Interview with Elizabeth Finkel, ASC 2016 conference speaker #ASC2016

Elizabeth Finkel is a one-time biochemist who took up science journalism. Now the editor in chief of Cosmos Magazine, her work has appeared in publications ranging from the US journal, Science to The Age as well as on ABC radio’s Science Show. Read our interview with Elizabeth below to find out how she ended up writing about science, and the challenges that come with it.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

Elizabeth: I’d just finished up a post-doc in San Francisco, and was returning to Melbourne with a 12 month baby in tow. I decided freelance writing would work better with parenting, than going back to full-time research.

(You can read about Elizabeth’s science writing career in Cosmos here.)

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Elizabeth: I have an unquenchable passion for science and for sharing the story.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

Elizabeth: Controversy may be the spice of journalism but it is tough to cover in science. You have to wade into the thick of messy, complex arguments. But I guess I like doing that.

To check out more about the conference and to register, click here.

ASC2016 accommodation discounts

For the love of science – our chat with George Musser, ASC 2016 speaker #ASC2016

George Musser is a science writer and editor focusing on space science and fundamental physics. He is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT for 2014–2015, and the author of Spooky Action at a Distance (2015) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory (2008).

We sat down with him to ask how he got into the science communication business and why he has grown to love it so much.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

George: I really just fell into science communication – just tumbled into it. I didn’t even know it existed as a career option. I was a grad student doing planetary science, but also journalism on the side – you could say that I was a scientist by day and reporter by night. And then I saw this job posting for a science editor and I went, wow, wouldn’t that bring together my two brain hemispheres? And to my surprise they hired me. Everything I’ve learned about it, I’ve picked up in the act of doing it.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

George: Well, I’m an idealist. I want to help make the world a better place. And I think that science can do that. Forget even the doodads that science helps to bring into the world. Just the mindset that science shapes, could you imagine the modern world without it? Could you imagine not knowing the earth is a planet, or that humans are cousins of chimps? Science is our greatest source of novelty in the world, the best way to jerk us out of established grooves of thought.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

George: A science communicator is tugged in a thousand directions. Scientists want lots of praise of their own research and lots of dubiousness about other people’s. They’re more worried about getting one tiny thing wrong than getting eight big things right. Editors want to get rid of those pesky “mights” and “maybes”. Business-side people wonder why you don’t just write about kittens instead. Readers – well, what *do* readers want? Do they even know? Staying sane, let alone striking a balance, is the great challenge of this profession.

Check out more information about the conference and register here.ASC2016banner2bubbles

Talking science and technology with Allan Bishop – ASC 2016 conference speaker

Allan Bishop, a speaker for the upcoming ASC 2016 conference, is a Software Engineer working in The Cube studio at QUT. The interactive display has presented many scientific themes such as chemistry, ecology, biology, and most recently palaeontology. We sat down with him to see what he finds challenging about using technology to communicate science.

ASC: As a software engineer, how did you find yourself to be a science communicator?

Allan: I have been fortunate enough to find myself working as a software engineer in the education sector and, as a result, have had the opportunity of working on projects that, at their core, have the goal of communicating science to a wide ranging audience. My role is to work with subject matter experts and designers to solve the problem of transforming this information into a unique interactive format.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Allan: I believe science is vital in shaping our future and improving our quality of life. Science underpins our knowledge so communicating science is an integral part of our ability to effectively share this information.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science in the medium you work with?

Allan: In the case of developing content for The Cube at QUT, the biggest challenge is finding the right compromise to ensure information is accessible and informative to a wide range of visitors whilst also being engaging and entertaining.

ASC: In the space of a tweet (140 characters) – how would you describe science communication?

Allan: Science communication is the process of effectively educating people about science.

Check out more information about the conference and register here.

Communicating pain science through art with Eugenie Lee – ASC 2016 conference speaker

Eugenie Lee, one of our speakers for the ASC 2016 conference, is an emerging interdisciplinary artist using her art to communicate the bio-psycho-social experiences of pain-related illness through visual metaphor. Have a read of our interview with her to discover what she thinks of alternative platforms used in communicating science.

ASC: As an artist, how did you find yourself to be a science communicator?

