Keen to study SciComm at uni?

Thank you to Claire Harris for the update.

Have you been wondering where you could study science communication at university? Maybe some soon-to-be school leavers are interested in exploring the mix of science and people that sci comm offers?

A number of universities in Australia offer subjects and qualifications focused on science communication. These universities include:

  • Australian National University
  • University of New South Wales
  • The University of Queensland
  • University of Western Australia
  • University of Adelaide.

Interestingly, the Centre for Public Awareness of Science is the longest running science communication academic centre in Australia, offering its first graduate diploma in 1986.

Do you know of any others that we’ve missed?

Have you found any Massive Open Online Courses in sci comm that you’d care to recommend? Comment below. (See an earlier article in Scope about MOOCs.)

Members may also be interested in checking out the discussion on the public LinkedIn site following a question from an undergraduate science student about what qualifications are needed to be considered a science communicator.

Event review: The art of communicating science

Thank you to Kathleen Hayes and George Aranda for the event review.

The Victorian branch recently held an event looking at the use of art – such as photography, animation, illustration and video – in communicating science.

A wonderful night was had by all, with ASC member Kathleen Hayes providing the following review:

“A night of good company, interesting conversation and amazing visuals made the Art of Communicating Science event a great time for all. For the mainly science based crowd the presentations gave a new and stimulating perspective on art, and how it could effectively convey and inspire scientific thinking. It was fascinating to learn about the practicalities of communicating science in visual mediums, be it cartooning, photography or animation. In particular I loved the high speed photography of air movement by Phred Peterson, I’d never understood the beauty of the maths behind such physics as helicopter flight until I saw it illuminated. First Dog was also a crowd winner as he humorously took the room to task on the status of science communication and its importance in the current climate. As well as being an enjoyable night, I think the event contributed to the group knowledge of science communication as well, and I anticipate more such events in the future.”

If you missed the event – or if you made it, but enjoyed it so much you want to see more – video interviews with science photographer Linnea Rundgren and Horrible Science series Tony De Saulles can be found on the PopSciGuy youtube channel.

Celebrity guest, First Dog on the Moon!

Celebrity guest, First Dog on the Moon!

Event review: Melbourne National Science Week mixer

Thank you to Linden Ashcroft for the event review.

Science educators and communicators converged at Markov Place, Melbourne on Thursday 14 August to bring in National Science Week 2014.

More than 40 people came along to the Victorian branch of ASC’s ‘ice-breaker’ for what many claim to be the most exciting week of the year! The beer and conversations ran freely between attendees, including representatives from Australian Young Scientists, Knox Innovation Opportunity and Sustainability Centre (KIOSC), Science Teachers Australia, Inspiring Australia, the Environmental Film Festival Melbourne, Scienceworks, The Royal Society of Victoria, Mill Park Library Monash University, Laborastory and many other science–based events and organisations across Melbourne.

Those who were running events during National Science Week were given an opportunity to promote their shows on a timeline posted along the wall of the bar. There was also a chance to spruik events to the crowd in a two-minute lightning talk. Many thanks to those of you who took to the wobbly stool!

A large number of door prizes were even given away. Movie tickets, a night at an observatory, 3D-printed cookie cutters and free passes to National Science Week events were all up for grabs.

Despite the packed house a good time was had by all and it was encouraging to see such an active ASC community alive and well in Melbourne. We look forward to seeing you all at our next event!


Science bloggers get Linked In to ASC

Thank you to Claire Harris for the discussion summary.

The ASC public LinkedIn group took off in early August with a discussion about scientist bloggers sparked by Jacinta Legg.

She asked, “Does anyone have any favourite Australian scientist-bloggers they follow?”

Jacinta, who describes herself as a ‘science geek’ likes to know what is happening in the world of science and enjoys blogs as an alternative source of news to the usual ‘latest breakthrough’ stories of mainstream science media.

“I’ve been reading science blogs, some regularly and some less so, for years. I like the conversational tone and the personal element. Ben Goldacre (Bad Science), Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science) and Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) are long time favourites,” said Jacinta.

“Some months ago, a work colleague asked me about science blogs, and it got me thinking: of the science blogs I read, I couldn’t recommend any Australian ones to him; because I didn’t know any.

“I went searching online, but I didn’t know where to look. And I’m a science communicator! So I decided to put it to the ASC community. They know things,” she said.

The discussion that ensued on LinkedIn attracted 24 comments with lots of people chiming in with their ideas.

“Of the blogs people suggested, I loved the variety of science (canine science!), great subjects (women in science) and great post titles (‘Too much sex is sometimes deadly’),” said Jacinta.

