Mentoring programs – new ideas from WA worth talking about

A frequent request over the years from a number of student and early career members of ASC is for a mentoring program. Mentoring can be very effective in developing skills but it requires a lot of people’s time and organisational resources to sustain a properly managed program. At my recent dinner with WA members, Emma Donnelly, chair of the WA ASC branch, and some WA members came up with two ideas for mentoring which I think are worth sharing with the entire membership. Both ideas are for activities can be run at the branch level and offer abbreviated time and resource effective versions of the usual prolonged mentoring relationships.

Idea 1: Science communication speed dating event‘

‘Science speed dating’ events usually match up scientists with the public. These are fun activities which give a lay audience, or even science students, a chance to talk for five minutes at a time with a variety of science practitioners. The mentoring twist to this event is to match up novice science communicators with a range of long practicing science communicators.

Each branch invites around ten science communicators (the featured talent) from their local area who are well established in their careers. You’ll need to have people who communicate science in diverse ways and media such as a science centre presenter or interactive developer; a science curator; science presenter or producer of radio, television or blog; newspaper science journalist; free-lance writer or consultant, science organisation (government and industry) communications officer; science graphic designer; science lobbyist; science advisor to local politician; science policy developer for a government department; science teacher; science curriculum developer; university dean of science; and so on. The wider the variety of ways of communicating science and the wider the range of sciences being communicated the better. Involve government, academia and industry. This mix should be easy to achieve within each metropolitan area.

The next step is to contact a wide range of the student and early career science communicators in the area. Promote the event to the local university science communication programs as well as to all the university and TAFE science departments and science teacher training programs. Basically invite anyone you can think of who might benefit from finding out the range of science communication careers which might be available to them. Contact local branches of other professional associations who share an interest in communicating science, such as the Australian Association of Environmental Education, Australasia-Pacific Extension Network, Interpretation Australia as well as ask the ‘talent’ to encourage any novice communicators they know to attend.

Promote the event as career development, mentoring on skates (‘mentoring on speed’ may give the wrong impression), kick-start science communication, whatever. If you have members in your area who want to get a sense of what sci-com careers are like this is the event for them. Make the event free for ASC members and charge a small but meaningful amount for others.

If your event is successful in attracting more apprentices than you have masters then two or more novices can chat with each experienced person during the five minute sessions.

Idea 2: Science communication shadows

This is easier to do if organised in concert with the Science communication speed dating event. Arrange for a student of novice science communicator to ‘shadow’ an established sci-com person for a day at their workplace. The novice will observe what’s involved in a typical working day for a particular type of science communicator and should provoke useful Q&A during the day.

Some types of science communication work will be more interesting to observe (shadow) than others. But even some desk based jobs have days when there is more action than just sitting using a quill or computer.

As opposed to ‘mentoring on skates’  this is a day-long mentoring experience. The point is that it is only a one day commitment for both parties with a once off evaluation page to submit to the branch or national body for reporting and bragging rights. This activity will need a page of guidelines each for novice and mentor but is a lot simpler than a longer term mentoring project.

Both ideas, especially the ‘shadow’, can do with further development. I welcome your thoughts on the value and workability of either mentoring idea. If you like them suggest how to make them better and if you see problems let me know. Hopefully we can find a way to provide members with meaningful and cost-effective mentoring activities.

Jesse Shore
National President