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 amanda@nysf.edu.au; we’d love to hear your story.

Highlights of the NYSF 2014 January Sessions

The Chief Scientist for Australia, Professor Ian Chubb AC, spoke to students at the Opening Ceremony of Session C, about his own career, illustrating that a fulfilling and stellar career can come from the humble beginnings of playing soccer with your dog in the back yard; and that hard work will pay off.  He also spoke about the intersection between science literacy and policy development, and the need for quality advice at the highest level.

Professor Ian Chubb, AC, the Chief Scientist for Australia addressed students attending the NYSF Session C 2014

Professor Ian Chubb, AC, the Chief Scientist for Australia addressed students attending the NYSF Session C 2014

In Perth, recently retired Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley, warmly welcomed the students, her enthusiasm and encouragement staying with them throughout the program.

Recently retired Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley, (c) with students and guests at the Session B 2014 Science Dinner

Recently retired Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley, (c) with students and guests at the Session B 2014 Science Dinner

Hamish Jolly, from Shark Mitigation Systems, spoke about the process of commercialising research into an innovative wetsuit design with the University of Western Australia.  He highlighted the importance of scientists understanding the role of the entrepreneur in translating research to market – and that while blue sky research is important, so is commercialising products to meet a market and community need.  Scientists have a role to play in each part of that process and indeed, the scientist could also be the entrepreneur.

NYSF 2014 Session B Science Dinner Guest speaker Rob Jolly, from Shark Mitigation Systems

NYSF 2014 Session B Science Dinner Guest speaker Rob Jolly, from Shark Mitigation Systems

Dr Erica Sloan, echoed Mr Jolly’s view.  Erica is an NYSF alumna and former student staff member, and now has a very successful career as a leading cancer researcher at Monash University and the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science. The occasion of her address at the Session C Rotary Dinner was featured in The Australian newspaper’s online edition.

Dr Erica Sloan, NYSF alumna, addressed the NYSF 2014 Session C Rotary Dinner

Dr Erica Sloan, NYSF alumna, addressed the NYSF 2014 Session C Rotary Dinner

Professor Terry Speed and Professor Angela Moles, both winners of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2013, spoke with passion about their journeys to conducting world-leading research and the challenges affecting their careers including the need for professional and sometimes personal reinvention.

Professor Terry Speed at the NYSF 2014 January Session A Science Dinner

Professor Terry Speed at the NYSF 2014 January Session A Science Dinner

Professor Angela Moles (c) with students at the NYSF 2014 Session C Science Dinner

Professor Angela Moles (c) with students at the NYSF 2014 Session C Science Dinner

Dr Matt Wenham is an NYSF alumnus and former student staff leader who addressed the Rotary Dinner (Session A).  As well as outlining his study, research and career paths to date, he emphasised the importance of science literacy in policy-making and its impact on the wider community.

NYSF alumnus, Dr Matt Wenham, addressed the NYSF 2014 Session A Rotary Dinner

NYSF alumnus, Dr Matt Wenham, addressed the NYSF 2014 Session A Rotary Dinner

Students with Dr Matt Wenham

Students with Dr Matt Wenham

Former NYSF student Kirsten Gottschalk, an Outreach and Education Officer at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth accompanied the students on their visit there. Because of her NYSF experience, she understood the level of knowledge the students could access, resulting in an engaging and informative visit. Kirsten was also the Guest Speaker at the Session B 2014 Closing/Continuing Ceremony.

Kristin Gottschalk, NYSF alumna, addressed the closing ceremony of Session B 2014

Kristin Gottschalk, NYSF alumna, addressed the closing ceremony of Session B 2014