Toss Gascoigne ASC Scope Interview

 

Toss Gascoigne shares us his SciComm Journey

 

How did you get into SciComm?

So I came into science communication not as a person with science qualifications, but as a former English teacher and freelance journalist, and joined CSIRO’s Centre for Environmental Mechanics.  It’s a fabulous building, lifts the spirits as you walk through the door.  My colleagues at other CSIRO divisions came with all sorts of qualifications and experiences: librarians, public relations, journalism, teaching, scientists looking for an alternative career.  Most of them had at least some science but my highest qualification was high school physics.  But I did bring a couple of books of press clippings, articles published in newspapers, and that seemed to intrigue the panel.  So I was appointed as an editor, a manifestly inadequate replacement for Will Steffan who went off to Sweden to do things in climate change.

 

Highlights

Getting media coverage for CSIRO work, like the ‘Clever Clover’ story that ended up selling 12,000 home kits to gardeners, and the launch of the Coastal Zone program where we had 6 TV camera crews on the banks of the Cooks River at Sydney Airport.  Media was fun, and I ended up training thousand of scientists in how to work with journalists in media skills workshops Jenni Metcalfe and I devised.  Going to my first international conference, PCST; and helping begin Australian Science Communicators, both in 1994 (25th anniversary this year!).

 

Where has your career led you?

Science communication took me from CSIRO to a more political role, as Director of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (now STA). FASTS was founded after Barry Jones accused scientists of being ‘wimps’ because they didn’t give him the political support he needed to get adequate funding for science, but the organisation had been without a director for 18 months and was struggling.  So that was developing policy, talking to politicians and bureaucrats and eventually organising the event that saved FASTS: Science meets Parliament.  SmP has been picked up across Europe and in Canada as well, and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  Another successful Australian export.

 

What excited you most about your work?

Seeing the possibilities, trying new things.  I wasn’t from science and didn’t know where the boundaries lay, and the whole scene seemed full of opportunities.  We put up a speaker at the National Press Club in 1996, Ian Lowe. I only found out afterwards that he was the first scientist to have his NPC address televised nationally by ABC.  Since then there has been a steady troop of scientists and vice-chancellors using the NPC to reach national audiences.  On the international front, helping the PCST grow from its French-Spanish roots to become a truly international body which has held conferences in Brazil, India, Korea, Cape Town and Melbourne.  I was elected the first president in 2006.

 

I’m so encouraged when I walk into a conference or meeting in Australia, and barely know anyone.  Twenty five years it would have been so different, but now there are lots of new ideas, new approaches, new people involved.  Being a visiting fellow at the ANU’s CPAS is great: there’s a new idea every week.  And don’t we need them!  PCST has opened up a lot for me, international collaborations and approaches.  I’m just finishing editing a book on the Emergence of Modern Science Communication, an international study of 40 different countries and with 125 authors, and due to be launched in Aberdeen next year.

 

The book includes countries like Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Jamaica, Russia and Colombia, and opens up a cornucopia of ideas. It’s been a fabulous experience, and PCST made that possible.

 

Success in meeting challenges?

Showing scientists that they can deal successfully with the media.  Demonstrating through SmP that they do have a political role to play.  Devising excellent training courses and running them in 20 different countries.  Discovering that Australians can hold our heads high on the international communication stage. But what about the failures?  One is a constant battle to persuade managers that communication is important, not an after-thought to be tacked on at the end. A failure to get science and evidence a more important place in policy and decision-making processes.  How can any science communicator claim to be successful when we have Trump in the White House, Boris at Number 10, and a government of climate sceptics in Canberra?

 

ASC2020 Call for Papers

ASC2020 Call for Papers and Sessions

We are delighted to invite you to get your thinking caps on! Expressions of interest for inclusion in the ASC2020 conference program due 30 September 2019.

The theme for ASC2020 is “Priorities, Policies and Publics for human survival” with streams such as environmental and sustainability communication, impact communication, and more.

