Science Seminar with the Governor of Victoria, 18 May

REMINDER: final day for bookings for the special science seminar (below).

ASC is a member of Museums Australia and members attend for $50 per person, or $25 for concession card holders. Book onlineto secure your place at

Science Seminar: from lab to floor

Tuesday 18 May, Mueller Hall, National Herbarium of Victoria

Hear a compelling line up of professionals discuss issues regarding education, the environment, research, history, collection ethics and recent developments in science interpretation for an audience Join us on International Museums Day for this stimulating event.

Speakers include:·

· Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC

· Helen Cohn, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne – on the National Herbarium of Victoria as a centre of reference for botany

· Dr Robin Hirst, Museum Victoria – on public engagement via radical science exhibitions

· Dr David Pemberton, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmania and

· Brian Looker, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery – on how animals move

· Robyn Stacey, University of Western Sydney – on the discovery of Australian flora and fauna at the founding of the Port Jackson colony

· Professor Phillip Higgins, Retired Lecturer, Monash University and Australia Post, and

· Suzanne Higgins – on hands-on science provided to 1200 children living in remote Australian communities

· Donald Hobern, Atlas of Living Australia on classifying all Australian species online

· Lyndal Byford, Australian Science Media Centre – on science in the headlines

Date: Tuesday 18 May Time: 10am – 4pm Venue: The National Herbarium of Victoria, Mueller Hall Address: Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra

Lunch and refreshments included

Limited places available for a special tour of the National Herbarium of Victoria following the seminar.

Gold / Institutional Members $50 Silver Members $75 Associate / Non-members $100 Concession card $25

Bookings close Wednesday 12 May – book onlineat

Science Seminar with the Governor of Victoria, 18 May (special discounts apply for ASC members)

ASC are members of Museums Australia and can attend for $50 per person. Concession card holders can attend for the special rate of $25. Book online to secure your place for this event.

*Science Seminar: from lab to floor*

Tuesday 18 May

Mueller Hall, National Herbarium of Victoria

Hear a compelling line up of professionals discuss issues regarding education, the environment, research, history, collection ethics and recent developments in science interpretation for an audience Join us on International Museums Day for this stimulating event.

Speakers include:

· *Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC*

Professor David de Kretser was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and migrated to Australia in 1949. He was educated at Camberwell Grammar School and Melbourne and Monash Universities. His academic career bridged medicine and anatomy having held positions at Monash University as Professor and Chairman of Anatomy, Founding Director of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development and Associate Dean for Biotechnology Development.

His research into reproductive biology, infertility and endocrinology has been recognised nationally and internationally. With support from the Federal Government, he initiated a highly successful program of community and professional education in male reproductive health called Andrology Australia. He is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

· *Helen Cohn, Library Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne*

*The National Herbarium of Victoria: centre of reference for botany in Victoria *Alfred Ewart, appointed Government Botanist in 1906, determined that the National Herbarium of Victoria should be restored as the centre of reference of botany for Victoria it had been in Ferdinand von Mueller’s time. Ewart and his successors found Government indifference their greatest hurdle.

· *Robin Hirst, Director Collections Research & Exhibitions, Museum Victoria*

*The Ducks in a Row*

Museum Victoria has made radical changes in the way we conceive, develop and deliver science exhibitions. We are bringing our research to the public in new ways, combining old and new communication platforms. The “lab” and the “floor” are being redefined. We are getting our ducks in row.

· *Dr David Pemberton Project Leader, Threatened (Marine) Fauna, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmania and;*

· *Brian Looker, Senior Preparator, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery *

*Form and Function, Shape and Size; it matters if you are an animal *Brian and David will, through the mediums of word, image and object combine to give a presentation on how animals move. They will discuss how differing shapes and size provide the ability for animals to function in the natural world. Brian will use his preparatory skills, while David speaks and shows images of different animal shapes and sizes.**

· *Robyn Stacey, Senior Lecturer, University of Western Sydney*

*Collections that Shaped Our Culture *There are many reasons – scientific, economic, political and chronological – why Australian history and Australian flora and fauna share an extensive and interesting common field. At the time of the founding of the colony at Port Jackson, there was an explosion of interest both scientific and popular in Europe over the newly discovered plants and animals from the strange land full of ‘antipodean oddities’. This presentation will focus on two of Australia’s most significant natural history collections- the Macleay Museum and the National Herbarium of New South Wales.**

· *Professor Phillip Higgins, Retired Physics Lecturer, Monash University and Australia Post, and Suzanne Higgins*

*Delivering Hands-on Science to the Remotest Children in Australia*

The remotest children in Australia seldom spend quality science time with a practical science person. This program delivers hands on science to children as far apart as the Kimberley, the Tanami desert, the Gulf country, Lake Eyre and surrounds and other isolated areas. Since 2001 over 1200 students have experienced this unique program.

