Meet our UCL Engineering Student Tutors: Arundathi Shaji Shanthini, Robotics and Computation MSc
10 February 2021
UCL Engineering hears from some of our wonderful student tutors, who provide one-to-one STEM tutoring sessions for east London schoolchildren. In our last series article, Computer Science student Arundathi details how she has shared her passion for STEM through tutoring.
What does being a UCL Engineering student tutor involve?
I currently run online 1-to-1 tutoring sessions for young pupils from Years 9 to 12. The sessions are usually 1-1.5 hours long, and we usually have up to one session per subject per tutee a week (depending on which subjects the tutee needs help with). For online sessions, I tend to prepare some material in advance and to keep the sessions interactive I'll write digitally and work out problems on screen. Pre-COVID-19, I used to visit schools for these sessions, which were not just 1-to-1, but sometimes also involved hands-on workshops with science kits.
How has being a student tutor helped you?
Being a student tutor has helped me in many ways. As an international student [based in UCL's Department of Computer Science], who studied outside the UK before coming to UCL, it was a great way in my first year to meet new people (other volunteers, tutors and people from the faculty as well). Tutoring also gave me the opportunity to see how schools worked in this country and understand different pedagogical methods. For me, it was also a great way to revisit some of the basics, especially in maths and physics as they are still quite relevant to my subject. Through the programme, I have also made a lot of friends from other engineering departments. I probably wouldn’t have met some of these amazing people from across the faculty if it wasn’t for the tutoring programme.
What's the best thing about being a student tutor?
The relationship you develop with your tutee over time. Especially during the pandemic, knowing that every week there was someone eager to meet you and vice versa was very motivating. It was something I looked forward to every week. COVID-19 had abruptly impacted my university life. In a span of a weekend, I found myself away from friends, and back home in another country trying to work things out remotely from another time zone. Interaction with my friends that I usually had by virtue of just being on campus had ceased and at that time, to know that someone is keen to meet you and to have the opportunity to exclusively interact with them was a major highlight of my day, especially during lockdown.
How has COVID-19 impacted upon your tutoring?
Before COVID-19, I used to mostly visit schools for tutoring. Some of these involved 1-to-1 tutoring sessions, whereas some others were hands-on workshops with science kits. Of course, the disruption that COVID-19 brought meant that some of these sessions had to be discontinued. However, the 1-to-1 sessions continued online and were run over Skype or Zoom. Adapting to this sudden change did take some time. The biggest impact that online teaching had on me is that I found it hard to gauge initially if the tutee is following me or not, but within a few sessions I think both me and my tutees figured our ways out through these challenges. Now I know that with a bit of extra preparation online teaching can be as good as teaching in person.
“I often tell [my tutees] that STEM subjects just demand some time and practice to be able to master the concepts, but if you invest this time, you will be able to see that STEM is actually a really interesting, rewarding and fun field to study and work in."
What advice would you give to students considering taking part in tutoring/mentoring programmes?
Don’t think twice, just go for it! Whenever I have talked to students who were unsure about participating in the programme it was usually because they didn’t know if they had what it takes to become a tutor. In fact, that’s how I felt initially, but as long as you are open to learning and adapting over time, you will eventually do great. We are there to guide and support [tutees], and be their mentor. You just have to be open to adapt your sessions to the tutee’s need. The programme suits you as a student as well since there is flexibility when it comes to commitment. You can commit as little as an hour a week, so it fits your university schedule as well (even though chances are you will feel like you don’t do enough of it!).
Why are such tutoring programmes needed?
For some reason, young pupils seem to be intimidated by STEM subjects more easily. I have had tutees tell me that they think of STEM subjects as being solely for geniuses. Through such tutoring programmes we are usually able to break these impressions. Not only do tutees get the extra support and guidance that they need, they also get the opportunity to interact with someone just a couple of years older than they are, studying STEM at university level and considering STEM careers, and this often tends to correct their perception of STEM subjects. I think such interactions are important as this can help young pupils feel more confident in considering STEM areas as prospective career paths. I have had some tutees tell me that the reason they wouldn’t choose a STEM-related field is because they find it hard to understand. To that, I often tell them that STEM subjects just demand some time and practice to be able to master the concepts, but if you invest this time, you will be able to see that STEM is actually a really interesting, rewarding and fun field to study and work in.
Tell us something funny, unexpected or really special that has happened during your tutoring sessions?
Over the years that I have been a tutor, there have been several special moments. Last year, in one of the last sessions before summer break, I had noticed that my tutee’s mother had waited for over 30 minutes just to thank me at the end of the session. I wasn’t expecting it at all that day, and it wasn’t just another ordinary thank you, she shared with me how the sessions helped her son along with examples and that was a very unexpected but extremely rewarding moment.
Also, the "At UCL tutoring programme" that was offered to the children of keyworkers at UCL was really special to me. It came with the extra reward of being able to give back to the community at UCL that supports and facilitates our on-campus experience. I personally knew the mother of my tutee who was someone I used to meet every day in the morning before my lectures. So being able to help her daughter through this programme was something that was very close to my heart. It is rewarding to see that your efforts have positively influenced a tutee and I think that is the reason which makes me want to keep being part of the programme.
UCL Engineering student tutors are featured on page 6 of the UCL East Engagement Report 2019/20.
With thanks to Dr Elpida Makrygianni and Garance Mourgaud.
- Credit: Arundathi Shaji Shanthini.
Watch: What is Computer Science?