Scientists and other paragons of ‘intrinsic motivation’ – take a bow!

Last week I was privileged enough to go to the PM’s Science Awards in Parliament House. Kevin was, as usual enjoying his place in the centre of the stage, and gave a good speech which impressed his audience.

But the highlight was the scientists. Just five got awards – two were for school teaching (a primary and a high school teacher), two were classified as ‘life scientist of the year’ and ‘physical scientist of the year’. In these times of confusion and plenty it was fantastic to witness these people who were models of what psychologists call ‘intrinsic motivation’. They wouldn’t have done what they’ve done for the extrinsic motivations – the monetary rewards. And they’d all had all sorts of setbacks – not least the generally low esteem that we seem to provide teachers and scientists – and they’d come through triumphant. It was both moving and satisfying.

Anyway, go and have a look at the awards here – and play some of the videos to yourself. The winner of the big prize – Ian Frazer gave an amusing speech in a nice Scottish accent.

I’ve been given a few titles over the past couple of years. My children’s favourite was in the Weekend Australian a story about the vaccine, a picture of me, and the headline God’s gift to women.

Of course it was the vaccine they were talking about and I’ve had to point out to my children that this is not a hereditary title.

Perhaps the one that brought me down to earth was a similar story in Cosmopolitan magazine another story about the vaccine with a picture of me, and the headline the little prick that may save your life!

Clay ReidI had a good chat with Clay Reid who won the high school teacher’s science prize. He runs a science program in a school in the Claire Valley and does a lot of his science teaching by running a vineyard. It was lucky that the school actually had the land which could be converted into a vineyard. The idea of integrating schools with workplaces – that is having kids learn by doing various tangibly worthwhile things (even if they don’t pay for themselves without subsidy as businesses) – has always appealed to me, and I daydreamed of setting such a thing up myself. It would have a child care centre and a restaurant and some other stuff (for the girls) and a garage (for boys) and some farms (for boys and girls). And before anyone gets too excited, just because they’d been set up with a particular gender in mind wouldn’t mean that the other gender wouldn’t be eligible to participate with some effort going into trying to ensure they felt welcome.

Anyway it always stayed at the level of a daydream. It probably always will, though I’d help someone else if they ever wanted to try something like that. But Clay is doing it on a small scale. And it hasn’t been easy. Because doing new things – well it’s usually difficult.

I asked why other schools didn’t do something like he had done. He said because they don’t have the land. I said, “but you don’t need the land” you ought to be able do this on any of the commercial vineyards around the school. He then told me how difficult it was to run the vineyard within the school. He commented that there were a lot of obstacles to getting done what he wanted to get done. OHS rules, insurance, food regulation and on it went. He was trying to do something new and a lot of systems had been set up without what he was trying to do in mind.

Doing it on someone else’s land would have been orders of magnitude harder. The vineyard owner would have needed insurance for instance, but where would they get insurance for school kids coming onto their property. And on it would go.

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[…] I’ve said before, the PM’s Science Prize is a blast. And they’re now taking nominations. So if you have or had a great science teacher, or know […]