ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology


25, Jan 2024

Superstar of STEM

Dr Taylor Szyszka has discovered profound benefits in being a star science communicator – number one being that her parents finally understand what she does.

‘I’m quite pleased with that accomplishment,’ jokes the synthetic biologist from University of Sydney who has just completed her first year as a Superstar of STEM. It’s a two-year Science and Technology Australia program to smash gender assumptions about who can work in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The program includes several training sessions, with opportunities to pitch to the Conversation, prepare a TED-like talk and do mock interviews at SBS, talk to parliamentarians and talk science to schoolchildren.

‘I’ve gotten very good at coming up with strong narratives and snappy pitches for my work,’ says Dr Szyszka.

Her busy year began with a trip to Canberra for Science Meets Parliament, where she could discuss synthetic biology with parliamentarians. A networking session introduced her to precision fermentation company, Cauldron, in Orange, NSW, which resulted in running an industry networking session there with them later in the year.

As one of the creators of Remediate!, the Centre’s bespoke synthetic biology card game, Dr Szyszka says she could not have predicted the deluge of activity and interest the game generated.

‘Work on Remediate! became very intense… but it was such a fun and unique experience,’ she says. ‘I think it really changed my perspective on science communication and gave me a new appreciation for integrating the arts and humanities into my SciComm practice.’

So, too, did a stint on the comedy stage. Dr Szyszka signed up for the Future Science Talks Comedy Program. She worked with a comedian to inject some humour into a 10-minute science talk that she performed during the Sydney Fringe Festival.

‘I had heaps of fun being a bit playful with Taylor Swift references and using a unique medium to communicate my work,’ she says. Watching the video of that performance provided the ‘ah-ha’ moment for her parents too.

Other highlights include being on a panel for the inaugural SXSW Sydney conference and working with Deadly Science as one of their STEM Legends – ‘probably the coolest title I’ve ever held’, she says.

‘I’ve been doing online visits to regional and remote schools talking about science with the students. In a cheerful twist, I’ve primarily been chatting with preschool and kindergarten students! I love working with the little ones, they’re so enthusiastic and curious and hilariously unfiltered.

Dr Szyszka says that while the training and opportunities have been invaluable, the best part of Superstars of STEM is the network that evolves.

‘It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It’s such a kind and supportive space! Our Teams channels are full of messages celebrating each other and cheering each other on.

‘Year one in Superstars of STEM has been brilliant. I’m really excited to see what other opportunities come in Year two.’