ASC at Science Meets Parliament 2024

Shanii Phillips, ASC Council Member: Vice President, Policy

The Australian democratic system is truly like no other. In no other country in the world are ordinary citizens allowed to walk into Federal Parliament and bump into MPs, Senators, and political staffers to have open and honest conversations. Science Meets Parliament 2024 (SMP), hosted by Science and Technology Australia (STA), provided a unique opportunity for researchers, industry professionals, science communicators, policymakers and parliamentarians to come together, share, listen and learn from each other about the best way to incorporate science in public policy.

Tahnee Saunders, Jacqueline Stephens, Shanii Phillips, Camille Thomson and Jodie Haigh

Several members of the ASC Council attended the two day event, including:

  • Shanii Phillips: VP, Policy,
  • Camille Thomson: Secretary, Events,
  • Preeti Castle: Secretary, International Engagement,
  • Tahnee Saunders: Secretary, Awards, and
  • Jacqueline Stephens: General Council Member.

Note: Jodie Haigh ASC’s VP, Treasurer was in attendance at the event in her role as STA’s Communications Manager.

While ASC President, Tom Carruthers, didn’t attend the daytime workshops and meetings, he was able to join us for the SMP Gala Dinner and National Press Club Address, delivered by STA President, Professor Sharath Sriram.

The event

Most of us were wearing multiple hats at SMP, juggling priorities of our own work and research, as well as advocating for the role of science communication and the opportunities the ASC could provide. Like any good team of science communicators, we set up a group WhatsApp to share updates and commentary with each other during the event. Throughout our shared conversations, there was a strong theme of hope yet frustration. The key themes discussed by the keynote speakers and panellists focused on the importance of using good communication principles when scientists were engaging with parliamentarians and policymakers, but there was a distinct lack of acknowledging that what they were talking about was science communication. In a room filled with over 350 incredible STEM professionals, recognised and celebrated for doing cutting-edge research and excelling in their respective fields, why weren’t the professional and scholarly pursuits of those whose role it is to facilitate knowledge creation between science and other stakeholders being recognised?

We all breathed a collective sigh of relief (and did a silent happy dance at the back of the room) when, after us strategically posting two probing questions in the live Q&A, Anna-Maria Arabia (CEO of the Australian Academy of Science) picked up the torch during the Day 1 post-lunch panel and eloquently explained the role and value of professional science communicators in improving connections and discussions between the worlds of science and policy.

“[Science communication skills] are typically not trained for [during science degrees]. There are some [scientists] who are naturally good communicators … but not everybody is that person.”

Enter the science communicator, who has specific skills in bridging the communication needs of whatever that audience might be with the scientist or technologist or STEM professional. It is a unique set of skills. There is a practice and a science behind it … It is very much an engagement exercise, it happens at lots of levels, and part of that science communication will unfold when you meet with parliamentarians, it will unfold when you speak with policymakers, with media, and each one of those takes different strategies.” 

While Anna-Maria’s words were welcomed and encouraging, and provided us a fantastic ice-breaker to discuss our work with other delegates, it was just one step in the right direction. It highlighted that, as science communicators, we need to actively take more opportunities to advocate for the value we can provide in fostering connections between science and policymakers, the media and the community. As discussed by Jodie Haigh during our post-event debrief, science communication needs to get better at our ‘corporate communications’ and showcase what we can do and the services we can provide to the STEM community and other stakeholders, including media, community leaders and policymakers.

Meetings with Parliamentarians

One of the unique aspects of Science Meets Parliament is learning how to effectively pitch your research and engage with parliamentarians, and then being able to put that into practice right away with pre-organised meetings with federal politicians. 

