Meet the student who is motivating Australians to become involved in STEM










This article was first published by ABC Splash on Thursday 27 October 2016. View the original article here.

Amy Zhou is a Year 12 student who’s passionate about getting more students, especially girls, involved in STEM. We asked her about her involvement at the 10th Asian Science Camp in India, STEM and her vision for the future.

Amy Zhou became interested in STEM from a very young age. Her father, a professor of computational biology and a research leader at Griffith University, motivated Amy’s interest by exposing her to interesting scientific questions, problems and success stories in daily conversations. Whenever she had questions, her father patiently answered them one by one.

Amy’s mother, who doesn’t work in the STEM field, says it’s never too early or too late to start motivating your children’s interest in science. “When my children were young, I often talked about how science is so fun and very useful in front of them at home. Besides taking them to the great outdoors to learn that science is everywhere, I also provided them access to science books and experiment opportunities at home as much as possible.”

Today, Amy is intent on pursuing a future in STEM. She attends Queensland Academies – Health Sciences Campus, a selective state high school on the Gold Coast; she’s a Science Olympiad ambassador for Australian Science Innovations; and she’s constantly motivating students to get involved with STEM.

We spoke to Amy and asked about her love of STEM, why STEM is important and how to inspire others to share her passion. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us about the Asian Science Camp.

I had the honour to attend the 10th Asian Science Camp in Bengaluru, India, with eight other young future scientists from Australia and 200+ other students from 20+ countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

During the week, I participated in seminars held by world-distinguished scientists, including Nobel Laureates Professor J. Georg Bednorz and Professor Takaaki Kajita, and Fields Medallist Professor Cédric Villani. We were fortunate to visit a number of the labs at the Indian Institute of Science, including the Centre for Neuroscience, Department of Aerospace Engineering, and the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE).

It was really inspiring to meet young people from across the Asia-Pacific region who had the same drive and passion for science as I did. Coming home from the camp, I gained many new friendships and plenty of new knowledge, but also a great deal of motivation to become a scientific researcher in the future.


Students pose in front of a temple at the 2016 Asian Science Camp in India.

Why are STEM subjects important?

One of the reasons I love STEM is because it is our future. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate that STEM-skilled jobs are growing 1.5 times faster than any other job sector. Technology is already a part of our daily lives, and the role it plays will only increase. Learning STEM helps us understand the need for sustainable living, clean energy and better drugs, but more importantly, STEM subjects provide us the tools to discover and investigate HOW to solve these pertinent global issues, which I think is really exciting!

Why do you think there is a gender gap in STEM fields?

There are many reasons, but one that I’ve personally experienced at school is simply the fact that people who like science and maths are called nerds, and nerds aren’t cool. In Year 6 and Year 7, I was much more of a mathlete than an athlete; and I hate to say this, but being called a nerd affected my self-esteem.

I think the gender gap exists because of the stereotypes and the assumptions around the type of people in STEM fields. But what I think many girls don’t realise is that these STEM “nerds” are going to be the ones who make a real impact and change the world one day.

While at the Camp, did you notice similar issues in other countries?

The STEM gender gap is a global issue. In fact, pretty much all countries around the world experience this gap, just in different degrees of severity. For example, the STEM gender gap was definitely present in India and at the Asian Science Camp itself. All of the Nobel Laureates were male, and all of our speakers were male. The number of females and males in the faculty at the Indian Institute of Science was also not balanced.

But on the other hand, it was great to hear that the governments of other countries, like Australia’s government, are creating initiatives to encourage more females to involve themselves in STEM. For example, the team leader of Israel mentioned to me that their government began to implement legislation to equalise participation of women in STEM.

What do you think needs to be done?

Participating in the Asian Science Camp made me only more aware of the need to motivate girls to become involved in STEM. I learned that it’s incredibly important for girls to have female role models in STEM. Having someone to look up to will allow girls to realise that their dreams ARE possible.

The Australian government and Australian Science Innovations have already begun fantastic initiatives to encourage girls into STEM. If we could get kids (especially girls) interested in science from a very young age, I think we will definitely see progress in the years to come. I’m feeling very optimistic!

How can parents inspire their kids into science and STEM subjects?

Parents play a tremendously important role in their children’s aspirations, possibly even greater than they realise. I think taking children to science museums, science fairs and even conducting some science experiments at home would be a great start! Building baking soda volcanos was one of my childhood favourites.

What are the benefits of extension science programs?

As much as I love school, I think that there is so much to each of our subjects that just simply isn’t able to be covered in the curriculum at school. Extension science programs are a great way to delve deeper into science, and it’s also a great way to meet people with the same goals and aspirations as you.

Personally, extension science programs such as the Asian Science Camp and the Science Olympiad validated my passion for science and allowed me to refine my interests. Ultimately, I think it’s a great idea to involve yourself in as many opportunities as you can, because you never know what might come out of it!

What are you plans for the future?

Next up for me is high school graduation! Like many people around my age, I’m not exactly set on my future career. As of now, I would like to pursue biomedical or chemical engineering. One day, I would like to conduct my own research and discover ways to make the world a better place.

I would also like to be an activist, and continue to promote the closing of the STEM gender gap. Of course, it’s impossible to really predict my future, and I’m extremely excited to see where life will take me!