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Why we chose to study Science and Engineering

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 1.52.25 pmIf you’re anything like us, at some point in time you have had to sit down and think: so what do I actually want to study? Thinking of career goals and deciding on subjects and majors can be daunting, so we’ve put together some reflections from our *WISE* old (pun intended hehe) committee members to inspire you.

-Hayley G, Masters of Chemical Engineering

I took a somewhat circuitous path towards studying chemical engineering at university, but I’m glad I got here in the end. One of the main things that really appealed to me about studying engineering was working towards solving real-life problems that, in addition to requiring strong mathematical and logical reasoning skills, would give me the freedom to be creative in working towards a better solution. I picked chemical engineering in particular because it played to my strengths and because there are so many interesting areas that a chemical engineer could potentially work in.

-Rachel M, WISE president

Growing up, I was surrounded by everything to do with science and maths. My house was filled with telescopes, metal detectors, puzzles, insect traps, David Attenborough documentaries and an enormous collection of books and atlases. I also had a cliche lightbulb moment in high school that I still remember clearly to this day.

I had been been stuck whilst working on an assignment in Year 12 Specialist maths, so I had gone for a run to clear my head. I hadn’t even been thinking about the problem, when suddenly, out of nowhere, I realised what the solution was! It was incredible to realise that I was so focussed on solving the problem that it felt like my brain had started working on it subconsciously. I’m not studying neuroscience so I’m not sure if that is actually how it works, but the joy and sense of achievement I gained from getting the answer to a difficult problem after lots of hard work made me commit to maths at University.

At the same time, I had always been fascinated by the environment and hadn’t studied biology at high school, so University was the chance to do both. I’ve ended up with a BSc Majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a Concurrent Diploma in Applied Mathematics so it’s worked out pretty well for me! I’m still not sure what the next step is, which is both scary and exciting! My one piece of advice (with apologies to Tim Minchin) is just to be micro-ambitious and work hard on every opportunity that comes your way until you find the one that fits you the best.

-Emma F, Bachelor of Science

Deciding to study science was an easy choice for me – I excelled in high school and saw plenty of opportunity to explore many areas of science. In my first year of undergrad, I did a range of biol, chem, maths and a *random fun choice*: foundations of computing. If it weren’t for that subject then I would never had chosen my major Computational Biology. For those of you unaware of this area of science, it is a combination of bioinformatics, data analysis, developing algorithms and modeling of biological systems. A great choice for those torn between Maths, Computer Science and Genetics or Ecology.

I have also made the decision to underload my undergrad (pun not intended). This is when you only take 3 subjects per semester, adding on an extra semester or some summer subjects to make a 3.5 yr degree. In doing so, I have been able to get involved in volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, teaching, and organising WISE events. My involvement in these activities has helped me to decide on my career goal – teaching science/maths in high schools in order to encourage more girls and students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter STEM fields.

If you’d like some more support and advice about your future, we recommend the Careers department, who can help you with these big decisions. Our WISE events are also a great chance to get inspiration from prominent women in the STEM field, network with other students and make industry connections. Tomorrow the 2nd of May, we are hosting a panel event “Gender Equity in STEM: Moving Forward” see here for further details.  

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My Maths Summer Vacation Research

A question that most maths students ask themselves at some point during their undergraduate studies is “What does a mathematician actually do all day?” It’s a valid question! I was keen to find out so I applied for the School of Mathematics and Statistics Summer Vacation Research Program.

Once I’d been accepted, I was a little apprehensive about what my January would involve. After all, my BSc major is actually Ecology and Evolutionary Biology! I’m also studying a concurrent diploma in Applied Mathematics so I knew I had the relevant background knowledge to have a go with research, but I was very conscious that most other summer scholars had done a lot more maths than I had! Nevertheless, I put my nerves and self-doubt aside and gave it my all.

The program involves four weeks of research over the summer holiday with a supervisor to guide your project. Since I’m studying biology and maths, I was keen to do a project that involved both so I chose one related to computational biology. Most of the project topics offered are listed on the Vacation Scholarship website page (link is at the end) but you can also approach academics individually if you have a particular area of interest, which is what I did.

