Involving alumni in NYSF Next Step events

Nate Byrne, NYSF alumnus (NYSF 2001) and newly-minted TV breakfast meteorologist – yes, the weather guy – from ABC News Breakfast, was the keynote speaker at the NYSF Next Step Melbourne alumni event in March.

In the first of two alumni events supported by IP Australia in 2017, and hosted by The University of Melbourne, this was an opportunity for the NYSF 2017 cohort to mix with previous years’ alumni and share stories about their study and career choices. It was exciting that all of our guest speakers were NYSF alumni; the first  was Dr Melanie O’Byrne, (NYSF (NSSS) 1994), who is Assistant Director, Governance Secretariat at IP Australia.

Mel explained how her own science research and science communication study gave her a variety of opportunities leading to her role today managing IP Australia’s key governance committees. Mel identified advice from Marie Curie’s grand-daughter, and the opportunity to work as a science journalism intern for New Scientist in the UK as key turning points in her career to date. Her story was one of following passions and saying yes – a great lesson for the other NYSF alumni. Mel also talked about her role as a physics patent examiner at IP Australia, and the organisation’s importance in administering IP rights and legislation relating to patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder’s rights, and the need for scientists and engineers to be involved in those services to industry and the community.

Mel said she jumped at the opportunity to speak to the NYSF alumni. “It was a wonderful chance to highlight the many doors that tertiary studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can open for young, talented Australians,” Mel said. “When I came to Canberra as a high-school student in 1994, intellectual property was not on my radar. I didn’t understand its importance to our economy, the role it plays in securing Australia’s future as a global leader in science and technology, or the career opportunities at IP Australia.  To continue to have a world leading IP system our workforce needs people who are passionate about the business of innovation and the commercialisation of Australia’s research.”

Nate Byrne didn’t run away to join the circus, but without doubt, the skills he developed as a Science Circus presenter through the Australian National University’s Master of Science Communication Outreach built on his undergrad physics degree and meteorologist qualifications to support his new role as the breakfast TV news weather presenter on the ABC. Nate’s weather reports are full of interesting explanations about the weather patterns around the country, illustrating his love for explaining the science. And he brought that passion along, as well as his bag of science tricks – but the NYSF audience needed little convincing of the fun and importance of science in their daily lives.

“It never takes much to get an NYSF crowd engaged,” said Nate, “and the students are great communicators themselves.”

“Add in the need to be flexible and courageous in career choices, and NYSF-ers are better positioned than many for the careers of the future.”

“Those skills are becoming more and more important in STEM – not just being able to do great science, but also being an advocate and a rational voice in a quickly changing world.”

“Keeping in mind that we are naturally curious and that even simple science can be full of surprises, engaging people isn’t as hard as some might think.”

Dr Catherine Wheller (NYSF 2008) was special guest MC of the event, and along with Tayla McKechnie (NYSF 2010) and Amelia Wales (NYSF 2010), offered some briefer insights into their key decisions about study and careers since attending the NYSF, and finishing studies.

The event was regarded highly by the NYSF 2017 cohort, with positive feedback.

“I could see the pathways that other students have taken, and ask advice about their uni experience … Nate’s advice was to learn where a science degree can take you.”

“All of the speakers were very informative and engaging as they told us of their lives after NYSF, or within and leading up to their current career.”

Previous years’ alumni reported that they valued the opportunity to mix with other years’ NYSF participants.

“It was fantastic to hear from a number of diverse alumni who have taken different career paths but all share a common opinion that it is vital to keep your options open and be willing to change paths. I loved the presentation from IP Australia as this was one career path I hadn’t heard of but seems extremely interesting.”

“(hearing) the individual stories was most useful.”

“I am about to finish uni, so it was great to hear about the journeys that others have taken. The presentations were very good, and the time allocated was perfect.”

NYSF will be running a similar alumni event in conjunction with the Sydney Next Step program in July.

Our thanks to IP Australia for its partnership in 2017, and The University of Melbourne for its ongoing support as a partner of the National Youth Science Forum.