Science Students: The Dark Energy of University Life?

Most courses, particularly at the ANU, harbour a variety of people with diverse interests. I want to explain why scientists are among the most diverse and talented people at uni, though you probably don’t know it.

As an undergraduate (at a university that shall-not-be-named but looks like Hogwarts) I traversed most subjects on offer. Unfortunately, the only articles I ever saw in the student paper from or about a science student related to a particular lab partner of mine. They attended an infamous college and also attempted to create a deeply controversial society.

He was the kind of lad who saw a delicious double-entendre in performing a “single slit experiment”. It was my job to offer a view on the articles in question, balancing some agreement with their criticism against the fact my lab marks turned on the continued success of our relationship. Also, the lab we were in contained several devices offering quick and painful death.

More interesting are the stories of my two closer physics buddies. One was on a visa from Iran, or Persia for those seeking to dissociate themselves from the Iranian regime. He waited two years to go to uni while his visa was processed. His friend was spending two years as a political prisoner. He was an exceptionally talented mathematician and physicist.

The second had migrant heritage and came from a regional town. He lived in one of the few places offered for low SES students: a tiny hole shared with a middle-aged dude. To my knowledge he deferred his degree and remained overseas as a ski-instructor.

I won’t bore you with my own story. But considering that in my home referring to a scientist could see you branded as “elitist” and the phrase “uni student” was a form of disparagement, I was chuffed to be paid to go to a prestigious university.

There are relatively few women in physics, but they make good lab partners and aren’t nerds. Anecdotally, women are dominant in other sciences such as biology, chemistry and environmental science. One society I was part of contained an almost entirely female executive.

Now, how does this diversity of scientists translate into student media? So far 12 different people have written science articles this semester, including a professor and a PhD candidate. Five of those 12 were females, who contributed a third of articles (not including my own as Science Sub-Editor).

Women were far more likely to express interest in writing. The ratio of articles submitted to articles published was equal among men and women, but men were more likely to follow through and with more articles. Otherwise, science contributors represented a decent cross-section of the domestic student population and touched on a diverse range of issues.

There’s room for improvement when it comes to showcasing scientists in student media or the media in general, as well as in election campaigns. But keep in mind the science students running a niche society, playing sport and working part-time despite their hectic timetable.