“I was particularly excited by ‘The League of Remarkable Women in Science’. Great title! Finding out about it coincided with the Australian women in science Wikibomb by the Australian Academy of Science. Go Aussie women in science!”

George Aranda, who suggested Science Book a Day also volunteered to put a list of the blog suggestions on the ASC website.

“I saw that people were asking about science blogs by Australian authors, which I am particularly interested in – as I teach higher ed science students how to write blogs, with the aim of improving their communication skills,” said George.

“An Australian list of blogs is something I couldn’t walk past. Thanks to the LinkedIn group, we now have a great starting list which I put together for the ASC website,” he said.

George has included a short form for website users to submit blogs to be added to the list, which George is planning to update monthly.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their suggestions! And thanks to George for starting the blog list; what a great value-add for science communicators!


Jacinta’s tips for people thinking of starting a blog:

  • Be personal.
  • Use conversational language.
  • Write about things you find interesting.
  • Write from ‘real life’.
  • No jargon (or keep it to a minimum).
  • Use images and photos.
  • Don’t waffle on – keep it short.
  • Have fun with it – the reader and the blogger should enjoy it.

Jacinta also said: Blogs I’m impressed with tend to be a little quirky and have a sense of humour. But the most impressive, is when a working scientist (not a professional communicator) takes the time to engage non-scientists with interesting thoughts/events/findings from their life as a scientist. I like to feel they’re having a conversation with the reader – demystifying the world of science and dispelling the myth of scientists being apart from the rest of the world.

Keeping your eye on the journals prize

Thank you to Claire Harris and Joan Leach for preparing this piece.

Do you wish you could keep up with science communication research and papers published globally?

At ASC we hear that many people are busy and finding it hard to know where to look to keep up with what’s happening. So below, we have a few tasters from science communication research and publications and we hope they’re useful. We are also going to feature science communication research more regularly in Scope.

Most read articles in journal Science Communication

Science Communication is an international, interdisciplinary journal with an impact factor of 1.436. Published by SAGE, it is ranked 16 out of 72 journals in Communication and has been running since 1979. Here are the 5 ‘most read’ articles:

  1. Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films
  2. Threat Without Efficacy? Climate Change on U.S. Network News
  3. Communicating Science: A Review of the Literature
  4. Effects of the Language Barrier on Processes and Performance of International Scientific Collaboration, Collaborators’ Participation, Organizational Integrity, and Interorganizational Relationships
  5. “Fear Won’t Do It”: Promoting Positive Engagement With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations.

Papers from the Science Communication Research and Education Network (SCREN)

SCREN has a publications list available on their website. SCREN is a network of science communication researchers and educators mainly from Australia and New Zealand. They collectively share best practices in science communication training and engage collaboratively in science communication research.

Sharing papers and open access

For those out there who are publishing papers – could you help make them more easily accessible to ASC members? And particularly those who don’t have access to paid subscriptions.

Maybe you’re not sure about whether you can share papers when you’ve transferred copyright to a traditional journal? Well recently, Paige Brown, who writes on her blog From The Lab Bench, published a post called Open Access to Science Communication Research: Your Options.

She explained that ‘green open access’ options allow authors to post preprint or postprint versions of peer-reviewed articles on personal websites, blogs, forums or digital repositories. There are quite a few repositories available including: PeerJ an open access publisher with a preprint service, GitHub for collaborative development of manuscripts and ResarchGate.

Very helpfully Paige has summarised the preprint and green open access policies of several premier mass communication and science communication journals. These include: Science Communication (SAGE), Communication Research (SAGE), Journal of Communication (Wiley), Journal of Health Communication (Taylor & Francis Journals), Studies in Communication Sciences (Elsevier), Public Relations Review (Elsevier).

Why not subscribe to some of these journals via RSS feeds to keep up to date with new issues using RSS feed readers and reference managers like The Old Reader, Digg Reader, Feedly, or Mendeley.

Do you know some great science communication research repositories that ASC members should hear about?

The 2013 Unsung Hero of Science Communication Award #ASC14

Thank you to Simon Chester for preparing this piece.

The Unsung Hero of Science Communication award is offered annually by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC), and recognises and celebrates excellence in science communication across Australia.

Science communication is the process of making science accessible, and encouraging engagement with scientific processes and outcomes. This engagement allows people to make better-informed decisions about some of the most critical issues facing society and the planet.

Science communication can come from many sources, including scientists, teachers, journalists, writers, entertainers, students, and other communicators including, most noticeably, radio and TV personalities.

One of the members of the judging panel from last year’s award, former ASC President and Eureka Awards Science Book Prize winner, David Ellyard, recognises the importance of communicating science out to the public, but that science communication isn’t just about the top-level celebrities.

