President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update.


National Science Week

There is currently a nearly manic preparation going on for National Science Week all around me. Every ASC member I know is readying themselves for a week plus of activity. To all of us I say ‘courage’ and ‘break a leg’.  It would be dangerous to give too many shout outs to activities by members in science week, but the breadth is staggering—from open science initiatives, live science comedy, curated evens, debates, demonstrations, panels, talks, and even the odd lecture. Check in with your local ASC branch—chances are after science week is over, you’ll need a debrief and someone with whom to compare notes. ASC channels will be open—Facebook, LinkedIn, the list, and some state branches are planning ‘recovery’ events.


‘State of the ASC’ 

The activity in National Science Week has been mirrored by activity at the ASC. I feel like we need a ‘state of the ASC’ address at the moment (‘the state of the nation’ in the US being still a bit befuddling to me). What I can say unequivocally is that the state of the ASC is strong. I want to communicate that clearly as we’ve done a lot of things to bolster the organisation—made our constitution legal, cleared our bookkeeping,  committed to pay an overdue tax burden, streamlined and reduced our costs at the national level—and, of course, raised membership fees. Raising membership fees is an unpleasant thing to do. I don’t love it. But being able to continue to be the professional association for science communicators and science journalists is important and the fact is, we hadn’t raised the fees soon enough. The ASC now has a plan forward and will have the funds to meet that plan and return value to the membership (in addition to actual money for grants!). This plan includes the ‘meet the members’ that Kali Madden has been running—I love to listen to these (usually after the fact). It included our successful Brisbane conference…and ‘teaser’, the plan for next year’s conference (soon to be announced!). It includes the support we’ve given to local branches for events (congrats to SA for a great storytelling event) as well the fantastic grants program that we’re able to offer our members again this year…see this month’s issue of SCOPE!! It includes maintaining our list (not as trivial as it sounds)—we have an active stream of job ads coming through and our social media (I confess to being a lurker) where the discussions are excellent bellwethers of where our field is at.  And, we are planning a re-launch of the ASC website, supported by the efforts of Bianca Nogrady, award-winning science journalist. So, I’ve just renewed my membership alongside my colleagues.  I hope you’ll renew yours. And get ready for the e-cocktail parties coming your way as another addition to our networking at ASC.


Getting involved

So, I’m fascinated by the data that suggests while social media is important, we also want to feel engaged IRL—that is, live events, experiences, social engagement is still important for well-being, creativity, critical engagement.  I hope that someone reading this will see the ASC as a place to be engaged IRL. I find the colleagues I meet through the ASC valuable to my professional life, but also to feeling of a network that has a set of agendas to pursue. ASC is doing well again; let’s kick it up to the next level with some of the skills and passion that you have as a member. We’re a couple months out from our AGM (and so are the State branches). If you’re not actively involved in some way (it’s OK to lurk in some outlets, but in every format???), this could be the time. As always, let me know if you have thoughts about what ASC can do for you, or what you can do for the ASC, I’d look forward to hearing them.


President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update.

We’ve been living through ‘interesting times’ — an election that seemed to go on forever, even after the voting, and then there is Brexit and watching the US unravel. If you’re in a funk, I’m with you. But, Kate Driver at Questacon brightened a recent day with an email about a keynote that she heard at the 2016 Ecsite conference; ASC members in the museum and science centre context will recognise this as the conference for the European Network of Science Centres and Museums. Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, President of African Gong, gave the keynote and identified a range of issues for the science centre world (and popular science in general) that resonated and challenged me to think through my funk and about the issues of globalization, racism, and gender equality in relation to science. It’s worth a listen/watch on Youtube.

And the rumblings of the great machine of ASC coming to life ahead of National Science Week can already be heard far and wide. I’m looking forward to it this year… let’s keep the ASC list hopping with announcements about what we’re doing. And, let’s also make some time to talk about what we’re doing, how, why, and how well it all went.

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update.

Ever had that deja vu all over again feeling? Overseas colleagues sent me a link to an article in The Conversation (probably to wind me up—you know who you are!). You can find the article here.