· *Donald Hobern, Director, Atlas of Living Australia, ACT*

*Building the Atlas of Living Australia *The Atlas of Living Australia will bring together information on all Australian species (including names and classification, geospatial data, images, sequences, literature, identification tools and species interactions) to support research, policy and education.**

· *Lyndal Byford, Media Manager, Australian Science Media Centre, South Australia*

*Science in the Headlines*

Science and the media are often thought of as strange bedfellows. Science can take decades to give results; the media wants answers in minutes. Science is rarely about absolute certainties while the media likes to work in black and white. But with issues like climate change and water firmly on the front pages, the need for a public empowered by knowledge has never been greater and like it or not the public still get most of their scientific information through the media.

Limited places available for a special tour of the National Herbarium of Victoria following the seminar.

*Date:* Tuesday 18 May *Time:* 10am – 4pm *Venue:* The National Herbarium of Victoria, Mueller Hall *Address:* Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra *Lunch and refreshments included*

Gold / Institutional Members $50 Silver Members $75 Associate / Non-members $100 Concession card $25

Bookings close Wednesday 12 May Book onlineto secure your place for this event

Are you connected with other Australian Science Communicators?

Missing out on the latest news from around the country?   Here’s a quick reminder of the ways to stay connected with ASC:

Note that anyone can join the lists as observers, but only current, financial ASC members can post messages.  Membership to ASC does not automatically register you to the ASC email lists. You must register through the separate system as described here.

ASC-list is the mailing list for discussing science communication issues and promoting events.  The ASC-media list is for press releases and self promotion.  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) including details on unsubscribing, converting your list preferences and accessing the archive can be found here.

The toe in the door: getting started as a science communicator

“Science Communicator” – it’s a great title, but it can be a perplexing one to explain to someone outside the field. Science communicators are so diverse in what they do that attempting to show the professional links that bind book authors and TV presenters to museum curators and researchers can be a challenge. It is even harder when someone asks you “How do I get into science communication?”

The obvious link between us all is that we are interested both in science and in getting science over to others, but that has little practical value when someone wants to know how they can join us as a practitioner. If they are clear that they want to be a teacher, journalist, blogger, volunteer zoo guide or any of the other many activities that nestle under our label the way is clear, but for those simply interested in the vague attraction of science communication, or who have started down one path (like research), feel that it is not for them and they want to do something else, it can be hard to know what advice to offer.

Science communication can also be a pretty idiosyncratic pursuit. Before the Australian Science Communicators formed, many of us had carved our own niche, but that doesn’t mean that it remains a niche now waiting to be filled by another. You only have to look at the speed with which mainstream media are changing to realise that getting into science media now is very different from doing it twenty or thirty years ago, and so older ASC members, often with the greatest experience of science communication, may also provide the least useful examples for others to emulate.

That said, we do get many enquiries from those who, in a general sense, “want to get into science communication.” I was asked to present a session on this at the recent conference but, living in a bushfire-prone region, I like to stay home in February, so had to miss what seems to have been an excellent few days. I haven’t ducked the request, however. I thought about what I would have presented and here, for better or worse, are 17 points that might help someone who is interested enough in science communication to want poke their toe into the water.  They are in no particular order and cover writing, journalism and media presentation. That simply reflects some of my own experience, and I’d be delighted for others with different (or similar) backgrounds to add their points to the list.