“Science communication is at the heart of the scientific enterprise,” said David. “The everyday people who pay for science to be done, and who will be impacted by scientific discoveries, are entitled to know what is going on. And they will commonly find it fascinating.

“Science communication goes on at many levels, from high profile journalism, conferences, and TV documentaries to informal person to person chats,” said David. “The high-fliers get a lot of kudos, but those who work productively in other dimensions are also worthy of acknowledgment.”

The ASC has traditionally acknowledged unsung Australian scientists, but, last year, felt that it was past time to shine the spotlight onto those who communicate the science – especially as the scope of the award is not covered in existing national science award programs. Thus, in 2012, the Unsung Hero of Science Communication award was born.

“The ASC created this award to honour a person or group who exemplify science communication, who have not yet received significant recognition for their contribution to science and its promotion, and for work done in Australia over a considerable or prolonged time” said Jesse Shore.

In 2012, that person was editor and publisher of the magazine Australasian Science, Guy Nolch.

According to the judges, Guy Nolch was recognised for: his long period of distinguished science publishing (more than 20 years publishing Australasian Science); training and mentoring science communicators; making scientists’ work accessible to and understood by the public; dealing with controversial issues; his major contributions to the discussion of science policy and scientific issues in Australia; and for the fostering of good science journalism in Australia and for promotion of leading Australian scientists and their research.

As a publisher of a long-standing science magazine, Guy sees targeted publications as becoming ever more important as tools for quality science communication.

“The mainstream media has a greater reliance on syndicated stories these days, and pitch their stories at the centre of the demographic bell curve,” said Guy. “Niche publications like Australasian Science can focus more on local research and researchers, and provide more in-depth analysis of a broader range of research and its potential consequences.

“Newspapers have let science reporters go and the most noise is made by shock jocks with a particular entrenched view that is based more on the proprietor’s objectives than true objectivity. There are good writers out there, but, on the whole, they’re under pressure to file something short on a sexy topic before the rest of the pack run with it.”

But hope is not lost, as technology has turned any writer into a potential publisher, and budding communicators are now able to perfect their skills on their own blogs. Guy had this advice to offer to anyone interested in communicating science:

“In many ways it’s easier these days to get a portfolio of work together by self-publishing online in blogs, podcasts, and social media. Many niche magazines like Australasian Science will also welcome you to pitch story ideas. Check out the contributors’ guidelines so you can tailor your idea to the audience you’ll be reaching, and have a crack!”

The Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication 2013 award will be presented during the Australian Science Communicators National Conference, held from 2-5 February 2014 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The 2014 ASC Conference also marks the 20th anniversary of ASC, so come join delegates from agencies like CSIRO, ANSTO, ATSE, Cooperative Research Centres, NHMRC, museums, universities, research institutes, and privately-run technology companies, as they celebrate the anniversary, learn about innovative practice and new initiatives, and hear from national leaders across research/technology, communication, media, business, industry and education.

Event review: Canberra’s deadliest air disaster re-examined

Thank you to Melissa Snape, Secretary of the ACT branch, for providing this event review.

With the 73rd memorial of the Canberra Air Disaster fresh in the minds of those who attended the crash site at Fairbairn Pine Plantation (near the Canberra Airport) just a day before, the ASC-ACT branch brought in the experts to delve into the mystery surrounding this historic episode – with a bit of a science twist.

The sell-out National Science Week event was held in the Japan Theatre at Questacon on August 14 and gathered a diverse crowd of local eye witnesses, aeronautical enthusiasts, relatives of the deceased and detectives at heart – and thrilled them all with never-before-seen in public footage of the wreckage (filmed within hours of the crash), a lesson in state-of-the-art forensic techniques by Mardi Southwell (AFP Forensic Science Team) and an in depth interview with Mr Andrew Tink, local expert and author of ‘Air Disaster Canberra: the plane crash that destroyed a government’.

A close re-examination of the fatal event, which killed ten people in total (including 3 war time government ministers), uncovered evidence indicating that Air Minister Fairbairn (and not the experienced RAAF pilot Bob Hitchcock) may have been flying the plane when it met its fiery destiny. Tales were also told of the charred bodies of victims being misidentified as smouldering stumps and improper collection and documentation of evidence resulting in the true nature of the tragedy being shroud in mystery forever.

To add our science twist, Mardi then gave a fantastic presentation briefing the audience about how forensic scientists in 2013 would approach such a scenario and what techniques are available to us now that were not in 1940.

The evening was rounded off by competitions for prizes (including two signed copies of Andrew’s book), a bite to eat and a glass or two to drink – all on the house. We only hope that those attending had as much fun as we did hosting.

