Mentoring the next generation of scientific researchers

October 14 / 146

Dr Laura Downie (left) and Kathy Chang (right) are working on research to help contact lens wearers avoid eye infections
Dr Laura Downie (left) and Kathy Chang (right) are working on research to help contact lens wearers avoid eye infections

Melbourne researchers are mentoring high school students as they tackle science research questions of their own devising.

Kathy Chang, a student at the Elizabeth Blackburn School of Sciences (EBSS) is one of this year’s first cohort of 87 students working with a mentor to complete the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Unit 3-4 Extended Investigation subject.

Under the guidance of optometry and vision sciences researcher Dr Laura Downie, Ms Chang is investigating how well the hygiene routines of contact lens wearers’ match up with best practice.

Students work with their mentor to develop a scientific research question, formulate and test a hypothesis, and then analyse and present the results of their investigation in a 4,000-word written report and oral presentation to a non-specialist panel.

Dr Downie said she saw the program as a way to inspire the next generation of researchers.

“Being a research mentor has given me the opportunity to share my passion for optometry and clinical research with Kathy,” she said.

“Through this project, she has gained insights both into optometry as a clinical discipline, as well as how this pathway can be combined with research.

“Being able to help Kathy pursue her research interests is something that I have found to be really valuable.”

Ms Chang hopes that her research will contribute to better understanding of current contact lens hygiene practices and the development of new technologies to reduce the risk of infections.  

She said scientific research was a path she would consider after she completes her VCE.

“I would talk to my friends about our projects and we agreed that even after this program we'd still want to continue researching some of our topics, instead of just ending with our oral report,” she said.

Bio21 Institute director Professor Tony Bacic emphasised EBSS’ role in developing the learning and teaching of the broader sciences. 

 “It is an investment in the future growth and sustainability of Australia’s scientific research and innovation sector,” he said.

“Together we are working towards increasing the number and level of performance of school and university science, maths and engineering graduates and teachers.”

The EBSS is a sub-school of University High School, with select entry open to students across Victoria. 

It is a collaboration between the Victorian Government, The University High School and the University of Melbourne, including the Bio21 Institute and Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

The EBSS aims to allow students a deeper engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

The EBSS is looking for research and teaching staff to act as mentors for 2015. For more information or to register interest in the program, please contact EBSS Head Chris Jones.

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