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Associate Professor Corinne Caillaud at The Golden Age Cinema and Bar at Raising the Bar on 20 October 2015. Photo: Filip Drazovic

Bright minds, big city: Raising the Bar in education

28 October 2015

Last week's inaugural Raising the Bar event offered a new opportunity to question and be inspired, writes University of Sydney Student Ambassador Jennifer Jamie Irawan.

Dr Agnieszka Tymula speaking at Freda's during Raising the Bar Sydney 2015.

Bright minds, big city: Dr Agnieszka Tymula speaking at Freda's in Chippendale during Raising the Bar Sydney.

Amidst the rain and mid-week blues, 20 of Australia's brightest minds were spread across the city to light the spark of curiosity for more than 1000 Sydneysiders as part of Raising the Bar – a worldwide initiative to broaden the way we consume content. Raising the Bar aims to demystify institutions as being something far removed from the rest of the world.

Raising the Bar was held on 20 October, in 20 bars, with 20 brilliant academics escaping their lecture theatres and laboratories to instead 'raise the bar' on educational content and make it accessible for everyone.

I started my night a world away from the humble streetscape of Redfern's Regent Street, at Freda's in Chippendale, which was vibrant with chatter as beers were poured and seats were taken. The speaker, Dr Agnieszka Tymula, a neuroeconomist and lecturer at the University of Sydney had been invited to discuss the surprising reasons we take risks.

Looking at the trends that influence our decisions, Dr Tymula brings together economics, psychology and neuroscience to build better models of decision-making.

"When I say I'm an economist, most people think that I study inflation, interest rates, banks, financial crises – not at all. When an economist analyses the studies that psychologists have done aimed to measure risk taking, a red light comes up and what we see is much more than risk taking. We see optimism and things that are confounded in the tasks that psychologists use to measure adolescent behaviour."

Dr Tymula went on to discuss the difference in risk-taking behaviour between adolescents and seniors, breaking down the brain functions involved in our decision-making processes. She then opened her talk up for conversation, and it wasn’t long before the questions began to kick off.

It is in those moments of audience engagement that the community of like-minded guests fulfilled the Raising the Bar goal. The audience was given back the discretion to question, to be inspired, and to be stimulated in a non-threatening environment. They escaped the passive audience experience and scripted narratives seen in classrooms and lecture halls.

I've grown up seeing the value in education, understanding that it was a cornerstone in my life to be able to find my passions, interests and more importantly fuel curiosity. I began to see that curiosity is the engine of achievement.

Initiatives like Raising the Bar bring to the fore the importance of innovation and diversity within education.

By reaching out to luminaires, we are given the opportunity to cultivate free-flowing knowledge and raise the bar in the things that we talk about, become passionate about, are provoked by and find ourselves engaged in.

I can't wait to see how Raising the Bar becomes bigger and better each year.

Listen to the Raising the Bar Sydney 2015 talks.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on the Sydney Life blog.