Staffie training? Tick

National Youth Science Forum’s (NYSF) student staff leader training partner Outward Bound Australia welcomed the 2017 staffies to their Tharwa training facility south of Canberra in July.

Our trainee staffies were put to the test on their first morning with a giant ladder climb, which is designed to test the resilience and build team work skills to reach certain vantage points.  As well as learning more about what is required of them to be a staffie, and what their responsibilities will be in January, the training session offered a supportive environment for moving outside of their comfort zone.  Which leads to … the trek experience!



Trekking in Canberra in the winter is certainly an experience.  But it helps to form bonds and understanding of different people’s contributions to achieve an outcome.  They are also given the opportunity to critically reflect on their own performance and the performance of others within a shared leadership approach.


NYSF Chief Executive Officer Dr Damien Pearce said, “This program is unique because the student staff leaders are selected by their peers from the previous January Sessions. This represents the youth stewardship of the NYSF as a contemporary, meaningful, and legitimate development opportunity, by youth for youth.”


From the Chief Executive Officer

It is truly a privilege to lead such a dynamic and contemporary organisation.  As confirmation of places are sent to the 2016 NYSF cohort, it’s a good time to reflect on the past year.

2014-15 was a very full and rewarding year – our highlights include the success of our youth and teacher programs, particularly launching Lockheed Martin Australia as a major sponsor, collaborating with Outward Bound Australia for the delivery of the Student Staff Leadership Program, and continuous improvements to our organisational governance.

This year, we have continued to increase our efficiency of operations and improve our reporting processes, with the successful implementation of an improved financial management system. This means that we can confirm that we are operating as economically as possible and making the greatest use of the resources available.

As the NYSF January sessions are conducted for young people by young people, this year we have focused on improving the process of developing our Student Staff Leaders (Staffies). Our NYSF Student Staff Leadership program prepares the 42 Staffies for their facilitation and coordination roles during the January Sessions. It is very pleasing that the NYSF is collaborating with Outward Bound Australia to deliver this program. As part of this program, the Staffies completed skill sets in training and mentoring and also participated in an outdoor orientated experiential based learning program.

This year we also welcomed Lockheed Martin Australia as a major sponsor of the NYSF – the first plank in our strategy to attract sponsors in the program from across the different economic sectors that are powered by science, technology and engineering. This investment by Lockheed Martin is significant and reflects an understanding of the important role of outreach and extension programs such as the NYSF in encouraging young Australians to continue their studies in the science, technology and engineering spheres. We acknowledge Lockheed Martin’s vision in joining with us to continue our support for young people.

Dr Damien Pearce and Raydon Gates, AO, Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Australia

Dr Damien Pearce and Raydon Gates, AO,     Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Australia

Another milestone for the NYSF in 2014-15 was to increase for the first time the numbers of young people who could attend the Canberra NYSF January Sessions. As a result of the support from the Australian National University and Burgmann College we were able to increase the numbers to 200 for each of the sessions, limiting the impact of the reduction in places upon the 2014 completion of our contract to run a third session in Western Australia. Research and discussions are continuing around delivering NYSF January Sessions in additional locations in the future.

Planning for the NYSF programs begins some 18 months prior to the January of the year in which it is delivered. Plans for 2016 and 2017 are well in hand and we are looking forward to welcoming another 400 young people to participate in the program in January. We review and revise the program each year, to ensure that the participants are learning about the latest science research as well as gaining the best opportunity to explore their options for future study and career choices.

I would like to thank Professor Monro for her leadership of the NYSF and also endorse the vote of thanks that she extended to members of the Council and executive committees, office staff, student staff and Rotary friends. I would also like to acknowledge the many individuals, from across our stakeholder groups who give up their time to give lectures, and host lab and industry visits across our suite of programs.

These multiple contributions allow the NYSF to continue each year, building on the work done over the past 32 years, delivering a series of programs that make a difference to young Australians with a passion for science, and to the wider Australian community.

Dr Damien Pearce

August 2015

From the Director

Expressions of Interest from students to attend the National Youth Science Forum in January 2016 closed on 31 May 2015.  Once again, I can report that the level of interest from students was high, and that we will again have more quality applicants than places available in the program.  That we have to disappoint so many young people who want to participate in the program and are motivated to submit an application is frustrating to me, our corporate team and our Council, and we continue to work hard to engage with new corporate and university partners to source the necessary funding to run and expand our program. Once again I would like to thank all of our funding partners, including our major sponsor Lockheed Martin Australia, as well as CSL and the Grains R&D Corporation.  Their support is vital to the ongoing sustainability of the program.

