About Ian McDonald

I have a strong research, education and communication background. I thoroughly enjoy writing and presenting about topics relevant to the community, such as environmental and ecological research, health and medical research, along with public policy and legislation. I have combined these powers to help engage the public with knowledge through blog posts, magazine articles, podcasts, videos, social media pages, presentations and running large scale community based events. I have been working professionally as a Science Communicator in Canberra since 2009.

ACT: Careers and Networking night – May 22

Careers in science communication: what are your options and how do you get started?

Our next ACT branch event brings science communication professionals and students together for a careers-focussed networking night on Thursday May 22 at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS).

Students can meet practitioners and hear about pathways into the industry while professionals can share their experience with aspiring science communicators.

If you are a science communication professional offering internships or mentoring opportunities, our careers night is the perfect platform for connecting with interested students.

The night will begin with a series of short talks highlighting different pathways and careers in science communication. Guest speakers include:

Following the talks there will be an opportunity for students and professionals to network over food and drinks.

Interested? Please register here

  • When: May 22, 5:15 pm – 6:30 pm
  • Where: Green Couch Room, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS)
  • Physics Link Building 38A, ANU
  • Cost:  Free. Finger food and drinks provided.

ACT: April Networking Night for ASC members

Our next networking night is soon upon us and we are EXCITED!!!

Questacon SCREAMS science communication and they have kindly offered up their brand spanking new Technology and Learning Centre just for ASC members.

So please join us on Wednesday the 30th of April from 530pm at 60 Denison St, Deakin (or next to The Mint)

NOTE: not the Questacon Centre in the Parliamentary triangle.

Please RSVP here for catering purposes – http://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/asc-act-branch-april-networking-night-at-qtlc-tickets-11289367803

FREE for members and $5 for non-members to cover food and drinks.

The tour of the venue will start from about 545pm with Anna Paull, Education Coordinator at the QTLC, who has kindly offered to take us behind the scenes of the facility and give an introduction to the suite of interactive and challenging workshops for secondary students that are delivered from the fully equipped Maker Space.

After the tour feel to go for a little wander of the venue and have a drink or two but due to security reasons, we need to vacate the building by 7pm.


  • May 22: ANU CPAS students meet the ASC
  • Mid June: Prepare your science week evaluation – before National Science Week
  • July: Networking night at ANU Uni House
  • End of August: ASC hosts the National Science Week After Party

Sorry we can’t be more specific with dates, we’ll let you know as soon as we do.

ACT networking event – meet and mingle with other scicommers…..

Got some post #ASC14 blues?

The ACT branch is hosting its first networking event of the year.

Come along and meet some other local science communicators. Share war stories, celebrate successes and make new contacts. Nibbles provided, and a free drink for members!

  • When: Wednesday 26th March, 5.30pm for 6pm start and stay as long as you want.
  • Where: Fellows Bar, downstairs at University House, cnr Balmain and Liversidge Streets, ANU (find the meeting room).

Parking is free after 5.30 PM

For catering purposes it would be appreciated if you could register at – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/asc-act-networking-event-website-how-to-enlighten-festival-wrap-up-science-week-primer-tickets-10935296767

To get start the conversation started we have three five minute talks:

  1.  Website Do’s and Don’ts: Ian McDonald shares what he learnt while developing and creating the research website for Alzheimer’s Australia’s.
  2.  Enlighten festival wrap-up: Questacon’s David Cannell gives us the low-down on the enlighten festival, from a participant’s perspective.
  3. Science Week primer: ACT science week committee chair Merryn McKinnon reveals amazing new facts about science week, and how you can get involved

Bring your friends and colleagues – all welcome! Feel free to continue the conversation as UniHouse does offer meals as well.

ACT: End of year celebration and branch AGM

19 December 2013
5:30 pmto6:30 pm

The ACT branch of the ASC is holding its local AGM and celebrating the year that was – official details for AGM below.

When: Thursday, 19th of December
Time: 5.30pm-6:30pm
Where: Meeting Room, Belconnen Arts Centre (118 Emu Bank, Belconnen)

After the AGM, all attendees are invited to join us for dinner at a restaurant along Emu Bank (majority rules!) where we can officially celebrate the achievements of the branch in 2013 and welcome the committee for 2014.

