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By  Morgan Gilbert 10 July 2023 4 min read

Key points

  • Morgan Gilbert took part in our Undergraduate Vacation Studentship program during her summer vacation.
  • She learned about science communications working directly with our researchers and experts.
  • Morgan shares her three months studying at our Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC).

As a child, using my school holidays for anything other than going to the park, swimming at the beach, and eating ice cream, seemed a waste. Spending the sunny summer months inside doing science? No thanks!

But as an undergraduate science student, I couldn’t resist the call of CSIRO’s Undergraduate Vacation Studentship program. The program offers university students the chance to complete a science and technology-related project alongside the brightest minds at Australia's national science agency.

Last November, I walked through the doors of the Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) as a vacation student in the communications team. 

What would the next 12 weeks have in store? I wasn’t sure, but I was curious to find out. 

The AEHRC welcomed university students from around Australia last summer. From L to R: Morgan Gilbert, Zach Taylor, Gabriel Russell, Jenna Supper and Charan Musuwadi

My CSIRO summer

I could tell you that I came into the program confident and ready to hit the ground running. That I made life-changing contributions to science on my very first day. That I single-handedly created a vaccine for cancer... okay, I’ll stop. 

My first few days were nothing like that. I know because I kept a diary with a series of reflections during my summer. 

Week one: I was really nervous...

But everyone here is so welcoming, and the researchers and scientists are happy to stop and chat.

Stepping into a new environment is always daunting. Even more so when you’ve researched your colleagues and know exactly how intelligent, innovative, and successful they are. 

Thankfully, I also found out just how kind, friendly, and approachable CSIRO scientists and researchers are. 

On Monday I chatted to Dr David Ireland over lunch and heard about how his team is developing chatbots to assist healthcare delivery.  

On Tuesday I was making tea in the kitchen when Dr Kaley Butten asked about my project and my university studies. We talked about her role in the development and validation of mobile health platforms like MoTHer and ended up discussing our favourite op-shops. 

Between the wonderful people and the innovative science, I went forward filled with awe and purpose.

Week four: I’m really getting into the project!

I come into the office every day excited to see where it will go. It’s also nice to spend time with the other vacation students.

Most vacation studentships are full-time. Can the hours feel long? Sometimes. But are there benefits? Absolutely! 

It’s a chance to fully immerse yourself in your project. Each day you get to explore something you’re passionate about, and it’s satisfying to see your work come together as the weeks go by. 

The time spent on the project also makes building connections with others, including fellow vacation scholars, easier. 

At the desk next to me was Jenna, a bioinformatics student investigating applications of machine learning in medical imaging. We laughed at the bizarre chest X-ray images first produced by the AI model she was developing.  

A few rows down sat Charan, who had just graduated with a public health degree and was putting his knowledge into practice working with the AEHRC’s Digital Therapeutics and Care team. He taught me the rules of soccer when our squad of vacation students took on the researchers after work.

More that 100 vacation students participated in the program working across different disciplines, locations, and research groups. Will you be next?

Morgan spent her summer with our Australian e-Health Research Centre as a vacation student in communications


Week nine: I’m working fairly independently now...

It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve also been learning a lot from the seminars on offer (even though I’m still getting my head around some of the AI concepts). All the vacation students I spoke to agreed that the best part of the program is the learning opportunities.

At the AEHRC, vacation students are invited to join weekly seminars, each one presented by a researcher from a different team.

We heard about how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to assist the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases. We also learnt how HARLIE, Dolores, Edna and Quin are facilitating healthcare delivery – not people, but chatbots.

Different groups and locations have different learning opportunities available. But there’s one thing in common – every student gets to work with a supervisor who guides them through their project. In my case that was Dr Naomi Stekelenburg, a communications advisor who could more aptly be described as a writer, editor, mentor, and fashionista rolled into one.

Your supervisor is there to support and guide you, but they’re not going to be constantly looking over your shoulder. The program is a great chance to explore new areas, tackle novel problems, and overcome challenges on your own.

As part of my project I wrote an explainer about AI and medical imaging, interviewed researchers, coordinated a video shoot, edited website content, and more. Not all of it came easily, but that made it all the more satisfying when I succeeded. 


Week 12 …Everything is winding down now.


I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in my CSIRO summer…

I’m really happy with what I accomplished with my project. But that’s not the only reason I look back at the experience so fondly. 

I met wonderful and inspiring researchers, engaged in interesting conversations, and explored my passions. Immersing myself in CSIRO gave me a chance to develop my skills, but it also gave me a taste of what studying or working here would look like.

After such a positive experience, I couldn’t stay away. I’m now fortunate enough to be back working with the AEHRC team.

Will I see you here? Applications are now open for this year’s vacation scholar program! Check out the available projects and apply before 7 August 2023 for your chance to enjoy an exciting summer of science.




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