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‘Useful degree’ sparked Dr Karl’s career
Whole generations of Australians have tuned in on Thursday mornings to hear an hour of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki on the radio and marvel at his vast knowledge of science in everyday life. With several university degrees including physics and mathematics, he certainly has the credentials – and who else would have been suitably qualified to conduct ground-breaking research into belly button fluff?
Kruszelnicki has fronted radio station Triple J’s longest-running segment for more than 40 years.
An author of 47 books, Kruszelnicki, 75, is compelled to share the passion for science which began early in his school years in Wollongong.
“I was picked on at school – they’d just switched over to hating immigrants from Europe and we were the latest influx – but I loved school, reading and learning,” Kruszelnicki said.
“I had no idea what I was going to do at uni so I took the easy way out (for me) and studied physics and maths.”
One learning and career pathway was of no interest to Kruszelnicki, who lists physicist, mathematician, researcher, taxi driver, mechanic, roadie, labourer, breakfast TV weatherman and four-wheel drive magazine writer among the occupations on his resume.
He also received an early scholarship to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, went on to make some of the earliest films for MTV before quitting – “because I decided there was no future in MTV – yet another one of the many wrong decisions in my life”.
It has been Kruszelnicki’s ability to explain scientific concepts to the rest of us that has repeatedly opened doors.
“That degree accidentally turned out to be incredibly useful. The good thing about studying physics and maths is it gives you a very useful mental toolbox that you can use to jump into any other field that you like – biomedical engineering, histology, anatomy, metallurgy – any field that is vaguely scientific or technical,” he said.
Kruszelnicki’s work in science has been diverse: research at his hometown’s steel works, investigating the properties of wool and hair, through to developing a machine that detects electronic signals from the human retina, supporting the work of the legendary Fred Hollows.
Upon completion of that work, he turned down three Ph.D. scholarship opportunities, spent four years studying medicine, then dropped out to work on the launch of science program Quantum at the ABC.
“After a year, I returned to my medical studies and became a doctor at the kids’ hospital – the best job I’ve ever had in my life. I learnt how important it was to liberate people from what was holding them back.
“But I realised I could do more for society by going back into the media by speaking out in favour of vaccinations.
“Yes, there have been bad decisions – bad in the sense that I didn’t become fabulously wealthy – but they were good in that they were the right thing to do.
“Looking back, I think I’ve been on the right side of history.”
Studying science can lead to rewarding careers.Credit: Louise Kennerley
Dr Karl’s top tips:
- Indecision is okay: ”The first thing you do will only be the thing you do before the second thing. Whatever you go into, give it a go and have a good time – but you may change your mind and shouldn’t feel bad about it.”
- Consider a gap year: ”You may need a break from study. Most kids will have spent more time in the education system than you spend in jail for murder – they need a break. I would recommend that you spend half a year working in a job where people are rude to you. That has two advantages: firstly, you’ll earn money and secondly when you get rich and famous you won’t be rude to those people who work in jobs where people are rude to them. Then, spend the second part of the year travelling the world somewhere. Open your mind up to all sorts of things you haven’t experienced.”
- Uni is a full-time job: ”If you go into university study straightaway, remember: full-time study is a full-time job. Don’t even think about trying to get a full-time job. Your study, your results, will suffer. Your job is to get a distinction average. If you get a distinction average the university will do anything for you, in terms of allowing you to change faculties or courses. During the week – no partying. If you’re not happy with that, don’t go to university. Study like you will live forever, but party like you will die tomorrow.”
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: “Life is long. You’re the ones who’ll be running the country.”
Kruszelnicki is hosting a free National Science Week event, Dr Karl and Friends, at Sydney Town Hall on August 17.
First-hand experience leads to medicine
Fourth-year medical student Eunice Cheng, 20, has a real love of learning. She speaks with enthusiasm about how her passion for different subjects drove her HSC course choices, and how she thrived pursuing the self-directed and independent learning encouraged at James Ruse Agricultural High School.
‘Comfort always’: Cheng has put her scientific smarts to use in pursuit of a medical career.Credit: Louise Kennerley
Cheng topped NSW in Science Extension in 2019, the first year it was examined. As part of her medical degree, she is now completing an Honours project at the UNSW Sydney’s Microbiome Research Centre (MRC).
“My project is on the microbiome of older Australians with and without dementia. It’s a fascinating topic and a great opportunity to immerse myself in medical research,” Cheng said.
