Questacon’s long-running Student Training Program is open for Year 11 and 12 students to apply to come to Canberra to learn how to communicate using science. Participants learn from Questacon’s experienced science communicators, then hone their skills by engaging with visitors to the Centre. The program is often the first step into a science communications career, and many alumni move into jobs at Questacon.

Henry Xu and Kaity Davidson are both alumni of the Student Training Program who went on to be program coordinators at Questacon. They share their experiences about how the program has shaped Questacon, as well as their own lives.

Group of school kids holding up marsHenry joined the program when he was in Year 11. He fondly recalls the practical component, when he was first unleashed into Questacon’s galleries. “We had to do 40 hours on the floor as part of the program, and the entire time you’re just thinking ‘this is such an insanely cool and fun job’. They entrust college students to go and engage in science communication, and to excel at it. Being able to experience that feeling of going up to a visitor, blowing their mind with some element of science and seeing them react: that was always the best part.”

Henry enjoyed the experience so much, he decided to volunteer at Questacon. He eventually worked in the galleries before going on to present the Spectacular Science Shows. In 2017, Henry had a full-circle moment when he began assisting with running the student program – something he continued to do until this year.

As he moves out of the coordinating role, Henry reflects on the friendships and connections the program fostered in his own life. “Those connections don’t really leave. I have definitely been sad to give this up. It has been very gratifying, and I have been exceptionally lucky with how much the Student Training Program has done for my life.”

Man standing on a stage discussing liquid nitrogenOne of those friendships is with Kaity, who has taken the reins after going through the program in 2018 under Henry’s mentorship and co-facilitating the program with Henry since early 2021.

Kaity describes the training program as following the scientific approach to viewing the world. “Ultimately, human connection and getting to know the world comes down to communicating ideas, spreading those ideas, and knowing how to find those ideas in the first place. We foster those skills in inquiry-based learning and connecting with other people. These are skills that you can take throughout your life. Things like storytelling, engagement, interacting with different age groups, teamwork, improvisation, and theatre techniques such as body language, vocal projection, and knowing when to ask a question and transition more into a presentation style – we build those skills in the students.”

Those skills are a valuable part of both Questacon’s mission and the students’ lives, as Kaity explains. “The students learn a very personal approach to learning and communication, which affects thousands of people every day; when helping visitors understand scientific concepts, or just that science can be fun!

Two men explaning an experiment during a Spectacular Science Show“By the end of the program, students have built lasting friendships and become more confident and resilient. We know they will take those skills throughout their lives, and it’s amazing to be part of that process,” Kaity said.

Many students go on to work at Questacon, including Kaity, who worked in the galleries after completing the program. It has proven to be a great pathway into science communication careers, as Henry explains.

“The number of floor staff that have come through this program is a number that I can’t count on my hands. The program has always led to people sticking around and working at Questacon. Every year, consistently, students go through to work at Questacon, in the galleries and in the shows.”

While Kaity has settled into the role of program coordinator, Henry has pursued a career in secondary teaching, inspired by his experiences both as a student and coordinator of the program. “This program is what shifted me into teaching from my original plans. I added a Master of Secondary Teaching on top of my degree because of my experience with Questacon.”

Each year, Questacon’s Student Training Program offers 3-month placements for students in Years 11 and 12.