Impact Blog

You’ve heard of Dr. Karl, now meet Dr. Loz

October 2021

Dr. Lorien Parker, aka Dr. Loz, might not be as well-known as Dr. Karl, but nevertheless, she too is having a major impact on science communication and education.

The first thing I notice when I meet Dr. Loz is her sneakers – someone who wears high tops to a women’s business networking event is my kind of person.

I start wondering if Dr. Loz’s sartorial choices are aligned with mine because we’re both scientists. Her sneakers remind me of my happy days in the laboratory before I had to change my Chuck Taylor’s for office wear, and I start imagining just how large the intersection might be in a Venn diagram of scientist’s versus sneaker wearers before I snap back to the present moment and think… we haven’t even spoken yet and I like her already.

This positive first impression is further amplified by the second thing I notice about Dr. Loz. Her welcoming friendly demeanour. Not the stereotypical scientist, but as I introduce myself, she looks at me with interest and I see the scientist staring back. Her curiosity is unmistakeable as she listens to me explaining why I’m approaching her.

You see, I don’t actually know Dr. Loz but I’ve been wanting to interview her for the ACGR impact blog since it started last year, so serendipitously running into her at a local small business event is exciting. I grab the opportunity to speak to her and find out more about how and why she left a successful research career to start her business SciencePlay Kids.

 

Science doesn’t have to be boring!

I first found out about Dr. Loz when admiring her cool science inspired merchandise on Instagram… which led me to discover her inspirational work designing, developing and delivering unique science experiences for kids. When I finally met her, I’d been following her on social media for a few months and it’s fair to say, I was already a fan.

Within minutes of meeting her, my fangirling has taken off to another level entirely. It is clear Dr. Loz is not only dynamic but driven. She’s a woman with a mission. A cool science mission!

I guess you have to like science to do a PhD in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, but Dr. Loz doesn’t just like science, she LOVES science. And ideally, she wants everyone to love science as much as she does. But failing that, she’ll settle for everyone having “more science conversations more often”.

Dr. Loz wants people to know science is not a big scary boring thing, that it is everywhere and in everything, and it can be FUN!

She also wants people to view science as a mindset not just a skill set. She wants everyone to know science is about questioning and investigating and exploring and drawing conclusions, and this ‘STEM mindset’ is important for anyone, anywhere they might end up, not just those who want to work in a laboratory.

So how exactly did this scientist, who did start her career in a laboratory, end up out of the lab??

 

From PhD to Postdoc to SciencePlay Kids

On the day I meet Dr. Loz she has about 10 tabs open on her laptop, and is multitasking notetaking, while engaging with people at the event and even filling the water jug for our table. With 12 years’ experience as a medical researcher in laboratories across the world, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me.

Being a busy, hardworking, and high achieving individual is somewhat of a prerequisite for anyone with a modicum of success in the highly competitive environment of medical research. And Dr. Loz can certainly claim success. As a medical researcher investigating factors thought to contribute to cancer chemotherapy resistance, she has numerous publications and funding to her name. Not only that, her research uncovering how the detoxification enzyme GST interacts with the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin (to inadvertently reduce its efficacy), is expected to lead to more effective treatment and less side effects for a number of different cancers.

So, after 12 years, why did this successful researcher leave all this behind?

Dr. Loz loved being a researcher but not all that came with it. In particular, she found the competitiveness with her colleagues, having to compete for the same funding as the people you were sitting next to in the lab, particularly unpleasant. And after experiencing 4 years postdoc’ing in Japan, where the funding situation was quite different to Australia, and then also starting a family, Dr. Loz was primed for new inspiration to hit.

While on parental leave to raise her second mini-scientist, Dr. Loz started getting interested in the way science was communicated to kids, as well as the science experiences available to her and her friends’ children. Seeing an opportunity to provide fun and engaging science events, in 2016 SciencePlay Kids was born.

Since then, Dr. Loz has worked with 1000s of early years and primary aged children, engaging them in multi-sensory science explorations.

 

SciencePlay Kids – making science fun and accessible

SciencePlay Kids is all about making science fun and accessible for everyone.

With the need for creative thinkers and problem-solvers growing bigger by the day, SciencePlay Kids creates spaces for kids (and their adults) to explore science in fun and creative ways that helps them to incorporate and cement science skills and knowledge in everyday life.

But importantly, Dr. Loz wants to make science accessible to ALL types of brains and learners.

In a world where neurodivergence is increasingly recognised, unfortunately traditional science curriculum favours those who take in information through reading and writing. As a fellow neurodivergent herself, Dr. Loz understands that brains take in and process information differently and a big part of her mission is to make science accessible for EVERYONE.

Through SciencePlay Kids, Dr. Loz explores science concepts and a STEM mindset by incorporating creativity, play, tactile and sensory rich experiences with familiar materials (playdoh, fidget spinners to name a few) to make approaching and engaging in science investigations possible for all types of learners.

And of course, this has involved some learning of her own along the path from cancer researcher to business owner.

 

Once a researcher, always a scientist…

Dr. Loz started SciencePlay Kids with no business experience, but it has grown rapidly, and Dr. Loz now offers something for everyone including events, incursions, teacher PD consulting, science resources, community outreach, science merchandise, science kits, free science lessons, and a member’s lab.

She attributes her success to approaching science education and communication in a different way to traditional science education practices – practices that she is glad she never learnt. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have to learn a lot along the way.

After meeting her, I find an interview with her on the UNE boilerhouse podcast where she says:

“I still read journal articles just as much as when I was a postdoctoral researcher. But now it’s about sensory approaches, science engagement, and curriculum. I still love reading and taking in information and figuring out what to do with it”.

But despite her enduring research skills that have clearly helped her create a successful business, it’s her passion and love of science that shines through when she talks about why she does what she does.

The excitement in her voice is captivating, as she relays a conversation with her 7 year old daughter about everyday science (podcast 15:38-17:01) and the hundreds of science-laden things we do in the first 10 minutes we’re awake “most people don’t realise, science is everywhere, it’s in everything!”.

Whether she’s talking about the push-pull forces of getting out of bed in the morning, or the chemistry of cooking breakfast and the conversion of energy from what we eat into the movement of our bodies, the physics of sports, or the textures, properties of materials, and shapes used in art, she wants everyone to get excited thinking about how science is a part of it all. You can feel her excitement in her Facebook posts about upcoming planetary events such as eclipses, or the breeding cycles of the ‘367 Collins falcons’, or her latest cool home food science experiment.

But if she could teach kids just one thing, it seems to me it would be that asking questions – and then finding answers – is really what science is all about.

She clearly hopes understanding this will encourage children to be problem solvers, explorers and investigators. And that by teaching science in more accessible ways, every child, across the full scale of neurodiversity, regardless of their academic ability, will have the opportunity to experience just how cool science is.

After meeting Dr. Loz, her energy has me buzzing. She has me remembering why I fell in love with genetics and became a scientist myself. And while her research discoveries were significant, I am feeling overjoyed that she left her research career to pursue science education instead.

Because science is cool, but with the likes of Dr. Loz teaching science in new and fun ways, we might just see a new generation of scientists that can make science even cooler.

 

You can find out more about Dr. Loz and SciencePlay Kids at https://www.scienceplaykids.com.au/

And don’t forget to check out the cool science merch for kids and grownups – you might not be surprised to know that Dr. Loz gives part of the profits back to cancer research.

Photos supplied.

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