Dr. Yevheniia Mikheenko

Dr. Yevheniia Mikheenko

Last week was British Science Week, a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, which is aimed at everyone. As part of this, myself and four other kung fu students (two PhD students, three professionals) who work in science visited the Harefield Academy to talk to a few 11-16 year olds, to answer the question of why science is worth doing and where it can take you.

Dr. Yevheniia Mikheenko was the first speaker up, and wove an inspiring tale of choosing your own path, about asking the questions you want to ask about the world. Plus the great feeling of (politely) sticking it to senior scientists when you prove them wrong. She managed to warp time during her talk, keeping the teenage audience gripped for half an hour in what felt like half a minute. Her neuroscience focus with excursions into mental illness, cardiology, and emotional resilience in athletes is a real testament to the scientific journey, which still has so far yet to go!

FWC Cambridge students (when not in the lab!)

FWC Cambridge students (when not in the lab!)

Greg Walters and myself as PhD students each gave accounts from the coal-face of scientific research, whether it be figuring out what Mars was like 5 billion years ago, or how to accurately measure brain activity and answer the question of whether your genes determine how your brain operates. It’s not always a pleasant experience, and thick skin coupled with good mental health is necessary to deal with your ideas not working on a daily basis. But if the scientific questions were easy, they would have been answered already – that’s why we’re here doing our best to answer them now. Then again, perhaps it’s worth it when you get a free trip to Spain to look at ancient mineral caves that are ‘a bit’ like Mars. You don’t have to do your research on Mars, when Spain is ‘a bit’ warmer.

When not attending science  events..

When not attending science events..

As the youngest of the speakers, our career histories were somewhat shorter than the doctors – education being pretty much the whole thing.

What we could do is talk about the daily choice of laziness or getting stuff done, and how to lean away from laziness. I finished off my talk with a quote I heard Olympic rower Greg Searle use in a talk he gave at Cheltenham Science Festival:

“If not you then who, and if not now then when?”

Oh, and do loads of maths. Having good maths qualifications gives you so much freedom in the sciences and everywhere else. And it’s really, really fun. I might have laboured the point a bit…

 

Dr Annette Brühl

Dr Annette Brühl

Dr Annette Brühl then gave us an insight into studying medicine in a different country (Germany) when everyone around you tells you not to – and developing the belief that if you have a goal, you do what you need to in order to achieve it. Sounds obvious, but the practical steps aren’t always so clear. Being a medical doctor has a slightly different lifestyle to a research scientist, and everyone got a good picture of how much hard work goes into saving and improving patients’ lives. Annette finished up with the employers perspective, which had every parent in the audience nodding in agreement, and has shown me where I want to work when I finish my PhD.

We finished with Dr. Michael Cohen. Michael took us through one of the most varied and interesting career histories I’d ever seen, all the while making time for a million different hobbies and training kung fu in the mix. To go from academia researching embryo development to the Ministry of Justice to model prisoner re-offending rates can’t be easy, but Michael managed to make it look like it is. If you want an example of freedom in a career, then this is it (albeit followed around by your kung fu instructor checking your public speaking is up to scratch).

Dr. Michael Cohen

Dr. Michael Cohen

As is traditional for us as kung fu students, we got our feedback pretty quickly. We must have done a reasonably good job, as both parents and teenagers alike asked for us to come back next year, with more speakers and opportunities for a panel discussion. And refreshments.

After a quick lunch in the school canteen, we then started hitting each other and pointing out all our bodily flaws (in a constructive way, honest), as kung fu students are liable to do. Call it training if you must… having earned ourselves a proper meal, we then went to an excellent country pub for one of the most rewarding aspects of being a scientist – socialising!

Article by Arun Niranjan.

 

So, another year, another FWC competition. I’m really pleased this has become an annual event, as, much like an upcoming grading, it gives me something specific to focus my training on. Plus I’ve been around a few years now, been to a few Sunday classes, Christmas meals and camps, so now there a lot of people I know in the club whom I don’t get to see very often.

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The hotel in Yong Chun has been beautifully spruced up and could be called five star, with only minor drawbacks like having to ask for a kettle to make Dennis’ breakfast coffee (this was quickly remedied).

After a lazy morning we walked across the courtyard to the party venue, where as many as twenty tables for ten were spaced around a large room, with celebratory red everywhere and a large screen at the back showing a congratulatory message (can’t tell you what it said). All spruced up, we were ushered to two tables next to the birthday boy’s, and the walnut milk began to flow while we watched the other guests arrive. At some point the milk was supplemented by eight bottles of Jingjiu especially for our table, all of which seemed to magically congregate around Danil, and the party started.

While some patterns at the competition had been good to watch, seeing the key members of Su’s family demonstrate for his birthday took it to a whole new level. Fire and flow. The westerners were also asked to display what Yong Chun White Crane they had learned over the years, and Danil, Robin Hood and Maid Marion took the stage for a beautifully synchronous pattern, followed by AgentC leaping to the fore.

The food was amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Yum yum yum, mmmm – you get the impression. One of the birthday boy’s nieces is an English teacher, who became guest of honour on our table, and the Artist was designated her feeder, to look after her and make sure he plied her with enough food, a duty he took very seriously. Although I’m not positive her idea of enough exactly coincided with his. She didn’t go hungry.

After numerous courses, photographs and toasts, the Fuijan White Crane and Yong Chun White Crane students were the dregs left around three tables with the remaining brandy and wine, toasting each other incessantly. The visitors eventually decided that it would be rude to try to embarrass their hosts, and so left with further good will toasts (and a few looks of relief).

That evening we learned that the mime for someone throwing up is pretty universal. Su invited us around for a soothing meal of congee and vegetables and eggs, and explained with gestures and smiles that hidden in his back room was one guest suffering a few party after affects. We explained that we were minus two stalwarts from the FWC camp who didn’t want to risk messing up his home. Or walk all that way. The representatives of Russia and China had nobly carried most of the burden of toasting our counterparts and had succumbed to the aftermath. Temporarily.