As our Rotary friends begin the difficult task of selecting students who will participate in the 2016 program, our student staff leaders are moving through the program of work they are required to complete to ensure they have the skills to deliver the 2016 program in January.  Outward Bound Australia is collaborating to run the program with us, and I am confident that the work they are doing with our student leaders will result in a quality outcome for all.

The last of the 2015 Next Step visits will be delivered early in July.  These visits allow our partner universities and companies to host the students each year on their own sites, explaining their facilities and activities.  Our thanks again to all of our partners who have offered this opportunity to the 2015 cohort, giving them insights and experiences often not available to the wider public.

This month we are welcoming a new Manager, STEM Education, Ms Madeline Cooper.  This a refreshed role will see, among other things, a greater focus on the educational stucture that supports the lab visit and site tours that are conducted in the January Program.  Madeline comes to the NYSF from a background in tertiary student engagement, and we look forward to welcoming her to our corporate team.

We have recently been surveying our Rotary, corporate and university partners, and some alumni, to gain insights and input into a strategic planning process we are undertaking.  If Australia is to have the skills it needs for the 21st century, our community needs to be investing in the best support programs for our young people.  With its national networks and community backing, the NYSF is well-placed to deliver this support.  We aim to continue the work of the past thirty years, with the goal of providing more opportunities for young Australians to consider a wider array of study and employment choices that include STEM study at a tertiary level.

From the Director

Online Expressions of Interest for students to attend the National Youth Science Forum in 2016 opened on 1 March and have been steadily coming in. Rotary clubs should however continue to promote the program in their local areas to ensure the students who will benefit the most from attending the NYSF have the opportunity to consider applying. I also encourage potential applicants to not leave this process until the last minute as there are several key steps involved, including talking with a Rotary club about endorsing applications. Expressions of Interest close on 31 May.

Applications for our 2015 International Programs, which we expanded this year to include a program in Singapore, were again of a high standard making the selection of successful applicants a challenge. Congratulations to the 44 students who have been selected for programs in London, Canada, Singapore, Boston, Stockholm and Heidelberg. These opportunities are invaluable for people interested in building international professional networks.

Thanks to all of the 2015 students who have been able to participate in our Next Step Programs to date this year. The response has been unprecedented meaning that already, we have been able to take considerable numbers of students to Melbourne and Brisbane to visit our partner universities and organisations in those cities. See reports here. My thanks to Corporate Team members, Melanie Tacey and Anneke Knol, for their hard work in developing the programs to date, and managing the logistics so well. I would particularly mention Melanie for being on the ground in both Melbourne and Brisbane.

I am delighted to announce that the two Chiefs of (student) Staff for the 2016 January Sessions have been appointed. Brett Slarks attended the NYSF in 2011 and is now studying Medicine at the University of Adelaide, and will be responsible for the delivery of Session A. Meg Trinder-McCarthy attended the NYSF in 2012 and is studying Psychology at The University of Melbourne. Meg will manage the delivery of Session C. As is the case for all of our student Chiefs of Staff, Brett and Meg are remarkable young people who have a well-developed ethos of service to the community and responsibility for their actions. They are also lots of fun! Both are excellent role models for our developing student staff leaders and the program in general, and I am confident that they will guide their teams to deliver a rewarding program in January. The online training module for student staff began in March, and will continue through the course of this year, including a trek in the bush surrounding sunny Canberra in July. The commitment required to become a student staff member is considerable and none of our candidates takes it on lightly.

Of significance recently is the Commonwealth Government’s announcement that it will be pursuing the development of a National Science Strategy, with the key aim of developing a number of key research priorities to help direct research funding investments. The Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council recently endorsed nine new national research priorities: food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, manufacturing, environmental change and health. If these priorities are embraced, any investment in them will have an impact on the skills required in a future Australian STEM-related workforce, and is something that the NYSF needs to consider in its ongoing program development.

“The NYSF gave me the confidence to put myself out there”

Max Rintoul, NYSF Alumni 2011

I first found out about the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) from a friend who had not only attended the January sessions but had later attended one of the international programs in South Africa. I have always loved to travel and so after hearing about his experiences I was determined to apply, particularly because of those international program opportunities. Little did I know that the January session would be one of the best experiences of my life.

