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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 emmadonnelly22@yahoo.com.au.

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.

President’s Update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s Update

Happy 2016!

Having just completed an interstate move and changed jobs, 2016 seems like a rather fresh start — I find myself more optimistic than usual (academics being prone to a bit of cynicism, I suppose).

Going into the holiday, I was buoyed by a quick trip across the Tasman for the SCANZ conference. The program was smart and engaging and it was also well attended by ASC members so it was great to catch up in Wellington. Plans were already afoot for the 2018 PCST conference in Dunedin. I look forward to talking with ASC members to see how we’d like to get involved.

The SCANZ conference was kicked off by the Minister for Science and Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce. I was struck by how central science communication was in his innovation vision for NZ. He also discussed awards and incentives for great communicators and for science communication initiatives. His message seemed very much in line with the innovation message we’re currently hearing in Australia.

My hope is that after a strong presence by the Prime Minister at the 2015 PM’s prizes for science and the appointment of Alan Finkel as Chief Scientist who is well aware of the value of science communication and science journalism, our advocacy for science communication and recognition for quality work will not fall on deaf ears!

Back to the topic of the SCANZ conference — the plenary sessions focussed on citizen science as well as NZ’s myriad programs communicating environmental issues, Antarctic science, and basic research. It was inspiring — and the plenary format meant that science communication and journalism colleagues across sectors could respond and discuss questions and issues all together. We’ll try to follow our Kiwi colleagues lead in March in Brisbane. I really enjoyed the interaction across the diversity of science communication, journalism, policy, academic research. Congrats to Christine Ross, outgoing President of SCANZ, for a great conference.

Since I am overwhelmed by the listicle at the moment (‘5 ways to really stick with your New Year’s resolutions this year’) I thought I’d share my own: 3 top trends (in addition to the “innovation agenda”) I look for in science communication in 2016:

1. Citizen Science is hot. Now, most of us have been involved in some way with initiatives for a long time, but now the rest of the world loves it! As I unpacked my boxes from my move, I found my 1995 copy of Alan Irwin’s Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development. It will repay another read! The idea has morphed in the last 20 years, but even a scan while hunched over a pile of books was revealing. So, if we love the idea of citizen science, why is citizen journalism more problematic (I think it is)? Does the current focus on getting people to do scientific activities preclude getting people to think about controversial science? Anyway, these discussions are coming our way and I look forward to them.

2. ‘Engagement’ may be a dead metaphor by the end of 2016: For a fun read, try http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2015/dec/17/public-participation-science-technology-failure-to-launch

3. Native content advertising is going to drive a lot of science communication: OK, so this is a special interest of mine so I see it everywhere at the moment. But, some of the journalists I most respect are doing very good work… but paid for by Universities and other institutions (and of course, corporate sponsors). I’m not willing to say ‘this is terrible, this is the end of the world…’  but it’s a trend. I want to understand it. So, I hope this year we can have an open discussion on this… the good, the bad, the ugly… the science listicle.

I hope ASC members had a great end to 2015 and are optimistic about 2016.

Professor Joan Leach

ASC President

President’s update

ASC—its future

  • Conference! Brisbane, 11 March 2016
  • We are focused on serving members better
  • Fees to rise following epic audit

Executive Summary

Australian Science Communicators is the national forum for science communicators and science journalists. We are independent from government and run by members, for members.

Going forwards, our mission is to:

  • Better support our national network of science communicators and science journalists by providing professional development and networking opportunities;
  • Increase our direct support for branches and members located in both metropolitan and regional areas; and
  • Strengthen partnerships and relationships with our corporate members, partner organisations and key stakeholders.

In recent times, volunteer-driven associations like the ASC have come under pressure from growing operating costs and a greater need for regulatory compliance. Some have failed to overcome these challenges and have ceased to exist.

For this reason, throughout the past year we have invested a lot of time and effort into ensuring our finances and regulatory compliance are robust and up to date. Recently, this process came to an end and we have been given a clean bill of health after a professional audit and bookkeeping services.

Free of risk and uncertainty in these areas, the association has a strong platform on which to grow, but we do have some challenges to overcome.

