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Undergrad students inspire future biochemists at high schools

Wednesday 26 October 2022 10:22am

A male university student stands in front of a whiteboard in a class room, talking to an unseen audience. 

It is not an easy thing to keep a class of high school students quiet and attentive for 20 minutes.

Our 300-level students have recently been sharing their enthusiasm for biochemistry with high school students throughout Dunedin as part of their their second semester assessments.

Usually our undergraduate students learn about the intricate molecular details underpinning essential life processes, and how to research them. However, in the paper 'BIOC360: Research Perspectives in Biochemistry', our biochemistry majors learn about other aspects essential to being a scientist in New Zealand, including how the science system works in this country, and how to communicate your research to different audiences.

To practice their communication skills, the students form small groups and create presentations about some of the research that goes on in the biochemistry department, and what it's like to study biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Otago.

They then visit year 12 and 13 students in one of Dunedin's high schools, usually Otago Boys' High School, Otago Girls' High School, Kaikorai Valley College, St. Hilda's Collegiate School, King's High School, Queen's High School, or Kavanagh College.

This year our third-years rose to the challenge, providing enthusiastic performances that helped to introduce the high schoolers to some of the exciting scientific research happening right here in Dunedin.

Topics were diverse, including gene therapy for Batten Disease, Protein Structure, Green-lipped mussels and climate change, and the evolution of ratites (such as Moa and Kiwi).

The high schoolers particularly appreciated the opportunity to talk directly with university students about what to expect from university life and how to prepare for it.

One of our presenting groups kindly agreed to have their presentation recorded so that more high schoolers could share in their enthusiasm for biochemistry. You can watch Hamish, Pei-Yu, Storm, and Rose talk on the Otago Biochemistry YouTube channel here:

Four young people standing in a line in front of a whiteboard and projector screen, smiling at the camera
Photo at top of page: Xavier Yates presenting Dr Paul Gardner's research on ratite evolution to students at Otago Boys' High School.
Above, from left: Ruby Arrowfield, Danielle Kelsey, Toby Dawn-Sugrue, and Gaia Hendrikse-Strydom at Otago Boys' High School.

Four students and their professor stand lined up in front of an old iron fence and a castle-like stone school building on a blue-sky clear winter day
Above from left: Jasmine Eteuati, Sophie Dinwiddie, Jeremy Wapp, Xavier Yates, and Associate Professor Chris Brown at Otago Boys' High School.

Four students wearing biochemistry branded t-shirts and their professor stand in front of large windows, two holding plastic protein models, and one holding a cardboard representation of a lysosome.
Above from left: Associate Professor Sigurd Wilbanks, Storm Voice-McCulloch, Rose Harper, Pei-Yu Chiu, and Hamish Murdoch at St. Hilda's Collegiate School.