Writing and journalism

  1. Try to write/prepare material that lets you build a portfolio that someone will take seriously. Newsletters can provide an outlet and, since they don’t pay, they are often desperate for copy, but choose carefully. Don’t go for a photocopied one with an audience of 10 and so short of material that you can rabbit on at will. Go for something that is edited, well read, professionally printed and where the editor can give you a brief (word count/photo requirement /style etc), although some people say that they don’t care what the outlet is as long as they see evidence of someone who knows how to write a story. Writing material for edited newsletters that have a clear editorial style, professional look and a large audience is good practice in learning how to write an interesting piece, so it is not to be disregarded. Start building a portfolio of your work, even if you are not paid for it.
  2. A lot of material in newsletters, corporate circulars etc shrieks “We want you to know this.” Practise, instead, writing something that makes the reader or listeners think “I want to read/hear/watch this.”
  3. Most (all?) universities have newspapers in which they write thinly disguised “We are wonderful” stories about their staff and research. These go to the community but also to media. Some stories are well written and others no more than puff pieces. See if you can evaluate those of real strength versus those that are uni propaganda. Ask the Media Unit if they will accept/look at material from you. Again, most won’t pay (although I know of one uni which worked with beginners, helped them develop their style and then paid for what was used). MAKE SURE you understand their brief (length, style etc) and match it with what you write. You may get no money, but should get your name in a byline on a printed article that you can add to your portfolio.
  4. Always try to find some kind of story to deliver, rather than just facts/figures. Journalists are often told that their audiences are thinking (if subconsciously) “How does this affect me or the people that I love?” Think of how you can make your story answer that.
  5. Avoid hyperbole, especially the tired clichés of science writing, particularly “breakthrough,” “cutting-edge,” “leading-edge” “world-beating.” Some editors I know are so sick of these that they bin on sight any media releases containing them. Think, instead, of how you can convey why the work is interesting/important rather than resorting to overused and tired clichés that suggest you may not know much about the subject.
  6. Media reports are often called stories, although they are anything but. Remember the power of a true story. Attune your ear to the great broadcasters (e.g. David Attenborough and the late Alistair Cook) and you will find how they can make a report into a story that captures and sustains interest.
  7. Think about and learn how to take an interesting photo to supplement your story. Some outlets will simply not use a story without a photo. Learn the rudiments of composition (for video as well). Practise being able quickly to make the focal interest of your pic one third in and one third up or down in the frame. An interesting picture is NOT people standing to attention in a group smiling at the camera or clustered around a computer. Think of a photo that makes people want to say “What is that about?” and read your story. Some good examples can often be found in finance pages where, faced with subject matter that bores most readers, photographers are often inventive (face seen through glass of wine, reflected in hubcap, shot down length of bore tube etc).
  8. Find science or similar journals that interest you and in which are articles that you believe you could match. Look at (or ask for) their editorial policy that should tell you if they take unsolicited material and in what form. Ask the editor if you may submit something for scrutiny. I work/have worked for a number of science journals in Australia whose editors are (cautiously) ready to mentor beginners if they don’t get overwhelmed with submissions. Some are surprising – have a look at Readers’ Digest policy – and they may pay if you get in.
  9. Remember that many staff in newsrooms go on leave around Christmas and January. Skeleton staff may struggle to find enough material at that time. This also applies to regional media outlets. That may be a good time to make your pitch to see if they will take stuff. Keep what you submit short and punchy and relevant to their readers. If they like it they may, in time, let you get longer, but at least you’ll have something in print for your portfolio. Monday is also often a slow day in the media as the material from the week before is old.
  10. Explore what outlets there may be online. Many people have developed their reputations as good and interesting bloggers. It is another way of learning the discipline of writing competitively (by which I mean making people want to read you when there is so much on offer).
  11. Try your Community Radio and TV stations. They won’t pay, but may be able to take some stuff that you do and may also give you some valuable training in editing, microphone craft, studio practice etc.
  12. Some radio outlets, community and even commercial, may be interested in a package of short pieces. I was recently asked to do one on our state’s ten top scientists. They were only about 2 minutes long, but there were ten of them – a short series for the CV. Think of a similar series you might offer and make it relevant to the outlet (10 top female scientists of Australia? Who should have won a Nobel Prize and Why? 10 science predictions that didn’t come true, kitchen science etc). Sadly, science journalists are being dropped and not replaced as mainstream media struggle to balance the books. Few regular journalists are strong on science, and it can be a good field for a freelancer. My pathway into TV newsrooms for 16 years was not through a journalism degree but a science background and experience in TV presenting.
  13. Learn how to edit a radio piece. You can download a very good digital editing package free from the Internet. It is called AUDACITY (Google it), and sits on your computer. You can record on various (good quality) devices, feed the track(s) into the computer, and edit in Audacity, outputting it as MP3 tracks, downloaded to a recorder, CD or similar. I have used Audacity for quite a bit of nationally broadcast material. It is pretty easy to use and an extremely valuable (and free) way to learn digital sound editing (1 or multi tracks). There is also a manual on line and a Q&A section. This is a good skill to have with the increasing number of online outlets. (Audacity is also good if you are a musician and want to do some mixing).
  14. Similarly, learn to shoot video that looks professional. Use a tripod for steady shots, collect wide and closeup shots (from different angles) and practise editing them together on one of the many editing packages (many free – see what came with your version of Windows). It is a good idea to start with a short, simple, defined project (there is that “brief” again) like a holiday, family gathering, wedding etc. Watch to see how professional media material (eg a news story) is put together. You will learn heaps and, again, have some skills that you can offer when people want science talks or events videorecorded.
  15. See what may be around in terms of Prizes and Awards. There are such things for amateurs in writing, photography and even video. Again, they usually define the brief, and learning to work to a brief is essential. Working up material for the entry will give you training, may give you a prize or may produce something that, even if it doesn’t win, can be used somewhere else.
  16. Many societies need a publicity officer. This might only be for special occasions (awards; events) or they might have much to communicate. Consider volunteering for that role, and learn how to produce a professional looking media release. Many amateur releases are simply long narrative paragraphs; fatal! Media releases have their own “Lego” construction for very good reason – it is easy for journalists to select and join different parts as needed and at great speed. Media releases that don’t look like that often ring alarm bells with journalists. Learn how to put a good media release together with interesting quotations (grabs) from people involved (there are online sites that offer examples) and then where to send it. It will give you useful insights into how journalists try to deal with the barrage of material they get each day. Perhaps your society will pay for you to do media training. If so, grab it, but get it from someone who has actual experience in a newsroom or on the media; there are many “experts” offering training who have done neither, and they make take you down very counterproductive paths.
  17. ASC is a society. That means that there are members with great experience in many different aspects of science communication who are approachable. They are all busy, but most will be happy to help with constructive advice; even reading some of your work if it is not too lengthy. Find someone who has experience in the area of science communication in which you are interested and try them.  Good luck.

