An icon and role model. As course coordinator for Medsci 142, Angela Tsai is the shepherd that guides us into the Medsci realm. Our final interview of the year takes a different tone to discuss something that likely affects us all – understanding your mental health. Angela talks about her personal experiences and is here to tell you that the path to success is convoluted but it’s going to be okay.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Taiwan and moved to New Zealand at 10 years old. I only have vague memories of Taiwan, but I have managed to go back a few times. I’m a local girl; East Auckland is where I grew up and it's home.
What are your interests outside of university life?
Since high school, I sang in a barber shop quartet. I did lots of co-curriculars, but singing was my passion. As a university student, I competed in many national and international competitions, but I’ve stopped now as I’m too busy. Now my passion is cooking… and eating! I love going to restaurants. After a long day of work, I love to put Netflix on in the background and cook dinner.
How did you decide what you wanted to pursue academically?
It was a difficult choice. I was good at everything but not the best. I viewed myself as a jack of all trades which made it difficult to choose what I wanted to be. I knew I could do anything I put my mind to, but I couldn’t possibly do it all. My high school biology teacher was so entertaining and passionate for all the sciences that they inspired my lifelong love of the sciences. That’s how I decided what to study at university.
What was your education pathway?
I began with a BSc in Biomedical Science then went on to do Honours in Cancer Research. It was a very intensive and stressful year. If I could go back, I would take the PGDipSci and Masters route. We make the best decisions with the information we have at the time, so I have no regrets really, but in hindsight I feel that would have been better for me.
After doing my Honours, I took half a year out to reassess. I began a PhD in Cancer Research, but didn’t finish it. I only went into it because I wanted to be a lecturer which is not the right motivations for undertaking a PhD. You can’t complete a PhD without being passionate about your research question. I’m a high achieving student but it took me three years to truly be honest with myself that my PhD wasn’t for me.
I signed up for teacher training college, but as I was getting ready for my classes, my current role became available. Since then, I’ve learned so much about teaching and education that I was inspired to begin my new PhD in Education. My second attempt. My journey has not been straight forward but you have to be doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, not just the qualification.
How did you come to the decision to quit your first PhD?
As an A+ student, it was difficult to quit something. It took me three years to realise that it wasn’t for me but it’s never a waste of time to figure out what you want to do. I picked up techniques and insights about myself and where I wanted to be in my life. Don’t do things just for the sake of everyone else doing it. As long as you’re sure and comfortable with your decision, don’t feel bad for giving up. No one can judge you. Your parents will support you. Your lecturers won’t judge you.
I don’t know if I had depression, but I was so unhappy that I didn’t want to get up in the mornings. It was difficult to find any motivation and that’s when I realised I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. That was a big part of my decision to quit and change my PhD to Education. Listen to yourself and how your actions are affecting your emotions. Use that to guide you.
What are you working on right now?
My current study involves past student usage of Piazza and mock tests. My key contribution to the literature will be ‘active participation is not the only way students benefit’. For example, in many courses you are awarded marks for participation in lab discussion, online forums, etc. Our data shows that even passive engagement benefits students (like the lurkers on Piazza!). Even though students may not be engaging, they are still learning so it may not be fair to award those marks when passive student are still benefiting from the discussion.
How do you stay so organised?
When I started 3rd form, my teacher taught me the importance of time management. The best thing I learned was to keep a diary, that way you can keep track of your day in the context of your year. Make sure you can see the bigger picture. It has been subliminal but so useful for me. Key goals and events are easily visible and you can work your life around it. It becomes easier to make steps towards your goals and maximise your time. You can visualise the things you are looking forward to and plan your life. Invest in a diary. Google calendar works as well. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the easier things first and leaving the harder things for last!
What is something you would tell your undergraduate self?
I have so much respect for the lecturers who have published so many papers because writing well is hard! As a working professional, there is not much time to read and perfect your writing skills. It’s a different skill set to exams and presentations. Undergraduates should not undervalue the training provided by writing reports in academic reading and writing. You will appreciate it in hindsight. Make the most of this opportunity to develop your skills.
A final sign-off.
The pathway to success is convoluted and no one is perfect. There’s always ways to improve and it’s a lifelong journey. I’m currently working on improving my interpersonal skills. I am efficiency driven and I know I sometimes come across as brash and ruthless but I’m working on explaining my reasoning for my decisions.
Thank you to Angela for taking the time to be interviewed. Angela is the course coordinator for Medsci 142 and 201 as well as having a plethora of other roles. Good luck to everyone as we head into finals!