The ASC Council representatives had the privilege of having meetings with the following parliamentarians:

  • Ms Kate Thwaites, Member for Jagajaga
  • Mr Daniel Mulino, Member for Fraser 
  • Ms Allegra Spender, Member for Wentworth
  • Ms Janet Rice, Senator for Victoria
  • Mr Peter Khalil, Member for Wills
Camille Thomson meeting with
MP Ms Janet Rice
Preeti Castle meeting with
MP Ms Allegra Spender
Jacqueline Stephens meeting with
MP Mr Peter Khalil
Shanii Phillips meeting with
MP Ms Kate Thwaites

Prior to the two day event at Parliament House, STA ran online workshops for delegates to hear from previous attendees and experts, providing pro tips on how to pitch yourself effectively and prepare for a meeting with a parliamentarian. Most of us only learned who we would be meeting with a few days before the main event, leaving limited time to research our parliamentarians, understand their priorities and what they were working on, and then find a way to communicate our work and research in a way that they would connect with and understand. In other words, there was a little bit of scicomm improv going on! The good news is, everyone left their parliamentary meetings feeling positive. ASC Council members discussed the importance of science communication to aid buy-in from institutions to support science-led policy, enabling industry and government to access new knowledge for better policy outcomes, promoting diversity in STEM, and highlighting the need for science communication to be recognised as a specific area of expertise.

Why should Australian Science Communicators members attend Science Meets Parliament?

Science Meets Parliament is an event targeted at early-to-mid-career STEM researchers who want to learn more about the best ways to engage politicians and policymakers with science research – so why should science communicators attend? For those of us that work daily to break down complex topics, get to the point quickly, and already understand the importance of our targeting messages to our audience, the sessions may simply feel like a refresher. For those of us still honing our skills and building up our scicomm repertoire, these sessions could be just the additional support you are looking for. Even some of us veterans still took away key insights, like refraining from being a “waterfall” of information (as described by Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, in her opening speech), but focusing on being a “well”, allowing your audience to ask questions and draw out information from you that is relevant to them and their needs. Most importantly, you will be placed in the same room as hundreds of other people working in STEM, and the same building as the people in charge of running the country. 

Science Meets Parliament 2024

Apart from the scheduled meetings with parliamentarians, we all found it was a fantastic opportunity to network with other members of the Australian scientific community, understand their needs and challenges, and identify collaboration opportunities. It’s also a valuable opportunity to increase awareness about the ASC to both STEM professionals and parliamentarians and their advisors, positioning ourselves as “go-to experts” for issues related to science communication. Making yourself a useful asset to people trying to make a difference in the world can go a long way, and continuing those conversations beyond Science Meets Parliament is important to nurturing those relationships so we remain at the forefront of people’s minds when they need someone who can bridge the gaps between science and other stakeholders. 

What can we do next?

During our debrief session, Tahnee brought up the excellent point that a lot of scientists choose their career paths because they want to do science research. The current expectations of researchers to not only conduct their research, but develop curricula and teach university students, manage labs, write grant applications and now find time to participate in community outreach and effectively communicate their science can be overwhelming. While some scientists have embraced the opportunity, it is not universal – and this is where science communicators can fill a need. We can ‘remove the burden’ from science researchers by offering our expertise as science communicators, who have the skills and time to translate findings, craft messages for different audiences and, equally importantly, are up to date with the latest science communication research (which is a vastly different scholarly pursuit from natural and physical sciences). By identifying a clear need and demonstrating that we can fill that, while improving our ‘corporate communications’, we can continue to elevate science communication and increase awareness of the important role that we fill in the worlds of science, policy and the wider community. 

Overall, #SMP2024 was a unique and fantastic experience, with amazing opportunities to network with scientists, science communicators, politicians, policy advisors and everyone in between from across the country. In a world where we have grown so comfortable with virtual meetings, it’s still nice to step back and (re)connect with people in the same room as you. And finding a way to be “in the room where it happens”, showcase your passion, advocate for your field and highlight the importance of what we do, is something you can’t really put a price tag on. 

ASC Council Representatives: Preeti castle, Jacqueline Stephens, Shanii Phillips, Camille Thomson, Jodie Haigh and Tom Carruthers

What’s next? It’d be great to see the ASC cohort at Science Meets Parliament continue to grow so we can continue to create awareness of our value, both adjacent to the lab and the party room. If you’re interested in learning more about the Australian Science Communicators’ goals for Science Meets Parliament, please reach out to us via, and we can start making our game-plan now for the ASC at Science Meets Parliament 2025!

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