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Gabrielle Burke

Chemistry Instructor
College of the North Atlantic, Qatar
Gabrielle Burke dans son labo
Gabrielle Burke dans son labo
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Location Now
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Gabrielle Burke is a Chemistry Instructor at the College of the North Atlantic, Qatar.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Port au Port East, Newfoundland and Labrador

I now live in: Doha, Qatar

I completed my training/education at: Bachelor of Science (major in chemistry, minor in math) and Bachelor of Education (Intermediate/Secondary), both from Memorial University of Newfoundland                               

What I do at work

I teach chemistry to adult students studying engineering or health sciences, most of whom speak Arabic as a first language. Just like a high school science teacher, I work in both a classroom and lab. In the lab, I prepare chemicals, supervise experiments, and ensure the safety of everyone. I also help design new experiments and activities to teach certain concepts. To do this, I usually have to do some research, trial runs, and problem solving if things do not work out as expected.

I have to understand a lot of math, biology, physics, and engineering to help my students link chemistry concepts to other courses they're learning and to their future career. My knowledge of physics and math is also helpful because students often come to me for help with other courses, like physics and engineering.

Being comfortable with new technology is a huge plus in this career. There is always new educational software to discover and new ways to explore concepts with students. As the youngest chemistry instructor on staff, I'm often the go-to person when other instructors have questions about work-related software. I work with other chemistry instructors to create exams and new courses. In order to create courses, you have to decide the order of topics so the course flows well. You also have to make sure that the knowledge parts build easily on top of each other, like rungs on a ladder.

One of the biggest challenges I face is that most of my students speak English as a second or third language (usually with Arabic as their first). As a result, I have to make sure that the language I use is clear and not confusing to them. There may be barriers to their understanding a topic. For example, I understand there is one word in Arabic that means both heat, temperature, and enthalpy (in science, these are all very different concepts). In the classroom, I am always “thinking on my feet” so that I am ready to handle any questions students could throw at me. I also have to be able to quickly problem-solve to determine where students went wrong and how to help them adjust.

My career path is

In high school, I wanted to be a teacher but everyone said I should be a doctor. During the last year of my chemistry degree, I applied for both education and med school (I bombed the med school interview, oops). I remember feeling a bit relieved when I saw I was rejected from med school because it meant I could be a teacher; like it was ~meant to be~.

During my education degree, I felt myself getting confused and wondering if this was what I really wanted to do. I took a position in a high school... and burnt out within 7 weeks, with my mental health a mess. I then worked as a supply/substitute teacher for 2 years (usually 4 days a week). It turned out to be one of the best things I could have done for myself! I tend to be a bit controlling and micromanaging in my work. Filling in for different teachers helped teach me how to be more flexible, to go with the flow and trust in myself.

During this time, my father had started teaching chemistry at CNA in Qatar. At the end of his first year, they needed a maternity leave replacement so he encouraged me to apply. I didn't think I would take it (after all, it was in the ~Middle East~) but, long story short, I took the position and I've loved it ever since.

I am motivated by

I love my career for two reasons: the students and my personal growth. You can really form connections with students and nothing makes my heart swell more than seeing a former student light up, wave, and call out to me from down the hallway. It's touching to have former students come back to ask me for help with another subject because they trust that I can help. Every semester is different because the students are different. This forces me to approach my teaching of chemistry from different angles to address the needs of my students.

I love the freedom that I have to grow, as an instructor. I'm someone who gets intensely focused and obsessed with things for short periods of time and my job allows me to do that. For example, I decided one semester to learn Adobe Premiere to make videos of lab skills. Also, I'm encouraged to come up with labs for new courses. This has all allowed me to learn skills that interest me, at my own pace, while still benefiting the college and my students directly.

How I affect people’s lives

Qatar is one of the leading producers of natural gas in the world and their economy is built on this. Their plan is eventually to have their own people teaching in the school (e.g. have Qatari teachers instead of Canadian). As a result, they are very focused on training and educating their people. Many of my students have worked in gas refineries and are now coming back to get diplomas so they can get promotions. I’m happy to be able to help them reach their goals.

Outside of work I

Most days, it's video games, TV shows, movies, and the monthly trivia night. Doha is a great place for world-class sports so I try to see as many events as I can (I'm now a huge Al Sadd fan). I also enjoy listening to the local philharmonic and watching plays.

My advice to others

1) Study from a range of subject areas; you never know when that knowledge can be helpful. 2) Not all teaching is as stressful as public schools but all teaching has its stress. 3) Seriously, stay on top of organic chemistry; it creeps up on you real quick.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Foreign Languages
  • History
  • Math
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Was motivated by success
  • Wanted to be in charge
  • Liked being given specific instructions
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Played video games
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Played in school concert band

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