My project was on modelling infectious diseases. My supervisor and I agreed to work on it step by step, rather than set a specific problem to solve at the start. Most research projects evolve over time and can change direction so I was happy with this approach.

I spent the first week learning the pieces of theory I hadn’t learnt in my subjects. It was a very new experience to learn concepts independently, rather than from a lecturer or tutor. I did find it challenging at first but it was great that I could go at my own pace and take side tangents when I came across something that I found particularly interesting. You don’t often get the chance to do this in subjects during the semester when assignment deadlines and exams are looming!

I also got to practice a whole range of different skills, including coding, learning LaTex, writing a scientific report, communicating mathematical concepts and creating a research poster. In writing this post, I’ve realised how much I actually learnt over summer.

One of the best parts of the project was the people that I met. First of all, it was great to have time to spend talking to an academic one on one about their research and gain insights into their career pathway. Meeting some of their graduate students and hearing PhD talks was an especially valuable experience. I was also surrounded by a group of other maths undergraduates who were a great source of inspiration, knowledge and friendship. They made the whole experience fun and made sure that undertaking research was much less intimidating than I had expected it to be!

If you’re interested in having a go at maths research through the summer vacation scholarship program, I really encourage you to apply.  Applications open later in the year, so keep an eye out on your maths subject LMS pages and on the Maths and Stats website here: http://www.ms.unimelb.edu.au/~vacation/. You can also have a read of some of the old project posters scattered around the maths department, or get in touch and I can tell you even more about it!

-Rachael
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My first hackathon: Codebrew 2017!

What do you get if you cross 100 coders and a significant amount of coffee?

CISSA’s annual hackathon, CodeBrew 2017!

This event brings together students from a variety of disciplines, including hardcore hackers, business brains and everyone in-between.

I decided to participate in CodeBrew at the last minute, thanks to a last-minute giveaway from Women in Tech. I had no previous hackathon experience, and was a little apprehensive about whether, with just over a year of coding under my belt, I could be useful to a team. For those who haven’t heard of a hackathon, it is a non-stop competition, usually over a couple of days, where the aim is to create a working demonstration of a technical product, and then pitch it to a panel of expert judges.

The concept can seem a little intimidating, but staying up all night is not compulsory!

Some people come with a team, but plenty form a team at the event, as I did, with people I had met only a few minutes before.

CISSA organised numerous mini workshops throughout the weekend by experts in their field, including in Microsoft Azure, design thinking and pitching. All the workshops were excellently presented and helped us to make the most of our ideas and pitches. Mentors from sponsor companies gave up their time to advise us and help troubleshoot our problems.

We worked hard throughout the weekend, motivated by a combination of the pressure of pitching to expert judges, generous cash prizes and plenty of instant coffee. My team and I built an augmented reality (AR) app, which led to us coming second!

What struck me about the weekend was how supportive and friendly everyone was. From fellow students to the mentors and judges, everyone was generous with their advice and feedback, making for a valuable learning experience. Many people there were CodeBrew veterans- a testament to the great atmosphere and organisation of this event.

I would urge anyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon. They are an excellent way to learn some new skills, network with potential employers and meet some great people. You don’t have to wait until CodeBrew next year- check out a list of all upcoming hackathons here: https://hackathonqueen.com/hackathons/

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My team and I (right) with our prize cheque.

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VCE Summer School

Hi there! I’m Emma, one of the WISE Activities Officers.

Over two of the hottest weeks in January, I volunteered as a tutor for a program called VCE Summer School, better known as “VCESS”. This program is run at Unimelb and offers a broad range of subjects to over 400 students who wish to get a head start to their VCE. In addition to all the planning, training for and teaching my Biology 3/4 classes, I had the unique opportunity to work alongside a fabulous team of Residential Leaders, who worked tirelessly around the clock looking after the students who were staying on campus. Together we designed and ran activities such as an amazing race, escape-room adventure, disco, trivia night and study sessions, all of which were held at the residential college, St Hilda’s. In my role I also facilitated group discussions, mentored the students one-on-one and looked after their general wellbeing over the two weeks, facing many challenges along the way. I witnessed students who were not used to being in such a supportive learning environment, and the advice and tips I gave them really made a huge impact. Witnessing the personal, academic and social growth of students was incredibly rewarding for me and made the enormous amount of effort truly worthwhile.

