Terry Mulhern

THE 2019 SHIMADZU EDUCATION AWARD: TERRY MULHERN

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Melbourne

It’s a Tuesday night in 1988, and I’m pulling up outside a modest brick house in suburban Brisbane. I’m in the second year of my BSc at UQ and one of my part-time jobs is tutoring high school kids. $10 an hour for maths, physics, chemistry or biology. Tonight, it’s Phillip. I know Phillip’s sister Jane from uni. “Terry, I hear you do tutoring. Do you think you can help my little brother? He struggles at school, particularly with maths. He was in a car accident a few years ago and suffered a head injury…”
Teaching has always been part of my life. However, my first ‘real’ teaching job was in 1995 while I was a postdoc in Oxford. I ran weekly tutorials for the handful of students studying Biochemistry at St Catherine’s College. It was a great ‘gig’. A few hundred quid and lunch once a week in the Senior Common Room. My students and I always celebrated end of term with a ‘tute’ in the King’s Arms on Hollywell St.
In 1997, I returned to Australia to postdoc in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Adelaide; and then in 1999, I started my own lab as the Russell Grimwade Fellow in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne. I taught protein NMR in the Honours coursework, but also got the opportunity to give a few lectures in undergraduate classes. In 2004, I was appointed as Senior Lecturer. For the best part of the next decade, I juggled the competing demands of teaching and research, until I finally realised which one was a passion and which one had become a chore. In 2012, I transitioned into a Teaching Specialist role. These last seven years have been the most fulfilling and satisfying of my academic career.
Jane brings me a cup of tea and then watches from the kitchen doorway. Phillip and I are at the dining room table and I’m explaining about parallel lines angles and angles of intersection. “You are looking for a shape like a letter F.” Phillip stares at the diagram, concentrating hard. Then his frown melts and he laughs excitedly as he says, “There it is, I can see it now!” I catch Jane’s eye and we both smile. That was more than thirty years ago, but I still treasure that moment. I get that feeling in every class I teach. Not because I’m teaching, but because I’m helping students learn.