Who knows, we may even shout you a drink…you’ll just have to come to find out….

If you would like to come along please reply back to ianmcd85@hotmail.com so I can keep a tab on numbers.

Would you like to be apart of the committee in 2014?
All the committee positions are genuinely open and we need at least a President, Treasurer and National Liaison Officer for the committee to proceed in 2014. Details of the 2013 committee can be found here

  • President
  • Treasurer
  • National Liaison Officer (can be a dual role)
  • Secretary
  • Marketing Officer
  • Social Media Officer
  • Student Liaison Officer
  • Digital Media Officer

For more information on committee member roles please send an email or expression of interest to ianmcd85@hotmail.com by COB Wednesday the 18th of December. We welcome anyone and everyone to be involved but you do need to be a current financial member. A committee position is really what you make it and we are looking for enthusiastic and energetic members to help us make ASC even better in 2014. If you are not interested in taking on a role but would like to participate on the committee please let me know and we can discuss options.

Why should you join the committee in 2014?
Canberra has a great hub of science communicators and by joining the committee you can help us not only support our local science communicators but tailor events and workshops to meet the needs of our members. In 2013, the local branch ran a variety of workshops and social events, while also organising large scale events focused on communicating science to the public – we received media attention around our events and made strong networks with local media outlets (TV, radio and print). It’s a great way to network and make yourself known within the industry.

Can’t make it but want to have a say in your local branch events?
Please send through a proxy vote through by replying to ianmcd85@hotmail.com. We need a quorum (20% of current member numbers or 20 members, whichever is less) for the AGM to proceed. Something along the lines of:

I allow <insert name> to vote on my behalf at the ACT branch ASC AGM.


  1. Confirmation of members attending, apologies, proxies.
  2. Confirmation of the Minutes of the previous Annual General Meeting
  3. Tabling of Treasurer and President reports
  4. Nominations sought for office bearers (those in bold above mandatory). Where more than one nomination, vote by members in secret ballot (nominees leave the room).
  5. Any other business / ideas for 2014
  6. Close meeting

ACT workshop October 31: producing great podcasts

31 October 2013
6:00 pmto8:00 pm

Running events, writing blogs and maybe even producing video clips might all be in a days work but what about podcasting?

Podcasting might seem technical and complicated but it is far from it. Nowadays, it is easy to get started with some basic tools, free software and super cheap hosting options. You could have your audience listening to your dulcet tones in no time!

The ACT branch of the Australian Science Communicators has asked Daniel Oyston, Content Marketer and Canberra local (see bio below) to walk us through the process of setting up and delivering a podcast, tailored to your audience – you can see some examples of Daniel’s work here.

The 2 hour workshop includes a full set of notes and information on:

  • how your podcast will fit into your existing communications,
  • how to identify topics,
  • the equipment you will need,
  • how to construct a show,
  • how to edit the recording and
  • getting you audience to access your podcast on their phones through iTunes and RSS (Android).

Daniel will leave time for any specific questions you may have and has also said that if you have a recording, he will happily walk you through how to turn it into a podcast.

So, if you have always wanted to learn about podcasting but never known how to start, why not spend an evening with your colleagues, learn together and have a bit of fun!

  • When: Thursday, October 31st, 2013
  • Time: 6pm to 8pm (arrive 10 minutes early)
  • Where: Conference Room, CSIRO Corporate Centre, Limestone Avenue, Campbell, Canberra
  • What to bring: Laptop, tablet and/or smartphone
  • Cost: Free for ASC members and $15 for non members
Numbers are limited so please register at http://ascpodcastworkshop.eventbrite.com.au
Finger food and drinks provided. For more information email asccanberra@gmail.com
Bio: Daniel Oyston has a Masters in Marketing and over 10 years experience in the field, working with small to medium sized businesses including not for profit organisations, private companies and government departments. He currently runs his own consultancy business Content Grasshopper and also lectures at the University of Canberra. You can find more information about Daniel on his website – www.contentgrasshopper.com.au.