Spending two action-packed weeks surrounded by like-minded students from all over Australia was phenomenal and not something that is offered anywhere else. To this day when traveling throughout Australia I will regularly stay with or at least meet up with friends I made on session.

Max Rintoul

After the January session I was lucky enough to be selected for an international program and as a “staffie” on two other sessions. Through these experiences I have had the opportunity to trek through the outback of South Australia, work in a German microbiology lab for five weeks and attend extremely useful leadership and public speaking training on the south coast of New South Wales.

I am also now studying a degree that I first discovered at the NYSF, the Bachelor of Philosophy program at the Australian National University. Known as the PhB, this program allows undergrad students to get involved in research from their first year. Until I found out about this degree I was considering studying in either Melbourne or Sydney or even abroad in the United States, however I was unable to find a program over there which offered the chance to gain hands on research experience so quickly.

The NYSF gave me the confidence to put myself out there and try out for leadership positions at college as well as applying for trips to help out Indigenous communities in far north Queensland.

My experiences at the NYSF have also helped me to get the most out of my time living on campus at the ANU. At the NYSF there are many opportunities made available to students, however it is still up to the students to take advantage of them and I have found that it is the same at university. The NYSF gave me the confidence to put myself out there and try out for leadership positions at college as well as applying for trips to help out Indigenous communities in far north Queensland.

The NYSF was without a doubt one of the best programs I have ever been involved with and I would recommend anyone with an interest in science to get involved.

From the Director

I can report this month that all of the NYSF 2015 Orientation sessions have been completed – they kick off in September and run for a six week period, and are a really valuable way for the NYSF corporate team to present its credentials, if you like, to our incoming student cohort, their families, teachers and Rotary supporters. At Orientation, we provide important information about the NYSF, how we operate and what the students can expect when they come on session. They give a real insight into the NSYF and what it is about.

This year, I was supported in the delivery of Orientations by Sandra Meek and Geoff Burchfield. Between us we talked to 25 groups – large and small – across the country, ably assisted by our student staff members who have been fitting in their NYSF training course work between year 12 commitments. I thank them all, as well as our Rotary District Chairs and their assistants, for their organisation and coordination in this very big and important task in the NYSF calendar. Once Orientations are completed, we are set for the run up to the January program.



Orientation Perth Sept 2014  1

 PDG Mark Lean, Hamza Ashraf, Holly Coyte, Muhammad Khan, NYSF District Chair Marty Eiteneuer, NYSF Program Coordinator Geoff Burchfield at Mackay Orientation Oct 2014




A number of parents let us know during Orientations that they had attended the NYSF themselves, and it is very rewarding to learn that they valued the program so much that they were supporting their own child’s attendance. Similarly, we have science teachers of students advising that they attended the NYSF, or have attended the National Science Teachers’ Summer School, our professional development program conducted each year in collaboration with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). I believe that all of these referrals support the claim that our students are our best ambassadors … even twenty or thirty years on.

Another recent development is the establishment of NYSF societies and associations at various universities across the country (see story below), but particularly at those who are funding partners of the NYSF. Established by the university students, the associations aim to continue the relationships among program participants as they move through the tertiary system, and hopefully will also provide a mechanism for ongoing contact once they enter the workforce. We welcome all opportunities to connect with our alumni, formal or informal. Once in the workforce, alumni may consider approaching their employers to become involved in the NYSF, particularly as a funding partner, as we are always looking for new partners to ensure the sustainability of the program.

The 2015 session will provide challenges due to increases in numbers here in Canberra but I am confident that with the support of our partners, staff, Rotary volunteers and the team at the Australian National University (ANU), we will once again deliver a program of fascinating speakers, exciting debates, interesting insights and lots and lots of interaction among the 360 young people who are heading towards a career in science, technology, engineering and maths. Bring it on!

Outward Bound Australia partner with NYSF in student staff training

In the lead up to the NYSF January Sessions, incoming student staff leaders travelled to Tharwa, 35 kilometres south of Canberra in August to participate in a leadership training program. A key component is the outdoor trekking experience and student camp environment, delivered by Outward Bound Australia.

This trek experience helps participants to develop awareness and social connection and to gain an understanding of individual and group values, development of supporting and trusting relationships, and the opportunity to critically reflect on their own performance and the performance of others within a shared leadership approach.

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High ropes The student staff learn about:

  • the NYSF and its history and philosophy;
  • the responsibilities of being a student staff leader;
  • the importance of planning and analysing a situation;
  • handling specific tasks during the January NYSF sessions;
  • leadership, professionalism and decision making;
  • running NYSF orientation, and public speaking; and
  • team-building.

