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A Journey Where Science and Society Intertwine: An Interview with MSc Student Rhiannon Ng

Every year, millions of students work on and present scientific research at regional, national, and international science fairs all across the world. The following year, many start anew with a different project, leaving their previous works behind. Opportunities to do more with their projects that they put much effort into are far and few between, and this issue did not go unnoticed by one of the now co-founders of the Canadian Science Fair Journal, Rhiannon Ng.

Rhiannon Ng is a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, studying environmental toxicology. Her research centers on food environments and housing conditions of first nations children and communities. She grew up in Chelsea, Quebec, a small municipality just outside of the Canadian capital city, Ottawa. She did her undergraduate studies at Queen’s University, majoring in life sciences and minoring in sociology. It was during her studies in those two topics that made her realize that science and society were not to be treated as two separate fields of study.

Ng became interested in the societal impacts of science and how important it was to communicate science to the public. With the overwhelming amount of pseudoscience circulating the internet and news in the present day, it became clear that learning science literacy was crucial for today’s youth.

Back in 2017, Ng and a colleague of hers conducted research on publication rates of science fair winners in Canada, leading them to discover that less than one percent of students who compete in science fairs go on to publish their findings. After surveying students, they found that the main reason their works don’t get published is because of the complete lack of platforms available to these students to have their projects published to begin with. Since then, the Canadian Science Fair Journal (CSFJ) was founded for students to publish their science fair projects.

The CSFJ is a peer-reviewed, open-access, free of charge journal that is available online and in print that showcases science fair projects by children and youth aged 6-18. The journal serves two purposes; firstly, to help students extend their research beyond science fairs and into the world, and secondly, to provide students with mentorship opportunities in science writing and learning science literacy. The journal is an important asset to students below the age of 18, as it can help them develop their writing skills that oftentimes, they don’t get the chance to learn and improve on before they enter university.

The journal has several different categories, such as biology and chemistry, each with their own editorial team. Once a student submits to the journal, they are paired with one of the CSFJ’s subject-specific volunteer editors. “We try to make it a good experience for the student and also a good experience for the editor, and try to foster that relationship as best we can as they go through the mentorship process,” Ng said.

Part of the CSFJ’s founding philosophy was to never discourage students from science writing or pursuing STEM in post-secondary, and as a result, no paper that is submitted to the journal is rejected—save for if the paper does not follow the submission format. Regardless of the quality of the paper, the student is paired with an editor and they work together to revise the paper to publishing standards. This process can take anywhere from three months up to a year. It’s up to the student to decide whether or not they want to stop the revision if they are unconfident with the quality of their work. The team at the journal is able to accept most of the submissions thanks to their large team of volunteer editors. “It’s been so cool to see it grow from a group of ten students in Ottawa to a group of fifty international volunteers,” Ng commented.

When Ng and her co-founder, Nina Acharya, first established the organization, it began with many struggles and much help and support from others. “It was one of those things that we always said ‘we’re building this bridge as we walk across it’, because neither of us had any experience with starting an organization,” she explained. The two built it from the ground up into the flourishing—but still young—organization that it is today.

Starting and running a youth organization is no small feat. Ng strongly suggested to the people thinking of doing just that to truly listen to those giving them advice. She explained that although it may not always feel like they’re helping, the fact of the matter is that the more you talk to them, the more people they can connect with to help you along your journey.

The CSFJ has partnered with organizations like NSERC and Actua in the past, and with the help of their team and those partnerships, the two were able to learn a lot about growing an organization and all of the details that go into it.

However, challenges do arise with any large-scale venture, and it was no different for the CSFJ. “I’ve definitely struggled with imposter syndrome,” stated Ng when describing her position as someone who took on a leadership role while being somewhat of an introvert on a regular basis. Managing the many members and connections for the CSFJ forced her to step outside of her comfort zone, but it has also helped her learn and grow as a person.

Now, as the director of the CSFJ, Ng focuses her time mostly on large-scale, external tasks, such as securing funding and arranging partnerships, rather than the day to day editing for the journal. “It still astounds me the number of university students who are so willing to dedicate their time as volunteers,” she said regarding what it is like running the organization. “It is such a pleasure to be working with so many students from across Canada. I think that’s one of the biggest bonuses of what I do.”

The journal is now looking towards its next steps in their journey as an organization, which Ng and her team have been working on and will be working on for the next few years. She and the members working on the journal wish to get the work published in the journal out into the world by incorporating it into educational material.

Ng strongly believes that science, and in teaching the younger generation science literacy and writing, it can impact and tie science and society together closer than ever before. There are many crises in the world today, and science is applicable to those crises on both local and international levels. The scientific work that young people do is not only incredibly urgent, but also impactful to those around them.

Through her work at the CSFJ and in promoting youth in science writing, Rhiannon Ng brings about a novel approach to science and its application and connections in society. Her journey and growth within the last few years with her organization are a breath of fresh air to the youth of today, and could very well have a lasting impact on the future. With a love for the environment and a passion for science, Rhiannon Ng shines a light on a shadowy and uncertain future, bringing about a unique brilliance to the younger world of science.

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