Wenona School students Mimi Atkins and Sophie Ingham

STEM Stars of the Future

Two Beautiful Minds – The STEM Stars of the Future

7 March 2023

If you ever wanted to know the characteristics that drive a scientific mind, Wenona School students Mimi Atkins and Sophie Ingham possess them in droves.

These two 2022 Victor Chang School Science Award winners are curious, creative, passionate, and most importantly always up for a challenge.

As you will discover, the Year 12 students from NSW are enthralled by the world of STEM and are determined to solve the challenges of the future and create innovative solutions that will improve people’s lives.

School Science Awards Winners with Prof Jamie Vandenberg and North Sydney Mayor Zoë Baker

North Sydney Council School Science Awards Winner with Mimi Atkin and Sophie Ingham (centre)

What was it like to receive a Victor Chang School Science Award. Has it inspired you?

Sophie: It was an unexpected and incredible experience to receive this award and it. has inspired me to continue excelling in STEM subjects and follow my passions into the future. The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is a truly inspirational organisation.

Mimi: It was an honour to receive a Victor Chang School Science Award. The award has reiterated that my reach and ability in the field of science aren’t defined by academics. Receiving this award has inspired me to further indulge in my curiosity because it will help me reach my future goals.

What STEM subject do you like the most and why?

Sophie: Mathematics is my favourite STEM subject, with chemistry and physics close behind. I enjoy the certainty of these subjects, that the answers can always be found with a little hard work. While completing the Math Extension 2 course, my fondness for mathematics grew as I discovered how to solve complex problems by tackling them from different directions. My maths journey has been a challenging and enjoyable experience, one which has taught me lessons that I can use in my other subjects, and life in general.

Mimi: My favourite STEM subject is science, particularly biology. My formal introduction to biology was during my Year 10 STEM elective. This delved into the Year 12 course of enzymes, genetics, and non-viral diseases. Being challenged to apply my current scientific skills in an advanced context helped me recognise how mistakes and errors are encouraged in biology. Not because errors criticise, but because they add complexity to the study, and ultimately further our understanding.

Tell us about a STEM project you are most excited about?

Sophie: I am co-enrolled at Wenona and The University of Sydney, where I am undertaking a Linear Algebra course. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to further enhance my knowledge in an environment where people are just as enthralled by the challenges of higher mathematics as I am. The benefits of gaining an early insight into how university lectures and classes work are coupled, and have the advantage of already undertaking a prerequisite for my desired future career path.

Sophie Ingham with Prof Jamie Vandenberg and North Sydney Mayor Zoe Blake

Sophie Ingham with Prof Jamie Vandenberg and North Sydney Mayor Zoe Blake

Mimi: As a part of the HSC course, science extension students are required to inquire into a niche research area to develop scientific skills. To best inform my understanding, I sought the mentorship of Professor Sandra Cooper at the University of Sydney. As per Professor Cooper’s expertise, I am researching the effectiveness of current methods of genetically identifying malformations of cortical development causing epilepsy. For this, I am collating the findings of current studies in the format of a research project. Interestingly, my dad is the clinical lead for electroencephalography electrodes for Professor Cooper’s primary research surgeries. This makes the major work very personal and excites much conversation at the dinner table!

Do you think you will study STEM at University and possibly go into a STEM career?

Sophie: Definitely! I am very keen to continue my studies at university and hope to go into engineering, with a focus on chemistry and computer science. I hope to continue to be using mathematics on a daily basis but also interact with others who share a passion similar to mine. Eventually, I would like to teach, at the university level.

Mimi: I have always entertained the idea of going overseas for university, so my current goal is to study a bachelor of neuroscience and psychology at Kings College London. In 10 years I hope to see myself having completed an undergraduate degree, and a master’s degree, and would love to be studying for PhD in medicine. Since I was in year 9 I have dreamt of studying at the University of Oxford, so hopefully, I would complete this here. My ultimate STEM job would be working in a research lab in the area of neuroscience, haematology or cardiology.

Why do you think STEM is important? What skills does it teach you?

Sophie: I think STEM is an incredibly important discipline that encompasses the best of human ability and characteristics. It combines creativity, curiosity, innovation, perseverance and collaboration to achieve advanced solutions to both new and old challenges. STEM encourages experimentation where mistakes can be just as important as getting things right. It is a field that encourages adaptation, and in doing so allows the world to move forward.

Mimi: STEM is so important because scientific literacy is integral to navigating and forming your own opinions in society. Most scientific concepts have been politicised, so having the skills to be able to deduce what information is reliable is invaluable. STEM skills are so transferable and can enrich one’s knowledge and experiences exponentially. Skills such as creativity, quick and critical thinking, and deduction are the key skills that I have grown through STEM.

Mimi Atkins with Prof Jamie Vandenberg and North Sydney Mayor Zoe Blake

Mimi Atkins with Prof Jamie Vandenberg and North Sydney Mayor Zoe Blake

Why do you think some students don’t embrace STEM subjects?

Sophie: I think STEM subjects have a stigma around them of being extremely difficult. To me, confidence is integral in people’s performance in STEM subjects as it drives them to study, learn and improve. Currently, I am completing a survey within the Junior section of my school to determine when and why girls lose their love of mathematics, and if we can develop confidence early to eventually improve performance and increase the level of girls completing higher levels of mathematics in stage 6.

Mimi: I think some students dislike STEM subjects because they see them as academically dense and challenging. STEM shouldn’t only be advertised to those who are gifted in logical or numerical reasoning. It is an area that has content mouldable to all skill sets and levels.

Do you have to be super smart to be good at STEM subjects?

Sophie: Definitely not! I believe that ‘super smart’ comes in many different packages, and that hard work is always more important in the end. To truly succeed in STEM subjects, a lot of practice and commitment are required, similar to any other subject.

Mimi: You absolutely don’t need to have any academic ability to excel at STEM subjects. In my opinion, the main contributors to success in STEM are passion and curiosity. STEM subjects require just as much creativity as arts subjects, making them very versatile and accessible to anyone.

Nominations for the 2023 Victor Chang School Science Awards open in May 2023.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years