Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dispensing advice can be exhausting

Aff and I attended a dinner last night, hosted by the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF). I scored two tickets to the dinner after presenting a show to some of the kids last week, on insect-inspired robotics and computer vision.

The NYSF is a strange beast. Each year, during the summer holidays, some of Australia's brightest year 12 entrants gather in Canberra for what is essentially a 2 week science boot camp. They get up at 7am, and do all manner of science throughout the day, then participate in various social events each night. It is obviously designed at attracting these kids to science and engineering fields, but also seems to have a large emphasis on building networks. Given Rotary Australia is largely responsible for the selection of the kids who attend this event, the latter is not entirely surprising.

The students are certainly bright and enthusiastic - and not short on confidence either (or in some cases, ego). I don't think I have ever been asked so many deep and philosophical questions about my field, and about science in general, as I was at last night's dinner. Both Aff and I were dispensing career, and university selection advice, like machine gun fire. This can be a slightly daunting prospect because they hang onto every word you say. Some of these kids were working the room like machines, moving from one researcher to the next, introducing themselves, and then proceeding to drill the person with deep questions about the role of science in society, or the difference between instinct and emotion (well answered Aff), and my favourite question of the night, "what do you do when you run out of research ideas?".

After four hours of this, and a three course meal, and a guest speaker (who by coincidence, just so happened to be my supervisor Srini), the night was over. Afterwards, Aff and I headed straight home and flopped on the couch, completely exhausted. I found it hard to sleep last night, trying to recollect all the advice I had dispensed, and whether I had given these very attentive, impressionable kids the right advice. I think I did, but it's hard to know. The fact is, I was not like these kids when I was their age, so I don't know how relevant my advice is. Then again, one of the most important skills to learn in life is to never take advice blindly, so either way, they have probably learnt something from me.

So it was a good night, and a very enlightening one. I do have some reservations about the selection process for this event, and the accessibility of this event for students from less priveledged backgrounds (this is only an observation from last night). Given the rigorous interview process conducted by the Rotaty, I fear that a lot of the brightest students are being missed because they lack the public speaking confidence (and perhaps, the charisma) to make the cut - but I can be a cynical bastard at the best of times. The event itself is a great initiative, and clearly of benefit to the kids that do attend. They were obviously enjoying themselves when I asked them about it last night.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering what I told the student who asked me what I did when I ran out of reseach ideas ...

simple .... I blog.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Mands said...

I'm sure they were all richer for the experience. Well done to you and Aff!

mands :)

1/11/2007 02:31:00 PM

 
Blogger Pearcey said...

Hey! I went to the NSYF (back when it was called the National Science Summer School - NSYF sounds much 'cooler') and look what it did for me!

Seriously, it was a great time but it is quite interesting to see how many of teh kids are now not in Science fields....

1/16/2007 12:48:00 PM

 

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