Volunteering develops passion for crop genetics and research


Ellen de Vries with Sally Walford from CSIRO

Ellen de Vries is from regional Victoria, and attended the NYSF in 2014. She is currently studying a double major in Genetics and Food Science with a concurrent Diploma in Languages (Italian) at the University of Melbourne.

“Without the NYSF I would not have had the confidence nor the contacts to discover and develop my passion for crop genetics and research.”

“Since attending the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) in 2014 I have been really fortunate in pursuing the many opportunities offered to me. During the NYSF I met CSIRO researcher, Sally Walford, and she invited me to do volunteer work in her cotton genetics research lab in the summer after I attended the NYSF. This was my first real taste of research and I enjoyed every minute of. It consolidated in my mind that I really loved research and wanted to potentially spend the rest of my life doing it.

Through this experience and the NYSF I really developed my passion for researching plant genomes and genetic manipulation. In my first year of university, this led to me being a research assistant to a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, giving me a better understanding of how research projects work.

At the beginning of 2016 I returned to the CSIRO and spent a week in the wheat genetics lab. I continued to develop my interest in the manipulation and expression of genes in cereal crops – specifically wheat plants.  There is a lot of potential to increase the yield of wheat crops, which would be of benefit to the Australian grains sector, and the economy more broadly .  This volunteer experience has motivated me to contact AgriBio Victoria to seek more lab work in the plant genetics field.

I am about to finish my second year at University of Melbourne, and am hoping to pass and go on to do my honours, and hopefully onto a PhD in cereal crop genetics.

Without the NYSF I would not have had the confidence or the contacts to discover and develop my passion for crop genetics and research. I know my experience with the NYSF is not a unique one and is shared by everyone who attends. The opportunities have been so incredible and they’ve really encouraged me to pursue my passion.”

Sense of community through the NYSF

I attended the NYSF in 2009 (Einstein), before completing a Bachelor of Global and Ocean Sciences (Hons.) at the Australian National University (ANU) – where I’ve since been working on my PhD at the Research School of Earth Sciences, which I hope to finish towards the end of next year.

SHRIMP Lab, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

SHRIMP Lab, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

The NYSF certainly opened my eyes to what was actually possible for those of us who wanted to pursue STEM careers. However, for me the most valuable aspects of NYSF were the emergent phenomena – those which simply arise once you assemble 140-odd budding science enthusiasts under the same roof and take them to the frontiers of modern research. A sense of community arose from mutual curiosity and sincere excitement towards understanding how the world works (and a healthy dose of chanting). Of the many things NYSF offered, this was the most encouraging. Indeed, my interactions with the scientific community at ANU and across the world remain the most enjoyable aspect of my research today.

For me the most valuable aspects of NYSF were the emergent phenomena – those which simply arise once you assemble 140-odd budding science enthusiasts under the same roof and take them to the frontiers of modern research.

For my PhD, I’m currently attempting to constrain some of the geochemical systematics of seafloor hydration and subduction dehydration processes within oceanic crust. On a broad scale, these processes enable the generation of arc magmas within subduction zones, which are key to the formation and growth of the modern continental crust.

As part of this, I’m involved in an International Ocean Discovery Program expedition (Expedition 357: Atlantis Massif Serpentinization and Life), which recovered samples from near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge using seafloor drilling. Through this expedition I’ve already had opportunities to travel to Germany, Switzerland, France and Texas and to discuss my research with leading researchers across the world. My continuing work on rock samples recovered from the seafloor aims to constrain the evolution of alteration and hydration processes as the rocks are brought to the seafloor with increasing crustal extension. To do this, I’m using a novel combination of in-situ oxygen isotope (using SHRIMP), trace element, noble gas and halogen measurements.

