ASC National conference 2012 – three great days

What happens when you have 250 science communicators in the same place at the same time? Going on observations from the recent national conference in Sydney you get an intense buzz of social networking. Every face to face gathering was busy with people talking, laughing, exchanging ideas and contact details, moving around to meet new people and to catch up with a wide range of colleagues. Cyberspace was filled with an intense stream of tweets which lasted well after the conference – and they are still coming although now at a trickle (see #ASC2012 for the latest). One tweeter during the conference pleaded for others to slow the pace as he couldn’t keep up with the flow and catch a moment of the sessions at the same time.

We are still digesting the results of the post-conference on-line survey. We had around 130 completed questionnaires – a great response rate. I’m happy to report overwhelmingly positive feedback. There were good suggestions for improvements which will be considered as we start planning for the next national gathering.

I look forward to developing the relationships with the federal and five state Chief Scientists and with all the Inspiring Australia representatives who featured at the conference. The ASC is growing its connections all the time.

My choices for conference highlights

Day 1: Ian Chubb’s talk provoked much ongoing discussion about several big topics and issues. One was that public interest in science developed countries is declining while the inverse is true in developing economies. Why is this? Is this a worrying trend (I say yes)? What do we do about it? Is there an inverse relation between celebrity appreciation and cerebrum use?

The cocktail function at the end of Day 1 gave us a look at UTS’s impressive new function space. Around 150 delegates got together for two hours of intense chatting and mixing in a most pleasant atmosphere. I thought this worked far better than a sit down dinner for networking. Also we didn’t have to charge for the event (thanks to UTS sponsoring this most hospitable function).

Day 2: The opening plenary about career possibilities for science communicators featured good energy and diverse jobs paths. It not only highlighted several talented early career sci-commers but revealed the Australian Museum was holding a ‘Jurassic Lounge’ event that night which added to delegates’ choice of social events for the evening. I enjoyed the ABC Café Scientific chat-fest but I noted the tweet stream from rapt Jurassic Loungers.

Day 3: Chris Fluke in the morning plenary said that he was satisfied with 85% accuracy in his astronomical animations (he sometimes exaggerates vertical scale for visual effect). This kicked-off a discussion topic that we won’t see the end of. In the afternoon plenary about science to policy I was interested to hear about how rallies of scientists were organised to get media attention and public support to pressure the government not to cut funding for medical research work. The threatened funding cut was a rumour at the time but timely action of getting scientists onto the streets may have been instrumental in preserving funds during a cost-cutting period.

Days 1-3: I was also impressed with the efforts exhibitors at the conference put into making their display areas look appealing. It enticed me to chat with a few of them and I would have visited all the stands if I had less running around to do.

The Science-As-Art exhibition seemed to be a big hit. More than 100 votes were cast for the People’s Choice winner and there was a lot of feedback that the exhibition should be a regular feature of future conferences.

Several teams of people worked hard and effectively to achieve a great conference. The ASC conference organising teams lead by Rod Lamberts are deservedly basking in the bright glow of congratulations for the high quality of the overall event. Our professional conference convenors ensured that all ran smoothly and made the most of the excellent venue.

So how do we do even better next time? I’ll leave that to you to send your suggestions.

Jesse Shore
National President

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About Jesse Shore

Jesse Shore is passionate about engaging the community with science and in looking for ways to weave together the arts and sciences. He has been developing science based exhibitions and events since 1984, and was President of the Australian Science Communicators from 2010-2012. His business, Prismatic Sciences, produced five travelling exhibitions for the Royal Australian Chemical Institute for the 2011 International Year of Chemistry and he manages the ongoing national tour. He previously worked at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney as an exhibition project leader and Senior Curator of sciences. While at the museum he was one of the founders of the Ultimo Science Festival, a major National Science Week activity. He is currently collaborating with an artist to create artworks which have a science slant.