Resource Officer in the Education Department for the past ten years at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre, Bhamini Kamudu Applasawmy aims to encourage our young people to develop a scientific mind. She shares with us how she got into the science world, how her Australia Awards Fellowship in Science Centre Leadership has helped her in her career and how she is looking forward to the future.
Since childhood, Bhamini Kamudu Applasawmy was drawn towards science. Later, her passion for this subject matter and the influence of her science teachers inspired her to choose a career in this field. Working as Resource Officer in the Education Department at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre (RGSC) for the past ten years, the woman professional shares with us her career pathway.
Bhamini completed her secondary schooling at Queen Elizabeth College, which she trusts, has played a key role in forging her character. She completed her first degree in Biology and then a Masters in Research Methodology at the University of Mauritius. “I think I was drawn towards science, especially biology, from an early age. As a child, I used to dissect flowers and crush the petals to examine what was inside. I used to have fun colouring my drawing books with plant pigments: Red and purple! During my secondary school days, I think my teachers played a key role in influencing me to opt for a career in science. I have to admit that they were successful at making science interesting enough to inspire me to choose a career as scientist,” she states.
As a child, she dreamt of a career in teaching but Bhamini started as a guide at the Mauritius Museums Council. She later shifted to working as a Biology Educator in a secondary school for about a year before joining the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre as Resource Officer in the Education Department. Driven by her go-getter personality, Bhamini, however, did not rest on her laurels. She decided to follow a Professional Development Course on Science Centre Leadership at the Centre for Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at the Australian National University and Questacon- the National Science and Technology Centre of Australia. The course focused on empowering young professionals in science communication and science centre management.
“Focus was on how to engage our audience and develop impactful science programmes that will trigger interest in science. A large part of the programme dealt with networking amongst ourselves (participants from African Countries) but also networking with other science centres in Australia. I had the opportunity to visit and interact with the directors and staff of Questacon (one of the world famous science centres), the Bendigo Science Centre, Wollongong Science Centre and planetarium and Early Start Discovery Space in Wollongong and the Sydney Powerhouse Museum,” she shares.
I was inspired by the modesty and passion of these people for science communication. A very enriching experience indeed and I came back empowered, determined and with strong bonds developed with the Australian Institutions and my African colleagues."
Bhamini states that she felt honoured to have been trained and mentored by three eminent personalities in science communication, namely Prof. Mike Gore (founder of Questacon, Australia), Prof. Sue Stocklmayer (a well-known researcher in science communication), Dr. Graham Walker (Manager, Science Circus Africa), and supported by Questacon. “I was inspired by the modesty and passion of these people for science communication. A very enriching experience indeed and I came back empowered, determined and with strong bonds developed with the Australian Institutions and my African colleagues,” she underlines.
In 2017, Bhamini joined science communicators from eight other African countries at Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, and the Australian National University. She trusts that what she has learned has helped her in her role as Resource Officer at the RGSC. “I learnt that Questacon supported the development of several science centres in Asia-Pacific. I think I made the right choice of being trained at these institutions. While doing my job at RGSC, I regularly applied the knowledge gained in Australia. For example, the training programme helped me refine my skills in delivering science shows and running science workshops for educators.”
She really enjoyed studying visitor behaviour as part of the course at Questacon. “It was interesting to study how visitors interact with the exhibits, the engagement and learning that takes place. The best things about the course was its focus on practice and every day I am applying my knowledge at RGSC. Currently together with my colleagues, I am busy working on the development of a new exhibition gallery at RGSC to showcase the contribution ‘Science and Technology’ in the development of Mauritius.”
Achievements and future plans
Bhamini shares that her objective as Resource Officer in the Education Department at the RGSC is simply to encourage young people to develop a scientific mind. “Encourage young people to observe, think rationally, investigate, and develop creativity and to draw conclusions based on facts and sound judgement. I believe these are part of life-skills that will help them in their careers. I also want to implement more multidisciplinary projects that aim at a holistic approach to learning. For example, I want to implement projects which require students to develop, use science, art, engineering, languages, among others.”
The challenge is to manipulate the equipment and chemicals, demonstrate, explain the science, entertain and involve the audience and all this at the same time. You need to be a good public speaker and be skilful at manipulating your instruments."
She reveals that one of the major achievements in her career is the implementation of the Young Mauritians’ Plan for the Planet Project (YMPP) in Mauritius. “Back from Australia, I implemented the YMPP with the full support of the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre and the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, Tertiary Education and Scientific Research. YMPP is a project which enables young people to work on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. They had to conduct some research on what is happening in their districts and propose solutions. The challenge was getting students to adopt this holistic approach using knowledge from science, management, economics, history, and so on and so forth. The recommendations of the students were compiled into a National Action Plan for the SDGs and have been published in a book which will be sent to the government for further action. It is a means to make the voice of our young students reach out to policy makers.”
She further explains that the project is the Mauritian version of the Young Australians’ Plan for the Planet, an initiative of the Australian National University and Questacon. “Mauritius is the first country to complete this project. It is proposed that the project be extended to other countries including Singapore and Mauritius will be mentoring the other countries in the following years.” Bhamini reveals that the major challenge she faces is performing science shows in front of an audience that is the least interested in science. “The challenge is to manipulate the equipment and chemicals, demonstrate, explain the science, entertain and involve the audience and all this at the same time. You need to be a good public speaker and be skilful at manipulating your instruments. It happens that sometimes, experiments fail to work on stage and if we do not know how to tackle this, it can be very embarrassing. The challenge is to identify the reason in front of the audience and explain to them why it is not working. When this happens to me, I take it as an opportunity to explain to the audience that in science, sometimes experiments do not work at once, and this is an opportunity to investigate further and to bring improvement.”
She reveals that the most important thing she has learned in science communication is the audience. “I always keep in mind that my product is destined to the audience and I need to adapt to their needs based on their age and interest. Science communication is tricky: one can be great scientist but a poor communicator! Believe me, it is not easy to explain a science concept to a six-year-old.”
Regarding professional projects in the pipeline, Bhamini reveals that she is looking forward to the hosting of an international Youth Conference on Sustainability where participants of the ‘Young Australians Plan for the Planet’ will be interacting with Mauritian Students, participants of the Young Mauritians Plan for the Planet. “I next look forward to supporting other countries in Africa and Singapore to implement the Young Persons Plan for the Planet in their countries,” she underlines.
As Resource Officer of the RGSC, Bhamini utters that she is optimistic about the future regarding science. “I think that Science Centres have a promising future ahead in playing a crucial role in science education in Mauritius. Studies have shown that a person spends a major part of his lifetime learning out of school. I believe that RGSC will in the future be called upon to provide more and more ‘edutainment’ (Education + entertainment) to Mauritians and it is with much enthusiasm and perseverance that I will contribute to this challenge.”