is very satisfying, it lets students know exactly where they are and further motivates them to keep improving.

7. What are some of the lifelong benefits of studying STEM subjects?


STEM by its very nature exercises a logical and problem solving part of the brain. And as you get more confident with your subject you also have an inner sense of satisfaction. A good STEM degree opens doors in all areas in life, even if you are not going to go into STEM eventually.

8. As I’m sure you know, Science Week 2017 has just wrapped up for the year. What did you enjoy most about Science Week this year?


There were great Science events taking all over the country, the Royal Society in London and the Science Museum as well. Not only that but there are some great TV documentaries on the BBC that can be watched online, we really are spoilt for choice! There are two superb documentaries at the moment, one on BBC 2 about our food, and another one on the Physics of sound on BBC 4.

9. Can you give an idea of what sort of further study and employment opportunities are available for students pursuing STEM, and what routes they could take?


There is a shortage of Engineers in the UK at the moment, in all areas of technology in fact. We are in the middle of the digital revolution currently and technological innovation is going faster than ever. Beyond a shadow of doubt the biggest opportunity lies in the world of computing. New and young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckenberg are changing the face of the world, and are such an inspiration to young people in general. But STEM can really take you into many routes, be that working as doctor, engineer, computer scientist to working in management or like me you could get into teaching. Besides just doing their jobs STEM professionals also have an altruistic nature, and are motivated by making things better in the world, be that things like doctors without borders or Engineers designing the newest green energy power plants.

10. And finally, there is a huge gender gap in STEM fields. What would you say to young girls who may not feel that these subjects are for them?


Only 9% of engineering and technology staff in the workplace are female so we have some way to go still. There are some incredible female role models for STEM and young girls can draw great inspiration from them. I would encourage girls to really look at the biographies of such women as Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale. All truly inspiring women who challenged the stereotypes of their time and have paved the way for future generations. Nightingale is known for the nursing movement of course but little known is the fact that she was a meticulous statistician who was able to present data to politicians in clear, visual form and get the necessary funds for the reforms. Her ways of presenting graphs are now used widely and she was a true pioneer and polymath. Ada Lovelace was designing computer programs in the Victorian era and only now is her vision coming into reality. What great inner strength these women had to bring us these things we take for granted today.
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