ACT: Mayday! Canberra’s deadliest air disaster re-examined – AUG 14 @ Questacon‏

On 13 August 1940, Canberra’s most fatal air disaster took place when a Lockheed Hudson bomber crashed into a hillside near Canberra Airport, killing all on board – including three key ministers within the Menzies Government.
To mark the 73rd anniversary of the Canberra air disaster, we have brought together a team of  forensic experts to walk us through several possible scenarios of the ill-fated flight using today’s cutting-edge forensic techniques.
Where: Japan Theatre, Questacon, Parkes
When: Wednesday, 14th of August
Time: Starts at 5.30pm sharp, finishes around 7pm.
Refreshments and finger foods provided post event.
Required due to limited seats in theatre – plenty of parking available.
Many Canberrans and Australians alike are not even aware of this historic Canberra event and so in our Centenary year, why not come along and learn a bit more about our local history, with of course a science twist. There will be chances for crowd participation and to win some great prizes. 
This event is proudly brought to you by the ACT branches of the Australian Science Communicators and Australian New Zealand Forensic Science Society and Inspiring Australia. We’d like to thank the ACT Government and Questacon for their support and generosity of this 2013 National Science Week event.
Click here – if you’d like to print and display the promotional flyer at your workplace.
Please email asccanberra@gmail.com if any questions or media enquiries.

DISCLAIMER: suitable for children but parental guidance is recommended as victim identification will be discussed.

Mixed views on whether Australia is producing too many PhDs

By Ian McDonald (ACT Branch, ASC President)

Canberra’s scientific and research community came out from their labs and offices to the CSIRO Discovery Centre on the 18th of March to discuss the ‘hot topic’ of whether it is possible to have a long term and sustainable career in research. Hosted by the ACT Branch of the ASC and in conjunction with Inspiring Australia an audience of over 100 attended this recorded-for-radio discussion which posed the question ‘Is Australia producing too many PhDs?’

Panel pictured left to right: Dr Jochen Trumpf (Member of NECTAR, an ANU internal early career network), Prof Aidan Byrne (CEO, Australian Research Council), Ms Melanie Hand (soon to be conferred PhD candidate, Dairy Futures CRC), Mr Paul Barclay (Moderator and ABC Radio Host), Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea (Chair, Early-Mid Career Researcher Forum, an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science), and Mr Toss Gascoigne (Author, Australian Council of Learned Academies report, Career Support for Researchers) – Photo by David Wong.

This panel discussion came about after the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education commissioned the Australian Council of Learned Academies to investigate the career pathway for researchers in Australia. Science communication consultant and well known ASC member Toss Gascoigne conducted the survey and drafted the report entitled ‘Career support for researchers: Understanding needs and developing a best practice approach.’ The report highlighted job insecurity as the number one problem facing Australian researchers.

This led to the idea of running a panel discussion (including both early career and prominent researchers) about the issues relating to life after completing a PhD. It wasn’t surprising that a large majority of the audience was in fact made up of current postgraduate students, with Canberra being a major Australian university city.

The discussion started with moderator and ABC Radio National Big Ideas host Paul Barclay telling the audience that Australia is currently producing over 7000 PhD graduates annually, nearly twice as many as only a decade ago.  This led towards discussions about the sustainability of the system and where all these graduates go once they graduate, particularly those with a specialised area of expertise.

While it could be argued that many students undertake a PhD in the hope they become full-time lecturers, professors and/or researchers. Aidan Byrne did suggest that a PhD is not just about vocational training for academia.  It also teaches skills such as project management, communication and team work, which can also open up positions in policy development with government agencies or industry sectors once they graduate.

So the problem isn’t that lots of PhD graduates are unemployed and ‘left on the streets’ but that only 1 in 8 graduates actually get the research job they want post PhD.  So there are currently too many PhD graduates produced for the number of jobs available in the research world. Those that do move into research, such as recently submitted PhD panelist Emily, who now works as a post doc with the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, pointed out that you are generally only employed on an 18-24 month contract. Emily went on to say she personally was fine with this for the time being but posed the question, what about those with families? Or who want to settle down, buy a house and have stability in their life? Short term and erratic contracts are not ideal plus the fact that producing high class research in a limited amount of time – and possibly a new environment – is always challenging.