We are keen to see a wide and varied program for 2020. Here are some examples of possible approaches to the conference themes to get you started:

Priorities

  • • What is the role of science communication in solving the ‘wicked problems’ we face (e.g climate change or mass extinctions)
  • • Where does science fit in the current media climate, fake news, etc.?

Policies

  • • Is science communication an effective tool for behaviour change?
  • • Communicating in large, multi-stakeholder projects
  • • Science communication for social, environmental, or health impacts

Publics

  • • Engaging audiences through new technologies
  • • Transforming relations between science research and communication practice
  • • Widening participation in scientific research with new and diverse audiences

Types of submissions we will accept for ASC2020 include:

  • • Professional Development workshops
  • • Production of sessions and social activities (session and social proposals)
  • • Individual or small group presentations (see suggested formats below)
  • • Research papers

Types of sessions you may be interested in submitting:

  • • Practice insights: speakers describe, demonstrate and/or evaluate specific science communication practices.
  • • Provocations: short talks where speakers present and explore a dilemma in science communication theory or practice.
  • • Work in progress: speakers present work in progress on research or practice, including ideas under development or that have yet to be implemented.
  • • Problems and Solutions clinic: producing a session to allow participants to workshop solutions to the thorny issues they’re facing.
  • • Demonstrations: presenting innovative science communication practices with a commentary on their application and effectiveness.
  • • Workshop: allowing participants to actively engage in exploring a project or concept in science communication.

Please don’t hesitate to contact program.committee@asc.asn.au with questions and/or to discuss your ideas for ASC2020. All submissions are due 30 September 2019 online (links at http://asc2020.asc.asn.au)

We look forward to an incredible array of talent and good things for this Eleventh National Conference of the Australian Science Communicators.

 

 

Stephen Pincock; NSW ASC Committee Interview

 

  • Why did you choose to study science?

In the early years of high school, I developed a vague idea that I wanted to be “a medical researcher”. I loved the idea of working in a lab, helping find new treatments. On the other hand, I was also very keen on literature and writing, so my subject choices ended up being split evenly between sciences and humanities. I stuck to my guns at university and studied microbiology and immunology, although by the end of the undergraduate degree I realised that the ideas were much more interesting to me than the physical reality of working in a lab. So I quickly switched to science journalism — finding a way to be in the right place at the right time when a job at Today’s Life Science came up.    

  • Looking back now, what has been the best part of your career in SciComm?

I’ve really enjoyed the variety of opportunies I’ve had as a science journalist — from feature writing to banging out daily news. Some of my favourite years were those I spent as a science columnist for the Financial Times’ weekend magazine. My job each week was to write a 900-word column that would be interesting to the readers of the FT. I had complete liberty to select topics I thought were interesting, and took full opportunity to meet and interview all sorts of amazing people. As part of that job I interviewed Jane Goodall on two different occasions several years apart and found her to be utterly inspiring. 


  • Where has your career led you?

There are lots of ways to answer that question, but I’ll go for the literal interpretation! I started my career in a fairly modest office in Chippendale, at a time when we only had access to the internet on one machine in the office, then moved to London and New York for a decade or so, before returning to Sydney where I now work for Springer Nature. I now lead a team of people in 7 different countries and travel fairly often to Japan, China, Egypt, the UK and the US.  


  • What excites you most about your work?

I’ve done my fair share of speaking truth to power, and reporting things people wanted to keep secret, but at my heart the best thing about the job of being a science journalist is talking to really interesting people about the amazing things they’re discovering, and finding a way to articulate that wonder on the page/screen.


  • What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in SciComm?

I don’t have any big revelations, but my experience as a freelance journalist for about a decade was that it was much easier to make a living from news writing than feature writing. Features are hard to sell and slow to produce, while if you can get a good line into an organisation that needs science news then they’re always going to need more!

Stargazers Club WA

Stargazers Club WA are holding two events in July and August.