It was a very cold start to day one with the temperature a mere -1 degree outside. The students broke into two groups, with one heading outside for their first Outward Bound experience – the high ropes course. Each participant navigated their way across a series of elements 12 meters above the ground. The second team’s first experience was a little warmer, starting with activities that tested the brain.

The second day saw the students head indoors to the lecture theatre to develop and fine-tune their presentation skills in front of their peers.

On the third day, the students headed into Namadgi National Park with the opportunity of applying the teamwork and leadership skills they had learned.

Director Damien Pearce says that the new partnership with Outward Bound Australia is a good fit with the NYSF. “I am pleased with the ease with which OBA has taken on this training task for the NYSF. Through its accredited training processes, our student staff will now attain both Enterprise Trainer – Presenting Skills and Mentoring Skill Sets from the Training and Education Training Package. I would like to acknowledge the support of Margot Hurrell from OBA in her support and facilitation of this initiative.

Further information can be found here



Story:  Julie Maynard

“… there are so many careers relating to science …” Tayla McKechnie, NYSF 2010

Tayla McKechnie is an NYSF alumna who recently graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Genetics.  Attending the NYSF in Canberra in 2010, she returned as a student staff member in 2011 and 2012, and in January 2014 was responsible for leading the student staff team that delivered the Session C program.

Tayla always wanted to be a scientist. “I fell in love with science in high school, and initially wanted to be a stereotypical scientist and do research. As I got older, though, I learned more and realised that I have so many more career paths available. I have heard many talks by various scientists who addressed the NYSF – an advantage of being a volunteer staffie – and there are so many different careers relating to science.“

In year 11 Tayla’s intention was to major in physics at university, and move into a career in research of cosmology or quantum mechanics. In her first year at The University of Melbourne she joined the Physics Students’ Society, and quickly became involved on the committee as the First Year student representative. “I would never have had the confidence to do this if I hadn’t been to the NYSF as a student or a staffie.”

Tayla says she chose The University of Melbourne for a number of reasons. “Firstly it has an international reputation and consistently ranks as one of Australia’s best universities, so if I apply for jobs overseas people will recognise the University. It also has a very diverse and multicultural mix of students from all over the world, so there are a lot of different cultures and social/political groups contributing to the atmosphere on campus. This keeps it a vibrant and interesting place to be. I also love that it is so close to the CBD, that was a major drawcard, but there are also lovely parks and really eclectic suburbs nearby.

“As I started my third year studies, I realised that the University of Melbourne is literally surrounded by world-class biomedical research institutes and medical facilities, which the University has affiliations with. In my experience, the genetics faculty really values their students and works hard on retaining them into graduate programs. The professors are also supportive throughout the semester to help go over concepts outside of lectures, and do love talking about their research. I know this is echoed across other science faculties too. (These are) My “top five” reasons why I think The University of Melbourne is a great place to study.”

In second year of university, Tayla made the difficult decision to switch majors from physics to genetics. “This was a very hard decision to make as I felt I was losing a part of my identity, as I had wanted to be a physicist for so long. But having been to the NYSF, I learned that changing your mind is not the end of the world, and sometimes it’s a good thing or the best thing. I am so glad that I made this decision … the world of DNA and gene regulation continually astounds me, I am so glad I found that passion and excitement for science again.”

Tayla was volunteer chaperone for the 2014 NYSF students on their trip to South Africa

Tayla was volunteer chaperone for the 2014 NYSF students on their trip to South Africa

Tayla is now taking a year off from study to work and travel, but intends to return to study for her Masters of Genetics. “I’m contemplating what my career may look like … up until a few months ago, I thought I was definitely going to be a researcher, in a white coat, at a lab bench all day, and that image excites me and still does. But now I am thinking of all the other areas that need people that have studied science. The policy makers and regulators, the science communicators, the entrepreneurs creating start-up biotechs, the researchers in industry … through the NYSF, I have met all of these different types of scientists. “

“I know I am going to have a career related to science, and at some point I want to ‘be’ the white coat at the lab bench. I just don’t know when or for how long … but NYSF has taught me that not knowing exactly what my future will look like is ok, and opportunities may come out of nowhere and from the most unlikely places. What is most important is that you take those opportunities no matter how daunting they might be.”

The long road to leadership

After dealing with trekking in sleet and snow in a Canberra winter, the student staff leaders for NYSF 2015 will probably be able to cope with any challenge that presents itself in January – although the weather conditions will be very different.

