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Matt’s policy on science

Matt Wenham

2005 Rhodes Scholar Matt Wenham has enjoyed a varied career path, using his science degree to teach high school students in rural Malawi before crossing continents to Washington DC where he now works for a non-profit think tank that links scientists and policy makers.

Name: Matt Wenham

Secondary and tertiary education details:

Brighton Secondary School, 1998
University of Adelaide − Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology), 2001; Bachelor of Science (Honours), Biochemistry, 2003
Monash University − Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary), 2005
University of Oxford − Doctor of Philosophy, cell biology, 2009

Why did you choose Adelaide for your undergraduate degree?

I wanted to study at a top class university, but stay close to my family in Adelaide and the various activities I was involved in. Adelaide also had a great selection of science subjects and researchers, which was very attractive.

Apart from your academic qualifications, how did your experience at the University of Adelaide shape you as a person?

By staying in Adelaide, I was able to keep up my involvement with many of the groups and organisations I had developed links with. I also had the opportunity to participate in sport, music and leadership activities through the University.

Details of scholarships (including Rhodes and any others)

Rhodes Scholarship, Australia-at-Large, 2005
US National Institutes of Health Intramural Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2010
World Life Sciences Forum, BioVision.Nxt Fellow, 2011

Describe your time at Oxford – what were the standout memories?

I have a lot of fantastic memories from Oxford, including listening to and meeting a number of world-famous speakers, attending events at Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, attending sporting events as a participant or spectator, countless formal dinners and balls, performing with a student group at the Edinburgh Fringe, and completing the reserve officer training course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

What has been your career path since then?

After finishing my DPhil (PhD), my wife and I worked for a development organisation in rural Malawi for three months, where I taught science to high school students and ran teacher training programs. Following that, we moved to the United States, where I took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health just outside Washington, DC. After my NIH fellowship, I was offered a position as an Associate Director with the Institute on Science for Global Policy, a non-profit think tank that works to improve the links between scientists and policy makers. In this role, I work with government officials and distinguished scientists from around the world on science and technology challenges that have a critical influence on key public policy issues.

How has the Rhodes Scholarship changed your life?

Aside from the wonderful experiences I had whilst at Oxford and the great friends I made there, the Scholarship has helped to open a number of doors career-wise that I might not otherwise have had. The Rhodes is extremely well known and respected in the US, so this has been very helpful in moving out of research into the policy field.

Advice to incoming students to gain the most from their time at university

Although the academic side of uni is very important, the extracurricular activities are possibly even more important. Make sure you take advantage of all the other opportunities available through the University and outside of it.

Any tips for new graduates on choosing their employment path?

The most important thing for me has been finding a field that I am passionate about, which happens to be science policy. It’s much easier to follow a career path if you enjoy what you’re doing, even if the path is difficult. Try to find the sort of work you enjoy in a field that interests you, through internships, work experience or volunteer work. Finally, don’t feel limited by the specific degree you’ve undertaken – as a scientist, for example, there are a huge number of different paths to take outside of the traditional research track, so try different things and see what interests you.

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