VCESS is a fantastic volunteer opportunity, and for all those interested in applying next year you can visit  https://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/getinvolved/summerschool/ . Not only do you get the chance to change the lives of some of the most disadvantaged students across Victoria, but you get the opportunity to work with like-minded people who are so passionate about education and ensuring everyone has equal opportunity to do their best in VCE. Because of VCESS, it is now my goal to become a secondary maths/science teacher so that I can continue to teach, mentor and inspire students (especially girls!) and encourage them to achieve in STEM.

Emma (bottom right) and other VCESS tutors

Emma (bottom right) and other VCESS tutors

Emma Fazzino, BSc Student

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Hi from Venice!

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Buongiorno da Venezia! I’m Emma and I’m currently one of the Promotions Officers on the WISE team. Previously I’ve been Memberships Officer and Secretary so you might have seen me around at WISE events in the past, but not this year! As I’ve been in Europe since the middle of Jan – travelling and then starting university on the 1st of Feb at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice where I’m studying Italian language and culture for my Diploma of Languages. I added the Diploma onto my Bachelor of Science at the start of my third year after starting Italian in my second year. This is my first semester of my fourth year and I completed my major in Biomedical Engineering last year.

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Starting a language in your second year and adding the diploma so late isn’t the ‘normal’ way people do it or the university advertises, but most things are possible with course planning it just means quite a lot of subject juggling. But that’s okay as each person’s course plan is different and it’s working for me, and these subjects have been what I’ve always wanted to study. Even if it means I never seem to take the same subjects as my friends are.

Deciding to an exchange was never a large decision for me. I had always wanted to do one all through high school and then into University. But it had never worked out (timing and finances being the biggest roadblocks) but I knew that if I didn’t do one now I never would. Which is the same reason why I decided to study Italian and then to enrol in the Diploma. University is a time of opportunities and I just had to remind myself to take them!

Choosing to do an exchange in Venice was honestly more of a decision of convenience rather than one of me really wanting to go to Venice – full disclose I had already visited as a tourist in my teen years, it’s amazing, definitely go once in your life. But as a city for studying I wasn’t hugely drawn to it over the other options. I knew I didn’t want to go to a huge city as I wanted a change from Melbourne and preferably wanted to be able to walk everywhere but other than those things I didn’t have my heart set on anywhere in particular. But as happens for so many people when looking for exchange universities, I found the options were very quickly narrowed down by subjects offered. Ca’ Foscari was the only university where I could study Italian subjects but with most of them taught in English as my level of Italian is okay for conversation but not for a full university level subject surrounded by native Italian speakers. So Venice was top of my list.

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Getting ready to come was a long process of applying through Melbourne Global Mobility, completing lots of forms and keeping up to date with many different deadlines both for Melbourne University and also in Venice. But as everyone says, you forget about the forms and bureaucracy when you arrive just as you always manage to forget about exam stress until the next time you’re doing the exams!

Living in Venice is surreal, you get used to being here and then the sun comes out or you look at a canal in a certain light and it hits you how amazing it actually is. I’ve only (already!)  been here a month and a half but the calle are feeling normal and my old Venetian apartment is feeling familiar. Not like home exactly but somewhere comfortable in the best way. Being in a totally different environment has made me realise how Australian I am and how much I take Melbourne’s multiculturalism for granted – I miss all food that isn’t Italian! Please if you’re in Melbs have a curry or some dumplings for me.

My time so far has been amazing and I’m sure the coming months will top these as Europe moves into summer and longer nights full of spritz. If you want to see more photos of my travels and a few thoughts about being away I’m blogging (semi) regularly at http://www.rivendelltovenice.wordpress.com.

A presto!

All photos credit Emma Darling, who you can also follow on Twitter at @askemdarling.

