NYSF 2014 International Program: the view from the assessor’s chair.

You’d think that gaining a place in one of the January sessions was exciting enough but for 120 of this year’s NYSF students, the chance to compete for a place in our 2014 International Program obviously proved irresistible … even though winning one of the 37 coveted places might mean missing as much as six weeks of Year 12.

The NYSF has been running an International Program for 25 years now. Originally it was open only to those selected for the student-staff training program, and the trips were regarded as another opportunity for future leaders to manage challenges.

In 2010 applying for the program was opened to anyone who attended that year’s January sessions. We wanted to offer the same horizon-broadening opportunities to all NYSF students. Who wouldn’t benefit from meeting other like-minded individuals and seeing extraordinary science in places such as London, Boston, Pretoria, Vancouver, Heidelberg, and Copenhagen? Two students even get the chance to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Not surprisingly everyone wants to go, at least in principle.

So how do we select students to attend? Well, assuming there’s permission from parents and the school principal – and the latter may be the greatest hurdle for some – the would-be global travellers must answer four questions about science interests, long-range goals and life outside school, plus document their recent academic performance rounded out with teacher references. It’s quite a straight-forward process. However if we ever wondered about the diversity of interests, activities and talent of NYSF students it’s on show in spades in these applications. It’s a snapshot of a remarkable group of young Australians.

Sure, there are common threads. For example this year there was an unusually high level of interest in the big physics questions like the origin of time and space, the role of black holes, and speculation about the nature of dark matter. Nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genetics also featured, as did curing cancer, alternative energy and climate change. In their “spare time” many excelled in science competitions, played every kind of sport imaginable (some at national level) and got involved in artistic, cultural, and community events.

Mixed in with these are more home-grown pursuits clearly triggered by an event, location or influential person encountered perhaps years ago. What makes these applicants stand out is that the interests drive their hobbies as well as academic achievement. There are birdwatchers and backyard experimenters (building engines, flying drones), amateur astronomers and algorithm writers. One student uses his diving skills to pursue interests in marine ecology and fish biodiversity. Another rural student is intrigued by the concept of modifying the diet of livestock to include native shrubs that reduce methane emissions.

With so much talent on display, and I haven’t even mentioned academic excellence, we selected candidates with clearly written, strong answers to each question, taking into account school performance and references. There are never enough places to give every deserving applicant a guernsey but I think that, as in previous years, we’ve ended up with a remarkable bunch of young ambassadors to represent the NYSF abroad. Congratulations!!

However, based on the calibre of all the applications received I think it’s very appropriate to commend everyone who made the effort to apply.


Geoff Burchfield

Program Development