Changing the way we see science

30 September 2015

2016 Menzies Engineering Scholar, Liz Killen, mentoring students in STEM subjects. Liz Killen, a recent UNSW chemical engineering graduate with a passion for science outreach and communication, has been awarded the 2016 Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Scholarship in Engineering. Liz will use the scholarship to complete a Master of Science Communication at the Imperial College, London.

A chemical engineer by trade, Liz completed her honours year exploring how microscopic tubes could be used to stop bacteria growing in the pipes that manage our water supplies. She’s now turning her attention to better understanding how we can engage our society in learning and talking about science and maths.

“I am passionate about increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) literacy of the Australian society, and uptake of students of STEM subjects at schools,” Liz Killen.

“While this master’s title is science communication, the principles apply equally as well whether it’s in sciences, such as physics and chemistry, or mathematics and technology. Understanding how to engage is key, which in turn can be applied to both the education and public engagement aspects of engineering and sciences.”

Liz is no stranger to the importance of good communication for promoting STEM subjects. Growing up in Tamworth in northern NSW her science and maths teachers provided her with the initial inspiration and motivation to study science and education. In addition, throughout her senior high school years, university degree and work at Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, she has worked both as science and maths tutor and with programs such as Scientists in Schools and the Aspire Ambassador program, which encourage students to attend university and study STEM courses.

“I found it rewarding helping people understand and make connections between science and the real world. It was always fascinating to see the moment when things c2016 Menzies Engineering Scholar, Liz Killenlick for people, or when they start to get an understanding of what science or engineering can encompass.”

While Liz has always been a high achiever – she’s won numerous awards, including the 2012 University Medal for the best performance in undergraduate degree and thesis – it is her curiosity and hard work that has led to success.

“Through my chemical engineering degree I got to combine the problem solving and practical aspects of engineering – something I particularly enjoy. Things weren’t always easy, but I’m one of those people that when things get hard, I just tend to work harder – I got my best marks at university in the subjects I thought I was going to fail!”

The final nudge to transition from a research career to one of science advocacy and leadership came from one of Liz’s mentors.

“I kept getting involved in science engagement and after a while, one of my mentors helped me understand that it was what got me really energised and excited. As I learned more about it, I realised how important it was that the general public can be engaged in science and engineering because it is (or should be) the basis for making sensible decisions.”

At the moment Liz is in London building connections and learning how science communication is being done in the European context. When she returns to Australia she aims to apply her learning in the Australian context.

“Ultimately I want to be involved in big impact projects, whether it’s informing policy by working with politicians or driving initiatives to get more science engagement happening in our schools and the community,” Liz said.

The scholarship, awarded by The Menzies Foundation, will cover Colleges fees and provide funds for living expenses for the duration of the degree.

Tags: Menzies Scholar Engineering STEM