Onshore science party for IODP Expedition 357 (I’m second from the top-right). The science party for the expedition is led by Co-Chief Scientists Prof. Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Maine, USA), and is distinctly multinational and multidisciplinary. Notably, the expedition is the first to have a female-dominated science party and one of the first to have two female Co-Chiefs. The 31 scientists conducting research as part of the expedition are from 13 different countries and include PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and tenured professors. Photo credit: V. Diekamp, MARUM

Onshore science party for IODP Expedition 357 (I’m second from the top-right). The science party for the expedition is led by Co-Chief Scientists Prof. Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Maine, USA), and is distinctly multinational and multidisciplinary. Notably, the expedition is the first to have a female-dominated science party and one of the first to have two female Co-Chiefs. The 31 scientists conducting research as part of the expedition are from 13 different countries and include PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and tenured professors. Photo credit: V. Diekamp, MARUM

In addition to this, I’m working on relict oceanic rocks from Lago di Cignana (NW Italy), which have experienced the geological journey of a lifetime – from the Jurassic seafloor, through Alpine subduction (to ≈100km depth) before conveniently returning to the surface to be sampled by some keen geologists millions of years later. We’re using the relatively intact section of upper oceanic crust (consisting of altered seafloor sediments, altered basaltic rocks and underlying serpentinites) as a natural laboratory to investigate how, where and when hydrous fluids are ephemerally produced from metamorphic reactions as rocks are progressively subducted. By looking at chemical zonation of minerals growing as these fluids pass through, we can investigate changes in fluid composition (especially oxygen isotopes and trace metals) with successive pulses of fluids under different conditions. This gives us critical constraints on where fluids may have come from, which reactions might have generated them and the pathways they may have taken to get there – information we can put back into models and use to design new experiments to better understand how the system works.

Morgan (centre) at the NYSF 2017 launch event in October

Morgan (centre) at the NYSF 2017 launch event in October

Beyond the realms of the PhD, I’ll soon be chasing opportunities for post-doctoral research overseas. Ideally I’d like to continue research at the intersection between isotope geochemistry and oceanic geoscience, applying new techniques to better constrain fundamental processes to better understand how our planet works. There are many options for continuing research within academic, governmental and commercial spheres, and I look forward to exploring some new horizons in the years to come (while having a good deal of fun in the process).

NYSF supports alumnae at Women in STEMM Symposium

Five NYSF alumnae accompanied Madeline Cooper, NYSF’s Manager, Programs, to the Connecting Women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Maths) symposium held in Melbourne in September. The event aimed to share best practices and policies in academia and industry as well as featuring leading initiatives that aim to foster an environment where more women in STEMM can lead and excel.

Over the two days there were a range of panels and speakers, focusing on topics such as entrepreneurship, how to engage girls in STEMM, and the variety of career paths open to women who are interested in Science.


Anne-Aelis, Tayla, Karli, Ellen and Charlotte represented the NYSF at the Women in STEMM Symposium in September

“Roughly 60% of those who attend the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) January Sessions are female – young women who are deeply interested and engaged in STEM,” said Ms Cooper. “Attending the conference gave some great ideas on topics to incorporate into our educational programs so that we can better support these young people in their future careers, as well as an overview of the current ‘state of play’ in STEM research and industry.”

“It’s important for the NYSF to be engaged in this space, and to make connections with people and organisations who are similarly committed to empowering young people, particularly young women, to pursue careers in STEM. Attending events such as the Women in STEMM National Symposium helps us do that.”

The full program can be viewed at https://womeninscienceaust.org/national-symposium/program/.

NYSF 2012 alumna, Anne-Aelis Perfrement, says that she took a lot away from attending the symposium. “I’d like to thank NYSF for sponsoring NYSF alumnae such as myself to attend the event. It was wonderful to make new friends and reconnect with other NYSFers.”

Anne-Aelis added, “The Symposium broke down many of the preconceived notions I held of women in STEMM and their career paths. I now have much more confidence going forward, as I saw with my own eyes that there is a will to help one another and a will to build Australia. As a young woman, this is the strongest message I took from the Symposium.”

Karli Williamson, NSYF 2014 alumna, saw the importance of encouraging more women and girls to engage in STEM related fields during their education and later on in the workforce.

“When so many health related issues are killing thousands of Australians each year, and putting a larger and larger dent in the economy, why wouldn’t we want Australia’s brightest and most innovative young people to study STEM? But instead, we hear that girls are turning away from STEM because they lack the confidence to study subjects that seem challenging, and fall into humanities-based university degrees, and hence, workplaces.”

