You are presenting your research this week during National Science week. How do you differentiate the material you present at such a forum with the material you present to students?

At a forum such as this it is important to place the science in the context of a the bigger picture. The audience may not have a science background so I also need to use different language to ‘hook them in’. But I always back the story up with scientific facts. I use a similar approach with my students. Again I relate each idea or concept to a current news story or a recent science article, but we study the science in more detail compared to a presentation to a lay, non-scientific audience. In a presentation to professional scientists at a conference, it’s another approach again. There I would go into specific detail about a collection of experiments and the implications of the major findings.

A/Prof Sheila Donnelly
Associate Professor Sheila Donnelly

You are obviously very passionate about your research – how do you bring your enthusiasm into the classroom?

That’s easy because my research topic is very current and cutting edge. Biotechnology is the future! I can introduce science concepts to address a clinical problem, an unmet need or an environmental problem that needs solving. By placing the science in these contexts, the students can then relate to something they know or have heard about such as a news story or an article. Instilling that curiosity in students isn’t easy but I encourage my students to constantly get their teeth into problems and develop (research) questions.

How do you connect your classroom to the ‘real world’ through research?

Again, it’s about finding something they already know about and moving on from there. For example we discuss a genetic disorder such as cystic fibrosis and look at gene therapy to understand how it could be used to solve this ‘problem’. Introducing a scenario that relates to their social and personal world works well in my subject.

What impact on society can science graduates make, particularly in your area of biotechnology?

They can change the world! Perhaps not immediately, straight out of their undergraduate degree, but working as a scientist they are likely to discover something (may be small, may be big) that they inform the scientific community about. Someone may take that finding, that new knowledge and turn it into something major that could positively impact on the field of health, our health or on our environment. How great to have contributed to that.

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