Why did you choose to study science?
I’m not sure if I actually did study science although my undergraduate degree Leisure Science did have the word science in it. I grew up in a small country town and neither of my parents completed high school so the thought of going to university seemed very daunting. I had never even thought of studying for a career. Anyhow making the decision to leave home, go to university and study Leisure Sciences gave me a really strong grounding to my future Science Communication career.
Throughout my undergraduate course we spent a lot of time understanding what people in the community liked to do in their leisure time and how we could help develop programs to match these pursuits. We ventured into the communities a lot and I got to see how diverse Australians are and how peoples pursuits are always changing and never static. One of my units involved us visiting prominent stadiums, venues and museums to understand their role in the community and how they operate. It was an outing to Scitech where a manager mentioned that they were hiring new science communicators. I put in a application, got asked to come in for an interview and to bring a science demonstration. I prepared, brought in a bunch of soft toy animals and a week later started my science communication career.
Looking back now, what has been the best part of your career in SciComm?
Being able to develop and work with some of the best science communicators in Western Australia. I have been at Scitech for 17 years and seen so many young adults start their professional roles here and then go onto greater things, whether that be doctors, teachers, continuing science communication or becoming fantastic parents. I have always seen myself as a mentor to our science presenters who are almost always far more intelligent than myself and are destined to be great people so I try to keep them grounded, build them up a strong work ethic and also help them to learn that not everyone is obsessed in STEM like ourselves. This is probably why I have been given the unofficial title of “The Peoples Manager” at work.
Where has your career led you?
Management. I worked purely as a science presenter for a few years and even spent sometime as a supervisor. I then decided to return to university for a year and do a Graduate Diploma of Primary Education. Although I never really thought I would be a school teacher (backup plan) I found the course extremely useful in understanding childhood development and also how important the school curriculum is for our programming within the Science Centre.
After the one year away I returned to Scitech as the Manager of Science Presenters which involved training lots of future science communicators, rostering and also developing programs and events within the centre. For a few years my specialty was robotics and running the Robocup WA event which in the end got too large for our centre and is now hosted at Curtin University. I then finally moved to my current role as the Science Centre Manager. This involves more planning work with my full-time team and every now and then I still get to spend some time communicating with visitors.
What excites you most about your work?
Seeing families learning and experiencing new things together. We spend a lot of time planning how events and holidays will operate but the excitement happens when we open and you see the direct impact that you are having on individuals. I always find that when I feel like I’m having a bad day at work and I can always walk into the gallery spaces and see smiles everywhere. I really like to get involved and sell tickets as you can see the anticipation on children’s faces just before they walk into the building, it’s a delightful feeling. It’s also great when you talk to people outside of work and when they find out you work at Scitech, they retell wonderful stories that they have from your workplace.
What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in SciComm?
Get to know and understand your audiences and customers. We all come from very different backgrounds and levels of education so it is very easy to get carried away with topics you’re interested in before even seeing if the person/group wants to be communicated to. I find that nothing beats basic humanistic skills like politeness, listening and understanding. Add these skills to your immense scientific knowledge and communicating ability and you might be able to break down some barriers that have been up to get a message across.
What are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your SciComm career?
Having pretty poor writing skills and not being the most articulate speaker in my early days is something I’ve had to overcome and am still working on. I really struggled when I first went to university as I was not made for academic life and did not have much support. At Scitech I have learned you use the variety of knowledge and skills amongst the team as an advantage and am never shy about getting my team members to check my notes and reports before they are sent. I only wish I had this confidence and humility to ask for help during my university days.