Cynthia Lok Yah Lee | Master of TESOL, Professional Certificate in Educational Neuroscience

After realising her Accounting major wasn’t right for her, Cynthia went on to study a Master of TESOL and a Professional Certificate in Educational Neuroscience. She now works as a learning designer at an EdTech startup.

In her hometown of Canberra, Cynthia completed a double undergraduate degree: a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) and a Bachelor of Languages (Chinese/Linguistics). Towards the end of her studies, she went on exchange to Seoul, South Korea. “At this point in time, I was at a crossroads,” Cynthia said. “I knew that accounting wasn’t for me, but I absolutely loved my languages degree and was reflecting a lot on where I wanted to build my career and future. It was during my exchange experience, when I volunteered as an EAL tutor, that I realised I wanted to teach English to speakers of other languages.”

After graduating with her bachelors, Cynthia made the move to Melbourne, ready to begin studying a Master of TESOL. “I was initially enrolled at another university,” Cynthia confessed, “but when I was offered a position to study at the University of Melbourne on advanced credit standing, I transferred, and I’m so glad I made that decision.”

She made the switch to the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Education after consulting friends and conducting research into the subjects offered in the capstone professional project pathway. “I was particularly drawn to the progressive nature of the curriculum that recognises the superdiversity and important role of language in our society beyond communication.” Cynthia said, adding that “many of the academics are still actively involved in projects within the education field – reaffirming my belief that the classroom experience will be both contemporary and enriching. The course strikes a great balance between theoretical knowledge, and practical applications of our research, bridging our understanding of the past, present, and future of language learning.”

At first, Cynthia was unsure where she fit in with her classmates. “In contrast to my peers, I did not come from an education undergraduate background nor hold much teaching experience, so I felt uncertain of what I could offer to the discussions in my classes,” Cynthia admitted. “However, the professors and tutors led the discussions and activities in a way that was inclusive of the diversity of experiences and backgrounds in our cohort, and offered additional resources to bridge the knowledge/experience gap.”

Cynthia Lok Yah Lee, Master of TESOL and Professional Certificate in Educational Neuroscience

When asked if she enjoyed studying at the Faculty of Education, Cynthia replied, “Short answer – huge yes!” She then went on to mention some of the things that made her experience so positive: “the learning environment, intellectual depth, enthusiasm, mindsets, sense of belonging, and community.” Ultimately, what Cynthia found most valuable was “being surrounded by diverse, passionate, and intelligent individuals who are all ardent advocates for empowering students through meaningful learning.”

Cynthia was also grateful for the support she received from the University when she experienced challenging personal circumstances. “2021 was a particularly tough year for me… Aside from the uncertainties of the pandemic and lockdowns, I struggled with bereavements of two close relatives a few months apart. I communicated with the Student Equity and Disability Services team to arrange an Academic Adjustment Plan,” she said. Both student support services and Faculty of Education staff were understanding and thoughtful. “They offered words of warm support for my losses and offered alternative options for handling my study load. I deeply appreciate the compassion, patience, and care that the University showed towards me during a difficult time.”

While studying, Cynthia volunteered as a student peer mentor through the Melbourne Peer Mentor Program and became a student ambassador for the Faculty of Education. She also took part in the Melbourne InnovatEd Bootcamp, run by the Melbourne Entrepreneurial Centre: open to staff, students and alumni, the intensive two-day InnovatEd Bootcamp is designed to incentivise, support and drive the creation and uptake of EdTech innovations within the University.

Cynthia explained: “The Melbourne InnovatEd Bootcamp was particularly memorable for me. We were introduced to the fundamentals of agile methodology and frameworks across the innovation process, allowing for the development of ideas into commercially viable solutions to solve problems within education.” The experience sparked her interest in “the wider world of innovation, startups, and working in tech,” inspiring her to “further explore the startup ecosystem and the EdTech industry.”

Ultimately, this led her to her current role as a learning designer for an EdTech company. As she moves forward with her career in the field, she hopes to “empower individuals to become lifelong learners through the effective use of digital technology” and “improve inclusive teaching and learning practices where no learners are left behind or siloed through learning experience design.” She’s excited about the possibilities technology offers for equitable access to quality education.

Cynthia advised future Education students to “engage deeply, connect widely, and dare to be you.” For those still on the fence about applying, she urged, “don’t hesitate to ask questions to any current students, ambassadors, alumni, or staff. My inbox is also open or more than happy to have a quick conversation if you prefer! There are no silly questions at all.”

For new students soon to begin their studies, she suggested, “The degree can be intense but approach it with a genuine curiosity, stay open and reflect on the diverse perspectives brought to the table, and actively participate in discussions! Take the time to explore widely and digest the research, but also give yourself the space to reflect beyond what you are learning in the context of your varying life roles – as an educator, a learner, and an individual. The program can be demanding, but it is worth your while and incredibly riveting. Be consistent and coordinate your time well. Lastly, bring your voice, experiences, ideas, and dreams to the table and share them with your peers. This further enriches your learning experiences and holistic understanding.”

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