This month the ASC executive, along with nominated representatives from state branches, met in Canberra for a special general meeting, a 2-day strategy meeting and our 2015 AGM. During these discussions we scrutinised the ASC’s operations, reworked the constitution and developed a strong plan for the future. I thank the branch and committee representatives for their time and energy in helping define the future of ASC.

  1. We now have a legal constitution – over the years and in response to all kinds of issues, the constitution had been ‘tinkered with’, with parts added and removed. Unfortunately, because of the shape it was in, our not-for-profit status was very much at risk. Thanks to Toss Gascoigne for his time in helping us craft a compliant constitution and lodging it.
  2. We have had a robust audit of the ASC finances (18 months in the doing). We’ve updated our processes and identified areas where we need to change or even eliminate suppliers and services. Importantly, we now know where we stand financially and at this month’s AGM were able to present the financials and show that the ASC cannot survive based on its current membership dues. Thank you to Pete Wheeler, our treasurer, and Kali Madden, our executive officer, for getting ASC in a much better place after a white-knuckle ride.
  3. The strategy meeting was incredibly useful for talking about what members want and how, as a volunteer organisation, we can deliver that. Here were the key discussions and outcomes:
    1. Networking. The ASC is a valuable network of communication professionals, academics, freelancers, students, and journalists.  We want to better support the network and bolster the channels through which we communicate as a network. ASC has one of the best mailing lists (as in listserve) in the science engagement world.  Through it our members announce events, job opportunities and occasionally have heated discussions. We also have a Facebook group, individual Facebook pages, and 2 LinkedIn groups (one public, one private). Then there’s the ASC website which supports members and we’re also currently hosting various other sites with premier content that our members want (sciencengage, no funny business etc.). These activities all have associated costs for which we now need to budget.
    2. Conference. We’ll be holding our next conference in 2016 on March 11 at QUT’s fabulous ROOM360 (for the views it has over Brisbane) during the World Festival of Science.  The conference is an extremely valuable networking and professional development activity, but it is volunteer driven and like any national conference has significant costs involved to make it happen.
    3. Professional Development. In the past year we have initiated a professional development grants program that has already generated benefits for members around the country. We want to expand this, and again it requires time, energy and some funding to make that possible.
    4. Webinars. ASC has the capacity to host web based events on topics of interest to our members. As part of our commitment to delivering benefits to members wherever they may be, we will be rolling out 6 of these across 2016.

However, our finances reveal that the ASC has been operating at a loss for some years, propped up by extraordinary and unsustainable volunteerism generating some profit from conferences.  We cannot continue to do this—it undervalues the ASC and the important work that our members do.  This means the cost of membership needs to increase for the ASC to be a viable association that can actually support branches and members.  We are still committed to our non-profit status, but it is illegal for non-profits to operate at a loss. We need to be sustainable and set the membership fee at a sustainable level.  So, as of 1 January 2016 the new membership fee will be $185.00 for members, $85.00 for students and associates.  We will honour current rates until then.

We appreciate that some members will be disappointed by an increase in their membership fees. But at this critical time for the ASC, we hope that the majority of members will choose to show their support by renewing their memberships and in so doing, help us to build a better, more sustainable and professional association that can deliver greater outcomes for professional science communicators and science journalists throughout the country. Of course, we would like to be thoughtful about our approach and we invite comment from members by emailing members@asc.asn.au.

Thanks to all for your ongoing support.

Professor Joan Leach

ASC President


President’s Update

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

Save the date! 11 March 2016

I’m very pleased to announce that the next ASC conference will be in Brisbane in March 2016. We have tried to tie in our next meeting with the World Festival of Science so that our members who are involved can make their travel dollars go further. Also, we hope that as the WFS announces its program ASC members might satisfy their curiosity at the festival and enjoy networking time with ASC members as well. Our venue and program will be announced shortly. But, circle that date and plan to be in Brisbane. We’re going to organise the 2016 conference into one packed day for ASC and break out events during the World Festival of Science. More news coming…

Issues for AGM?

ASC is gearing up for its AGM and a SGM to consider the ASC constitution. If you have any queries you would like to put to me personally, please do so at j.leach@uq.edu.au. I’m also very interested to hear about colleagues who would like to join the executive of ASC so please get in touch if you’d like to get more involved.

