First 500: Sam finds her soft spot for spiders

This month Westpac Scholars Trust celebrates its first 500 Westpac Scholars, looking at the journeys and achievements of these individuals and how their Westpac Scholarships have helped them along the way. We caught up with a few, including Dr Samantha Nixon, spider venom expert from the University of Queensland.

1. Tell us about your journey since receiving your Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship in 20187, what are you most proud of?

Since receiving my scholarship I've been able to grow as a scientist, science communicator and leader. I've overcome arachnophobia to become a venoms scientist, using spider venoms to develop new medicines against drug-resistant parasitic worms for people and livestock. I'm proud to have represented Australian science working in Europe, the USA, South America, Asia and as the youngest participant selected for the all women in science expedition to Antarctica with Homeward Bound in 2018.

2. What impact did the Scholarship have on your success?
The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship opened the door and gave me a platform to build my career. This scholarship gave me the financial support and independence to pursue my research at world-class facilities, training in Switzerland, France, the USA, Antarctica and the Amazon. Having that financial support meant that I was able to volunteer my time in my community, sharing my research and passion for science at schools all over Queensland and now to thousands of children online during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Westpac also launched my visibility as a science communicator by landing me my first ever TV interview in 2017. Now in 2021, I am an internationally recognised communicator as a guest presenter for children's television such as Scope and Totally Wild, appeared in documentaries for ABC Catalyst and Discovery Channel, and regularly appear on radio, tv, print, digital and social media. I recently won the Australian national championships for the FameLab Science Communication competition, and will be representing Australia at the world championships in November.

To learn more about our first 500 Westpac Scholars follow @WestpacScholars on Instagram as we showcase W100 alumni throughout August.

Applications for 2022 scholarships are now open. To find out more visit the Westpac Scholars Trust website.