While Aidan Byrne did point out that grant funding as well the number of jobs in research have increased over time in Australia, it is not at the same rate as the production of graduates. There is a risk that even those who enter the academic/research world immediately post PhD may burn out within the first 10 years due to the heavy workload and pressure to continually fight for grants and positions. Almost 90% of researchers who complete a PhD are not even in an academic field after this time. Toss stated that while there was a lot of feedback into how the system can be improved, most scientists and researchers did love their jobs.  It was the competition for grants and short term contracts (essentially the instability of it) which made scientists angry about the whole system.

Having Aidan Byrne on the panel did put the ARC granting body under the spotlight. Some audience members stated how it costs a significant amount of money to write an ‘unsuccessful’ grant application and in some cases up to 4-6 weeks of an academic’s time, when they could be doing better things. Another notable audience member, Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt (pictured in foreground) wondered aloud if researchers need to go through the rigorous grant application process each year, once they have proven themselves as a competent researcher.  Should there be different processes required for early career and high profile researchers, he asked.

Another topic was about those who leave the research world but want to return. For example ‘women in science’ who leave to start a family are said to have less of a chance in being successfully re-employed due to challenges of wanting to go part time or not being able to keep up their publication records and skill set when away for an extended period of time. Moreover, it seems that even to this day there is still an issue with males getting paid more than females.

So how do we fix it? Well, it is definitely not an easily solved problem and views are mixed as to how to do so. However most agreed that longer term contracts, more chances for early career researchers to obtain grants and better feedback on why they don’t/can’t receive one in the first place, is a good starting point. Obviously more government funding will be required if the number of PhD graduates continue to increase or the PhD program will need significant changes in order to better prepare PhDs for jobs in industry and the government rather than academia or research.

While this 60 minute panel discussion was a great eye opener, there was obviously lots more discussed than this short article can cover. To find out more check out Twitter #ausphd for some of the more notable comments and listen to the edited panel discussion on the ABC Radio Big Ideas programPodcast available for download on their website.

We would also like to thank the ASC executive committee (and Rod Lamberts – pictured front of photo tweeting avidly at the event) for allocating funds to our branch to help run the event. This was very much appreciated. More photos taken by our Digital Media Officer David Wong can be seen on our Facebook page.

For further enquiries about the event or upcoming ACT Branch events please email asccanberra@gmail.com

ACT: The triumphant return of the Science of Beer

27 February 2013
6:00 pmto8:00 pm
The ACT Branch of the ASC invites you to our first social event of the year
– The Science of Beer –
Proudly presented by Lachlan McOmish the owner of the Wig and Pen, this event will be a great way for ASC members and those interested in having a fun night out, to meet and mingle with other science communicators in the Canberra region, in a nice social setting.
Similiar to previous years, Lachlan will again provide a brief talk about beer brewing and the science involved and then lead tours (~20 minutes) of the on site brewing facilities, for those interested. 
Please let us know in your RSVP if you are interested in attending the tour as a number limit applies.
Where: Wig and Pen – 53 Alinga St –
When: Wednesday 27th of Feburary, 2013
Time: 6pm (tours start from 630pm, then feel free to stay as long as you like and mingle, eat, drink and be merry)
Cost for 
ASC members: Absolutely free and a complimentary pot of beer on arrival 
Cost for non members: $5 to cover catering
Finger food platters with a vegetarian option will be provided (additional beers and dinner meals at own cost)
PLEASE RSVP via eventbrite link – click here – by the 25th of February.
You can turn up on the night but we are discouraging this as we would prefer an RSVP for catering purposes, to avoid dealing with cash on the night and as seats are limited.
Came last year, no worries. Still come along, be social, network, meet new members and see what other fun filled events the ACT branch has on offer this coming year.
All enquiries asccanberra@gmail.com 
Look forward to seeing you
ASC ACT Committee
Please note that if you join up prior to the event we may not have your name on our database so please bring your registration confirmation email

ACT: CSI vs Real Forensic Science

8 August 2012
5:30 pmto7:30 pm

Crime scene tape.

A woman is reported missing. Blood and other physical evidence have been found in her office. Has she met with foul play?