“(You should) encourage the girls in your life to participate in STEM programs and subjects. If people don’t acknowledge the gender disparity in STEM, call them out. If you know a woman in science, be her champion,” Ms Williamson said.

Further reading: Professor Ian Chubb’s AC MSc DPhil (Oxford) FTSE, FACE, FRSN, take on the gender inequalities that women face in STEM disciplines, featured on the Women in STEMM Australia site.



Alex Schumann-Gillett, NYSF 2010 Alumna

Alex Schumann-Gillett attended NYSF in 2010.

“Growing up, I always had a keen interest in science and was extremely excited when I attended Session C of the NYSF 2010 in Canberra (I’m in the front row with the white t-shirt in the picture below). Attending NYSF really transformed my interest in science into a passion for it. After NYSF, I returned to my high school (Moreton Bay College in East Brisbane) so excited to start university that I wished I could fast forward through year 12 and start doing the science that NYSF had given me a taste of.

In 2011, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at the University of Queensland (UQ), and chose to major in biophysics. After completing my BSc in mid-2015 I enrolled in Honours at UQ. My project was at the interface of computational chemistry and structural biology. I used computer simulations to characterise the interactions between a protein on the surface of pneumonia-causing bacteria and a protein on the surface of human throat cells. After completing my honours project in mid-2015, I moved to Canberra to work as a research assistant at the Australian National University (ANU)—where I had attended NYSF five years earlier!


NYSF 2010

In January this year, I commenced PhD studies in computational chemistry at ANU. In my PhD project, I am using computer simulations to explore the effect that different types of molecules, like fats and proteins, have on the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Coincidentally, the supercomputer used to run my honours and PhD simulations is one that I visited during NYSF.

What my NYSF experience taught me is to get amongst it, put myself out there and to not be scared to ask questions. 

I loved the experience that I had at the NYSF, which opened my eyes to what really doing science was like. Consequently, it was a major driver in the path I’ve taken. Now I get to do science every day, and I love it!

Alex Schumann-Gillett in her office at ANU

Alex Schumann-Gillett in her office at ANU

What my NYSF experience taught me is to get amongst it, put myself out there and to not be scared to ask questions. Because of that, I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards and scholarships for my work. These include a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to support my PhD work and the UQ Biochemistry Alumni Prize 3 2016. These are humbling accolades, but they show that if you back yourself and can articulate your belief in what you’re doing, others are more likely to back you too. So I encourage you to get amongst it, learn about the world you live in and enjoy exploring!

NYSF Alumni news

NSW Minister’s Award for Excellence in Student Achievement

National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) 2016 alumna, Olivia Flower, received the prestigious New South Wales Minister’s Award for Excellence in Student Achievement in September.


Olivia was one of 35 students who was recognised by NSW Minister of Education, The Hon Adrian Piccoli, and Mr Mark Scott, Secretary, Department of Education.  The awards are given to students who demonstrate a high achievement in academic excellence, sporting successes, arts, leadership and commitment to the school and education community in NSW public schools whilst displaying values such as integrity, excellence, respect and responsibility.

Michelle Stanhope from the Public Education Foundation said, “These awards are a tribute to the talents, expertise, dedication and tireless commitment to excellence that can be found across the breadth of NSW public schools.”

School Principal of the Northern Beaches Secondary College, Mackellar Girls Campus, Mrs Del Gallo nominated Olivia for the award.



As co-captain of her school this year, Olivia has been working very closely with Mrs Del Gallo, initiating many community and charity projects.  “I think this work,” she says, “along with my involvement in NYSF and the NYSF Student Staff Leadership Program, led to her decision to nominate me for the award. I was genuinely surprised by the nomination, however, and honoured to have been selected.”

“It was also great to be able to meet the other 12 recipients of the Minister’s Award for Excellence in Student Achievement from all across the state,” Olivia said.

The NYSF would like to congratulate Olivia on her outstanding achievement and we are looking forward to seeing her again at January’s National Youth Science Forum, Session A, as one of our Student Staff members.

Tuckwell Scholars for 2016

Congratulations to NYSF 2016 alumnus Michael Taylor, who was successful this year in being selected as a Tuckwell Scholar at The Australian National University.