Eugenie: For many years I have been searching for ways to manage my chronic pain disease. During my research I became acutely aware of a huge gap between the way what objective medical science can observe and measure, and what the patient actually feels and experiences. So I began to create something that could bridge the gap between these viewpoints that can generate alternative understandings and meanings. My art residencies for the last three years have allowed me to study and participate in research with the pain scientists at Body In Mind in UniSA and Neuroscience Research Australia. Medical science fascinates me. The evidence based and objective perspectives in science provide the balance to the subjective experience of patients’ experience I’m so familiar with. Translating what I have learned from the pain scientists into a language that can be understood by the general public is an integral part of my art making.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Eugenie: The Cartesian dualism has been around too long in our culture, including in medical science – with the old idea that our body is like a machine which is separate from our mind, and that pain can be and should be traced back to physical injuries or tissue damage. To my delight, neuroscience was the key to what I’ve been searching for – with the view that it isn’t just about looking for physical tissue damage to explain one’s pain experience; the whole person, and the life surrounding that person also needed attention, in order to manage their pain. What I have learned during my residencies has enlightened me with the latest perspective in pain. Yet their research findings have been somewhat struggling to reach the mainstream culture – part of it is because the Cartesian dualism has been so deeply entrenched in our western culture. Current pain science has moved on well past this centuries old theory, and they have structured their research with the fact that all pain is subjective.
I feel that it is my responsibility as an artist to share the latest knowledge of their research in a way that can be understood by everyone.

ASC: How do you think your artwork conveys science compared to that other forms of communication?
Eugenie: I’ve always been interested in alternative forms of communication as an artist, other than verbal language. This suits my concept of pain in my work because
pain cannot be communicated through a straight forward manner of language – it instead needs mediated, public expression and referential meaning like a metaphor. And art is all about metaphor through visual narratives. I believe communicating through metaphor opens up the possibility of alternative understandings and meaning for the complexities of pain.

Science stands on the objective ground. Pain science acknowledges that all pain is subjective yet as scientists, they observe, measure and record from an objective perspective. Art is subjective. As an artist and a pain patient, I bring in the subjective narrative from my own experience. To convey such complex knowledge of pain, I believe it is imperative to combine both subjective and objective viewpoints. I filter technical lingos attached to the field of medical science so that artworks can communicate through universal language – i.e. visual narratives – that transcend status, age or cultural barriers.

ASC: How would you describe science communication in 140 characters or less?

Eugenie: Art&science communication explore what’s relevant to us. Together they can have greater effect that can transcend language/cultural barriers.

Eugenie would like to thank her sponsors:


Check out more information about the ASC 2016 conference and register here.

Our chat with Kylie Walker – ASC 2016 conference speaker

Kylie Walker is the Director of Communications and Outreach at the Australian Academy of Science, and will be one of our great speakers at the upcoming ASC 2016 conference to be held in Brisbane on March 11. Over her 20 year career, Kylie has seen the rise and fall of different trends and innovations in communicating science. What does she think will be the next big thing? We had a quick chat to her to find out.

ASC: How do you think the science communication space has change over the time you have worked in this area?

Kylie: Multimedia platforms have made a huge difference and opened up incredible new ways to communicate science, connect with audiences and really personalise the experience. Cosmos broke new ground with its medium-specific tablet app; science animator Drew Berry of WEHI took multimedia presentation of science even further by creating a beautiful, layered and highly interactive “text book”; the Academy’s secondary school education program Science by Doing has created fully interactive digital classroom resources: these approaches and others like them bring the beautiful and complex visual elements of science to life in a way that words simply cannot.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Kylie: I began my love affair with science as a child fan of science fiction. As I grew older I came to understand more and more that science fact is endlessly fascinating, central to our lives, and strikes at the core of many fundamental questions of our existence. I love the intersection between science and philosophy, the ‘wow’ factor of discovery, and the thrill of exploring future possibilities. And yet my school experience of science was unfortunately – like so many of the era – just a real yawn. What I love about my job is the opportunity to re-kindle in adults that childlike light of excitement and discovery, and the responsibility of working to ensure that science and scientists are well supported to keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

ASC: In the future, how do you think science will be communicated?

Kylie: On a grand scale, I can see a time when virtual reality, 3D visualisation and other technology will make science communication a fully immersive experience. But I think there’s also room for the personal touch, and the further demystification of scientists themselves. It would be great to incorporate communication skills more holistically into science degrees and to see technology-enabled live interactions between scientists and citizens flourish.

Check out the ASC conference and register here.