Posted by: waikatogifted | June 18, 2011

An Opportunity in Science for Young New Zealanders

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour icon.Guest blogger Stephanie St George was one of a handful of Waikato students to win a place at a science forum in Auckland. Here are her recollections:

At the beginning of 2008 I was fortunate enough to attend the 19th annual Rotary National Science and Technology Forum in Auckland. This is a two-week residential programme for students about to enter Year 13 who demonstrate potential in the sciences. (You can find out more about it here: http://www.rotary.org.nz/committee.cfm?ID=14 ) About 130 students from all over New Zealand are selected to attend each year, and because competition for places varies greatly from region to region, attendees range from top science scholars to simply interested students looking to explore what science is about.  The programme exposes students to a vast diversity of scientific disciplines over the course of two weeks, with visits to local tertiary education providers (The University of Auckland, AUT, Massey University Auckland) and science and technology companies specialising in biomedical engineering, forensics, medical laboratory work, drug design, biochemistry and more. Attending the Forum was an unforgettable experience, during which I gained invaluable insights into the realities of life in the world of science.

Being rather shy (you could call it antisocial) at the time, in the weeks leading up to the Forum I had entertained visions of the event as a kind of Nerdvana where social interaction would be optional, poor coordination the norm, and the few conversations that did take place would focus solely on the glories of knowledge.  Arriving at O’Rorke Hall on the first day I realised how tragically misguided my vision had been. I found myself surrounded by bubbly, vivacious, well-adjusted, tanned and fit young men and women. Half of them weren’t even wearing glasses! (Another quarter were barely wearing pants…) To call these people my peers, I felt at that moment, would be a gross corruption of the truth. I felt like a walking embodiment of all that is wrong with cutting one’s own hair and wearing sensible shoes.* Even here, among those who supposedly shared my passion and natural aptitude for science, I was still too odd, too geeky, too pale-skinned, dark-browed and bespectacled to be part of the in-crowd. I would be lying if I said this realisation wasn’t kind of gutting. I had been so excited about being valued for my brain for once, not having to worry about having the wrong hair or clothes. The fact I would be dealing with 17-year-olds had somehow escaped me. At the end of the evening I had still not learned any science, although thanks to some awkward forced socialisation games I had picked up a few people’s names. I fell into bed exhausted and didn’t dare hope tomorrow would be any different.

If tomorrow hadn’t been different, though, I wouldn’t be writing this. Everything changed with the first lecture. My rotation started with the subject of psychology, which was probably my favourite of all the lectures and the one I remember most fondly. Not only did the lecturer have a frizzy ponytail like me, she was also one of the most passionate and brilliant and enthralling lecturers I have ever encountered. And she had brains. I don’t mean she was intelligent – although undoubtedly she was – I mean she had in her possession several plastinated human brains. Real human brains that contained in their impossibly delicate circuitry the experiences and knowledge and memories and sensations that make up a whole human life. I was allowed to hold in my hands the very essence of what it is to be human. It is an indescribable feeling, to have in front of you the most complex piece of machinery on earth; to know that in the thousands upon thousands of years of human scientific endeavour, we have barely even scratched the surface in our understanding of this most beautiful of organs.

My close encounter with the brain was the first of many experiences over the next two weeks that would take my breath away. While the social events, daily exercise and volleyball tournaments didn’t thrill me as much as they did some other students, the lectures and labs where I was given the opportunity to simply observe, absorb and discuss the things I loved most in science made Forum a memory I cherish to this day. Although I didn’t end up making a huge number of friends among the other students, the lecturers and tutors at classes I attended were always willing to talk, answer my numerous questions, and generally encourage scientific curiosity. I came away from the Forum with a renewed passion for science and a drive to devote my life to biology. I believe such experiences are absolutely vital for curious students whose patience with the more banal aspects of science can be limited. It is important to continually remind students what they are working towards – the beauty in studying what makes life and the universe work, and the immense potential for discovery and innovation. The Rotary National Science and Technology Forum is one example of how this can be done, but there is a lot teachers, parents and students themselves can do. Science is tremendously important and will only become more so in the years to come.

*something I only did for Forum (we did a lot of walking) and haven’t repeated since. Having attained the confidence to wear red patent stilettos every day, I see no reason not to.

Stephanie is now studying biomedical science, unsurprisingly!

preserved specimens of human brains.

"It is an indescribable feeling, to have in front of you the most complex piece of machinery on earth; to know that in the thousands upon thousands of years of human scientific endeavour, we have barely even scratched the surface in our understanding of this most beautiful of organs," writes Stephanie St George.

This image, by Flickr member sgt fun, has attribution, non-commercial and no derivatives licenses.

Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour Link

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Responses

  1. What a lovely blog!!! and what a beautiful picture of the brain too.. it’s like flower petals or a batch of cinnamon cookies… ;-D… It is great to see a young person following a passion.. I wish you well..;-D

  2. Superbly written. I really enjoyed reading this and it gives me hope for the future for all gifted kids. There doesn’t seem to be enough physical experiences for kids to have these days in education. I wish there were more. There is no substitute for touching, feeling, doing no matter what discipline you are interested in. Well done! a great piece of writing.

  3. Wonderful blog, Stephanie. You made science come alive in your writing. So pleased to hear that you are following through with your passion.

  4. Beautifully & passionately written Steph.


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