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Community & Business

24 November, 2021

Nurturing young minds

AFTER 10 gruelling years of university, four of which were completing his doctorate Mark Turner decided to trade his laboratory for a classroom choosing to teach and nurture the next generation of scientists.

By Rhys Thomas

Dr Mark Turner has used his knowledge to help guide the next generation of young minds.

Dr Turner’s decision to teach young students about the wonders and possibilities of science has now earned him a special teaching award. 

He was not only the first doctor in his family, but also the first member of his family to go to university.. 

Initially completing a Bachelor of Biotechnology at the University of Queensland achieving first class honors, Dr Turner decided to study a diploma of education. 

After a short stint in teaching, Dr Turner decided to complete his PhD back at UQ, studying plant pathology and molecular biology, making him a genetic engineer. 

“I do genetic modification of plants to help increase their immune system response,” he said. 

“When you complete a doctorate you must have made a contribution, so you’ve made a discovery, no matter how small, that’s brand new.”

Instead of confining himself to a laboratory, Dr Turner decided instead to stand in front of the white board teaching science.

“I’ve always had an interest in mentoring people and helping them learn – throughout university I was a biotechnology mentor so when I was in the higher years I would help out the first years,” he said. 

“When I was completing my PhD, I was part of an educational outreach program called the Wonders of Science. They would send a PhD student or a researcher into the school where they would do a presentation and help the teachers come up with new ideas on how to teach a certain aspect of science. 

“So throughout my PhD I was doing teaching related activities as well, tutoring students, teaching advanced plant genetics and biochemistry teaching them the skills they would need to work in a laboratory when they graduate.” 

Dr Mark Turner during his time studying at university. PHOTO BY CSIRO.

Now in his third year of teaching Dr Turner has moved onto his second school, Mareeba State High School (MSHS) where he has been teaching junior science from year 7 to year 10 for two years, covering a broad range of subjects. 

Dr Turner’s passion for teaching has really resonated with his students and colleagues, so much so that he was named the Far North Queensland winner of the 2021 QSuper Biggest Teacher Thank You. 

“I’m feeling thrilled and honoured – it’s a huge thing to happen. When I got told I went ‘Oh you’re kidding me’ I didn’t actually believe that I had won,” he said. 

“It came as quite the surprise because when you’re in the classroom and your teaching, you’re not always sure that you’re actually making an impact, so to receive something like this it let me know that what I’m doing is making a positive change and difference for the student. 

“This has basically reinforced to me that I’ve made the correct choice. It’s unusual for someone to have a really high degree like a PhD to come into teaching – for me I’ve always placed an importance on education, it can not only change your own life but it can change the lives of other people around you.” 

Head of Department of Science at MSHS Jason Richardson said having Dr Turner as part of his staff had brought a wealth of experience to the team, assisting both students and teachers. 

“Dr Turner is able to bring that recent experience of what university life is like and what current research is like – he’s been able to bring that experience in to help guide us,” he said. 

“He’s been able to give us better insights into the things we should be doing with the students. 

“He’s really been bringing that analytical skill that he’s brought from his PHD into classrooms – that analysis of data that we can use to ensure we’re teaching the kids the best way we can.”

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