“I did my HSC Science Extension project under the supervision of my current supervisors at the MRC. It had always been a dream of mine to return here to do more research, so to be able to live it out is incredible and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Cheng stressed the importance of keeping a balance between study, leisure activities and maintaining good health to ensure she could perform her best in the HSC.
“I deliberately kept up with all of my extracurricular activities throughout Year 12. For example, I represented Australia at the Yale University Young Global Scholars Program for Biological and Biomedical Science in the US in Year 11 and performed as a violin soloist at the Sydney Opera House in Year 12 just three weeks before my trial exams.
“These experiences not only enriched my high school experience, but nicely balanced my studies and helped me develop core life skills which have benefited me far beyond high school,” Cheng said.
Among the challenges was completing her HSC while also managing a rare eye condition which can periodically obscure her vision in one or both eyes.
“Having had my fair share of medical issues growing up, I am always incredibly inspired by my own doctors and hope that I will be able to help others in the same way they have done for me,” Cheng said.
While she hopes to care directly for patients at the bedside, Cheng also wants to maintain work in medical research because of the potential to help a much greater population of people.
“Just before starting university, I came across the quote from Hippocrates: ‘Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always’. ‘Comfort always’ resonated deeply with me, so much so that I even got it engraved on my stethoscope,” Cheng said. “Having this phrase with me serves as a constant reminder of what an amazing privilege it is to be part of the medical profession and my goal in medicine, and life generally – caring for and serving others.”
Cheng’s tips for HSC Science:
Top tips from HSC science teachers
Ami Morrow, Teaching Quality Advisor;
Relieving Head Teacher, Teaching & Learning (Curriculum)
Merewether High School
Ami Morrow from Merewether High School.
The skills of working scientifically are a vital component of the Biology syllabus. Key skills to practise include:
- designing first-hand investigations, identifying experimental variables (independent, dependent and controlled) and justifying the use of a control;
- interpreting, tabulating and graphing first-hand data, and assessing its validity, reliability, accuracy and precision;
- understanding the role of models in biology, and their advantages and limitations;
- evaluating the validity, reliability and accuracy of secondary sources.
Many HSC exam questions will require you to apply your knowledge, understanding and skills to unfamiliar situations. Questions often provide stimulus material in the form of diagrams, flow charts, tables, graphs, scenarios or examples that you are not familiar with. Don’t panic! Take the time to pick apart the stimulus and think carefully about what information or conclusions you can draw from it.
For written questions with stimulus, rather than regurgitating the knowledge that you have on the topic, think about how you can apply what you know to the scenario being presented. Be sure to support your response with specific information or data from the stimulus material. If the stimulus includes a graph or a table, try to incorporate specific trends or points from the data into your response.
Tips for longer questions
Plan your answer
- Underline keywords in the question and note any plurals or the specific number of examples the question asked you to refer to. If the question asks you to use two examples, select the best two that support your answer.
- Spot the specific requirements of the question. In this question: ‘Explain the loss of biodiversity that may result from TWO biotechnologies used in agriculture’, a specific requirement is agriculture. This means your examples of biotechnology must relate to agriculture.
- Use a scaffold to help you plan (eg PEEL: Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link). You can also use headings or sub-headings to give your response a logical structure.
Support your answer where appropriate using:
- information or data from any stimulus provided
- dot points
Head Teacher, Science Faculty
Gosford High School
Teacher Kathy Barbeler.Credit: Hedy Xie
Know the meaning of the following terms and how to apply them to your investigations and procedures:
Tables, graphs and diagrams:
- Follow scientific conventions when drawing tables, graphs and diagrams. Provide titles, labelled axes with units, clear data points and smooth lines of best fit where appropriate.
- Think about which quantity is the independent variable and which is the dependent variable. Represent these on the graph accordingly, with the independent variable usually on the x-axis.
- Practise drawing graphs ahead of the exam, including calibration curves, the titration graphs and enthalpy of neutralisation graphs.
- Think about appropriate scales – as a general guide use at least three-quarters of the provided grid.
- Revise the equipment you used, the chemicals and quantities. You should be able to summarise and explain the results obtained.
- Think about how your results may have differed from expected results, what caused this difference, and how you could improve your investigation.
- Use scientific theory to explain your results.
- Provide the states of matter, as they are under standard conditions.
- Think about whether an equilibrium arrow should be used.
- Look for ways the modules are connected (for example, you might link the organic structures in Module 7 to the spectroscopy tools in Module 8 and how functional groups are used to identify compounds).
- Do a final sense check of your answer (for example, make sure you have converted to litres for volumes).