Astrophotography Nightscape Image Processing for Beginners

Saturday 13th July 2019.  3.30pm – 6.30pm

Discover how to process your own nightscape and Milky Way astrophotography images in this single afternoon class. Learn the pieces of the software puzzle, and the process workflow that will help you navigate your way to mastering the art.

If you’ve taken photos of the Milky Way over beautiful landscape (or just the wide Milky Way sky on its own) and want to know how to get the most out of your images, this is the workshop for you. Starting at the beginner level we work through understanding image files to the steps you can take to process them.

For all details and to book: https://stargazersclubwa.com.au/upcoming-events/#!event/2019/7/13/astrophotography-nightscape-image-processing-for-beginners

 

BYO Telescope Class – Basics + Collimation and Dew Control

Sunday 11th August 2019.  4.00pm – 7.30pm

Do you have a telescope you’d like to know more about? This class is designed for beginners as well as anyone who has started using a telescope and wants to know more. Practical! Hands-on! And above all, fun!

Beginners are always welcome to join our classes. In this class, we’ll recap the essential basics before delving into other topics more deeply to help build your knowledge around telescopes. Practical help with the basics is always available for first time telescope users.

For all details and to book: https://stargazersclubwa.com.au/upcoming-events/#!event/2019/8/11/byo-telescope-class-basics-collimation-and-dew-control

 

Thank you to Southern Nights @southernnightsstargazing for this image. The image was from a recent stargazing night that we held in Moora and we had quite a few volunteers that night.

How to save the whole stinkin’ planet

Lee Constable has just published her new book How to save the whole stinkin’ planet. She describes her book and shares what inspired her to write it.

Book Overview

How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet is a heroic adventure that takes the reader (grade 2-6) on an icky, sticky, gross and smelly journey with the main character, Captain Garbology, to become a Waste Warrior and save the whole stinkin’ planet. By following the different paths that waste can take and even shrinking down to get up close to the gory details, Captain Garbology gets into the nitty gritty of waste science (Garbology 101) and invites readers to get their hands dirty with hands-on activities throughout. Each chapter includes some fun foul facts and has a quick quiz before the reader levels up to take on the next stage of Waste Warrior training. It’s a fun way to explore one of the many ways kids can help our planet in their every day lives and be the heroes they want to see in the world!

Book Inspiration

I’ve always taken an interest in topics like sustainability and climate change. My first job after scicomm masters (and before hosting Scope) was in waste and recycling education so I learned even more about the topic giving community groups and school classes tours of the landfill and the recycling sorting facility (MRF). While waste is only one part of a big stinkin’ problem, it is a tangible, everyday element of sustainability and climate change that kids can have an impact on. It is also a good place to start when talking about an even bigger issue.

When I was a kid I loved Captain Planet which was a cartoon with a superhero all about doing what’s right for the environment. I still love superheros so that is what inspired me to create that book’s main character, Captain Garbology. I was inspired by all the young people who have been standing up for the planet and their future and I thought this book would be one way I can to do something to help young people in the huge fight against climate change.

Interview with Lee Constable

This month we speak with Lee Constable about her life and experiences in scicomm.

Lee Constable is the host of Scope, Network Ten’s science and tech show for kids aged 7-13. Lee’s background is a mixed bag with a Bachelor of Science (Honours), Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science Communication Outreach. During her Masters, Lee toured remote and regional Australia as a Questacon Science Circus presenter and founded, produced and hosted youth-run social justice and sustainability radio show and podcast, SoapBox. Lee is the founder of Co-Lab: Science Meets Street Art where collaborations between scientists and street artists result in science-inspired murals that evolve live for the public. In 2018 Lee was part of the largest ever all-female expedition to Antarctica with 80 international women in STEMM as part of the Homeward Bound leadership program.

Why did you choose to study science? 