The 2015 NYSF Student Staff Leadership Training Program began in April, with the ANZAC course held over four days at the Australian National University’s Kiola campus on the south coast of New South Wales.

NYSF Director, Damien Pearce, says that, “Our ANZAC program is basically about bumping in as a group, learning about each person’s personalities, their strengths and weaknesses. We also do a lot of work on NYSF values, being supportive and respectful of individuals, as well as transitioning from being an NYSF participant to being a leader of a team.”

The Outward Bound experience was challenging for us on both a physical and personal level

The second phase of training comprises a week-long outdoor trek experience, conducted by Outward Bound Australia. Held on the rural outskirts of Canberra, the trek brings the session groups together, and provides physical and intellectual activities designed to challenge the participants and develop their sense of self as well as their interdependence.


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At the Tharwa base camp the groups participated in a high ropes course, a session in different leadership styles, as well as team activities including ‘Chicken Run’, ‘Lava’, and ‘The Bomb’. The students were upbeat with their feedback.

“The Outward Bound adventure has been one of the most beneficial and enlightening trips for me personally. We were able to learn valuable lessons in perseverance, pushing our limits, learning to trust and support both ourselves and others. It really brought us all so much closer as a team. We were also given an opportunity to spend some time alone on a ‘values trek’. The trek carried us through the beautiful mountains and valleys, where we had a chance to reflect and appreciate the scenery.” – Jasmine Rose

“The Outward Bound experience was challenging for us on both a physical and personal level, but I am so grateful for the opportunity. We all realised our potential to overcome adversity, both within ourselves and with the team. It was an adventure that brought out the best of people and is an experience that I will never forget.” Adi

“… then it snowed! It was such an amazing surprise that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Our amazing experience was a reflection of the high calibre of the instructor that supported us along the way. It’s an experience I recommend and will never forget.” – Brittany


Images courtesy Alistair Chandler

What happened next? NYSF Alumnus Matt Wenham

Matt Wenham has packed a lot into the years since he attended the National Youth Science Forum in 1998. Selected for a place in the NYSF International Program at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, three days after his final year 12 exams he found himself at the Nobel Prize ceremony. He returned as an NYSF student staff member in 1999 and was Chief of Staff in 2000.

Matt Wenham Nobel Ball 0105

A Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Adelaide set Matt up well to follow on to postgraduate work in biochemistry and genetics, and coupled with his time as a youth advocate in Adelaide, he was able to develop and consolidate a range of research and communication skills for future career roles.

Matt’s PhD at The University of Oxford looked at the cell biology of proteins involved in the function of killer T cells in blood, and provided long nights in the lab, yielding research and results that contributed to an understanding of an important part of the immune system.

Apart from the actual findings of his work, Matt says this research experience was constructive because it taught him the value of conducting thorough scientific research and he gained a real understanding of the resources that are required.

His successful selection as a Rhodes scholar to Oxford University provided exposure to a broad canvas of life, and he met students from a range of Commonwealth countries, entering a world of European history previously unconsidered. Along the way, he had also picked up a Diploma of Education, which allowed him to spend time teaching in Africa.

Matt has recently returned to Melbourne, after three years in Washington, most recently as Associate Director, Institute on Science for Global Policy, where he managed programs and staff working on emerging and persistent infectious diseases (EPID), food safety, security, and defense (FSSD), and synthetic biology. He is now a Senior Policy Adviser at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy.

Matt addressed the Rotary Dinner at Session A of the 2014 January Sessions, and his messages to the students were many and multi-faceted. But key were:

  1. If you want to study further, follow your passion not the ATAR ranking. Your motivation to succeed will come from what doing what you enjoy.
  2. Develop at least an understanding of the political process, so that you know where your work will fit in, in terms of serving the wider community.
  3. Volunteer with organisations you are interested in to develop skills you don’t have, but take care not to be exploited.
  4. Develop communications skills to a level with which you are comfortable. Scientists need to be able to tell people about their work.

Matt Wenham Session A Rotary Dinner 2014

But perhaps his most important message was emphasising the key role of science in underpinning policy development within the political context, and the importance of having policy makers who are science literate and understand the research process. “We need more scientists involved in policy development,” he says. “… people who have scientific knowledge and who understand the importance of scientific rigour.”

Are you an NYSF alumni and would like to tell us What Happened Next?  Email; we’d love to hear your story.