Petra Tang says Physics was one of the only things that made sense to her when she was younger and it was a natural choice when she started her university studies.

Teacher Petra Tang against a garden green background.

Career: Teacher, Western Springs College, Auckland.
Programme: Bachelor of Science (2008, University of Auckland), Postgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies (2011, University of Canterbury), Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Mathematics (2013, University of Auckland), Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching (2014, University of Auckland), Master of Science in Physics (2018, University of Auckland), PhD in Physics and Statistics (Current, University of Auckland)

Science has been Petra’s passion for a long time and she finds opportunities to pursue her interest in science wherever she can.

“Physics was one of the only things that made sense to me when I was younger and it was a natural choice for me when I started my university studies.”

She admits that she struggled with some aspects of her Physics major, but that these challenges were also the most memorable parts of her degree.

“These challenges have shaped and sharpened my understanding of physics,” Petra says. “And after it all, physics is still one of my obsessions.”

In the last year of her bachelors degree, Petra was granted a postgraduate scholarship and as part of the scholarship she had the opportunity to work with Associate Professor Phil Yock (now retired) on the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) project.

“This scholarship was my first experience of scientific research. It was fascinating, but also extremely hard. Being part of the project helped me to learn computational programming languages, collaborate with other students and effectively report back to my supervisor.”

Since completing her studies at the University of Auckland, Petra has worked at Stardome Observatory and Planetarium as a science communicator, and is currently teaching mathematics at a secondary school in Auckland.

Petra finds that she uses the knowledge she gained from studying physics, and her natural inquisitiveness, every day in her current teaching role at Western Springs College.

“As my job offers me the opportunity to learn alongside the students, I get to satisfy my need for continuous learning while helping students along the way,” she says.

“In my current role, I enjoy helping young people to build their fundamental understanding of science and being part of a profession responsible for teaching New Zealand’s future workforce.

“The best moments are whenever I can help a student ‘get’ a difficult concept and see how proud and satisfied they are,” she explains.

“I am also able to use the problem-solving skills I gained in my degree to complete other work-related tasks, such as applying a new set of administrative rules.”

Petra’s advice to students thinking of studying Physics is:

  • Develop mathematical competence.
  • Become resilient.
  • Understand that struggles occur and can be overcome.
  • When you work to overcome difficulties, you will improve and accomplish something worthwhile.
  • Learn to ask for help and offer help to others.
  • Make some good friends.
  • Introduce yourself to the lecturers and don’t be afraid to ask questions in and out of class.
  • Offer to help with projects or keep your eyes open for scholarship opportunities.

She adds, “I made some great friends in my courses.  These friendships helped me through some of the hardest times in my undergraduate study.”