Hands-on Science: A Week of Serious Fun

I was demonstrating at Hands-on Science at Otago this week, which makes it 5 years since I did Hands-on Science myself (and 25 years since it started) and a good time for a discussion!

Hands-on Science (HOS) is a week where you get to experience being a scientist in a range of different fields. Students going into year 12 or 13 are eligible to apply to come, and this year twice the number of people attending (240, I believe) applied to come, so it’s pretty competitive. You’ll get entry based on a few things, but it’s not just marks – extra-curricular activities matter as well, as does whether you’re the only one from your school applying. You apply for a list of subjects in preferred order you’d like to take as a project, and cross your fingers.

The projects range from Biochemistry to PE to physics to Computer Science, and on top of your project (done every morning for the week), you get “snacks” or a taste of a range of disciplines. Snacks this year included a tour of the Anatomy Museum, the Gasworks, Music, Genetics, Biochem, etcetera.

HOS lets you pretend to be a Real Scientist for a week, as well as letting you talk to Actual Real Grownups about university. It’s a great chance to try and feel out what the next few years of your life are going to be like, and I remember it fondly – I met my best friend in our Biochem project, and while I was a socially awkward 16 year old surrounded by people (many of whom were much “cooler” than me), managed to have a fairly good time of it.

My experience of HOS is necessarily limited by the fact that I did the Biochemistry project, and am now teaching the Biochemistry project, but from what I can tell everyone comes away from it exhausted and happy. It’s got a great return rate – ex-HOS kids are helpers in every part of the week now, and many more express wishes to help out in some way in the future.

During my time at HOS, I’d felt that the sort of passion a lot of us felt about science was really what people should be feeling let’s be honest. Today, I took a friend’s younger sister through a few departments that lined up with her passions and it was actually the most rewarding thing to see her face light up. She’s intelligent, passionate, and well-spoken, and I am sure much more so than I was at that age.

It’s easy to forget that there are still kids like us out there, that in ten or twenty (or five) years time are going to help us save the world. Today, and this week, I’m reminded that there are.


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