Dr Rob Morrison is a freelance science writer and broadcaster, and National Vice President of ASC

Inspiring Australia – response to the national science communication report

Australian Science Communicators (ASC) welcomes Inspiring Australia, a report which set the agenda for science communication for the nation. It represents a significant acknowledgement and affirmation of the importance of science communication to the future of Australian society.

We are particularly pleased with the recognition of science communication as a professional activity with its own skills and expertise. The report contains many helpful suggestions on ways of boosting that expertise.

We are also delighted that the report recommends investment into evaluation of the effectiveness of various techniques of science communication.

While we recognise that all the recommendations will benefit professional science communicators indirectly, we believe that the report’s objectives would be well served by more direct support of our profession, such as for the development of the professional development opportunities including conferences. Strengthening the foundation of the profession is an inexpensive and effective way to complement and realise several of the suggested activities in the report.

Dr Jesse Shore, President, Australian Science Communicators
Mr Tim Thwaites, Immediate Past-President, Australian Science Communicators

ASC 2010 Conference – Opening Session

Over 230 science communications professionals gathered today at the Australian National University in Canberra for an inspiring and lively opening session.

Aunty Ruth Bell welcomed delegates to country with some rousing words on the importance of science and scientists and the correct pronunciation of Canberra.  Professor Ian Chubb reflected on an increase in demand for places on science courses at ANU and the difference between a “deep” and a “profound” understanding of scientific ideas.

Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research suggested that “science communication matters because democracy matters” and that citizens only have a meaningful say in the democratic process if they understand the science.  The Senator also cited the new science strategy report which calls for all scientific organisations to promote the ideals of “clear vision, strong leadership and coherent action”.

Incoming ASC National President, Dr Jesse Shore welcomed the report with its “national framework: local action” focus on behalf of the ASC membership, and expressed thanks to all delegates for attending our annual flagship event.

Watch this space for more news – and follow us on Twitter: #asc2010

New speakers announced for the Conference: Seven days left to register

With a week to go before the Conference, there’s still time to register and join us in Canberra for a packed program of expert plenaries and social events from 7 – 10 February at the ANU.  Tim Thwaites, Kali Madden and team have compiled an exciting array of the very best speakers from around the country.

We have too many speakers to mention but they include: Warwick Anderson, CEO, NHMRC; Margaret Sheil, CEO, ARC; and Mike Whelan, Deputy CE (Operations) CSIRO on the challenges of science communication, Wilson da Silva, COSMOS; Dr Susannah Elliot, CEO, Australian Science Media Centre; and Deborah Smith, Science Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, on the future of science reporting, Laurel Papworth, #4 blogger in Australia; Julie Posetti, University of Canberra; and Casey Whitelaw, Google on social media applications, Dr Craig Cormick and Wendy Williams from DIIRD on public attitudes to science, and some innovative, ‘non-traditional’ approaches to science communication from Dr Joan Leach, Associate Professor Errol Vieth and colleagues.

