As a first year PhD student, I was a bit concerned about how my research was taking shape, and hence majority of my time would be spent inside the lab. But after I progressed into the second year and had a clear cut idea as to how my project would be in the next two years, I realized I can do a lot better time management. So, I started utilizing my ‘extra’ time into doing something other than research. I have always loved teaching, and hence I applied for tutoring at the university. Along with that, came this opportunity to become a Young Science Ambassador of Queensland.
Once selected as a potential YSA, I understood, this ‘job’ also required equal dedication and I was excited to prove myself even in this field. All YSAs were entrusted with different schools throughout Queensland. Our job was to visit the schools and inspire the students about the ongoing ‘stuffs’ about science, coupled with providing them challenge tasks to prove their merit and bag a prestigious ‘Science kit’ for their schools. I was paired up with Mr. Patrick Biggins, a former and more experienced YSA, to travel to two such schools of the Surat Basin – Taroom State School and Wandoan State School. As it was my first visit, I was extremely excited to be a part of this mission. We got down at Roma, and took a long drive to Wandoan amidst the building up violent weather in Queensland.
We were greeted by the enthusiastic teachers and other staffs. We were helped a lot by their Science teacher. We interacted with 8 students from Grade 7/8 with whom we shared the knowledge of magical mixtures, playing games and helping them expand their knowledge about separation techniques. It was followed by 3 students from Grade 9, with whom we interacted more scientifically with Chemical Reactions, showing them how common household items can also be chemically rich and give us an idea about how energy changes take place in the environment. Post lunch, we interacted with Grades 4/5/6, the craziest and most enthusiastic bunch of all, to whom we talked about various planets and our solar system in particular. The enthusiasm of the kids were reflected from their interesting questions regarding planets and their ultimate curiosity to know how the planets were named as they are now. These questions at time did take us by surprise, but we were glad that they were enjoying and taking the lessons seriously. Another interesting debate that I conducted was if they considered our Sun to be equivalent to God, as it's the Sun that sustains life in our planet. We listened to both the sides of the debate and were happy that it kept the students engrossed. We finished off with a small rocket launching game using Alka Seltzer tablets and water, which they loved and wanted more of it despite it being super chilly outside amidst the rain. While we were signing off for the day, some students came up to us and enthusiastically asked us about the date of our next visit, clearly hinting at the success of our first visit.
Taroom State School was academically more ahead than Wandoan and the students were extremely well behaved and eager to learn, thanks to their Science teacher, Ashley. Our first group was year 5/6 (approximately 24 students) with whom we talked about earthquakes and earth movements. We designed several small quiz and playful activities to keep them engaged. This was followed by year 7/8 (16 students) with whom we mainly did the rocket launch angle experiment. Like every year, this was a huge success, with every group designing their own rockets, and intellectually devising various parameters that can affect the distance traveled by the rockets. We also conducted competition between the various groups, who strategically devised their rockets. Finally, our day ended with Year 9 (7 students), with whom we discussed about various rocks and soil textures and layers.
In both the schools, we noticed the various kinds of students, from over enthusiastics to a bit low, on gripping the talks. But it was commendable how the teachers would deal with each of them separately, which was also a good learning experience for us. Our second visit to both the schools was to check on their progress and we were greatly surprised how each of the groups had come up with their own share of ideas to perfect the challenge tasks. Now, is the time to get paid for all their hard works, when they’ll be competing against other schools at the regional conference at Roma. I really hope, at least one of the groups from our schools win one of the titles, to boost their confidence even more.
In between our first and second visit to the schools, we attended the prestigious Clunies Ross Science Awards, where four different scientists were awarded for their contribution to the society. The dinner was followed by a workshop next day, held at QUT, and attended by approximately 140 students from 40 different schools around Brisbane. While majority of us acted as chaperones on the day, a few experienced YSAs also interacted personally with the teachers and students and also conducted workshops. The students also got to hear in person from the Awardees and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Brian Schmidt.
Overall, my experience as a YSA has been both intellectually and emotionally rich. And for this I need to thank a lot of different people, ranging from the program coordinator, Robyn Bull, to my supervisor Matt Sweet, for supporting me, and also all of my fellow YSAs, especially Patrick with whom I went on all the trips. I’m looking forward to more such opportunities, as they not only come as a welcome refreshing change out of my research world, but also give me a time to ponder upon what I actually want to do in future, if I don’t want to pursue research in future.