Extract from Alumni of Australian Science Innovations.
Since 1987, 260 young Australians have travelled internationally to compete in the Biology, Chemistry or Physics Olympiads. What did the experience mean to them? How did it influence their studies and their subsequent careers? Where are they now? Liz New says her favourite time at the Olympiads was the closing ceremony. “No-one knows who’s going to win a medal, and that adds to the excitement. The whole Australian team would be celebrating together with each medal, but we’d also be thrilled for our new-found friends from other countries.” She said.
She has great memories of the Olympiads. The exams were over in a few days, and the rest of the time was spent in cultural activities, and getting to know students from other countries. “I remember late-night card games with twenty students packed into one room. As the only girl in each of my teams, I was placed in a room with a girl from another country. I am still close friends with one girl from the Danish team in India – we have visited each other’s families, and shared the trials and tribulations of PhD life with each other.” She went on to study Advanced Science at the University of Sydney, and during that time she was a staff member for the ASI. “It meant so much to me to represent Australia at the Olympiad, and then to do it all again as a staff member. I learnt so much more than just chemistry through the whole experience, and I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today without the Olympiads,” she said. Liz finished her PhD in chemistry at Durham University last year, and now she’s at UC Berkeley on an 1851 Postdoctoral Fellowship, developing tools to study metals in the brain.
“I think the international side of science is of particular significance to Australia, which can feel relatively isolated. The opportunity to interact with other countries through conferences, exchange programs and of course the Olympiad, is perhaps even more significant for Australians,” she said. “The International Chemistry Olympiad is an excellent example of how each country has its own problems and unique solutions. But it’s also a demonstration of how much scientists around the world share. “It’s amazing how a group of chemically-minded high school students from vastly different backgrounds have so much in common, and form quick and fast friendships.”
So what is the next step? “I’d like to work in academia, hopefully in Australia. I really love both teaching and research. I’d like to continue to the research in the area of chemical biology, building chemical tools to understand biological systems.” She said. Taking the Australian team to the Olympiad four years after she was a student meant that her own experiences were still fresh. “So I was able to give them good advice, like going to bed early the night before their exams! But I hope as staff we were able to stress the importance of making the most of the amazing opportunity the Olympiads offers; to experience a different culture, to make lasting friendships and to see how the world of science is so much bigger than a high school classroom,” she said.