Intercultural Understandings from the Migrant Scientist

Selection Panellists 18-1-2017
Some of our selection panellists. From top left: Douglas Montgomery, Alex Prior, Toni Stevens, Ann Woelk and Christina Hall.

In 2017, Schools in Victoria are required to deliver two new curriculum components – “Science as an International Endeavour,” and “Intercultural Understanding.” This provides an opportunity to combine learning about science and learning about other cultures in a single session, and this year the Royal Society of Victoria has embarked on a joint project that aims to activate and channel the latent science expertise in our migrant community toward this end. Dubbed the “Migrant Science Communication Accelerator,” the pilot program, delivered through the efforts of our wonderful partners at Cultural Infusion and with the support of the Australian Science Communicators, will assist Victorian, science-qualified migrants to tell their migration story while developing a science show that is both engaging and suitable for Victorian schools.

Successful applicants will be coached in developing their show with mentorship from established science communicators and teachers, and then helped to market their incursion module to schools through Cultural Infusion’s Schools Program, an opportunity for our candidates to participate in a new, niche education workforce as sole traders. The initiative has been conceived as a way to get migrants to Victoria with underutilised or unrecognised science training back on a path that makes productive use of their valuable skill base.

Interview SignThis week’s interviews of short-listed applicants have revealed a compelling array of stories from around the world and, in particular, confirmed many of the project proposal’s underlying assumptions. With applicants from the regions of South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, the perspective our applicants provided on Australia’s status as a privileged oasis of (relatively) successful multiculturalism, gender equity, civil peace and economic prosperity was invaluable. It was plain to many applicants – many of whom are survivors of war, poverty and social upheaval – that this privilege was invisible to many native Australians, and valued accordingly. Observations on the low status and visibility of Australia’s Indigenous peoples relative to the Indigenous populations of applicants’ countries of origin were also sobering and well made. This was a diverse, well-educated, insightful and, above all, resilient group of people with important cultural perspectives to share.

The general level of science training, expertise and acumen was very good and, with science educators in short supply in our country, plainly an opportunity going to waste. All applicants had tertiary qualifications in the sciences, and many were formerly either science teachers or otherwise occupied in engaging young people with scientific principles in their countries of origin. Following migration, most have encountered significant hurdles to activating this expertise in Australia. Some of these impediments have been structural in nature – visa restrictions, or bonded placements in sponsoring regional areas with few relevant employment opportunities – while others are the result of language barriers, isolation from the professional and social networks required to raise awareness of opportunities and access to guidance on how to approach local science-related roles in a culturally-appropriate way. Many are between jobs, volunteering, in traineeships, studying and/or supporting families as labourers and cleaners. Some are returning to work after starting a family, approaching the Australian workforce for the first time.

In order to facilitate more networking opportunities and social inclusion in the Victorian science community for our short-listed applicants, all have been provided with a year’s membership of the Royal Society of Victoria and will be invited to attend and network with established members and friends at our various events and activities over the course of 2017, sharing a passion for science that unites people from all over the globe. Meanwhile, the seven successful applicants are currently being selected as we complete some final interviews and deliberate as a partnership group. These will be coached in providing a unique presentation on the migrant experience and a perspective on science as an activity that pervades human cultures around the world over the next 12 weeks. This is proving to be an intriguing adventure – stay tuned!

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The Migrant Science Communication Accelerator has been generously supported through grants from the Inner North Community Foundation and the Scanlon Foundation.