Inspiring Young Minds: a glimpse into our outreach events at local schools

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By: Lilly Hatwell, Clinical MED Teaching Support, UNSW, Sydney.

Recently, our champions have been out in the community visiting local schools with a mission to ignite a passion for all things STEMM through engaging talks and hands-on demonstrations. Our group, consisting of higher degree and early career researchers from various fields, was thrilled to share our personal journeys into the world of STEMM and provide a practical, exciting glimpse into who we are and what we do.

The power of personal stories

Our first outreach event took place at Killarney Heights High School. Our talks to the year 10 cohort focused on the diverse paths we each took to pursue careers in STEMM. From overcoming challenges to switching career paths, each story was unique. Alex spoke on her journey from professional dance into immunology, Nora spoke on the diverse opportunities in the field of ecology, Kayla opened our eyes to the world of physics and lasers and Lilly and Elissa shared their experiences of growing up in small towns and their unconventional paths into science. Our goal was to show students that a career in STEMM is not only about having top grades but also about resilience, curiosity, and a love of learning.

Hands on science

At the primary schools, our approach was very interactive. At both Rainbow Street Primary School and Mascot Primary School, we set up several stations, each dedicated to a different area of STEMM. Students from years 5-6 absolutely buzzed as they made their way from one station to another, experiencing all that STEMM has to offer. At one station, 3D models allowed students to build chemical structures whilst at another station fossils were buried in sand pits waiting to be discovered. The planetarium was a crowd favourite, allowing the students to get up close and personal with the solar system and science got messy with DNA extractions from strawberries. We also had a model of the human body with removable organs, 3D printed viruses and dichroic cubes to investigate the wonders of light and rainbows.

Our team guided them through each demonstration, explaining STEMM in fun, accessible ways. The energy was infectious, with students eagerly participating, asking questions about what we do day-to-day, as well as sharing with us what they want to be when they grow up and their ideas for new inventions.


The feedback from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers appreciated that we brought the world of STEMM to life and noted that students were engaged and enthusiastic following our visit. Many students from Rainbow Street Primary School even wrote us letters thanking us for the experience. “I really enjoyed getting to know how vaccines work. It was really cool!” one student wrote. Another wrote, “You all have inspired me a lot more to be fascinated about the topic science.”

For us, the event was an important reminder of why we chose STEMM. We can sometimes be so deep in the intricacies of our research that we forget to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Engaging with the students not only allowed us to share our knowledge but also to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians. These outreach events were a huge success, reminding us of the joy and responsibility we have in shaping curious young minds.

Women in Maths and Science meets SciX: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity in STEM

By Elizabeth Haris

For the third year in a row, UNSW has delivered a successful Science Extension (SciX) program to senior high school students passionate about science—and this year, some of our PhD champions got to take part!

SciX@UNSW is a summer school developed for high school science students to extend their understanding of the scientific method. Developed in collaboration with high school science teachers as a response to the Science Extension Syllabus, students take part in their own scientific research, developing a hypothesis, analyzing data, and presenting their findings. As well as learning technical lab skills like mathematical modeling, programming, and statistics, students also learn transferable skills like planning a project, collaboration, and critical thinking. And of course, one important aspect in all these things is a deeper understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

A few of us PhD champions were involved in a panel discussion aimed at facilitating a conversation about the critical importance of EDI to progress in STEM. We took part in a discussion on issues surrounding open science, diversity, and representation in science, which is something particularly important to us as champions for women in maths and science.

Though open science creates enough conversations in its own right, it is imperative that there are EDI practices across all aspects of science to enable science to be completed, published, and accessible to all. Introducing students to practices that enable the production of reproducible science—open code, deidentifying and sharing data, transparent research practices—is crucial at the beginning of their science careers to create good working practices. Yet just having good working practices isn’t enough to make science accessible to all. Students were also introduced to the practices still making science inaccessible (e.g., pay to publish articles and pay to read articles), and how this affects society at large. If we can’t make science accessible to all, we risk making it elitist and unrepresentative of society at large. But if we can facilitate a discussion about the inequities in the accessibility of science at the beginning of these scientists’ careers, then hopefully they can help create the change we need to see.

The SciX EDI panel featuring UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Elizabeth Haris, Suki Jaiswal, Savannah Minihan and Charuni Pathmeswaran

The other important topic of the session was the representation of minorities and women in STEM, primarily centered around a 2012 video by the European Commission titled, Science, it’s a girl thing!. A dismal attempt designed to entice high school girls to pursue careers in science, this video simply reinforced stereotypical gender cliches of men as ‘serious’ scientists (i.e., in lab coats), and women wearing high heels, short skirts, and makeup, and just posing and giggling. Allowing students the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on the video and on the representation of women in STEM in general, brief discussions were held surrounding gender stereotypes in science, women entering science and staying in science, and why it’s important to have diverse perspectives in science. It is exactly these kinds of issues that need to be at the forefront of these students’ minds when entering STEM fields: not only are they the ones these issues will affect, but they are the ones who can help change the system. If we empower students at the beginning of their science careers to stand up for representation in science, then hopefully one day we can all benefit from such a rich and diverse STEM environment.

As champions in maths and science, it was a pleasure seeing these young minds critically engaging with issues crucial to the progress of EDI in STEM through the SciX program. Fostering such an understanding of EDI in the next generation of scientists will not only allow for more inclusive science practices, but also create a more diverse population of compassionate, kind, and caring individuals in STEM and in society at large. Something from which we could all benefit.