These prestigious scholarships are the result of significant philanthropic support from Graeme and Louise Tuckwell and aim to support students to reach their full potential both on an individual and community basis. Michael joins a number of former NYSF participants who are Tuckwell Scholars on campus at the ANU.

Tuckwell Scholarships are awarded each year – application information is available at http://tuckwell.anu.edu.au


Thomas Tsang – an HSC Ninja

Recently featured in regional newspaper, Manning River Times, was former NYSF participant Thomas Tsang. Thomas attended NYSF in January 2016 and is currently in the final stages of his HSC.

What sets Thomas apart is the website that he and brother Kenneth have created, initially as a study aid for themselves. The website is called HSCninja and offers students the opportunity to practice using questions that were used in previous years’ exams.

Kenneth told the Manning River Times, “With HSCninja, users select the syllabus dot point they want to revise, and have instant access to a list of past questions on that topic.”

hsc-ninjaThomas refers to his NYSF experience as providing him with the motivation to make HSCninja available for the general public, after noticing a disparity in the number of students doing STEM subjects in city vs rural schools. He hopes the site will be a valuable resource for rural students, supporting them to continue pursuing STEM subjects.

Anyone interested in Thomas and Kenneth’s cool school tool can click through to the HSCninja website here.

The original article can be found here

A passion for all things science and engineering – Claire Oakley, NYSF 2011 Alumna

Claire Oakley attended the NYSF in 2011. She is in her final year of studying Chemical Engineering, at Monash University.

“Five years on from my participation in NYSF, it’s an interesting exercise to try and identify all of the ways attending the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) has affected where I am now, and to predict how it will affect me in the future. Currently, I’m a 5th year engineering-commerce student at Monash University, with my engineering major being chemical engineering.

Firstly, NYSF showed me the benefits of attending a Group of Eight university: the ground breaking research opportunities, the benefits to my resume, and the high calibre of both staff and students

claire-oakley-1One of the strongest impacts the NYSF has had on my journey from there to here is my choice in university. I’d known long before NYSF that engineering was what I wanted to do, so the question at that stage was how, not what. Firstly, NYSF showed me the benefits of attending a Group of Eight university: the ground breaking research opportunities, the benefits to my resume from attending a university that is internationally renowned, and the high calibre of both staff and students

Additionally, through connections made at the NYSF, I was able to visit Monash early in year 12, and talk to current students honestly about what life was like in engineering at Monash. But from there, I was sold! The common first year, where I could take a few units from each engineering discipline before deciding what discipline I wanted to major in, the leadership programs available, and the on-campus lifestyle that I’d had a taste of on NYSF were all things that contributed to my decision to apply for Monash.

It was definitely the right choice for me. There have been good moments and bad moments of course, but overall, it’s been a good experience. Starting university, I was convinced that civil engineering was my dream career, but the common first year was enough to convince me that chemical engineering was really what I enjoyed and am good at. I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a fantastic engineering leadership program, which was notable for attracting a curiously high proportion of NYSF alumni in the cohort! I’ve just begun the chemical engineering final year project, where as the leader of a team of seven of my classmates, we have been asked to create a conceptual design for a factory to make methanol from carbon dioxide and waste methane: a sustainable, carbon negative source. This promises to be incredibly challenging and equally rewarding.

Overall, reflecting on how far I’ve come in the last five years is a positive experience, and NYSF has definitely been part of that.


Claire Oakley (right) on an internship at a winery

Along the way, I’ve also had some fantastic internships and work experience opportunities. After year 12, I was able to set up a position as a lab technologist in a local winery. The work wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was experience, it was paid, and it was science. After doing that for two summers, I had a unique resume, particularly compared to my fellow engineering students. With opportunities provided through the leadership program, I was able to leverage this experience into an ongoing relationship and industry sponsorship with one of Australia’s largest food manufacturers, Simplot Australia. With them, I’ve worked at several sites across Australia, helping make everything from French Fries to Lean Cuisine frozen meals! Most recently, they became involved with the Monash University Industry Based Learning program, and so I was able to complete the research component of my degree in their company, writing standards for all of their engineering teams across Australia. It was the first time this company had participated in an Industry Based Learning scheme, but the relationship grew to be beneficial for all. I’ve also taken up other opportunities that I’ve come across, most recently working at a bioplastics manufacturing firm.

