From biology to technology: how one alumnus switched focus
When Benjamin Millar attended the 2016 NYSF Year 12 Program, he had his eyes set on a career in biology.
“I liked it at school, I was good at it, so it seemed like a natural fit,” he said.
But a small step into the field as a research assistant early on in his biotech degree made it clear it wasn’t for him.
Luckily, Ben’s time at the National Youth Science Forum showed him the broad array of STEM careers. He’s now in his Honours year for a Bachelor of Advanced Computing.
The focus on computers and data analysis wasn’t explicit at the NYSF, but it was through every session no matter what STEM field we were talking about,” he explained.
“I always liked tinkering with computers at school, and I had a really great IT teacher, so it was an easy transition.”
Ben went on to say he’s always had role models and mentors encouraging him into higher education, so he could give back to his community.
“I’m a proud Wulli Wulli man (from Queensland), currently living on Ngunnawal Country (Canberra),” Ben said. “My nan in particular gave me a huge motivation to continue with my education. All my grandparents, from both my Indigenous family and non-Indigenous family, were really big supporters of education as empowerment.”
The Rotary Club of Cleveland supported Ben to attend the NYSF after his grandfather took him to a Rotary info session.
He was in the car doing a driving lesson with the same grandfather when he found out he’d been accepted. “He put the phone on loudspeaker, and I had to pull over – we were both so ecstatic and I didn’t want to crash!”
When we asked what the best thing was about his time at the NYSF, he laughed. “Well, if I don’t say that it was meeting my girlfriend there, then I’ll probably wear it from her.”
Ben’s girlfriend, Olivia Flower, is also still in STEM, studying physics and mechanical engineering. “She’s definitely the smarter one of the two of us.”
As for the program, Ben said it was the first time he’d found himself in a group of people who were really engaged in their studies.
“It’s not like people at school weren’t, but it was just a different level of engagement. It was the first time I’d spent a lot of time discussing and debating and investigating. The talks and presentations were great.”
So what’s next for Ben? He’s currently applying for graduate positions, along with many other uni students. Juggling the applications and interviews with an honours thesis is proving to be a challenge, and he said that the interview process has shown him the types of issues he might face in future workplaces as an Indigenous person.
“Some have asked me to give my opinion on Indigenous policy just because I’m Indigenous. There’s an onus on you as an Indigenous person to answer these questions but in most cases, I’m just reading the same articles you are.”
Despite this, he’s got some good support through a working relationship with Dion Devow, 2018 ACT Australian of the Year, at their tech start-up, Indigimation.
“It’s really great working with Dion, he’s been a great support and mentor. I can just give him a ring and ask him questions or for advice.”
Indigimation specialises in automation, artificial intelligence, and change management. Ben is working on projects that use Robotic Process Automation. He explained that “it basically records what a human does in a digital system, then automates and improves it.”
Managing his honours, applying for graduate positions, and running a start-up – Ben is certainly trying to get the most out of his time left at university.
His tips for future students: work out how to manage your time between social activities and study. “That one was a hard lesson,” he laughed. “We all go through it.”
He also recommended interning and getting as much experience in your field as you can, not just in class.
“It’s important to attend class and learn the theory, but you get something completely different in the real world. It’s a different way of thinking, and you get to do the fun stuff!”
We wish you all the best with the rest of your studies and beyond, Ben!
If you're a year 11 student who's interested in STEM, applications for the 2022 NYSF Year 12 Program are open. Apply now.