ANU Spaces - Rebecca Szabadai

24 August 2015

I would love to be on Play School in some sort of scientific capacity where I get to do fun experiments and I think that would be really fun.

Meet Rebecca Szabadai, who is one of the faces of the 2015 Science Circus, a group of students and staff who travel the country to bring science to students in primary and high schools.

Rebecca what do you study at ANU?

I'm studying a Masters of Science Communication Outreach and as part of that, I'm involved in the Shell Questacon Science Circus. So that means that while I'm doing subjects at uni I'm also getting the opportunity to go and travel around Australia and perform science shows for high school kids and for communities.

What is your favourite part of the campus?

As part of this Masters we don't really get to travel out of our little area. We do a lot of our subjects at the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). So the only place on campus that I really know is the Coffee Grounds and I love that place for coffee and for food. But CPAS is really good. There's a whole postgrad area that we get to hang out in and so I feel like that's my second home.

Why do you love the Coffee Grounds?

I like the Coffee Grounds because that's where all the Sci Comm people from CPAS go, so it feels like you're part of a little community there. You'll always run into your lecturers. It's just nice to know that they went through the circus so we're just continuing a tradition of going through the same place.

If you were free for an afternoon, what would you do and why?

If I was free for an afternoon, I would go to Questacon and just spend an afternoon going through all the galleries, having lots of fun, playing with all the exhibits and just experiencing what it feels like to be a kid again. I love Questacon because when you're there, you see all these kids and they're all chatting about what they saw and you can't help but get really excited to be there as well. I feel like I'm just a big kid when I'm there, so if I had a free afternoon I'd go there.

Tell us why you wanted to do a Masters of Science Communication Outreach?

I've already done a Masters in Science Chemistry down in Melbourne, where I'm from. As part of that I got to do a subject called Science Communication and so that was a lot of writing and  presenting. But I did have an opportunity to go on radio and talk about science and it was really scary because we got to talk about an area of science that we weren't an expert in. As a chemistry student I decided the best topic to talk about would be cuckoo birds and the evolutionary arms race. So I had to do all of this research. I was sweating and I had the driest mouth ever. But as soon as the mic came on I knew I could do it and I had fun and it was the best experience ever. And I thought at the end of it I want to do that again. I didn't realise I would have so much fun sharing science with others and I don't know how many people listened but I had fun, my Mum enjoyed it, I got a good mark for the subject and I think that sort of sparked that interest in talking about research and science.

Why did you find you had that moment where it all clicked, when the mic was on?

I had done a lot of theatre growing up. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do when I was in year 12. But as soon as the light turned on, I knew what I wanted to say. When the presenter was asking me questions my reaction was 'that makes sense, that's natural, I can answer this'. So I think it was that light bulb moment where I realised it's not as hard as I thought it was.

And so when I was given that opportunity I'm so glad that I took it and didn't decide to do a different project where it was just writing or something like that. For me it was definitely a challenge I wanted to see if I could do, and in the end I was able to do it.

Tell us about the Science Circus and the buzzes you get from being involved in it.

Our course is only one year long so of the 40 weeks, 14 of them were away on tour. I think that's why I really wanted to do this Masters rather than just doing a straight Science Communication Masters. I wanted to do this where I actually had the opportunity to put all of the things that I'm learning in practice. How do you present, how do you explain scientific concepts, in a way that people understand, often with little kids as well?  And you don't want to dumb down the science, you just want to explain it in a way that they'll understand. So I think that's why I was really attracted to this Masters program.

Because it's the 30th anniversary of the Science Circus, it's really exciting to go to these places. On our last tour we went to New South Wales and I was 45 minutes away from the Queensland border in a little town called Lightning Ridge. It's just this little mining town and they're known for their black opals and it was so cool. When we got there, the kids were so excited and I think that's what is all about - igniting some passion, getting them excited about having something different coming. And I don't know if they'll continue with science but I feel like for that day we gave them the opportunity to have a lot of fun and be inspired by the things that we do.

In terms of your future beyond the course, what are you hoping to take away from the Science Circus and what are you hoping to do beyond your Masters?

I feel like I really want to continue with the presenting in science, especially to children. I think the dream at the moment is ... one of the ex-science members, Ruben Meerman, the surfing scientist was the first resident scientist on Play School. And that's my dream. I would love to be on Play School in some sort of scientific capacity where I get to do fun experiments and I think that would be really fun.

I feel like that's a bit of a pipe dream, I'm not sure if that's possible. I would really like to just continue with presenting science and sharing stuff that excites me and getting other people excited about science as well. It's also just sharing all of these discoveries that maybe people didn't know about or things that are just really weird and awesome and people hadn't thought of before and that's what I want to do. I just want to get people excited about what I'm excited about.