When I first enrolled to study science, I imagined that some day I could be the scientist to cure the Earth of climate change. That was a very naive reason to pursue science because when I got to uni I realised that data and solutions were not what was lacking in the equation at all.

Looking back now, what has been the best part of your career in SciComms?

I can’t say I have far to look back because I am still very early in my scicomm career (or any career for that matter). I am 3.5 years out of my Master of Science Communication Outreach and 3 years of that have been spent hosting Scope so I would have to say landing the gig hosting Scope has been the best part! It has opened my eyes to an entire industry and skill set I never thought I could be so immersed in and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity!

Where has your career led you?

I have mixed science with live street art, podcasting, radio, cosplay, cartooning, blogging and more and loved every moment and mixture! My career so far has given me the absolute privilege of meeting passionate scientists and STEM experts, as well as fellow science communicators from all over Australia and learning from them. In 2018 I was part of the largest all-female expedition to Antarctica (with the Homeward Bound leadership program for women in STEMM) which was a truly amazing and life-changing experience, not just because of the place, but the people I met who are still an important part of my life.

What excites you most about your work?

I love that I have been able to work with people with an array of backgrounds completely unlike mine, like film, TV, YouTube and journalism, to bring science to life on screen in a way that is entertaining, accurate and accessible. Everyone has something to bring to the table which makes it a really exciting job. Every script, shoot and post-production phase brings different opportunities and challenges, so working with a diverse team to meet the challenges and make the most of opportunities on tight deadlines, with tiny budgets and a small team is really exciting! What a thrill!

What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in SciComms?

Think about what your motivations are for pursuing scicomm and whether there is a particular style of scicomm or audience you are most drawn to. Scicomm is so much broader than even us scicommers remember at times and there are so many ways and reasons to pursue a career in scicomm whether it’s event management, marketing, PR, media, performance, writing, policy, art, corporate comms… the list goes on!

Don’t forget that the scicomm work that you and fellow scicommers do is valuable and if you are pursuing scicomm as a freelance career, learn as much as you can about requesting and negotiating fees for your scicomm work. Scicommers do so much free labour which is admirable, but ultimately if you are doing scicomm because you need shelter and food, we need to take our field and skills seriously so scicomm is more valued all around!

What are some of your greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your Sci-Com career? 

Being the face of a science show and the only one with a science background working on that show is a huge responsibility and one that I never take lightly. The nervousness and impostor syndrome and self-doubt have been huge challenges to overcome, particularly in the first year of presenting the show. Over the past 3 years hosting Scope I have worked really hard to build trust, and work with our team to make the show something I can be proud of and also to take the show and my presenting of science in directions that are authentic to who I am as a person, as well as (I hope) enjoyable for our audience. This type of role puts you in very vulnerable positions at times and navigating the various demands of my role (concept development, research, writing, presenting, producing, post-production etc), the industry, and the future I imagine for myself, have been massively challenging. I’ve learned a lot about myself and grown a lot as a person. That sounds cliché but it’s the honest truth!

Image: Lee Constable dressed as Captain Garbology (She made this outfit originally as a Captain Planet costume but repurposed it!)

ASC President Update July 2019

What’s the best sci-com you’ve seen lately?  

Lisa Bailey, ASC President

All credit to Dominic McDonald from the Royal Institution who kicked off this on the PSCI-COM mailing list (an international Sci-com mailing list, I highly recommend!)  Fed up with the sometimes overly critical sci-com community online, he put out the call to share what’s inspired you lately.

Here are the rules:

  1. ONLY POSITIVE COMMENTS ALLOWED.
  2. NO SNARK.
  3. You, your boss, your funder or your significant other cannot have been responsible for the activity.
  4. Come on, we can do this!**
  5. Go team!

This can be anything – the best science demo you’ve seen lately, a talk that took your breath away, writing that blew your mind or literally anything else!

Here’s my starting few, I’m sure many more will come to mind as soon as I’ve posted this.