Want to see what we go up to?

  • Short video clip produced by Alex Harrod (played at the event) – click here
  • Photos of our event taken by David Wong – click here

We also had a massive amount of local media attention surrounding the event including TV, print and radio interviews. Also, two days after our event the ABCs 7.30 report even got on the band wagon and did a story about the Canberra Air Disaster- see the link here which mentions our society.

The ASC ACT Branch would like to thank those who helped make the event a major success:

  • ACT Branch of the Australian New Zealand Forensic Society
  • Questacon
  • Inspiring Australia
  • ACT National Science Week committee
  • ACT Government

Member profile – Sarah Lau

Thank you to Sarah Lau who shared her deepest darkest secrets with us for this Q&A profile!

When not working as Communication Manager for ChemCentre in Western Australia, Sarah spends her time keeping things in order as the Secretary of the ASC. As a long-term member, Sarah’s commitment to the ASC is a great example of what keeps a volunteer organisation like ours running like clockwork. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some ASC profile pop-quiz questions.

Read on to find out about everything from ASC WA events to malformed origami!


When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a small child, my career choices were heavily influenced by books and television, so I went through phases of wanting to be a journalist, a police officer, a lawyer… at one point I’d even settled on being a spy. Eventually when I hit high school I decided I wanted to get into science, but a disastrous Year 12 practical chemistry exam made me realise that lab work wasn’t for me. So I decided to combine my passion for science with my love of talking and working with people, which led me to science communication.

Apart from being superstar secretary of the ASC, what work do you do?

In my daily role, I am the Communication Manager at ChemCentre, the WA chemical and forensic science facility. This is a fascinating and varied job which sees me doing everything from briefing media on synthetic drugs to devising marketing strategies for air monitoring analysis. Right now I am working with our team to deliver a series of August outreach activities, tying into National Science Week, and culminating with ChemCentre’s annual Open Day. (Shameless plug – if you’re in WA, come by on Saturday 24 August!)

With another hat on, I work as a science communication and presentation consultant. The most exciting role I have taken on recently was for The University of Western Australia, working with some of UWA’s highest profile scientists to deliver the Science for our Future Festival program across South East Asia.

Has your time with the ASC helped or hindered your work?

I joined ASC as a student when I was studying Science Communication at The University of Western Australia. I found it was very useful, as it gave me a chance to engage with established professionals and consider future career directions.

As an early career professional, being involved with ASC, and particularly volunteering at the branch level, meant that I had the chance to develop skills and build a network of contacts.

Now, my role with ASC has grown to allow me to support the evolution of ASC as we expand and move towards a professional association. As I’ve become more involved with ASC, one my favourite things has been the chance to connect with ASC members from across Australia and hear their experiences.

Why is science communication important?

I see science communication as ‘bridging the gap’ – bringing skills and expertise to connect the world of science and an intended audience. I’ve always considered that science communicators help make science accessible, relevant and engaging. Science communicators also bring perspective and expertise to scientists to help the scientific process in the modern world. The benefits to ensuring science is communicated are wide-ranging, including better informed decision making in the wider community, and increased uptake of science at the policy and governance level. I think the recognition of science communication as a specialisation is increasing, and along with it, an appreciation of the value of science communicators.

What ASC events are you looking forward to this year?

In WA, there is a fantastic local committee which has worked hard to create a diverse programs of events, including social, professional and networking events. We’ve had some great evaluation events and I’m looking forward to this program continuing this year. Fast forward to 2014 – I am excited about the ASC National Conference in Brisbane!

When you are not science communicating, what are your hobbies/interests?

Not much has changed since I was young, so books and television still feature prominently. I adore music and I’m easily distracted by music videos. I also love checking out the great cafes and bars now popping up all over Perth. And for the novelty category – I enjoy attempting geometric origami structures, which is an odd choice for someone with little artistic ability or patience!

From the president

Thank you to Claire Harris for preparing the update from the President.

If you haven’t seen the email from Rod Lamberts (9 July) you may have missed that Rod has decided to step down as President, due to health reasons.

This was not a decision I made lightly. I had some large and shiny plans for the ASC back in November last year and was enjoying the opening phases of enacting these with the ASC Executive and National Council. But having weighed up what’s possible for me, and what’s fair and practical for the ASC, the only reasonable path was for me to stand aside and let someone else take the lead.

This has been a reluctant decision, and speaking on behalf of the Executive members, and I’m sure the rest of the membership, we all feel for Rod in his situation.  We wish him the best and the Executive is glad to report that Rod will stay on the Executive and attend meetings when he can.

