Opening students' eyes to a career in science

When a small group of Woodridge State High School students experienced work in a University of Queensland medical research laboratory, the messages passed on to them were clear.

Intelligence, bright ideas and hard work are essential to succeed as a scientist.

And neither gender, race nor religion have any effect on someone’s scientific abilities.

“A world-changing idea can come from anyone.”

Dr Fiona Simpson

Six students from Years 11 and 12 were chosen to take part in the school holiday program at UQ’s Diamantina Institute at the state-of-the-art Translational Research Institute.

Coordinator Dr Fiona Simpson, a renowned breast cancer researcher, said the main aim was to show these students that science was for everyone.

“No matter what their background or socio-economic group, a career in research is an option for these bright young people,” Dr Simpson said.

“We have people from countless nationalities working at UQ, with many different languages and cultures.

“A world-changing idea can come from anyone.”

Year 12 student Gilbert Nifasha said the program had given him new skills and the confidence to pursue his dream of studying haematology.

Gilbert left Burundi in East Africa as a four-year-old boy and travelled to Tanzania and Kenya as a refugee before coming to Australia in 2014.

“When I started studying in Australia, I started loving all science subjects and the teachers have been very helpful,” Gilbert said.

“Science has become one of my passions since I was a little kid.”

Jae Lee Lor, student

When Jae Lee Lor finishes Year 12, she hopes to become a registered nurse and eventually a doctor.

She spent six years as a refugee in Thailand after fleeing her home in Laos with her family, arriving in Australia at the age of 10.

“Science has become one of my passions since I was a little kid.”

“My mum told me, ‘do you want to become a doctor?’ and I believe that yes, I want to be a doctor, but it’s very hard to do.

“I think I will become a nurse first because a nurse can be a step to make me a better doctor.”

Woodridge SHS Head of Science Susannah McLaughlin says students find the experience invaluable and it opens their eyes to new possibilities.

“The students are amazed by their experiences. They can’t believe they are working alongside researchers, assisting them with real life research projects,” she explains.

“It’s a very multicultural institute and seeing that makes them feel confident that if they continue to work hard, they have every opportunity to be successful.

“If they’ve been uncertain about their abilities or how to access a pathway into health and medicine, then this experience confirms for them that they are up to the challenge.”

The on-going partnership between UQ and Woodridge State High School aims to foster an interest in STEM and encourage students to enrol in tertiary education.

More than 30 students have taken part in the program since its inception in 2013.

Woodridge State High School students and teachers with Dr Fiona Simpson.

Woodridge State High School students and teachers with Dr Fiona Simpson.

Each year, UQ provides $500 scholarships to a limited number of students, depending on the number of applications received.

The scholarship assistance is used to help with study supplies or to supplement family income, so the students can participate in the week-long program.

“We hope this program helps these bright, determined students feel that they belong among us and that they are comfortable in joining our scientific and medical endeavours,” Dr Simpson said.