What can I say? First, let me be clear—I find the research by Besley and Dudo to be interesting from afar. But, I don’t think it reflects reality in the Australian context. In short, I’ll argue here for American exceptionalism in science communication—as in Americans are exceptionally obsessed with science literacy and have been for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with improving science literacy. However, I would guess that a repeated study in Australia would not find that Australian ‘trainers’ gauge success by ‘giving people information’ and ‘correcting misinformation’. Now, I know this is just anecdote from the ASC perspective, but the training I’ve seen is about a lot of other things—dialogue, engagement, awareness, wonder, reframing—you name it. Anybody want to join me in a follow up study on this from an Australian point of view?

President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President update.

Can it be prize season again?
As much as it terrifies me that another year has come round, I’ve spent some time over the last week looking at nominations for some of the national prizes — the Eurekas, FameLab — to just name two. It’s pretty inspiring what is happening in Australia — I’m genuinely keen to hear who is going to win the inaugural prize for innovation in Citizen Science. The bar is getting higher and the communicators associated with the projects that I’ve seen have been doing a stellar job, and one that should be rewarded (as well as awarded).

Glass ceiling for science communicators?
The point about rewarding science communication was put to me rather pointedly this last week when a colleague mused that he thought there was a ‘glass ceiling’ for science communicators’ remuneration. Once you get to a certain level, you really can’t go further and need to branch out (into consulting for example) or re-orient your work (into science policy, say). This is as discouraging as the award season is encouraging. I’m interested in how this looks internationally and will have a look around and find out if anyone has any data on this — if you are aware of any, let me know! ( I hope to report back in next month’s SCOPE.

Sharing amazing science stories at FameLab 2016

Thank you to Sarah Lau for the post.

I recently had the honour of MCing the WA semi-final of FameLab 2016 at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

FameLab sees early career researchers share their research in a three minute presentation – using everything from props to poetry, but certainly no PowerPoint!

Beginning in 2005 at the Cheltenham Science Festival, FameLab has grown through a partnership with the British Council to include over 5000 researchers in more than 25 countries, becoming one of the leading international science communication competitions.

In WA, the 12 competitors spent the day leading into the semi-final in an intensive science communication workshop with leading science communicators and broadcasters (and ASC luminaries), including Frankie Lee, Renae Sayers and Kylie Sturgess.

The evening then lit up with the finalists showcasing a diversity of styles and topics to an appreciative audience.

The judging panel had the challenge of evaluating each presenter and presentation on ‘content, clarity and charisma’.

It was a tough call, but the winner of the WA semi-final was Mahmoud Bassal from The University of South Australia, with ‘The Cancer Conundrum’, about genetic and metabolic changes in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Mahmoud also took out the Audience Choice Award.

The runner–up was Toby Brown from ICRAR-University of Western Australia and Swinburne University, with ‘Chasing Shadows’, about how dark matter shapes our Universe.

Programs such as FameLab are important in promoting excellence in science communication and demonstrating the many benefits of communicating research in interesting and accessible ways.

On a personal level, it is a very rewarding experience to be part of a program which helps early career researchers build their communication skills to expand the reach and impact of their research.

If you are in WA this week, you can see some of Australia’s best and brightest early career researchers share their work at the national FameLab final at the WA Museum in Perth on 5 May 2016.

FameLab 2016

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the update.

Still taking the conference in…

I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years and fashions in conferencing certainly change—there is a ‘pre-conference’ mania, the 4 day multi-streamed headspin, the International plenary shock-and-awe—and this year the ASC went for a one-day plenary with wide but high-quality programming, association with the World Festival of Science, and opportunities for networking. I haven’t had that much fun and been so engaged in a conference in a fair while.

I am still sitting with a copy of David Throsby’s “Economics and Culture”—in a great session curated by Lisa Bailey at RiAus, Professor Throsby and colleagues, Professor Julian Meyrick and Dr Tully Barnett—really put the question to science communicators about how much our industry is worth and how best to express that (hint:  not in dollars).  This question of the value of science communication and value in science communication is just so important.  I’m reminded of Dr Melanie McKenzie who said to me, “and who decides what value science communication has, anyway?” Indeed. I’m sorry she isn’t alive to help me in my reflections on that conference session, but for me, it was a turning point for the field. WE need to articulate our value—in a narrative—and not be bullied by dollar signs.

