Sebastian Viner – 2019 IESO
Environmental science student and avid sailing instructor, Sebastian Viner, found the Olympiads as a way to reconnect with his passion for earth science and meet like-minded people.
Sebastian’s interest in science grew from a young age from the pages of science magazines. “I fondly remember both the Junior Ranger magazine, produced by the National Park Service, and the Double Helix Magazine, from CSIRO,” he says.
Growing up in rural Tasmania, Sebastian was motivated to sit the Olympiad exams to see how his science skills stacked up against other Aussie students. “I joined the Olympiads partly to test my science knowledge compared to broader Australia – I was keenly aware that although I was getting good grades at my school, I was a big fish in a small pond and my year of 37 people was not a representative sample.”
He spent months preparing for the Australian Chemistry Olympiad Exam, but also sat other Australian Science Olympiad Exams just to give them a go. He found that although he was focused on the chemistry exam, the one he excelled in the most was earth science. “Instead, having sat the Earth and Environmental Science Exam for completion’s sake, I qualified for that,” he says. He further qualified for the 2019 International Earth Science Olympiad and travelled to Daegu in South Korea for the challenge where he received a silver medal.
Summer School not only allowed him to get into some hands-on science but also to meet other students that shared his passion for it. “I remember Summer School as being the first time I felt like I’d found a group of people like me—people who liked science, weren’t afraid to be nerdy, and weren’t afraid to excel.”
Other favourite memories from his Olympiad experience included meeting new people from all over Australia and across the world. “It was amazing meeting so many different people and learning snippets about their culture,” he says. “Seeing dinosaur footprints was pretty amazing too!”
In 2020, Sebastian also qualified for the Australian Physics Olympiad Summer School and later returned as a volunteer to help with the Earth and Environmental Science Summer Schools for the following two years.
Since the Olympiads, Sebastian’s passion for Earth Science has led him to begin a double degree in Science, and Environment and Sustainability at ANU with majors in Earth Science and Quantitative Environmental Modelling. “I want to make a difference to the world, especially the climate crisis that we are facing, and I believe that this area is the best place I can apply my scientific skills.”
“I was even able to use the knowledge I gained in the Olympiads to skip some of the first-year courses, allowing me to take the more specific and difficult later-year courses.”
Sebastian received a Tuckwell Scholarship at ANU in 2021, awarded to 25 school-leavers each year for their academic achievement, leadership and commitment to Australia. “I like to think of my cohort as academic achievers who can also hold an interesting conversation, and they are among some of my best friends.”
He is currently in his third year at ANU and is starting to think of future plans. “I am starting to think about honours or a future career—but no decisions yet,” he says. “I’d love to work on a research vessel, combining my passion for the ocean with work.”
Outside of studying, Sebastian spends his time as the President of the ANU Earth and Marine Science Society and as a sailing instructor. He also enjoys knitting and bouldering.
Sebastian still keeps in touch with friends he made through the Olympiads, seeing many on-campus at the ANU. “One of my best mates… came out of the Olympiad program,” he says. “I have also maintained contact with some members of other cohorts who came back to volunteer, and regularly see them”.
To students thinking about following a career in STEM, Sebastian says to not let the limited scope of science in school slow you down. “I’d advise students interested in science to persevere… The world of science is so interesting.”
After qualifying for an International Science Olympiad that wasn’t his main focus, Sebastian’s advice to students preparing for the Australian Science Olympiad Exams is, “If you can afford to do it – sit all of the exams. You might be brilliant in an area you didn’t expect.”