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The World’s First Programmers

Hi I’m Matt, BSci (computing) graduate, gap-year computer science tutor, and proud WISE member. Since computer science is my thing, I thought I’d contribute to this blog with some of the remarkable stories I stumbled upon while researching the field’s history for a breadth subject last year. These are the stories of the world’s first programmers. Every user of modern technology (that includes you and me) owes a debt of gratitude and respect to these pioneers for their incredible contributions to the field. Let’s begin…

Back in the first half of the 19th century, long before digital computers existed, there was a programmer who took English inventor Charles Babbage’s concept for a steam-powered mechanical computer, and published notes on a sequence of operations for this theoretical computer to calculate Bernoulli numbers. These published notes are often regarded as the first ever computer program, and their author the world’s first computer programmer. This programmer’s name was Ada Lovelace.

Ada’s story is remarkable. She was able to understand the potential of Babbage’s Analytical Engine, even more so than Babbage himself. Indeed, Ada’s insight that computation could extend beyond numerical calculation foreshadowed the invention of the first electronic computers in the mid 20th century. There is no doubt that Ada Lovelace was a computer science visionary.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace, circa 1840 (via wikimedia, public domain)

Portrait of Ada Lovelace, circa 1840 (via wikimedia, public domain)

Fast forward just over one hundred years to the world of the first electronic computers, and you come to a group of six more pioneering programmers: the ENIAC Six. The ENIAC was one of the first general-purpose, reprogrammable electronic computers. From among the ranks of the two-hundred of women working as human computers at the University of Pennsylvania, six mathematicians were chosen for the job of programming the new machine to calculate ballistic missile trajectories for the U.S. Army during World War II. Their names were Kay McNulty, Betty Jean Jennings, Elizabeth Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Frances Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.

The difficulty of programming the ENIAC was an grossly underestimated by its designers. While the ENIAC was still under constructions, the women learned, from only logical diagrams, how to manipulate its switches and plugs to perform the necessary calculations. This form of programming required an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the machine.

Betty Jean Jennings and Frances Bilas programming the ENIAC (via wikimedia, public domain)

Betty Jean Jennings and Frances Bilas programming the ENIAC (via wikimedia, public domain)

In the years following the war, when the invention of the ENIAC was publicised, the achievements of its programmers were essentially ignored. Today, thanks to the efforts of the ENIAC Programmers Project, their story is being told. But the untold stories of pioneering women in technology go well beyond this. Anyone who has seen the film Hidden Figures will understand, and if you have ever used Wi-Fi, a search engine, or the internet (is that everyone yet?) you can thank women for their essential contributions.

According to research by Nathan Ensmenger for the book Gender codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing, the computing industry looked very different in its early days. Estimates of the proportion of women working in programming roles on these early machines are as high as 50%. In the years since, entrenched biases, unfortunate hiring practices and a myriad of other factors brought huge gender disparities to the computer science industry. The stereotypical geeky male programmer became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This brings us to the present. Today there is recognition of inequities in the industry, with many organisations such as WISE actively working to support women and diversity in STEM. It’s my hope that as many more stories of the extensive and pioneering contributions of women to computer science make their way through society, we will come to the realisation that computer science and technology are for everyone.

If you are keen to find out more about the gender equity challenges faced by computer science and tech industries, and how we can work to improve them for the future, come along to the CODE Documentary Screening (WISE x WIT) held on 15th March.

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Uni Survival Guide: Tips and Tricks!

Congrats, you’ve made it to uni! I’m sure you’ve already read about the best places to eat on campus and which libraries are the best to book for group study sessions! I’m here to enlighten you about how the not-so-young uni students have found their time and experience at uni and some trade secrets they’ve learnt along the way. We’ve collected ideas and insights from some rad science students in the WISE community. Read, learn and enjoy!

Initially, I was under the impression that one couldn’t just learn for sake of learning – that there must be some kind of vocational goal at the end. I remember being absolutely amazed to find out there was something called a “Mathematics Department”, a whole building dedicated to learning about maths. Sure, you can go to uni with lofty ideals of what you want to do “when you grow up”, but sometimes you’ll find yourself loving things that weren’t even in your 16 year old vocabulary. I found out what I wanted “to be”, which has opened my world up as to all the things I can do to achieve that.

Shanette De La Motte, MSc (Physics) student, former Physics Students’ Society president

Shanette at the SuperKEKB detector in Japan as part of her Masters project working on the Belle II experiment.