I’m also really appreciative of the session Heather Catchpole curated with the best of new modes for doing science communication—in video, through art, in journalism, with obvious passion.

You can read our Chief Scientists opening speech here, but what you can’t read is the obvious affiliation he has with science communication. Sometimes we need to recognize when we have an advocate who ‘gets it’. Our current Chief Scientist ‘gets’ science communication.

What next?

We’d like to come off this high of this conference with a plan for the next.  So, if your organisation would like to make a day-plenary conference happen again, let us know. We’re looking for bidders for the next ASC conference.  Multi-streamed, shock-and-awe, plenary…pitch us!

President’s update

Thanks to Joan Leach for the update.

The Conference is just about now!

I spent a very productive hour this week listening to the new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, AO, give his maiden speech at the press club. I’m now looking forward even more to his plenary opening of the ASC conference in Brisbane on the 11th… 11.00 am. Actually, it strikes me that the national press club has not one, but three (!!) featured science sessions this month. After the Chief Scientist, Alan Alda is speaking. Finally, there is a ‘women in science’ panel to round out the month. Science meets Parliament also looked to be a big success again this year. And the World Festival Science is heating up. Then, there’s the gravitational waves that must be coursing through us even as you read this. So a lot of buzzy things happening. I hope to see you in Brisbane!

Event review: That time we talked about sex at a networking event

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Written by Sarah Keenihan

How can we survive and stay sane as professional scientists and communicators in a world where the public appetite for science may wane and wax with each new Prime Minister?

How do you get a foothold writing or podcasting or presenting science content when you don’t know what sorts of material people want to read or listen or watch, and what is already out there?

How can you meet people who work as science communicators tucked away as individuals in teeny offices within institutions, people who have the same professional drives and challenges and needs as you?

By networking.

With a new members on board and expectations high for exciting ASC times moving into 2016, a networking and end-of-year celebratory event was held by the SA committee in Adelaide in December 2015.

This session was designed quite simply to give attendees the opportunity to meet and make friends with people who are inspired by science and its communication.

And we had an ice-breaker: the 2014 Unsung Hero of Science Communication Winner, Michael Mills. Attending as his alter-ego the singing palentologist Professor Flint, Michael gave us:

“A brief and hilarious history of the role of sexual reproduction in increasing species biodiversity, the evolution of it’s associated rituals, and the strange, and sometimes awkward parallels this has for humans when engaged in networking activity!”

Awks, right? I mean, who wants to even put networking and sex in the same sentence? Well, it worked. Professor Flint convinced us that perhaps with a few tips from nature, through networking we might yet move forward to new and exciting collaborations in the world of science communications.

He told us:

The person you’re talking to might be the one who helps you get your dream project to the next step.

How do you find out?

You find out by being bold, by making the move, by singing the song, by being preemptive, by inviting them into your love garden and maybe going into their love garden too.

You may be a part of someone else’s dream. And equally they may be a part of yours.

The ‘love garden’ bit is a science reference, and relates to…oh never mind, I guess you had to be there.

A great crowd of around 50 people was in attendance, with some old and many new faces. Our new committee member Bowie (Matthew, not David sob) had the great idea of bringing along some colleagues from the Ecological Society of Australia conference also in town. It’s great to hear outsiders’ perspectives from time to time.

The formal networking aspect of the evening commenced by people moving along seats at tables every 3 minutes, but then progressed to more casual conversations at the bar and around the place.

It was fun, it was loud, and it was different to anything we’d done before.

We look forward to a great 2016 as a local committee, and as a part of our national body of Australian Science Communicators that is establishing a new way forward to help us all communicate science in novel and impactful ways.


ASC Grant write-up: Emma Donnelly visits ABC Radio National

I would like to thank Australian Science Communicators offering me a grant to subsidise my work experience with an ABC Radio National program where I spent a week in November 2015. I was extremely fortunate to be awarded The Peter Pockley Grant for Professional Development in Investigative Journalism.

Based in Brisbane (I am from Perth), my internship enabled me to work with the program team who coordinate and run ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’.