A team of forensic scientists have been called to assist in investigating the case.

Join a team of Australia’s leading forensic experts as they work through this hypothetical scenario and discover how each of the specialist forensic scientists work together to examine evidence and solve crimes – classically it’s not quite as it appears on TV!

Where: CSIRO Discovery Centre, Clunies Ross Street, Acton (Directions)

When: Wednesday 8th of August

Time: 5.30pm – 7.00pm with light refreshments provided once event concludes

Limited seats available so please RSVP via this LINK or by calling 02 6246 4646

Discover hidden talents that even you may not have known you had. There will be prizes for audience members who can answer various forensic-related questions, including:

  • What is Locard’s Exchange Principle?
  • Who is considered the father of the science of fingerprints and why?
  • Sir Alec Jeffreys was the first forensic scientist to use what technique in forensic cases?
  • Who was Calvin Goddard and what was his contribution to forensic science? What forensic techniques were used to determine that the Hitler diaries were fake?

There will also be a special opportunity for ASC members to network in the industry link room post event


Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society logo.

Australian Science Communicators logo. Inspiring Australia CSIRO  


ACT: Communicating the “State of the Environment” – July17th

17 July 2012
5:30 pmto8:00 pm

What state is our environment in and how do the experts pull this knowledge together?

Join the ACT Branch of the Australian Science Communicators and CSIRO Discovery to learn about the production of the State of the Environment reports click here. The authors of these reports − including scientists, policy makers and communication professionals − synthesise and communicate the latest data so that all Australians know how our natural resources are faring. Find out how the SoE team evaluated previous editions to improve the format of the 2011 edition and hear about what the feedback on these changes has been so far.

 CSIRO Discovery Centre Lecture Theatre, Clunies Ross St, ACTON

Tuesday July 17th – 530pm arrival for 6pm start (seminar to finish approximately 7pm).

Nibbles and drinks provided.

RSVPs essential through http://stateofenvascact.eventbrite.com/

 All welcome, event is free but gold coin contributions gratefully received

Panellists include:

Peter Kanowski is Professor of Forestry at the ANU Fenner School of Environment & Society (fennerschool.anu.edu.au); he is currently on extended leave as Deputy Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (www.cifor.org). Peter’s academic work focuses principally on forest policy and governance. Prior to his membership of the 2011 SoE Committee, he has played significant roles in various forest-related policy processes at international, national, state and local levels.

Steven Cork is an ecologist and futurist.  As an ecologist he spent 25 years in CSIRO researching the interactions between humans and the natural environment around the world.  As a futurist he played a leading role in developing scenarios for the World’s social-ecological futures for the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and has run similar projects with government and non-government groups around Australia. He has worked extensively as an advisor to governments on policy issues and as a government employee developing and implementing environmental policy.  He now works privately as a futurist, strategist and ecological advisor as the Principal Consultant of EcoInsights and leads a project on the resilience of Australia in the private sustainability R&D organisation Australia21. He is an adjunct Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. He was a member of the committee that prepared the 2011 National State of the Environment Report.

Nancy Dahl Tacconi is the Director of the National Environmental Reporting section in the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities. She has worked with the department in decision-support and science management roles for over 10 years. Most recently, she was the project manager for the latest five-yearly national State of Environment report (SoE 2011), coordinating all aspects of the project from initial plans through to delivery of the report and a review of its impacts.

Kylie Evans is the principal Communications Writer and Editor for Biotext. She has written and edited documents for a range of clients, including the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, ACT Government, Pedestrian Council of Australia, and the World Health Organization. One of her most important projects has been substantive editing and informational design for the Australia State of the Environment report for the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Kirstin Duncan is the senior graphic designer for Biotext. She gained her formal qualification in graphic design at the Canberra Institute of Technology whilst working as an infographics adviser for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and running a flourishing freelance graphic design business. Clients included the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, DonateLife ACT and The Australian Institute of Horticulture ACT. Highlights since joining Biotext in 2011 include sourcing photography for Australia State of the Environment 2011, developing design concepts and layouts for a Sandalwood Growers’ Guide and the University of Queensland’s Health Information Systems Hub’s working paper series.