Botany and genetics, the subjects that I tutor, are an unusual combination but they actually complement each other very well. After all, genetics began with Mendel's experiments on pea plants in the monastery garden. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a scientist and I had always loved plants. I grew seeds and pressed flowers when I was quite small, but I grew up in London only rarely visiting the country and the idea of becoming a biologist didn't cross my mind. My school only offered botany and zoology as separate subjects and recommended that I took zoology. This was the moment when I recognised my passion for plants. I decided that if I couldn't take botany without zoology then I would have to take them both. Within a few weeks, I knew that I had made the right decision and went on to take a degree in botany. At that time, in the early '60s, genetics was also becoming very exciting as the genetic code was being cracked. I, therefore, opted for the Botany Department at University College London where the main research interest was in genetics. I stayed there for six very happy years.  

Marriage followed and a job as an assistant lecturer as one of the London colleagues. This was the second major turning point in my career. I didn't expect to be good at teaching and was frankly terrified of my first lectures. The students liked my lectures and I found that teaching was immensely rewarding. Five years later our first baby arrived and I took a career break which actually proved to be a period of great personal development. I think that anyone who can get two small children around a supermarket without causing mayhem has highly developed negotiating skills and could handle the most difficult colleague in an employment situation. By the early '90s the university environment had changed. Student numbers soared and we went through modularisation, semesterisation and then into the Teaching Quality Assessment. I decided to leave before the pressure actually made me ill, but with many regrets. Apart from missing the students and my colleagues, I felt that I was failing the cause of women in academia.  

Since starting in 1998 I have tutored about 20 botanical courses ranging from 5 to 20 classes in length at many different WEA branches, and the order book is still full. Showing the wonders of nature to enthusiastic adult students is a great delight and some of the students will proceed to help environmental conservation in their own areas.  

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About the author

Kay Field

Digital Marketing Officer

Kay is the Digital Marketing Officer at the WEA.