Shanette at the SuperKEKB detector in Japan as part of her Masters project working on the Belle II experiment.

Some pieces of advice:

  1. Make sure you learn your tute neighbours/ lab partners names – they might be cool and become a friend. It can be awkward in week 11 if you can’t remember their name!
  2. Join a club or two that interests you. Chances are you’ll be more likely to go with a friend, so get them to join too and make some new pals together!
  3. If you have time, bring your own lunch to uni in containers to avoid waste. If you drink coffee, invest in a keep cup. There are some places to buy them on and around campus. They’re groovy, sustainable and can save you coffee $$!

Jessie Moyses, MSc (Biosciences) student and WISE volunteer

Jessie (left) with WISE member Hilary on a field trip for a geology subject

Jessie (left) with WISE member Hilary on a field trip for a geology subject

Even if you didn’t enjoy maths at school, you should give Uni math a go because there’s less mind-numbing repetition and more thinking. It sounds cliche but consistent effort is generally much better than last minute cramming. It took me half of my first semester to realise this, and I spend the rest of it catching up. In terms of first year options I would highly recommend Accelerated Maths (AM), especially AM2. It is challenging, and you might regret it at the time, but I can promise that you will learn to love it, and in hindsight it will be a highlight of your degree.

Matilda Stevenson, BSc student and WISE Memberships Officer

I think in first year it can be hard to motivate yourself through the level 1 prerequisite and core subjects. I found my first year Environments core as a little irrelevant at the time. It can sometimes feel a bit bland, but push through! The civil engineering core subjects are much better and challenging (in a good way). I’d also recommend not underestimating the power of proper course planning. I used to avoid student services at all costs and ended up having to do my last level 1 prerequisite as a CAP (community access program) subject. Stop 1 can be overwhelming especially at the start of semester but it pays off to talk to someone about your study plan. Also Zambreros is the best lunch on campus.

Ella Williams, BEnvs student and WISE volunteer

Ella (left) volunteering at the WISE SummerFest stall with Activities Representative Areeba and President Rachael

Ella (left) volunteering at the WISE SummerFest stall with Activities Representative Areeba and President Rachael

If you would like to get more advice and insight into University life, or pass on your own tips, sign up for our peer mentoring program here! Expressions of interest close on Monday 13th of March. http://tinyurl.com/WISE2017mentoring

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Your WISE Summer Reading List

Hello from your new WISE President for 2017!

When I was in primary school, my best friend and I had dreams of publishing books together. I was to be the author, she the illustrator, and together we’d be the best literary duo the world had ever seen! We haven’t produced anything together (yet) but books remain one of my greatest passions. Every summer holiday I work through the reading list I compile throughout the year and this summer will be no different, except for the fact that I’ve compiled a special reading list for you as well.

This reading list is very close to my heart. These books have impacted my life or the way I see the world. They are about women, science, women in science and the fortitude women across the world and across time have exhibited in the face of sexism and oppression. By no means is this a comprehensive list. I have so much more reading to do myself before I could begin to call it that. It is just a small collection of books that have personally given me strength. I hope you love them as much as I do. Have a wonderful summer break and happy reading!

Rachael xx

Me and my mini library

Me and my mini library

Pythagoras’ Trousers by Margaret Wertheim

This is the book I’m currently reading! It’s a history of physics, but focusses on the exclusion of women from physics across time. Despite actively expressing an interest in mathematics and science since their beginnings in ancient civilizations, women were consistently prevented from accessing a scientific education and were not given due credit for their discoveries. The most astounding thing I read was that the French Academy of Sciences, founded in 1666, did not admit a woman as a full member until 1979. That’s three whole centuries of an all-male Academy. Marie Curie was rejected from the exclusive circle in 1911, after already receiving two Nobel prizes. Yes, you did read that correctly.

The Fossil Hunter by Shelley Emling

Mary Anning was the first person in the world to find evidence for the existence of dinosaurs. She spent her lifetime (1799-1847) collecting and documenting fossils on the southern coast of England. Her careful and meticulous fossil collections were the foundation for many ground-breaking theories and new ideas about the history of our planet, but she was an uneducated woman in an oppressive era and did not receive any of the credit. Her name is generally unknown, but the men who took credit for her work became imbedded in history books as distinguished scientists and geologists. It is fundamentally quite a sad story, but I am nonetheless glad that there is at least some way for us to acknowledge Mary as the inspiring woman that she was.

