A few weeks ago I attended a conference that was a little out of my research comfort zone. The title of the conference was ‘Gender, science and wonder’ and it was run by the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies. I decided to attend for two reasons: 1) a friend of mine was giving a talk, and 2) there would be free food. Plus the conference was only for two days and was just a short walk away. Little did I know how valuable this experience would be.
The conference incorporated some very broad research areas and topics from the science of scent, to the monstrous views Aristotle had regarding women and the disabled (seriously what was wrong with that guy?). The best part of the conference (apart from my friend’s wonderful presentation titled ‘(Wo)man the hunter: the role of gender in the archaeological record”) was a Robogals workshop run by Sam Cheah. The workshop had us using a software program to tell little lego robots what direction, speed etc to go in, in order to navigate a short obstacle course. We, myself and the other attendees, turned it into a competition each trying to be the first team to get our little robot over the finish line. We set up the movement instructions on laptops, transferred those instructions to the robots and then got the robots to carry them out. From this simple process Sam and the Robogals program got everyone to succeed in programming Robots in the first 15mins. This was great for us but for school students, who the program is actually aimed at, that first success can mean the difference between interest and apathy.
Much to my dismay my teams’ Robot, which we nicknamed SHRIMP, was not the first to reach the finish line but it got there eventually (which was unexpected given that it kept veering to the left!).
Overall I had such a great time that I decided then and there to contact Sam and see if I could become part of the program that brings these activities to schools. So that’s how I became volunteer Funding Co-ordinator for Engage: University Outreach. I’m now part of a team that aims to showcase the various career options that university education can lead to by bringing practical and engaging programs, like Robogals, out to high school students in regional areas. Having come from a regional area, I understand how these types of programs can have an impact and how detrimental the absence of them could potentially be.
Wow, am I glad I attended that conference! By stepping outside of my research bubble and trying something new I met some wonderful people, became part of a great non-profit organisation and on top of that I got to take home a whole plate of leftover sushi and a bag of coffee from the conference!