Meet the Kaplan Experts: Aeri Kim, PhD, Instructor and Content Developer
by Aeri Kim, PhD, Instructor and Content Developer | February 8, 2021
The Kaplan Team is often cited as why schools stay with Kaplan, year after year. At Kaplan, there’s an expert at the heart of everything we do, whether it’s leading a class or developing innovative tools to help your students achieve their career goals. With our “Meet the Kaplan Experts” blog series, we introduce you to Kaplan’s extensive network of faculty, medical, and educational experts and delve into their diverse areas of expertise so that you can learn even more about your Kaplan team. This week, we're pleased to introduce you to Aeri Kim, PhD, Instructor and Content Developer.
Tell Us About Yourself
I grew up in Alberta Canada, where I earned a Bachelor degree in Biological Sciences. I started graduate school in Ontario, Canada and completed a PhD in Biochemistry, focusing on solving the three-dimensional structure of choline acetyltransferase using x-ray crystallography. I then took a break from science and started a family.
What are your particular areas of expertise?
...breaking down traditionally tough concepts using analogies, transferring what I learn from students into creating lessons and test-like practice material, supporting students in and out of classes, and making relevant but slightly outdated comments to my children to irritate them. I’m woke!
Tell Us About Your Experience in Education
Who or what experience inspired you to pursue a career in education?
Oddly enough, teaching for Kaplan inspired me to stay with teaching. As a graduate student, I was a teaching assistant for a few courses, and I remember thinking how terrible and unsuited I was for the role. Granted, I was never trained for the role, but it was not a great experience. Being in academia, teaching is a common position, but it was never my intention. Teaching and content development satisfies a deep need I had to explore science, to be able to share that knowledge with others, and to support students in a way that I wish I had when I was in school.
How long have you worked for Kaplan Test Prep and what drew you to your current role?
It all started when I was still at home with young children. I wanted to slowly transition into doing something outside the home, but wanted to keep my primary focus on my children while they were still young. Someone mentioned teaching the MCAT for Kaplan―but the biggest hurdle was that I hadn’t taken the MCAT before, nor had I seen undergraduate science for about 15 years. That started me off on the slow, but surprisingly ,satisfying task of re-learning all of the science with very limited time per week. It took me almost a full year, but I did it!
I’ve been with Kaplan for almost six years now, and I started teaching in-person classes, then quickly transitioned to working with online classes where my first role was helping with busy class email inboxes. I currently work as an on-camera instructor for MCAT classes, MCAT Channel and AP courses, off-camera instructor for various MCAT courses, private tutor for MCAT, and content development.
How has your unique background prepared you for success in your field?
I relate very much to the struggle students have when preparing for something like the MCAT. Even though it was a long time ago, I remember acutely how lost I felt when it seemed like everyone around me understood the content immediately, but I felt inadequate when asking questions, so I just stayed quiet. I was also very stuck with feeling like I didn’t have the necessary skills to perform, because that’s just how I was born, so tough luck for me.
In your opinion, what is the number one thing that sets Kaplan apart in the industry?
Kaplan has some of the best teachers I’ve ever met, bar none. I’ve learned so much about how to break down problems and concepts into engaging, relatable ways. Also, the meta-cognitive process of learning how to learn is a continually developing branch of education, and brainstorming with colleagues has certainly opened my eyes to explore new avenues and methods to help our students best.
What is the most important issue that professionals in your industry should be talking about today?
With the pandemic, so much of learning has shifted online, which puts Kaplan at a great advantage, since we already had so much of the structure in place already. But we need to continually adapt and pivot to meet the students where they’re at.
For example, students often desire a community of peers, the ability to easily create study groups, especially as learning is often done remotely these days. Similarly, teachers should also continue to explore creative and relevant ways to reach out to students, to be more than just a source of wisdom that’s accessible once or twice a week in class. We have a great opportunity to go above and beyond what college and school teachers have traditionally provided for students.
If you could offer one piece of advice for students preparing for their MCAT test or medical school admissions, it would be:
Don’t put a time limit on progress. While it’s good to have reasonable timelines and expectations for planning purposes, you really can’t regulate how fast you learn and grow. As long as you’ve got an upward trajectory, you’ll get there, so be flexible with your plans. We all put too much pressure on ourselves to do things faster and better, and in 10 years, you’re not really going to remember how long it took to get to your goal, but you will remember crossing that finish line.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from a teacher?
As teachers, we’re subject to all sorts of criticisms and regular feedback. In one discussion, I remember sharing a particular piece of feedback that I thought was frankly unreasonable, about how the student had wished I would be funnier in class. A colleague asked me something that still sticks with me to this day. What is the heart of that comment? In other words, why would they say that? It’s probably not because the student wants all of their teachers to be funny, but would like to be more engaged in class. While I’m not someone who can throw out quips on the fly, I know I can definitely address the underlying aspect of engagement in a way that suits me personally. I take all feedback seriously, even if it seems “unreasonable.”
And finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Learning is a life skill, not something you just need to master for the MCAT. Each step you take that moves beyond just learning the “what” and starts uncovering the “why” brings you closer to the true heart of what science and medicine is all about. As people with infinite knowledge at our fingertips, our capacity to think and solve problems is what sets us apart from Dr. Google.
Reach out, ask questions, be inquisitive.
I grew up in Alberta Canada, where I earned a Bachelor degree in Biological Sciences. I started graduate school in Ontario, Canada and completed a PhD in Biochemistry, focusing on solving the three-dimensional structure of choline acetyltransferase using x-ray crystallography. I then took a break from science and started a family. I’ve been with Kaplan for almost six years now, and I started teaching in-person classes, then quickly transitioned to working with online classes where my first role was helping with busy class email inboxes. I currently work as an on-camera instructor for MCAT classes, MCAT Channel and AP courses, off-camera instructor for various MCAT courses, private tutor for MCAT, and content development.