GAF Story

Ella Burgun

RMIT University
Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Biology)

Headshot of woman with short hair wearing a white shirt and smiling.

In her final semester of a Bachelor of Biology, Ella reflects on how a scholarship has supported her studies and highlights from her time at RMIT University.

Learn about Ella's fieldwork expedition on Lizard Island, how she's learnt to harness her motivation and productivity, and her plan to move to Hobart to study for a Master of Marine and Antarctic Sciences at the University of Tasmania.

What motivated you to study Biology?

I have always been interested in science, and I like knowing how things work, especially living things. I didn't know what I wanted to do in science, but I knew a biology degree would introduce me to so many different concepts, and I would be able to figure out what I wanted to do.

What did it mean to you to receive a George Alexander scholarship?

It changed my life! Coming out of Covid-19, I was unemployed and really struggling to find work. I had moved to a new city, and I was struggling financially, thinking I might have to move back in with my parents and take a break from university.

When I received this scholarship, it completely changed the trajectory of my degree; it allowed me to participate in extracurriculars and buy myself a new computer when mine broke. I could actively participate in my course and feel more comfortable in my life.

How have you been involved in the community throughout your studies?

I was a mentor and teacher's aide at Brunswick Secondary School, assisting a year 9 math class through the RMIT In2Science program. This allowed me to work with a teacher for 18 months, giving me experience in teaching (which I am really interested in) and showing kids how cool science is.

I was also very lucky to be chosen to work in London at the International Youth Science Forum last year as a staff member. This program hosts approximately 600 high school students and allowed me to get to know many amazing up-and-coming scientists and network with trailblazers in the field.

Tell us about your fieldwork expedition on Lizard Island and what you took away from it.

This trip was a phenomenal experience! I got to meet 17 other passionate STEM students from RMIT and head to Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef for 10 days to research coral ecology and the impacts of extreme weather phenomena on the surrounding reef. I got to swim with sharks and turtles, and we even had an encounter with a 2+ meter saltwater crocodile that gave us all a bit of a scare!

With the support of the fantastic RMIT staff, I was able to learn valuable data collection methods and practice writing a realistic scientific report, skills that I will be using in my career. I learnt so much and constantly wish I was back on the beautiful island.

Reflecting on your university journey, what advice would you give scholars beginning their studies and other women in STEM?

Focus less on grades and more on whether you are enjoying the course. I may sound a bit like a broken record, but when I came into my degree, I was very stressed about getting high distinctions, and I lost myself in that anxiety. I am studying science because I love it, not because I want to impress people. I had to rediscover that love in what I was learning; even if some subjects seemed boring or pointless, there was always something interesting to be found!

Can you share any tips for taking care of your well-being and preventing burnout while studying?

I have ADHD and Aspergers, so I've had to find ways to make the most of when I am feeling productive and not beat myself up when I really can't focus or bring myself to study.

I have put a lot of effort into understanding how my motivation comes and goes and how to harness that, and everyone can benefit from taking a moment to reflect on how they work!

What time of day do you find yourself wanting to do tasks or most productive? Where are you when you feel this way? Are there places that take away this feeling? What are you wearing? What are you listening to?

Asking these questions helps you understand how you work and how to make sure you are feeling your best when you need to tick off challenging tasks.

What are your plans after graduating? Do you have any big-picture goals for the future? 

After graduation, I will move to Hobart, Tasmania, to study for a Master of Marine and Antarctic Sciences at the University of Tasmania! I am super excited to progress into the next chapter of my life; I'd like to pursue research in deep ocean taxonomy and how climate change is affecting lower levels of the ocean atmosphere.

I want to focus on making science more accessible to the public and helping disadvantaged communities access STEM education and opportunities. I would love to communicate all the amazing scientific discoveries that are being made across the world in an interesting and engaging way!


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