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Dr. Alice Roberts

My major is in Evolutionary Biology and so this book is very close to my heart. It goes into detail about the evolutionary history of every part of the human body. It’s a beautiful story and is written by an incredible scientist and scientific communicator. Alice Roberts also presents some great TV series about the human body and evolution, check them out!

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

This book isn’t related to science but Robyn’s story is mind-blowing. On a whim, she decided to trek from Alice Springs to the West Coast of Australia with some camels. She’d never seen a camel in real life, let alone ridden or trained one. She packed up her things and her dog and took a train to Alice Springs. Tracks was a kind of ‘coming of age’ book for me. I grew up in Alice Springs and read my mother’s own copy when I was in early high school.

Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford

This book impacted me in more ways than I’ll be able to write here. For me and many of my friends, Clementine managed to express things we’ve thought and felt as young women but haven’t been able to articulate. She also unveils types of prejudice, misogyny and sexism that many of us, including myself, don’t always notice. If you were to pick just one book from this list I urge you to choose this one.

Yassmin’s Story by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin gives me such faith in people and their capacity for growth and kindness. She talks about all of her experiences so far as a migrant, a woman of colour, a woman of faith and a woman in engineering with incredible excitement, gratitude and empathy. She also has a great TED talk on unconscious bias here. Watch it and sent it to all your friends!

Next on my list:

  1. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
  2. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  3. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
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A very WISE playlist, and a reflection

Hello and welcome from Jess, your friendly neighbourhood WISE president (2014 and 2016)!

Jess

Jess in London for Science Gallery Melbourne. Taken by Roberta Chu.

For the last few months I’ve been working on something, with the hopes of bringing some enjoyment to your day. It’s what I listen to in the lab, and it makes me happy as I work! It’s the WISE Power Babe Playlist, full of 90’s hits and empowering beats 🎶✨✨

Without further ado, find it here or embedded below! (I tried to avoid excessive use of explicit language, which is the only reason this song isn’t there.)

I thought I’d also reflect a little on my WISE experience. It’s not really possible to explain everything I’ve learned or share everything I’ve gained from WISE. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with an amazing group of women, addressing something so incredibly important to me – the issue of gender equity in STEM. At the core of this are connections. The connections we facilitate between our members, with professionals in industry, academia. We hope that our members find a supportive network through WISE, as well as opportunities like scholarships, jobs and internships. I would encourage you to get involved in any way you can – if it’s to share an opportunity with someone who might value it, to help out at one of our events (join our volunteers list!), or even come and hang with us at one of our Coffee and Cake events, we’ll be grateful for your support.

Jess and Muneat

Muneeat and Jess at Mid-Year Orientation 2016. Taken by Emma Darling.

destress

From our De-stress post exams event!

 

Thanks to all – and I hope you like the playlist! We’ve still got a few more events to come for this semester, and I hope to see you there. I’ve added a few photos from some of my favourite events from the year below.

WISE committee members at our event with Spark Engineering Camp.

WISE committee members at our event with Spark Engineering Camp.

From a Science Gallery Melbourne event in King’s College London, where I spoke as WISE president.

From a Science Gallery Melbourne event in King’s College London, where I spoke as WISE president.

💖Jess

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✨WISE Reaches 2k Facebook fans!✨

THANK YOU FOR 2K!!

We are ecstatic to have reached 2000 likes. Thank you so much for your continued support and online engagement! We hope to continue to offer a range of exciting events and opportunities – from scholarships, to internships and MORE!! Here are a few snaps of some of the events we’ve been involved in just from the last few weeks. It’s an exciting time to be in WISE and we appreciate you all joining us on this journey to break down barriers and improve diversity in STEM.
💖 WISE Pres Jess

PS: Follow us on Facebook if you don’t already, www.facebook.com/wiseunimelb & don’t forget we have our most incredible event – Networking Night – coming up fast! https://www.facebook.com/events/233493230380404/

WISE Graeme Clark Oration
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