Overall, reflecting on how far I’ve come in the last five years is a positive experience, and NYSF has definitely been part of that. Not only through the choice of university, but also through providing long lasting friendships and passion for all things science and engineering.”

NYSF 2013 alumnus Lachlan Arthur

lachlan-arthurlachlan-arthur“The transition from high school to university is one of the greatest periods of flux anyone will experience in their life.  The change in academic environment coincides with ‘learning’ how to be an adult in terms of managing your own time, money and responsibilities, and it also often includes moving away from home and having to develop new relationships with strangers who will become your teachers, mentors and friends.

Now that I am 18 months into my time at ANU, I am glad to say that although the transition to university life for me was somewhat abrupt, overall it went pretty smoothly and I believe this is largely due to the support I have been offered as a Tuckwell Scholar and PhB (officially known as the Bachelor of Philosophy – Science (Honours)) student at the ANU.

I was first offered a place at the ANU the same year I completed Year 12 in 2013.  I decided that deferring for a year was the best option for me as firstly, I wasn’t sure if the ANU was the right place for me (at that stage I had not even visited the ANU – I was one of the last students to attend NYSF Session B at UWA) and secondly, when my family and I received the bill for residential accommodation we were caught off-guard by how much of a financial investment it really is, and it wasn’t a burden I wanted to put on my family for something I wasn’t 100% sure about.

Taking a year off to decide what I wanted to study and was the best thing I ever did

Taking a year off to decide what I wanted to study and was the best thing I ever did, and as long as you can find something productive to do for a year between school and university, it is something I would recommend to anyone planning to attend university.

It was during my year off in 2014 that I applied for the Tuckwell Scholarship and was lucky enough to be offered a spot in the 2015 cohort of scholars.  Being awarded the scholarship, and being sold on the ANU during the Tuckwell interview weekend, sealed my future as an ANU student.  The financial support of the scholarship has made it possible for me to live on campus at John XXIII College, which is definitely the most enjoyable part of my university life.

At college I have the awesome opportunity to live with 300 other students who are now some of my closest friends, and act like my extended family.  Being a resident at Johns meant that as soon as I arrived at the ANU I had people to study, play sport and party with, and it also came along with the added bonus of having a bedroom that is only a 5 minute walk from lecture theatres and labs.

The Tuckwell Scholarship gives me an extra level of support outside of my residential college through the opportunity to be a part of a group of scholars from an array of backgrounds and subject areas, who all have the common goal of using the opportunities they have been given to give back to the world.

Through the scholarship program I am also lucky to have a number of mentors who are always there to offer guidance on any topic when it is needed.  This ranges from my general mentor who is an Associate Professor of Law at the ANU, to my academic mentor who is the Head of the John Curtin School of Medical Research, to my medical mentor (I am also fortunate to be on a guaranteed pathway to the postgraduate MChD medical program at the ANU) who is the Director of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Unit at the Canberra Hospital.  Overall the ANU and the Tuckwell Scholarship have given me a licence to explore my interests and do my best without facing the financial burdens and lack of support that many university students encounter.  After initially considering offers from universities across Australia, Asia and the US, I can unequivocally say I am glad that I chose the ANU, and above all, I am glad they chose me.”

Further information: http://tuckwell.anu.edu.au


“I definitely knew I wanted to study science”

Dr Natalie Spillman attended the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) in 2003, and after school finished, went on to study for a Bachelor of Philosophy (PhB) at the Australian National University (ANU).

“When I started my degree at the ANU, I was really keen to study physics, so I studied mathematics, physics, chemistry and biochemistry in first year. Then I discovered how much I was interested in how cells work, so I swapped my major focus to biochemistry and that’s what I’ve been interested in ever since.”

Natalie grew up in Mackay, Queensland and knew she did not want to study at a regional university. Coming to Canberra, she says, “… was always going to be a big move for me and it was a good compromise between Mackay, a smaller town, rather than moving to a larger city such as Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne – which seemed a scary prospect at the time.”

