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Rocket Science at University! – Grace Gunner

Studying STEM at university brings many opportunities, when I was in high school, I never thought I could be working on a rocketry project in my second year.

University classes and extracurricular projects in STEM offer exciting opportunities to develop logical thinking processes, effective communication skills, and a special understanding of the world around us. Whether this understanding is grounded in understanding weather patterns and past climates through studying geophysics or fundamental concepts that underpin the very nature of reality through studying physics! The options are endless. Studying STEM in university only opens doors. The skills you learn are multidisciplinary and transferable to careers in many areas. For people interested in how and why questions, science, and engineering are the way to go. 

In high school it’s important to take as many science and maths courses you can. I completed Maths Methods, Physics, Geography, Chemistry, and English. Still, in second-year university I find myself drawing on knowledge from my year 11/12 classes. The overlap between the sciences becomes more blurred the deeper you investigate them, and so, the more STEM you do, the better!

Personally, throughout school, I always wanted to study astronomy and astrophysics at university. In first-year university, I found myself exploring concepts I had been watching documentaries on for years. I was sitting in classes eagerly waiting for the topics to be elaborated on. It was humbling to switch from a conceptual understanding to one which was grounded in mathematics. My experience at high school was that I was studying to achieve the necessary ATAR to study what I wanted in University. In hindsight, the learning does start at school.

I was always sure of my direction to go into a pure physics field after high school. However, once I started a Bachelor of Science my final direction became nothing but blurred. On a weekly basis of first-year university, I changed from thinking of majoring in astrophysics, next it was geophysics, then it was both, then I wanted to add engineering in there too! Through studying STEM at university, I realised how broad my interest area is, and I discovered niches of physics explored in depth in other subjects and degrees. Eventually, choosing a degree came down to deciding what was a hobby and what I wanted in a career. Finally, I landed on transferring from a pure science degree to a double degree with aerospace engineering and science. 

Having done both physics and chemistry at school made this transition much easier. At school studying chemistry felt a little tedious. When I found myself in a materials class in first-year engineering, suddenly I was so grateful for my prior knowledge of high school chemistry.

There is a fantastic array of STEM clubs and extracurricular activities that become available to you. A project I am looking forward to becoming more involved with is a rocketry competition run through the engineering organisation, Adept Rocketry Division (ARD). Adept is an organisation and platform for students to gain practical experience and apply their skills in a real engineering environment (Adept, 2020). This rocketry project aims to build a level 3 class rocket and take part in the Australian Universities Rocketry Competition (AURC). The AURC hosts a competition amongst university students from all over Australia and New Zealand. The competition scores the university teams on how successful the final launch is, as well as several reports written throughout the project. These reports detail the progress made since the last report, methods, materials, and the underlying science and engineering concepts used in the construction of the rocket. This project attracts people studying in all areas of STEM. Participating in these sorts of projects mimics real workplace experience where expertise from many STEM fields is required to complete the task. Projects through Adept are 100% student-led. We meet up every few weeks, at first in person, and more recently over Zoom. The team is split into subsections, including avionics, structural, recovery, and Rapid Object Identification Data System (ROIDS). Students from relevant degrees gravitate to specific roles depending on their interests and knowledge base bought from their university studies. For example, people in computer science and electrical engineering dominate the avionics subsection. There are people in their last semester of their degrees working on these projects and people such as me, in their second year of university. 

There are many other interesting projects and opportunities to explore through studying STEM at university. One of the greatest assets in participating in projects like ARD is having the ability to focus in areas that interest you. Studying and being involved in STEM allows you to transition from thinking of yourself as a student to seeing yourself as a young emerging professional in an area that you love.

Grace Gunner:

Grace is currently completing a double degree of Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering with a Bachelor of Science. Apart from studying, she also spends her time working on projects through a student run club Adept which allows her to take part in competitions such as the Australian Universities Rocketry Competition.