Volunteer for Pint of Science!

Thanks Emma Ceccato for this opportunity!

Are you interested in sharing science with the public?

Do you enjoy relaxing with friends at the pub?

If the answer to both is YES, then Pint of Science Australia is for you!

Pint of Science is an international festival that aims to showcase the amazing research of local scientists to the general public in the relaxed venue of the local pub. In 2015, the Pint of Science Australia festival expanded to include Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane, hosting fantastic events over 3 nights.

For 2016 – we want to expand even more to include more themes and even more cities across Australia – and we need you!

Events in 2016 will take place from 23-25 May, and will incorporate the following themes: Beautiful Mind (neurosciences), Atoms to Galaxies (physics, chemistry) Our Body (life sciences) Planet Earth (geosciences) and Tech Me Out (engineering, computer science).

We are looking for volunteers for various roles: city coordinators, team coordinators, social media reps and fundraisers. Each team will source out a venue, speakers and activities for the night.

This is an incredible opportunity to be a part of our ever growing festival so if you are interested in getting involved, please register your interest here or email contact@pintofscience.com.au with what you’re keen to do, tell us a little bit about yourself and how we can best reach you.

ASC online shop

Thanks to George Aranda for the story behind the new ASC shop!

In October the ASC-Victoria organised an event for The Martian. To celebrate this event I asked James Hutson how he felt about putting together a t-shirt, around the great line in the film “I’m going to have to SCIENCE the shit out of this.” Unbeknownst to me, James had been involved in discussions with a previous incarnation of the ASC exec years ago, about the idea of putting together an online shop with all sorts of ASC merchandise. Chatting to the current ASC executive, they were all very keen to revisit the idea of an ASC shop, and the feedback from the ASC community on Facebook has been great. There have been a handful of sales, include several requests to increase or reduce the level of swearing on this first t-shirt.
Hopefully we can come up with more ideas for t-shirts and other items that can fill the ASC shop!
George Aranda wearing a T-shirt from the ASC online shop

George Aranda wearing a T-shirt from the ASC online shop

Event review: The Laborastory

Thanks to George Aranda for the event review!

“I had the good fortune of being part of a special edition of “The Laborastory” for National Science Week. The organisers of this local monthly staple of science storytelling stepped up and convened the event at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne’s CBD. Some 600 people turned up on the wintery evening to listen to science communicators such as myself, Chris Lassig, Katie Mack, Clare Hampson, and Teresa MacDonald. We talked about some of our favourite scientists in front of the church’s massive pipe organ, with projection artwork and a science choir (The Gaussian Ensemble). Great to be part of such a creative night of science communication, which was recorded, and the audio can be found at http://thelaborastory.com and video on Youtube.”

The Laborastroy, at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne’s CBD.

The Laborastroy, at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne’s CBD.

Some 600 people attended the event.

Some 600 people attended the event.


President’s Update

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

Award Season

Award season is well and truly underway—I was very pleased to be invited to the Eureka awards this year.  Citizen science, quality long-form science journalism, and generally good science communication all got a shout out at the awards.  Next up, the Premier’s Prizes for Science.  While I’d like to see a named ‘science communication’ award in the mix, it is rewarding to hear quality science communication touted as a basic component to award-winning science.  And, yes, the Nobel prizes are also being revealed and with that perhaps there is an uptick in public recognition of science.  For an alternate take on how big prizes for science might backfire, I recommend this article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/03/opinion/the-folly-of-big-science-awards.html.  It re-ignites the age old argument that science progresses ‘on the shoulders of giants’ and, more than ever, is a collaborative enterprise.  Awards for a few, the author contends, are unjust given the hundreds of small discoveries that go into making a big one.

Strategic Planning and AGM

The ASC Executive and members of the National Council are going to huddle in Canberra in November to make sure the ASC constitution is compliant with the rules for organisations, check in on our finances, and set some goals for the next few years.  This will happen right before the AGM—we’ll be announcing that formally soon—but it looks like 18 and 19 November in Canberra. If you would like to put something on the agenda for the meeting, please let me know.