Growing Young Scientists

15 August 2014
A UCT Oceanography PhD student guiding winter school students around the Agulhas II.
A UCT Oceanography PhD student guiding winter school students around the Agulhas II.

UCT's top scientists are recognised globally for their work, but Associate Professor David Gammon recognises that grooming the next generation is just as important to keeping the Faculty of Science in shape.

For the second year running, the assistant dean has spent a week in July sharing the wealth of UCT's scientific research with first-year students, equipping and inspiring them for the semester ahead.

Some 50 students discussed the physics of optical phenomena such as sun halos – often seen around Cape Town – with mathematician Dr Jonathan Stock, and explored whether science could save lives with Dr Wendy Burger, with reference to her own work on HIV and TB.

This was among a range of other lectures and excursions, including a visit to the West Coast Fossil Park at Langebaan to see the active Stone Age dig and fossil evidence of bears and short-necked giraffes near Cape Town. The students' interest in oceanography was piqued by spending a morning on board Agulhas II, South Africa's research ship, with UCT oceanographer Dr Isabelle Ansorge and her colleagues.

Between all this, students were given a head start on scientific concepts that they would encounter in the first two weeks of the new semester, and also took part in a session on 'thinking about thinking', and how to reevaluate their approach to their own studies.

Gammon says that the winter school targets some interconnected challenges that are common to the firstyear experience in the faculty. These include the fact that students often have limited knowledge or experience of the range of options open to them, and have encountered relatively few role-models of working scientists; and that they consequently struggle to fi nd inspiration and motivation in their studies – which adds to the challenges they already face in coping with demanding subjects, says Gammon.

"So the idea was to put together an interesting and inspiring programme, drawing on the wealth of expertise in the Faculty of Science and the range of scientifically interesting projects and initiatives both at UCT and in the greater Cape Town region," Gammon says.

One student said of the winter school: "I sense a shift in my confidence; and more importantly, an increasing passion for science."

Another reported that the winter school "has made me feel less helpless and alone by showing me that other people just like me are experiencing the same confl icts I am. It has sharpened my resolve to improve this semester, and to actually get gritty and work hard".

Compiled by Yusuf Omar.

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