After discussions within the Executive and National Council (the representatives from our branch committees) I have agreed to take on the role of Acting President until the AGM. This will be a joint effort really, with Will Grant, Vice President and others in the Executive sharing the load.

As I said in my email to the list recently, this is an exciting time for the ASC. We are ramping up to the 2014 conference and will shortly be calling for expressions of interest to run sessions at the conference (keep an eye on the ASC website and Scope newsletter for updates). This event is a key pillar of the ASC associations objectives and will deliver a range of benefits, primarily to members, but also wider communities interested in science and the communication of its impacts on society.

We are also, with Will’s leadership, exploring what the future of ASC looks like with regards to professionalisation. So far, members have told us that becoming a professionalised association is something they would value. This is an important discussion and so we, on the Executive, invite your further thoughts.

I am also pleased to see that we have many enthusiastic writers working with our new Scope editor, Victoria Leitch, to bring new content to you all. This group effort has been specifically supported to encourage and harness the talent and passion of our members who want to contribute to ASC and help deliver as best we can as a volunteer association. This is a great opportunity for the writers – providing them with a tool to meet others, generate stories, build their profile and have their work delivered straight into the inbox of Scope subscribers. For all those who have been in touch to offer your time and enthusiasm, I thank you and look forward to enjoyable and rewarding projects ahead.

Another important recruitment is the general manager position – a vision shaped and implemented by the 2012 and 2013 Executives. We have received applications for this new role, which ultimately is aimed to deliver greater strategic partnerships, funding and the key projects.

I feel privileged to take on the role of president and look forward to meeting more of you over coming months. As always, your reflections on the ASC and how it is supporting or could better support its members are always welcome; either to me or your local branch reps.

The rise of the MOOC

Thanks to Brigid Mullane for her review of MOOCs.

MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses, are free courses from major universities around the world, available on the internet through platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX.

The first one I heard about was Coursera, and after reviewing its numerous offerings, I started in January this year with a course called Principles of Economics for Scientists from California Institute of Technology.  The title caught my attention because so many science issues have to be understood as economic issues as well, for example, climate change or the use of GMOs in crops.

I found that the course was not about the interaction of science and economics; the science tag related to the fact that students were expected to understand basic calculus to do the course, and many scientists would have this background.  The course dealt with economics using mathematical models, rather than in the descriptive way typical of many introductory economics courses.  Assignments were submitted weekly, and machine-marked.  The turnaround was immediate, with a grade, and an outline of how to solve each problem.  This was a great way to learn.

A feature of the course was an online trading game to help students understand the process of supply and demand in a market.  Unfortunately the system crashed on the first attempt, and so the game had to be abandoned as a component of the course assessment.  However, later in the course, after some repairs, the game was run again as an optional exercise.  This worked mechanically, but the market collapsed because some virtual banksters were going into virtual overdraft, and paying crazy prices for tokens.

Next, having seen how easily markets can be destroyed, I started to think about food security, and signed up in July for the course Sustainability of Food Systems, from the University of Minnesota.  It covers topics of interest to me such as food choices, industrial food production and the effects of national agricultural policies.  The assignments include open-book quizzes on reading assignments, so it would be difficult not to get full marks.  The other assignments involve various projects which are to be reported as forum posts, and we are also asked to comment on, or uptick the contributions of our fellow students.

Comparing the two courses, I’d rate the economics course higher.  Despite that trading game problem, and a few other bugs, it was a great opportunity to brush up on economics, confirm that I could still do some calculus, and hear from students around the world on the course forum.  The food course seems to be pitched more at high-school than university level.  This might have something to do with the need for assignments to be machine-marked for a massive student body, which precludes giving students the more demanding assignments that might be part of a regular course.

Students do not receive credit from the teaching institutions, but for most courses a Statement of Accomplishment is awarded to those who complete the requirements.  For a better class of certificate, Coursera students can join a program called Signature Track.  For this the students are asked to create profiles by recording their typing patterns and taking webcam photos of themselves and their ID documents.  Then they have to use a webcam while submitting assignments so that the system can confirm their identity, as well as their typing patterns.

This all seems very cumbersome and Big-Brotherish, and does not give university credit, but it does allow you to refer people to a website to confirm your course results.  The cost of this varies by course, and was USD29 to USD49 on a few I checked.  I noticed that a couple of these were discounted from a previous higher cost, so perhaps this is not a popular program.

On the question of actual course credit, a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2013, found that 72% of professors teaching online courses did not believe that students should get formal credit from their institutions.

So, it will take a while for universities to work out how MOOCs might be integrated into higher education.  Meanwhile, why not sign up for a free course and learn something new?