Life after the Champions Program

By Charlotte Beloe

Being a part of the UNSW Maths and Science Champions Program this year has been an amazingly enriching experience. Having not yet had the opportunity to try out my new skills I was curious about what life after the Champions Program is like. So this week I caught up with UNSW Maths and Science Champions alumnus Rosie Steinberg to find out.

Xenia sp. soft corals (white). Source: Rosie Steinberg

Rosie is currently doing her PhD on soft corals. “I work on the ecology of, threats to, and restoration potential of soft corals”, says Rosie. This involves two different projects: observing the effects of 2019 bleaching events on soft corals and research to inform the restoration of cauliflower corals in Sydney Harbour. If you’ve never seen a soft coral they’re definitely worth a quick Google or Youtube search! Rosie showed me her awesome video background of Xenia sp. pompom corals which definitely made me want to step up my video-conferencing game.

Reflecting on the past year, Rosie has found she has really honed her skills for science communication. “I think knowing some of the resources for science communication that are available through the uni and getting introduced to social and regular media teams was really useful,” Rosie says. “The social media workshop was great, I got back into Twitter after 8 years! I boosted my public image and managed to build a decent SciComm following.”

It doesn’t stop at Twitter – Rosie says she is now more likely to actively engage with the public on social media and in blogs about her own research. “The program got me to think about my work in a broader context. I learned how to write for a wider audience without ‘dumbing my research down’.” It’s a very simple skill that is surprisingly difficult and one that Rosie still finds challenging. She’s quick to highlight its importance, “It’s important to make sure that my research is accessible. My focus is on conservation and at the end of the day I’m not the one out there doing the work in restoration. So if I can’t make my research accessible it’s pretty useless.”

Rosie in the field collecting D. australis corals for her research. Source: John Turnbull

Rosie also says that learning about presentation skills through workshops really boosted her confidence. “My presentation skills are definitely better, as is my general public speaking,” Rosie says. “I’m more comfortable accepting outreach and science communication offers, since I know I now have the skill set.”

It isn’t just skill development that Rosie has found useful; a highlight of the program was the relationships she built with other women. “I really liked the time spent with women from research areas I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Our paths would never have crossed.” Rosie explains, “I got to learn so much, especially what it means to be a woman in STEM.”

When asked what message she has for young women interested in STEM she commented, “Women are just as good as men in any area of STEM and this has been shown over and over.” She mused over her time working in mammalian research where she would have to lift whole animals, even a whole frozen cougar (with a bit of help of course)! “Try everything you are interested in and don’t let anyone shame you out of what you are interested in. Experiment, try things out, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.” Rosie continued. And that’s exactly what she has done over the years.

On a final note Rosie reflected, “Things are just getting better for women in STEM and we’re fighting to make it better. The women before us made it leaps and bounds better for us and we’ll do the same for the next generation.”

Follow Rosie on Twitter.

Looking after your mental health during COVID-19: A message for young people

By Joanne Beames

The coronavirus has created a lot of uncertainty in our lives. Each day, as our government tries to keep us safe, there are new rules put in place to regulate what we can do, how many of us can do it, and what can happen if we don’t comply.

Even as the restrictions start to ease, there is still some confusion about what the future holds.

In these circumstances, it’s understandable to feel worried, stressed or anxious.

That anxious feeling, after all, has evolved to help keep us safe from danger, and it can be amplified in times of change or uncertainty.

So, if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone.

In times like this it’s important to be proactive about your mental health.

Here are some things you can do that might help you stay mentally strong:

Keep in touch with friends and family. Source: Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
  • Stay in touch with your friends and family. You can still try to connect with others even if you can’t physically be with them.
  • Talk to your parents, your guardian, or someone that you look up to – tell them what you are worried about or how they can help you.
  • Keep doing the things that you enjoy. You might need to get creative to do this! What can you do inside, or online, that helps you to connect with friends or keep up some of your hobbies? Or is there something new that you have always wanted to learn or give a go?
  • Look after your body. We know that there is a mind-body connection – so try to get enough sleep, physical activity, and healthy foods in your diet. This can help with energy, concentration, and even feelings of happiness.
  • Try to keep to a routine. This is related to the point above but is more about being consistent with what you are doing each day. For example, keeping regular times for sleeping, waking, and doing schoolwork.
  • Limit reading the media. Exposure to lots of information about the coronavirus, especially misinformation or sensationalised news, can increase anxiety.
  • Actively try to help or be kind to someone. Doing things for other people can keep your mind occupied and improve your mood.

Even though it can be normal to feel anxious or worried, it’s still really important to look after your mental health and try to identify when you might not be coping.

Anxiety becomes a problem when you feel anxious most of the time, it is difficult to control, and it interferes with your daily life. Although there is not a “one-size-fits all” approach for anxiety disorders, there are some common symptoms.

Here are some common symptoms that you can look out for:

  • Feeling very worried, afraid, nervous, or even scared most of the time
  • Feeling panicky
  • Feeling irritable or upset in the stomach (you might even feel like vomiting)
  • Worrying that you are losing your mind
  • A pounding or racing heart
  • Twitching or trembling in your body
  • Increased sweating in certain situations (e.g., when you are feeling anxious)
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things (e.g., when doing schoolwork or even a hobby)
  • Sleep problems (like having difficulty falling asleep at night)
Source: Photo by Finn on Unsplash

If you experience any of these things or notice a sudden change in how you usually feel, it might be a sign that you need a bit of extra help to cope.

Here are some resources that can provide support:

If you would like some extra support, or just want to check them out to see what’s available, here are some links to online resources and tools:

If you want more help, talk to your parents or another adult you feel comfortable talking to (like another friend’s parent or teacher) to work out the next steps. It might be helpful for you to get check in with your GP or a mental health professional like a psychologist.

Follow Joanne on Twitter.