We live in an Ocean of Air – so this might cross over between sci-com and art but it blew my mind and helped me understand what VR is truly capable of, extending your senses as you visualise and follow your breath through a forest.  An emotional kick in the guts and technologically amazing.

Beyond Perception at Scienceworks is the most beautiful exhibit to explore gravitational waves.

Journey to the Centre of the Cell, a VR experience created by the UNSW that let’s you walk around the surface of a cell and see how nanoparticles can direct drugs to target cells.  Loved it because it made me realise that all the text books had lied (of course!) in just what a mitochondria looks like.

If books count, I’m loving the deep dive into Australia’s overlooked space history from Alice Gorman’s Dr Space Junk vs The Universe

President’s Update June 2019

Save the date – ASC Conference February 2020 announcement

Lisa Bailey is pleased to announce that thanks to our venue sponsor;  Monash Sustainable Development Institute, we will be hosting the next National Australian Science Communicators Conference at Monash campus in Victoria, Sunday 16 – Wednesday 19 February 2020.  It’s been over a decade since the conference was last held in Victoria!

So please mark the date in your calendars now, and we will be opening super early bird registrations in the next week or so, in time for the end of the financial year for people who are fortunate to have workplaces who can support their attendance. We will shortly also be opening opportunities for session producers and presenters.

More to come very soon!

Jillian Browning; ACT ASC President June Interview

Jillian Browning; ACT ASC President June Interview

 

  • Why did you choose to study science?

When I was in year 3 my parents took me on a whale watching trip and I fell in love with the ocean. Ever since then I wanted to be a marine scientist and I followed through with it right through to university where I studied a Bachelor of Global and Ocean Science.

  • Looking back now, what has been the best part of your career in SciComms?

The best part of my career has been the amazing people I have had the opportunity to work with. I have had a lot of fun experiences like joining a whale research vessel, volunteer work in Indonesia and running engaging events but the real highlight is the friendships and learning from great people.

  • Where has your career led you?

I have had the amazing opportunity to work on the beautiful Sapphire Coast in Eden NSW for 5 years and I also spent 7 months working on a volunteer project on Lombok in Indonesia and attend a conference in Sulawesi.

  • What excites you most about your work?

The variety and creativity. I love coming to work each day and having something new to work on and the opportunity to stretch my creative muscles in designing new exhibits.

  • What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in SciComms?

Give it a go! Try new things, expand your skills and be willing to travel. Being open and flexible and having a can-do attitude will get you far and give you amazing opportunities.

  • What are some of your greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your Sci-Com career?

The greatest challenge I’ve come up against is the stiff job competition. There are lots of people with great Sci Comm skills and not a large amount of jobs in capital cities unfortunately. The best way to overcome this is to give yourself an edge, volunteer for sci comm groups and events, get jobs in regional areas where there is less competition and more chance to diversify your skill set.

 

President’s Update May 2019

How should we celebrate 25 years of Australian Science Communicators?

It’s 1994.  We’ve all just started exploring this newfangled thing called the ‘world wide web’ with our brand new Netscape browser.  Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert grace our cinema screens for the first time.

In science it’s the year Comet shoemaker-Levy 9 smashes in Jupiter, the ‘fossil tree’ the Wollemi Pine is found growing in the bush not far from Sydney, and the Green Flourescent Protein is first introduced and lights up in a different animal – the C.elegans nematode worm.

There were hundreds of people working as science communicators across scientific and higher education institutions in Australia at this time, although the term “science communication” itself was not in common use.  There was a sense of isolation, and a move to establish a network for people working in these diverse roles.  There’s a great recount of the birth of ASC, and this history of science communication in Australia in this wonderful article by Toss Gascoine and Jenni Metcalf.  In September 1994, the first AGM was held and Julian Cribb, then a journalist at The Australian, was elected the first President.

So, how should we celebrate this milestone?  If you have any suggestions please get in contact with me directly, and we’ll keep members posted as to what plans we have in store.