View the full program, register now or click here to view the current list of delegates.  See you in Canberra!

ASC membership: Join our nationwide network of science professionals

Welcome to the Australian Science Communicators’ website.

Join today and become part of our national network of 350+ science communication professionals.  Membership starts at $35.20 with great value benefits including: attendance at national and local ASC events at the member rate (often free), regular e-mail member updates on national and international news, and your unique log-in to participate in the member-only website and e-mail discussion groups.

Interested?  For more information, click here…

From the President: January 2010

This is an interesting time for my first post as the ASC President for 2010.

Our national conference, under Tim Thwaites’ guidance, will start soon and it offers a stimulating and varied program including superb professional development and networking opportunities. Many science communicators have already registered and if you are still making up your mind, I encourage you to join us in Canberra. I’m looking forward to making new acquaintances and meeting many of you whom I’ve known only via email or web postings.

It’s true for me to say that I’ve been an ASC member for more years than I remember. I don’t recall when I first joined but I do recall my regret at not being able to attend the joint PCST-ASC conference in 1996. I made up for that by assisting David Ellyard, who organised the next ASC conference in 2001, by chairing the program development committee.

That conference was held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which was my workplace for 25 years from 1984 to 2008. I had the excitement of working on the project to build the museum and then gained an ever-evolving job as their senior curator of sciences. Besides developing a wide range of science exhibitions and events I was active with National Science Week events and organising committees and in 2006 was one of the founders of the Ultimo Science Festival, a major National Science Week activity. For a few years I also had a small role helping the ASC NSW team who developed and ran the Eureka Prize winning ‘Science in the Pub’ program.

When I consider what I’d like to achieve this year, I look to all the work of previous ASC Presidents and especially to the platform laid by our immediate past president Tim Thwaites. I want to help realise the ASC vision statement which Tim and the National Council drafted last year. This also includes supporting the implementation and growth of the ASC Course Accreditation System. Moving further I’d like to explore greater relationships with Commonwealth and State Chief Scientists and their related offices while continuing to build on relationships with other science communication organisations such the Australian Science Media Centre and the Royal Institution Australia.

The way ahead is neither straight nor level but I believe the role of science communication will grow in today’s information-swamped but comprehension-challenge world. I want the surfers amongst us to help the ASC to catch this wave. I’m looking forward to interesting times and will see you at the conference!

Jesse Shore
National President

From The President: December 2009

In a year of doom and gloom, bushfires, swine flu and climate change, it is great to be able to report some upbeat news of the feats of our ASC colleagues—the resurgence of ASC in South Australia, a major magazine award for a former president, and some excellent public activities organised by local branches.

These vibrant signs of life in ASC are just what we need, leading into a National AGM to be held in Sydney on 16 December, and our National Conference at ANU in Canberra from 7 to 10 February.

Nearly 50 people turned up to an event organised by vice-president Rob Morrison, at the new Science Exchange (re-vamped Stock Exchange) in downtown Adelaide which has become the headquarters of the Royal Institution, Australia (RiAus). Not only did they learn about “The Science of Wind Instruments”, but they began planning an AGM for 14 December and activities for the next couple of years. Many stayed well beyond the proposed ending time playing science board games and making full use of the very fine bar. An appropriate outcome for all Rob’s hard work.

ASC boy makes good! Wilson da Silva’s magazine Cosmos was adjudged Magazine of the Year and won six other awards, including Best Consumer Magazine and Best Publisher, at the annual Bell Awards for Publishing Excellence of the magazine industry association, Publishers Australia. This is the second time in its five-year history the publication has won Magazine of the Year and Best Publisher. It was hailed for  its connection with its readers, and its “product extensions”.

A story by deputy editor John Pickrell has won an earth journalism award linked to the forthcoming UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, and is in the running for a global public award. You can read the story and, if you like it, vote for it before 9 December by clicking here.

The local ASC branches have been active, with events happening in most states over the past month. Two that come to mind are a particularly poignant session staged by the Victorian branch (at a new venue) on keeping the human impact in mind when communicating the science of bushfires, and the Stem Cells in the Pub session which the ACT-ASC organised in association with the Australian Society for Stem Cell Research.

See you at the ASC AGM (16 December) and the ASC Conference 2010 (7 – 10 February).

Tim Thwaites
National President