The ANU’s PhB, is a research-focused degree that allows undergraduate students to study with leading researchers, starting in the first year of study. “It was great to get so much exposure to lab work so early, and it really confirmed for me that research was what I wanted to keep doing.”

Her projects were wide ranging, “…from cytokinin regulation in Arabidopsis, to the clustering of GABA receptors in mouse neurons. During my summer breaks I undertook an ANU College of Science Summer Research Scholarship on membrane transport in the malaria parasite, and a CSIRO Plant Industry Summer Student Program scholarship investigating the role of polycomb proteins in Arabidopsis vernalisation response. These lab experiences confirmed my passion for research, and allowed me to gain a comprehensive and far-reaching lab skill set.”

This passion for research fuelled Natalie to undertake a PhD in Biomedical Science and Biochemistry at the ANU. “In my PhD I studied how the malaria parasite maintains a ‘low-salt’ environment. Cells have to regulate how many sodium ions (Na+) they have. If the sodium levels get too high, other enzymes in the cells can’t work as efficiently and the cells can die. Too much salt is generally bad. High salt is bad for plants (saline soil), and high salt diets are generally bad for our health (hypertension and cardiovascular disease).”

Natalie Spillman

Natalie Spillman

Natalie is fascinated by the malaria parasite. “In particular, I am interested in how it lives inside a red blood cell. There are so many strange and amazing aspects of its biology that we need to continue to study to develop new drugs against this parasite. They are resistant or developing resistance to all of our current anti-malarials. So I definitely wanted to keep studying malaria during my postdoctoral research.”

In 2013 Natalie received a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) CJ Martin Overseas Biomedical Fellowship, administered by ANU, to research at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in Saint Louis, USA. Now conducting post-doctoral research, Natalie’s current research is sponsored by an Amgen American-Australian Association Fellowship also at WUSM.

“I am now studying how the parasite can communicate and change the red blood cell. The parasite exports hundreds of proteins out into the red blood cell. But we don’t know how these protein effectors can alter red blood cell biology.”

The Centre for Disease Control estimates that, “3.2 billion people (half of the world’s population) live in areas at risk of malaria transmission in 106 countries and territories”, so the need for malaria treatments is significant. Natalie’s work and contribution can only be of benefit to us all.


By Julie Maynard

“A career in engineering was the right fit for me”

Sophie Dawson attended the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) in 2008 and like many students before her, was encouraged to apply by her (physics) teacher.

Sophie says she knew she wanted to study engineering due to her interests in physics and mathematics, but it wasn’t until she experienced the NYSF lab visits and workshops, and the Next Step Program in Adelaide, that she developed a better understanding of the variety of work that engineers perform.

“Before attending the NYSF, I wasn’t aware of or had been exposed to the many career opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or even which of the many fields of engineering, design and technology I was interested in.”

I am still in touch with friends that I made at NYSF

For Sophie, the NYSF was also a great networking opportunity. “I am still in touch with friends that I made at NYSF – I think because it brought together so many like minded people. The NYSF helped confirm that pursuing a career in engineering was the right fit for me based on my interests.”

Sophie studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and Aerospace) at the University of Adelaide and undertook an Honours project examining ways of reducing the induced drag of aircraft wings. “At times during my study, I found the work hard and questioned whether I still wanted to be an engineer, particularly in the aerospace industry. I would then try and imagine doing something else but couldn’t see myself anywhere else. The passion, intelligence and hard work of the people around me was, and still is, inspiring.”

During her time at university she was involved in organising the Australian Youth Aerospace Association AeroFutures conference. “This was another great opportunity to find out about the careers available in the aerospace industry. This also made me realise the breadth and scope of an industry I thought was small in Australia.”

Sophie Dawson - Jetstar graduates

Sophie Dawson with other Jetstar graduates

She has recently completed a two-year graduate program with Jetstar Airways where she was able to explore several roles though rotations in different parts of the business. “I think the appeal of this type of program is the ability to explore different interests and better understand the everyday tasks involved. This was the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate pursuing a technical engineering career or moving into other applications. From this experience, I found that I really wanted to continue working in a technical role, and was fortunate to find my current position as an operations engineer.”