Conversations is an immersive experience. The format is simple: an hour spent in the life of someone else. To quote their Facebook page “’Conversations with Richard Fidler’ draws you deeper into the life story of someone you may have heard about, but never met. On any given day ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ might take you from a remote Chinese village, to inside the cockpit of a space shuttle, to a family home in the middle of a war zone, to a hospital on the side of an African volcano, to the mysteries of the human brain, or to the pitch of the MCG. ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ is funny, provocative and often deeply moving.

My experience at the ABC was all of these things.

Running for over 10 years, the small team of four do an amazing job. While based in Brisbane, they spend much of the year traveling to writer’s festivals and other cities to access guests to interview. Their output and the product they create is astonishing. The program has won several awards including being named iTunes Australia’s ‘Best Classic Podcast” and ‘Most Downloaded Podcast’ 2015.

When visiting it was clear that they are all extremely passionate about sharing the stories of Australians and others – whether they be famous, infamous, a relatively unknown person, or just an Aussie with an amazing life story or tale to share.

Pam O’Brien is Senior Producer of the program was my supervisor for the week and was so very generous with her time, particularly considering how busy she is.

During the week I gained experience in pitching stories for the show, the intricacies of an outside broadcast, putting a show to air, how to use the media program and database, researching for the show, how guests are selected and how putting together scripts for the show.

During my internship week ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ guests were widely varying and included:

The whole experience was a thrill and a privilege. It consolidated information and communication skills I already had while teaching me many new things too.

I’d like to once again thank the ASC for supporting this once in a lifetime experience. I am an enormous fan of ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ and the work they do, so it was a dream come true!

If you have a story that you think should be told, or know someone whose experiences and work could make for good listening. ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’ might be an interesting vehicle for the story. You can submit your idea/suggestion via their website.

I’d also like to encourage those who may not have listened to any of Richard’s podcasts to get online and listen to one or two. With over 10 years of programming you have more than 1500 stories, all free, to download.

If you would like to listen to a more science related topic, I can recommend the following: How Creswell Eastman saved a million brains.

Cres Eastman was one of the guests I researched and whose file I worked on.

Storytelling is an ancient means for sharing information and there is an art to it. If we can start telling more stories that showcase science, it can only be a good thing. Humans connect with stories and remember them. It’s inbuilt in us.

The more science stories out in the world, especially those that present scientists or people working in the field of STEM as “regular” people or provide science in a real-life context, the better. It’s another way we can communicate science and the paths that people in science have taken to get to where they are. As you all know, a science degree can take you many places, and through vehicles like this one we can demonstrate the diversity of where science can take you and how it connects with everyday lives. This medium can link with audiences who may not normally consider how science effects them and can connect with those disengaged from science.

Let’s start telling more stories for science!

If you would like to hear more about my experience or have any questions, please feel free to contact me via

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update

Somehow, it’s February already. And if you are doing an austere February to atone for the festive season, make sure its finish is well-timed so we can enjoy some festivities together in Brisbane in March.

On March 11, we’ll be getting together for a one-day conference in the midst of the exciting World Festival of Science. We’re trying something a bit different after our feedback from our previous conference–attendees told us that they like plenary sessions and they like opportunities to network. So, we’ve packed a program that we hope has something for everyone and will continue the ‘big’ conversations in the field.  By request, we have a plenary session ‘Beyond Beginner’ which is going to push us to think a bit harder about the value of science communication *now*.  We’re having a panel with leading journalists, some visiting for the festival to check in with us on trends and where science journalism is going–this is a must-see panels for science writers and for communicators. We’ve got Walkley award-winners, Future fellows, a PM-prize-winner…and I’m looking forward to soaking up what these thought leaders have to say.

We’ll be confirming our keynotes in the next week or so–we’ve aimed high, so as all of you who plan events know, we’re working hard with schedulers. We’ll send out a special note as soon as our stars are in place!

I’ve really been enjoying the ‘meet the members’ sessions online–I tend to have to catch them ‘after the fact’ but it’s great to know what draws people to science communication–and keeps us in the field!  Inspirational and provocative stuff.  Keep an eye out on the list–we’re doing these on Thursdays 6pm (EST).

As ever, contact me with ideas, your thoughts, and tell me what you’re thinking.