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Student from India to Principal Fellow…my journey

23 Jun 2022 | Dr Amudha Poobalan Having recently become a Principal Fellow, Dr Amudha Poobalan, senior lecturer in Public Health at the University of Aberdeen, reflects on her journey of “transitions” to becoming an educator.

I was born and brought up in south India and was trained as a medical doctor destined to work in a clinical did I land up becoming an educator and now privileged to be a Principal Fellow?

My journey to becoming an educator started when I was training to be a health care professional. I developed my identity as a doctor, not only by learning the ‘science of medicine’ but also listening to and observing my teachers. Apart from the clinical knowledge which my teachers imparted in the classroom settings, many of my teachers constantly improved the teaching methods to help us learn better to provide best medical care to our patients. The way some of my teachers dealt with patients with empathy during the clinical sessions, had a huge impact on me. So, I realised earlier on, that in the critical period of transition from a student to a health professional, my ‘teachers’ played a key part. After qualifying as a doctor, working as a clinician in India, I was given the opportunity to teach nursing students and discovered my passion for teaching.

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Then I made a physical transition to the UK to join my husband and became a student myself to undertake a Masters degree, which plunged me into a different educational system in the UK. Having done all my UG education in India, it was a difficult transition period, and again it was my teachers who brought out my full potential to learn. This intensified my desire to teach and spread that rich learning and experience.  As a PhD student, I started teaching some sessions for UG students and when a Teaching Fellow post was advertised, I almost had a crisis in deciding about taking my first baby step into becoming a ‘teacher’. I thought I might regret this. Have I regretted it? Definitely not…

In my career, I have made some transitions with unique features. I use my experiences now to teach my students by building their resilience, inspiring them and helping them to think differently. Educational transition is tough on many students. When I first came to the UK, I took a good few months to settle in and made friends before I started studying in a different education system. Many of my students don’t have the luxury of settling in, they hit the ground running. When I started, my assumption was that I studied in one of the best medical schools, I worked for four years and have all that clinical Public Health experience behind me, so I thought I am going to waltz in and out of that Masters degree, but I didn’t. My dilemma was immense. I always did so well. Why not here?? What am I doing wrong?? I went to see my professor to tell him that I am not coping, and I am going to give up. He sat me down and said, “you are doing badly not because you are not capable but because you are studying in a different education system”. He suggested that I read wider and develop my critical thinking. In India, the rote learning was all I knew. My previous learning is that you attend lectures, you listen carefully to your lecturers, you summarise the notes, consolidate your learning and reproduce and you will get a real good mark. Here it didn’t work, and I didn’t know why. ‘Think critically’ didn’t mean anything to me at that point. Read wider meant reading books from cover to cover. It is again my teachers who unpicked those elements for me to learn and it clicked!

Here I am, after 20 years, an educator and proud of being one. My students come from different countries, education systems and diverse disciplines of knowledge. When a student comes into my course struggling and walks away with a distinction on their day of graduation, the dilemma I had 20 years ago seems unwarranted. Diversity of my students brings out the energy in me to teach, to innovate, inspire and equip my students to attain their maximum potential. My application to become a Principal Fellow was my reflection and consolidation of this journey and bits of work I have done to map the need of my students and change policies to progress the learning. Reflection and reflective writing didn’t come easy though!! However, once I stepped back to reflect it is quite an enjoyable and energising experience. Helpful chats with my mentor and like-minded educators made me realise my privilege of being an educator and I am truly delighted to be part of this community. 


Dr Amudha Poobalan is the programme lead for Master of Public Health (MPH). Having studied both in India and the UK, she has first-hand experience of the physical, cultural and educational transitions students make. This experience made her passionate about student support to enhance engagement and learning among ethnically and culturally diverse student communities.  

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