Lydia Jagetic is a medical physics PhD student at LSU who combined her passions for research, teaching and travel this summer in Ensenada, Mexico.
Lydia works in the lab of Wayne Newhauser in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at LSU. After receiving her Master’s degree in medical physics from LSU in 2013, Lydia spent an academic year in Croatia as a Fulbright Fellow researching radiotherapy in developing countries. Her ultimate goal is to decrease healthcare disparities in developing countries, and she is passionate about science communication and education.
This summer Lydia volunteered to teach a week-long intensive course for high school and college students in Mexico on the uses of radiation in medicine. The course was organized by Clubes de Ciencia, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and mentor the future generation of scientists and innovators in Mexico. Below, we talk to Lydia about this science outreach experience.
LSU College of Science: You recently volunteered for Clubes de Ciencia, teaching a week-long intensive course on the uses of radiation in medicine in July 2016. How did this opportunity come about, and what made you want to take it?
Lydia Jagetic: I came across an ad in a graduate student newsletter, where Clubes de Ciencia was looking for instructors. I almost skimmed right past the ad because it was at the very end of the newsletter, but ‘Outreach in Mexico’ caught my eye. My two passions are travel and teaching, and this sounded like the perfect opportunity to do both, at the same time!
I'm interested in steering my career towards work in developing and third-world countries, so this was a great way to get my feet wet, so to speak, and get some future career experience. I knew I couldn't pass it up.
LSU College of Science: What is the importance of teaching young students about radiation science?
Lydia Jagetic: My main motivation for teaching this topic was to spread a greater awareness of the fact that radiation isn't always something to be afraid of. Radiation is all around us. When used correctly, radiation can do some pretty incredible things to help a lot of people. In order to impart this appreciation for radiation to my students, I focused on the medical uses of radiation such as imaging procedures including x-rays, CT scans and MRI, and radiotherapy practices to treat cancer and other diseases.
LSU College of Science: What was the experience like? What kind of feedback did you get from the students?
Lydia Jagetic: The experience was a total and complete whirlwind of great things. I spent long days teaching and helping incredibly driven and motivated students with hands-on activities, followed by trying to experience the area and culture for a few hours before grading homework, preparing for the next day and trying to get a few hours of sleep!
Ensenada is a harbor city surrounded by mountains on three sides. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The hosting universities were built into the hillside all the way down to the water.
The feedback from my students was one of my favorite things about the week. They seemed genuinely thankful that I took the time to come and teach them a practical extension of things they had little exposure to in school. I think the more important thing for them, though, was being able to have in-person interactions with a graduate student. By the end of the week they were comfortable enough with me to ask personal questions about grad school, research and pursuing a career in science.
The most touching feedback I got was on the last day after the final symposium. The parents of one of my students came up and hugged me and thanked me, which was as far as we could get in Spanish. But then the student’s sister came up and told me that every day her sister would come home so excited about all the things we had learned that day, and that she appreciated how happy I had made her sister.
LSU College of Science: What was the most interesting question you got from a student?
Lydia Jagetic: That is a great question! What blew me away every single day were the great questions my students asked. I think the most successful day we had was the day we talked about medical imaging procedures. The students asked all kinds of really great questions, drawing connections between the different imaging modalities and how to know which is best for which patient and how it affects patient safety. That was the day I felt like it all came together for them.
LSU College of Science: Did your perspective on your science or science communication change after this experience? What did you come away with?
Lydia Jagetic: I learned a ton, maybe even more than my students! Almost every day I took notes on what I would do differently if I were able to do this again.
Radiation in medicine is such an interdisciplinary topic that it was easy to draw connections to every student's background and explain things in terms they were familiar with. However, I learned a lot about baseline knowledge that I didn't even realize I was assuming. I also learned how to balance a whole day of lessons.
Something I wish I had left more time for was discussion of general academic experience, like how to read a scientific article, how to get the most out of your education, how to pick a graduate school and how to pick a research advisor. All these things are so important and we simply didn't have time to get to all of them. But the students made my job a whole lot easier by being inquisitive and motivated.
LSU College of Science: What was your favorite thing about this experience? What was the most challenging thing about it?
Lydia Jagetic: My favorite thing about this experience was interacting with such inspiring students. These kids are going to change the world someday and I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to spend a whole week working with them. On a more personal note, my favorite thing was experiencing a new education culture, and just a new culture in general. The students gave me some great insights!
The most challenging thing was definitely walking into a very mixed group in terms of backgrounds and baseline knowledge levels. For example, I had 16-year-old high school students with limited math background and no specialization in the same class as second year medical school students. It was a challenge starting out, but I kept my days adaptable. I think (and hope) that by the end, everybody gained something new and interesting from the experience, regardless of where they started!
Interested in getting into teaching as a science student? Check out the LSU Science Geaux Teach program.