Sometimes you find your passion, but don’t have any idea where it can take you. One solution is to see where it has taken others.
Each year, the Priority Research Centre for Organic Electronics (COE) at the University of Newcastle hosts the COE Winter School.
The three-day event allows university students from various disciplines to collaborate, to get involved with something bigger than themselves and to see where their studies can take them.
Who is writing this and who are these students?
Well we, Georgia Fardell and Tara Armstrong are but a small sampling of the students who have attended the COE Winter School.
Even though we study different branches of science, Physics/Maths and Chemistry/Biology respectively, both of us were drawn to the Winter School so that we could build friendships, learn about the solar cells and sensors being developed at our university and see what life after study looks like.
Who do you meet at the Winter School?
From innovators to academics, we met ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
On the first day Dr. Pegah Maasoumi of the University of Melbourne gave us an illuminating look into the world of Organic Light Emitting Devices and their uses in flexible solar cars, televisions, quantum dot LEDs and environmental biosensors.
Another innovator, Alex Anderson from Trajan Scientific and Medical demonstrated the collection of a blood spot with the hemaPEN, a blood sampling device soon to be aiding blood collection and analysis in rural areas. It’s helping people who aren’t near medical centres take control of their own health.
Lastly Dr Warwick Belcher, a researcher at our university, the University of Newcastle through humour and honesty shared his experiences of life in academia, from being measured up to your peers to finding the projects that make your heart sing. All tied together with both people and time management skills.
After many more inspiring speakers than those listed, we had time to network and enjoy food among new friends.
In the faculty of science, you tend to sit and listen to the academics within lecture and tutorials, but never learn exactly why they are at the university and what their work outside of teaching basic scientific skills is.
The was the perfect opportunity to understand exactly that and they were working on everything from nanoparticles to macromolecules and so much in between.
The afternoons were filled with hands on sessions.
We each made our own organic solar cells and found out later how efficient they were, challenging each other to see who created the best.
Further competition came in the form of the think tank on the final day in which everyone was arranged into teams, developing innovative yet functional ideas including solar pool covers, stress detectors and powered crisis tents.
The experience evolves for returning students such as Georgia who first attended in 2015.
With their increased understanding comes the ability to go more behind the scenes, preparing the solar cells for use by the new students and readying custom equipment.
The Winter School really opened up our eyes to the myriad of pathways people in STEM choose to take, but this isn’t where it all ended.
Through the Winter School the COE offers students the opportunity to become part of their team, undertaking research projects alongside the Centre’s academics.
Many students also complete individual projects for university credit with the COE and are granted summer scholarships.
For both of us, interested in further research, we have already begun developing the skills, including the people and time management Warwick spoke of, that will last us our careers. Helping us define our own future paths.
– Tara Armstrong & Georgia Fardell
Author: Tara Armstrong
Studying a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering/Bachelor of Science at the University of Newcastle. Keenly interested in the world around us, less interested in writing about herself in third person.