Day 1 Harker School Symposium

Today was quite an early start after a long day travelling yesterday. For some students, prior to this trip, the longest flight they had experienced was the hour trip to Auckland! One of the girls announced the next time she was going to do a long-haul flight she would fly Business Class. I like her thinking.

Today was an early start for the jetlagged girls. The bus was leaving at 7.30am and two of the students slept through numerous alarms and only just made it in time, grabbing a muffin from the breakfast room as they went to board the bus. We had a tight schedule so there was no opportunity for delay.

Harker School is like none other in the States, according to the head of the school, and after spending a day witnessing some of the work the students do, we can well believe it. We were hosted by some lovely young women who made us feel very welcome and comfortable. We began the day by wondering around the poster sessions and had a chance to talk to the students who conducted the research. Here is an example of some of the research:

Racial Bias impacting Capital Punishment

How humour affects the learning process

Validating Novel Algorithms - Generated Crop Rotations: A second year study

Shorter days: The effect of the Day/Night Cycle on plant growth in indoor farming

Determination of Genetic Factors involved in Hyperplastic left Heart Syndrome using RNA sequencing.

We heard from Dr Max Holmes from the Woods Hall Research Centre and his work on Climate Change and the impact the melting Permafrost has on the CO2 emissions. He and his team are extensively studying the Artic Rivers, Global Rivers and the small Cape Cod Rivers, taking samples from around the world year on year to see how the water quality changes based on chemistry of the river over time. This is offering up vital information on how the climate is changing. He has helped to establish the Permafrost Rivers Observatory, and the Mountain Rivers Observatory. “What an adventure science can be,” he said. There are so many places in the world science can take you, I am still awed by the privilege.”

We were honoured to have a private session with one of the afternoon keynote speakers Surbhi Sarna an alumna of Harker School 2003. Surbhi was described as a ‘Patient to impatient entrepreneur’. Her diagnosis of ovarian cancer as a 13-year-old, led her to create a life saving device, patent it and convince investors to fund its development. She sold her company in 2018 for $275million.

Some of the gems he shared with the students were:

  1. Have belief in your concept. Sometimes your journey changes but your overall goal shouldn’t change (if you want to succeed)
  2. There is nothing harder than being an entrepreneur. You must love the concept enough, believe in it firmly. You mustn’t care what others think of you.
  3. Think of the opportunity cost, not just financially but socially, emotionally, spiritually.
  4. Look after your own health, especially your mental health along the way. Don’t forget to take the time to go for a walk or get some fresh air.
  5. Your team grind with you. They spend more time working on your vision than they do with their family – appreciate that. Design a position they are well suited for, encourage and support them to grow in their work and leadership, form an alliance with them, not a boss employee mentality.
  6. If you are pitching to investors take the time to be well prepared, know your stuff well so you can answer all their questions.

Surbhi said that as a woman you do have to work harder, be that much better and prove yourself a lot more and yes, it’s not fair, but you can change the system by being in it and at the other end, when you are leading others. She shared the following quote “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We were invited to share a lovely lunch with some of the guest speakers, alumni and a few members of the Harker School Community. The girls were split up around the tables and it gave everyone a great opportunity to network and have more in-depth conversations with the students who were about to graduate and the work they were doing.

The level of research at this school is equal to our university level. It was quite mind-blowing, and our students were in awe of it all.

The afternoon was a session on the ‘Odyssey into the Human Genome” delivered by Dr David Haussler. This was a fascinating session and one of our students couldn’t take down notes fast enough — she was in her element! A few were struggling with the jetlag toward the end but reported back they found it interesting. He used a lovely word periodicity….


We watched two teams pitch in the STEMnovation (didn’t have time to hear the third team) for which a $5000 prize was up for grabs. This was a new thing for the symposium and the teams had to make a pitch to a panel of judges. Like everything else at the school, it was slick and professional.

The bus came at 3.30pm to collect us and we went to the Santana Row shopping precinct for some downtime and dinner. The peaks and troughs at the end of the day indicated a good day was had by all!