Meet academic coach, Keerti Purmessur
Read this shortened version of the conversation I had with Keerti Purmessur to introduce her as an academic coach, or listen to the full conversation above.
You can find conversations with all the academic coaches at Life More Extraordinary and find out more about academic coaching here.
The official stuff
Keerti Purmessur is a Cambridge graduate (she studied natural sciences and specialised in psychology). She qualified to teach on the Teach First programme after completing two Masters degrees and has been working full time very successfully as a private science, maths and psychology tutor for several years. Keerti is brilliant at helping students to strategise their learning and turn around their achievement even in subjects that they find really challenging. In her spare time, Keerti enjoys cooking as well as going to the theatre and various gigs. She also loves travelling and is currently planning her next big solo trip!
Can you tell us about your history and what brought you to academic coaching?
I was born in Scotland but brought up in Mauritius. I moved back to the UK to study at the University of Cambridge. I started off studying medicine before switching to natural sciences.
Switching subjects at university
I did my first year in medicine before realising that natural sciences was a better fit for me. Therefore, I do understand when students have that struggle about trying to figure out what to do with their future because that decision can be quite difficult when you're young.
Masters degrees in psychology
After doing natural sciences I did two masters degrees in health psychology and international child studies. I was initially interested in development and realised that, actually, education is a massive component of how children interact and how the school environment is really important in terms of how students learn and children interact with each other.
Moving into teaching
This led me to become a teacher. Teaching is great; I love to teach and I love teaching sciences. I think everyone who watches the How to Revise Science Masterclasses in The Extraordinaries Club can see that. (Keerti created the five How to Revise Science masterclasses for the club).
In addition, an essential component of being able to help students in the best possible way is addressing the sort of mentally challenging issues around learning and around education in terms of their confidence and the obstacles in terms of being able to learn, as opposed to learning the actual content itself. This lead me to your blog and eventually becoming an academic coach.
I'm still interested in psychology and am planning on completing my MSs, and eventually PhD, in educational neuroscience.
I have noticed that a lot of students don't really achieve their potential and that's not because of them being academically unable to do so, but it's oftne due to a clack of confidence or not really knowing themselves and what is getting in the way of them studying.
Keerti's interest in learning
I am interested in how we learn and why we learn the way we do. I do think that, even though educational neuroscience is a new field, it's becoming more important. The current Covid pandemic makes this even clearer in terms fo the role of psycholgoy and the neuroscience of learning in terms of how we can actually use those to make a significant impact and how students can learn more effectively.
What's been your biggest struggle in your own education and how did you overcome it?
I've had quite a few struggles in my educational journey. The one I'll tell you about is one that I think most of my students are most surprised by because they know that I went to Cambridge on scholarship for medicine and assume that I found getting there something really easy to do. But, actually, when I was in year 12, my grades went from being As to Ds within two terms. And there was a range of reasons for that.
I was really not comfortable with the syllabus. I happened to have a teacher whose main method of teaching involved reverse psychology and negative feedback – trying to push you do do the work but in a negative way.
Quite frankly, I was lost as a teenager, I was still trying to figure out what to do, how to apply to uni coming from a small country abroad and having big dreams – it wasn't easy.
My grades went down which affected my confidence and everything else. I really didn't have an easy time in year 12.
The scholarship took a lot of work and it took a significant amount of rebuilding myself and having to start pretty much from scratch, working over the summer, doing a lot of independent work, finding teaching or people who I could talk to and sort of building a programme for myself. That took a lot of work, but it also forced me to really grow up and be aware of how I learned, which is why this has been something I have been fascinated with since a very, very young age. I don't think it's impossible to do – you just need to know quite a bit about what sort of person you are and what your motivations are and what pushes you to study.
Can you tell us about the experience you have as a teacher and tutor and how this informs your work as an academic coach?
I initially trained through the Teach First programme and worked in a really interesting school with a lot of quite challenging students so there was a fair amount of pastoral work involved. In my NQT (newly qualified teacher) year I was working as the key stage co-ordinator for year 9s. For anyone who knows what I'm talking about, year nine isn't a great year for a lot of kids. There was a fair amount of trying to navigate the complex emotions and hormones. It taught me a lot about myself and how I deal with challenges. In the process, I realised that I love the pastoral side of things.
With some of my students who were really struggling, it was the little conversations that we'd have at the start and the end of classes that had more of an impact on them. I'd asked them, “How have you been? How's everything going? What's bothering you about this?” As opposed to talking to them about what particular concept they didn't understand. It made them realise that it's OK to have off days and that one off day does not mean that you're going to have an off year.It's OK to have off days that one off day does not mean that you're going to have an off-year.
That made me think a bit more about one to one work and eventually informed my work as a tutor as well. And, as a tutor, I do work a lot with students who are mostly in need of a confidence boost or who have SEND issues and social and emotional needs. A significant amount of that involves quite a bit of mentoring and quite a bit of monitoring what their emotions are like, and what's influencing them and what's getting in the way of their learning.
The one-on-one work and the pastoral work is what really made me feel that I would love to be able to have some time to actually focus on that aspect of things with students, which I find I can do as an academic coach in addition to tutoring.
Supporting a bereaved student
One of the academic coaching cases that stood out most strongly for me was a student who was dealing with a bereavement in the middle of having mock exams and personal statements and all sort of work to do. Quite frankly, I'm still impressed at how she managed to pull everything together. It was really nice to see that breakthrough where having a schedule and actually organising the work helped them deal with the work in the midst of so many things happening.
Seeing students with challenging family relationships
It's also been interesting working with students and seeing how their relationships with their parents and how their relationships with themselves, how they perceive themselves and their ability to work, and how that changed has been great to see but also challenging.
Academic coaching is quite difficult for students as well because they have to be quite self-aware and acknowledge that occasionally they might not be doing the right thing – which is hard for anyone to do, let alone the teenager. Seeing that second student being able to reflect and think about what was getting in their way and acknowledge how they were expressing that through their relationships and their work was really insightful for me.
People are scared to admit when they're wrong because they fear that they're going to be judged and they really fear the sentence, “I told you so.” They really don't want to be told that. Within families, relationships are complex, there's all that love and guilt and everything that sort of combines and that does make things quite hard. Being able to establish an honest conversation where both parties acknowledge what they could have done better, definitely leads to a lot more growth because until you acknowledge that it can be quite hard to actually see any proper effective change.
Quickfire questions to end
Which book has had the biggest impact on your life?
Your favourite teacher and why?
My mum – she's a physics teacher. But I will give a special shout out to the chemistry teacher who instilled that bit of confidence in me when I needed it in year 13.
Favourite holiday destination?
Mauritius – I need to be loyal!
Favourite takeaway or food?
Most used app on your phone?
Deliveroo, Uber Eats or Reddit.
Would you like Keerti to be your academic coach?
If so, check out the information about how you can work with us here and book a call to talk through why you're looking for help so we can assess if we're a good fit for you.