ASC Member Profile: Dr Mona Akbari

Dr Mona Akbari
Communications and Media Officer, Australian Academy of Science

I wanted to do scientific research since I was twelve years old! I marvelled at the process of discovery and spent hours looking at the stars, studying ants and tracing the patterns of leaves and generally poring over my older brothers’ science books. Every time I read in a science textbook that ‘we don’t know the reason this happens’ or ‘science has not yet resolved this question’, I would get excited about discovering the answer. This launched me into over twenty years of focused work and study leading me into an Honours degree in biochemistry and a Doctorate in molecular genetics.

It was towards the end of my PhD that I got the first inkling that perhaps I didn’t fancy a lifetime of working on a narrow area of science. I certainly did not look forward to the prospect of constantly juggling grant applications with the ‘publish or perish’ drive. But I didn’t give up! I was determined to finish my doctorate and ‘have a go’ at research in the real world. After all, if there was one thing I had learnt from watching other students was that no-one really wants to write-up their thesis and pretty much looks for every excuse to procrastinate.

It was while I was doing my post-doctoral research in Canberra that I heard about the courses offered at Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the ANU. I decided to investigate and had an epiphany! I realised that while I enjoyed doing the actual science experiments, I equally enjoyed explaining its intricacies to others and sharing the big picture of its potential impact on society.

I enrolled for a course in science communication at the ANU, edging into greater communication roles while also taking time off to have two children. I wrote articles for newsletters and magazines explaining scientific research findings, I designed websites and wrote content to appeal to wider audiences, I designed and wrote promotional material and I prepared talks and speeches, while still keeping one hand in research.  Eventually, I decided it was time to take the plunge into science communication and took on my current role at the Australian Academy of Science.

The Academy brings together Australia’s leading scientists to recognise research excellence, advise government, foster international scientific relations, promote science education and public awareness of science. The Academy was founded by Royal Charter in 1954 by Australian Fellows of the Royal Society of London and currently has over 450 elected Fellows.

My role is to promote public awareness of the scientific research carried out by our Fellows, publicise the Academy’s activities and events, and attract media and community attention to our policy submissions to Government, our scientific conferences, and our science education programs. No two days are the same, being interspersed with writing media releases, media liaison, writing articles for newsletters, updating the website news, organising and ensuring maximum attendance at our public lecture series on topical scientific issues, writing speeches, taking and sourcing photographs, recording of interviews of our scientific heroes for posterity and most recently engaging with younger audiences through social media.

I really enjoy the diversity of this ever changing role and how it’s evolved from more traditional communication tools to the more creative social media avenues. It really is the best of both worlds for me in that I get to read and talk about science discoveries every day and also contribute to how this science shapes our society.

Thanks Mona for taking the time to write this for ASC members.