A meeting of curious minds

A beach with light sand bordered by shrubs on a sunny day

They look like any other tourists walking along the sand on Lady Musgrave Island, off the southern Queensland coast.

But award-winning University of Queensland scientist Dr Sonia Shah and Bundaberg State High School student Cadence Taylor aren’t visiting the Great Barrier Reef for a day of sightseeing. 

They’re working on something much bigger.

The pair is part of the Curious Minds project, empowering female high school students to explore their full potential in STEM.

The program matches girls in Years 9 and 10 who have a passion for science with STEM professionals, to help develop the next generation of female scientists.

Enter Dr Sonia Shah.

Dr Shah’s research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience focuses on the genetics of heart disease.

She credits her mentors with helping her to decipher some of the most difficult scientific and medical dilemmas facing society.

Dr Shah said she is now paying it forward by mentoring Miss Taylor, a year 10 student with a keen interest in the environment.

“I know from personal experience, having someone who understands what you are going through can really change your life,” Dr Shah said.

“I’m keen to be there for the next generation as a mentor, and to show you can balance a scientific career with having a family – even if it means making mentoring calls from the car while my daughters do gymnastics.

“I find it so rewarding — these young female students really blow my mind with their levels of curiosity and creativeness.”

Dr Sonia Shah and Cadence Taylor standing on a beach holding dried coral

Dr Sonia Shah and Cadence Taylor

Dr Sonia Shah and Cadence Taylor

A hand holding small dried coral
Many pieces of white dried coral laying on a beach

The pair has been working together for six months, chatting regularly over Zoom.

“We share a passion for the environment and having Sonia as a mentor has been amazing,” Miss Taylor said.

“It’s given me a new perspective of what might happen in the future so I can be more prepared – having her insights is invaluable.”

Distance usually prevents face-to-face meetings, but Dr Shah and Miss Taylor recently got the chance to spend a day together exploring Lady Musgrave Island.

They joined a marine biologist on a snorkelling tour to survey coral health as part of the Eye on the Reef citizen science project, surveyed public opinion on the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and worked on Miss Taylor’s STEM project.

Cadence Taylor kneeling and pointing at a bird that is sitting on the ground

“I was lucky to see Sonia in person – because Curious Minds is a national program some people are in different states from their mentors, so for them it’s not even a possibility,” Miss Taylor said.

Miss Taylor said she was looking forward to returning to the island to do work experience, and the trip had confirmed her plans to continue studying science into senior school.

“I’d like to go into environmental science and Sonia has shown me firsthand what a successful career in science can look like.

“This is more than a mentorship – I feel like I’ve found a new friend.”

Curious Minds has matched mentors to more than 400 high-achieving female STEM students since its launch in 2015.

Media: IMB Communications, communications@imb.frankeshowroom-bcn.com, +61 (0)457 576 843.