Sophie is now part of a team that is responsible for technical support covering all aspects of aircraft performance and aircraft loading. “The work is varied and involves many different aspects of airline operations. I work on projects that involve the evaluation of new aircraft and modifications to existing aircraft and equipment. Other aspects are the management of systems and software that effect aircraft loading and weight and balance.”

“This role has huge scope for continued learning and development and is where I see myself for the next few years to make the most of this opportunity. Every day is different, and there is a large variety in the type of work including analysis, engineering and project management. Two of the most exciting things that I am involved with are projects that encompass the whole airline and aim to balance commercial outcomes and operational challenges, and quick responses to operational requests to ensure safe and efficient flight dispatch.”

Remember that there are many different and varied pathways to get to where you want to be

For others considering a specific career, in engineering or otherwise,  Sophie’s advice is to get involved in the industry. “Seek out opportunities and be proactive. Remember that there are many different and varied pathways to get to where you want to be and much of the enjoyment and satisfaction comes from the journey. It takes ingenuity and hard work and you can learn something from every experience, even if the lesson is very unexpected.”

By Julie Maynard

NYSF International Program pays off – XLAB in Goettingen, Germany

NYSF 2016 alumnus Tom Houlden participated in the XLAB International Science Camp hosted at The University of Goettingen, Germany in June this year, and recalls his experience.

The Göttingen science camp was an absolute eye opener for me

“Nineteen students attended XLAB International Science Camp in Göettingen, Germany, coming from eight different countries across four different continents, speaking roughly twelve different languages. It would be a feat to distinguish what was more impressive – the cultural cocktail achieved in this experience or the huge variety of scientific activity, from experiments to lectures, or tours to presentations by esteemed scientists.

Tom Houlden

Tom Houlden, with the participants in XLAB Summer Science Camp, Goettingen, June 2016

The Göttingen science camp was an absolute eye opener for me – actually being on the frontier of science; I was extremely fortunate to have this experience at the perfect time in my life. It gave me a chance to assess the reality of my intentions for the future, while I still have time to consolidate them. This camp provided a glimpse into what research is actually like, the failures, the tedium, the obsession with detail, the endless data collection, the successes and most importantly, the dedication to ‘finding things out’.

The three-week camp comprised of three individual one-week courses designed to target sub-fields in biology, chemistry and physics. I spent my three weeks primarily in the biology department, taking courses in neurophysiology, molecular biology and immunology. A goal of these courses was to expose us to current research methods and technologies in these fields. Because of this objective I now have a relatively good knowledge of exactly what methods I can use to analyse blood samples for specific antigens, genetically alter bacteria, stimulate neuron signals and analyse the visual system of insects amongst other very fundamental scientific practices.

The highlight of the experience might have been, narrowly, my time working with bacteria in the molecular biology course. Here I inserted DNA containing genes removed from florescent jellyfish into bacteria which I cultivated and watched as they began to become fluorescent under ultraviolet light.

Tim Houlden1

We then analysed the process that bacteria, like humans, undergo to produce proteins (in this case, ones that glow in the dark) from genes. Here I conducted different experiments on the bacteria, isolating the DNA, other genetic material and eventually managing to separate the proteins themselves. This process not only confirmed the theory which I studied extensively back at school with a real life demonstration of this process which had fascinated me so much, but it also managed to consolidate my passion for this kind of scientific enquiry.

As well as the strong scientific element of the course, we also had the opportunity to discover nearby parts of Germany. Visiting historically significant towns such as Goslar, culturally rich towns such as Kassel and sobering sites such as the Buchenwald concentration camp, we managed to get a feel for the country outside of the scientific hub where we were living. It is these visits and immersion into the German culture (which apparently flourishes at the time of the European Cup which fortunately coincided with our trip), which has forced me to consider looking at Georg-August-Universität (the university that Göttingen is famous for) as a destination for further studies in the years to come.

I have come away with a renewed sense of direction

XLAB was a place where my passion for science was able to collide with the enthusiasms of my international peers. Ultimately I have come away with a renewed sense of direction in terms my aspirations for a scientific career as well as a newfound passion for connecting with others from across the globe, particularly in regards to my concreted understanding of science and human exploration in general as an international endeavour.”