Lecturer in the Spotlight: Stefania Grecea
'I always hope students see the beauty of what they’re doing.’
Stefania Grecea coordinates the first-year practical labs in the Chemistry Bachelor’s programme, and teaches courses on functional materials and catalysis for sustainable energy in the third year and in the Master’s. Her research in the area of functional materials is focused on developing new molecular materials that have a use in the chemical industry, as well as in energy-related applications, such as proton conductive membranes for fuel cells.
Stefania Grecea had an early start in chemistry. In Romania, where she grew up, chemistry and other science subjects were already taught in primary school. ‘I really liked all these subjects that are very logical. And I had high grades, for chemistry and also for mathematics and physics.’ When she passed the high school entrance exam, she chose a chemistry focused school.
Because that’s another difference with the Netherlands: in Romania schools are differentiated on their main subject of teaching. For Grecea, this meant two hours of chemistry class almost every day and one week in the lab for every four to six weeks of theoretical work. ‘We learned how to make paint and medicine. We even made nasal pencils used to unblock your nose when you have a cold, and those would go to the market. So we would all be dressed very cleanly, with the lab coats, gloves and everything. And I loved it.’
See and understand
Although these days her own practical lab work is mostly limited to the kitchen at home (‘I always like to try new recipes and improve on them’), she designs and coordinates the first-year practical labs for chemistry students. ‘I like to show that for a chemist it’s very important not just to read from a book, but to see how a reaction occurs in the lab and to try and understand that with the knowledge you have.’
It’s an intensive and challenging course, as students not only have to learn the basic practical skills in chemistry, but also how to plan an experiment, how to behave and work safely in the lab and how to communicate their results. ‘It’s a lot to take on for first-year students,’ Grecea recognizes, ‘especially on top of all their other courses. But I always hope they see the beauty of what they’re doing.’
Too focused on grades
She finds that students are sometimes so focused on getting good grades, that they are too afraid to make mistakes. ‘I told them just this week not to worry about low grades, but to learn from mistakes and try to do better next time. And if you do that with joy, you will always succeed. Even if it takes longer than you expected.’
Building on knowledge
In her third year lectures for the course on Functional Materials, she is motivated to show how knowledge from the first and second year can be used to design new materials that address our needs today. ‘This is difficult sometimes, because once an exam has passed… But it doesn’t make sense to teach something advanced, a technique or class of materials, if you don’t also show how we arrived there. And if I get questions that go beyond what I showed them in the lecture, that are not about knowledge they should’ve come with, I know I’m on the right track.’