PNAS: Fran Poodry, Educational Technology Specialist

I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track.

Third in this round is a physics teacher turned developer of physics education technology at Vernier.

1) What is your non-academic job? Title: Physics Education Technology Specialist

Dept: Tech Support and R&D

Responsibilities:
Support teachers using Vernier sensors, interfaces, and software on phone, email, webinars, and twitter; develop/author experiments; develop new sensors; represent Vernier at conferences; teach workshops in-house, in schools, and at conferences; develop training and support materials; star in product videos.

2) What is your science background? BA, Physics, Swarthmore College;
MSEd, Science Education, Temple University

3) What led you to this job? A long process, explained in a blog post.

4) What's your work environment like? (Lab bench, field work, office, etc)Office cubicle mostly, sometimes lab bench, sometimes classroom, sometimes convention center exhibit hall. I spend a LOT of time staring at a computer screen and recently transitioned to a standing desk.

5) What do you do in a typical day? Wear a phone headset all day long and stand in front of the computer.

Plus, a mix of:
answering phone calls, emails, tweets for assigned time periods
exercise class/go for a run
discussions with colleagues
setting up experiments and collecting data
writing
reviewing material to be published
meetings on various topics from product revision to health and wellness committee

6) How does your science background help you in your job? Well, the job description required at least a bachelors degree in physics, so I needed it to land the job. Plus, since I am talking to teachers every day, I need to determine if the source of their difficulty is the equipment or something else. Sometimes it is a misunderstanding of physics principles. I know what experiments physics teachers are likely to want to do with students at various levels, which helps me develop experiments and products. I also review text for physics content, to make sure we are not publishing things that are incorrect from a physicist point of view. This can be very challenging when developing elementary school materials for complex topics such as electrical power.

7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how
should they go about it?
Well, my job also required a teaching background, so they should get a science degree and teach for a few years at some level (probably middle school or higher). While teaching, they should actively involve themselves with learning about different pedagogies, curricula, and technology. Technology is always changing, so they should make sure to stay aware of the latest technology trends and practice analyzing their utility and effectiveness.

8) What's the most important thing you learned from science? How to analyze data and extract useful information from it.

9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan
their careers?
Follow your passion! I almost dropped out of the physics major twice, but I was too stubborn and too in love with physics to stop. I dropped out of ballet as a teen in favor of an off-campus math program for gifted students, then dropped out of that math program when I ran into trigonometry, but there was no way I was going to give up physics!

10) (Totally Optional Question) What's the pay like? Better than academia, commensurate with public school HS teaching in a state with higher-than-average teaching salaries, and at this company (one of the top 100 companies in Oregon) the benefits are really sweet. I doubt most places have such good benefits.

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When I heard Fran got this job I was, of course, very happy for her. But I was also happy for Vernier's customers. Having someone who had "been in the trenches" teaching physics who can now give tech advice is a fantastic thing. I know from experience that some ed-tech companies just don't get it, and while I've never had that problem with Vernier, it's great to know that Fran is there to help.

My question: should ed-tech companies make some teaching experience a goal for their employees?

By Andy Rundquist (not verified) on 21 Nov 2014 #permalink

A great job for a physics major who is not interested in research. As a HS teacher for more than 30 years and now a college teacher I have used Vernier equipment since the company began. I use the tech support regularly. Being able to assist teachers in using the equipment in creative ways is important. Great job that helps teachers prepare students to understand science with good data and analysis of that data.

By John-Michael Caldaro (not verified) on 22 Nov 2014 #permalink