Education Blog

Katrin Soika: “I took a deep dive into a world that was new and interesting and all mine”

Doctoral candidate Katrin Soika at Tallinn University’s School of Educational Sciences defended her doctoral thesis titled “Expanding Opportunities on the Use of Concept Mapping as an Assessment Tool in Science Education” in February this year.

Katrin Soika

How did you come up with this topic during your studies?
I chose on this research topic because I have been interested in learning and teaching for as long as I can remember. As I am interested in the natural sciences, it was essential for me to examine something that could further advance our understanding of those subjects. As a parent and a class teacher, I often feel that the grading process for students is often quite stress inducing. You’ll often find yourself asking why... My advisor led me to concept maps – I had previously never used this as a grading method. I was only aware that this method existed.

Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge undertaking and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What’s your trick? How were you able to consistently work on it to achieve a successful final result?
My family was both the biggest giver and taker of my motivation. My husband kept asking me questions – “Well, are you going to finally defend your thesis or is this entire thing going south?” At the same time, it is rather difficult to find free time while teaching full time and raising three children. I felt somewhat liberated while working on my thesis as I was diving into a world that was new and interesting and all mine, specifically during the research process. Waiting for articles to be published was quite tiresome and ruinous at times. I needed an extra source of motivation to get rid of that feeling, either from my family or from teaching. Sometimes it’s good to forget your work and just spend time with your loved ones or pet your cat in order to find motivation and accumulate new ideas.

Please describe a memorable or funny event that happened while you were writing your thesis.
I can’t name any funny events at the moment. Memorable events were related to my youngest child’s early years, when I was analysing the information needed for an article whilst playing with my child. During that time, the concept maps were associated with ponies, unicorns and dolls. When I had to explain a certain viewpoint in the article, it was difficult to take myself out of the mental space where interdisciplinary and disciplinary concepts were replaced with toys and tea parties in my head.

How is your research going to change the world?
It is quite certain that one doctoral thesis cannot change the entire world in an instant. My doctoral thesis has given me the push to change my thinking. Because of that, my grading style has changed, as has my perception of the learning process at school. I also try to transfer these ideas to my university students. Perhaps they can change the way chemistry is taught as a result of my ideas. The changes made with the help of the findings of my doctoral thesis could generate real change over time, and it might impact the world to an extent but it will take time.

How much are the voices of scientists and young researchers heard in our society?
First, we have to rethink who is a scientist. Can a scientist be any person who is researching a new process/knowledge/instrument/etc.? If that is true, then I am certain that not everyone’s voice in our society will be heard. At the same time, in the environment around that researcher (for example their friend group), new thoughts and ideas generally will be heard.

What are the most important values and beliefs that you live by?
Respect other people and take care of yourself and the people and things that surround you.

Please tell us about a book you recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?
My latest read was a book entitled “Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight”. That book is next to my bed at all times – large, dense and full of important information that I still do not understand all the nuances of. I enjoy contemplating how to teach my students certain abstract topics and their nuances. I also recommend this book to other people, because chemistry is all around us and it is beneficial to understand the processes happening in our environment or inside ourselves. I have also observed that physicists appreciate the explanations provided by this book.