Rachael Vorwerk ASC Science Communicator Scope Interview

Why did you choose to study science?

Growing up in sunny Mildura played in a big part in my love of nature and the outdoors. We’d kayak, bike ride and swim in the summer and we’d go away every year to the Great Ocean Road. My Mum was a primary school teacher and she would often practice her experiments on my siblings and I first, before she’d take it into the classroom the next day. Pairing all that together, along with a very dedicated and supportive Year 12 biology teacher, I was off to study ecology and zoology at University.

 

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

I’ve got a couple of highlights. After Christmas one year, I worked with a polymer scientist and we took over CSIRO’s Instagram account to follow the story of a Christmas bon bon toy called Polly Myrrh, who was having an identity crisis and wanted to find out where she’d come from. So we did various experiments to test what kind of plastic she was, and finally reunited her with her family (in the correct recycling bin). On a more personal level, a highlight was presenting my Masters research at the Waste Education Conference last year. I researched how the first season of the War on Waste had so much impact, and along the way found out that ‘edutainment’ is a new passion of mine. I’ll be sharing the results at the ASC Conference in February.

 

Where has your career led you?

I’ve worked on a campaign to combat child labour in Fiji at Save the Children, published a story about how CSIRO scientists made the strongest material on earth (graphene) with soybeans, handled social media for scientists around Australia, written for the Australian Institute of Physics newsletter and helped increase the sightings of sawfish saws to help scientists identify past and future numbers of the species. Today I’ve moved into broader social change communication. I’m currently working as a Research Assistant on a project called 64 Ways of Being – which is like Pokémon Go, but for languages (stay tuned for the augmented reality app released in October 2020!). Alongside that, I am currently working as a communications consultant.

 

What excites you most about your work?

I love the potential that communication has to change the world for the better. My favourite process in any project is thinking about ‘okay, so if we could change people’s behaviour, what would that change in behaviour look like, and how can we use communication to make that happen?’. At the moment I’m interested in virtual reality, augmented reality and interactive games. These emerging technologies have so much potential to engage the public, to change their behaviour for the good.

 

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

Take any opportunities you can. For me I offered to write an article with two PhD ecologists at my university about socially acceptable conservation planning. It was later published in the environmental magazine Decision Point with my name on it. That was my first ever published article, and went straight into my portfolio (and yes, you should buy a portfolio, I use this.)

I also worked in internal communication at CSIRO (which at the time wasn’t in the ‘direction’ I wanted to head in because it wasn’t science), but this experience really helped me realise that I loved designing campaigns that changed people’s behaviour, regardless of whether it was science-related or not. Always take opportunities to broaden your skillset, because the worst that can happen is you don’t like it, then you can tick that off the list and refine what you do want to do in the future.

 

What are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your SciComm career?  

I used to say to myself that I could make any science story go viral if I tried hard enough. I still believe this today to some degree, but I’ve had to reign in my expectations a little. Sometimes this just isn’t realistic, but also, sometimes getting a story to go viral may not even be the objective. I’ve learnt this through working with scientists who want to get the attention of a particular industry, appeal to fellow researchers in their field, or get their fellow employees to better understand their work. I’ve come to learn that science communication isn’t always about the communication between the scientist and the public, it can be for many other audiences too.

The other challenge is to be realistic and take the time to acknowledge that you may have only been working in a job for three months, and maybe that’s why you don’t know everything yet. It’s not because you’re stupid, but it’s because you’re still learning, and that’s okay. And the most important thing to remember is to be nice to yourself!

 

President’s Update, January

Frequently ASC-ed questions

Most ASC activities happen at the state level through our branches.  So as we start 2020 and planning ahead, based on feedback from state branch organisers we’ve put together a handy short guide with answers to some basic questions that help make branches run, like:

  • How do we get funding?
  • How do you run an AGM?
  • Do we have public liability insurance?
  • What kind of communications channels are open to ASCers?

I’ve put together a first draft of a guide to help answer these questions, with links to lots of templates (e.g. treasurer’s report) and how to guides (how do you run an AGM?)
I hope you find it useful, and if you think of something missing, drop me a line to let me know president@asc.asn.au
Download the guide here

Also a reminder to:

 

President’s Update, December

As science communicators there are not many chances for our community to recognise and acknowledge the great contributors to Scicomm in Australia.  There are very few awards especially for science communication, with categories like the Eureka Prize for Promoting Science Understading going to researchers who actively engage in communication.  This is wonderful, as the work of STEM researchers who do this should be recognised and rewarded, but there’s not a lot of opportunity for recognition of science engagement practitioners per se.

The big exception to this is to congratulate Dr Karl on his outstanding achievement this year of being awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularisation of Science – the first Australian ever to receive the award.

But there’s so many people that work above and beyond at what they do, making huge impacts in the communities they work in.  These are the people that the ASC Unsung Hero of Science Communication award wants to celebrate.  So if you know of someone who maybe hasn’t got the recognition they deserve, nominate them now for our 2019 award, which will be announced at the ASC2020 Conference in February.

Details on nominations, including forms, can be found on the ASC website here. Nominations close 31 January 2020.

 

Written by Lisa Bailey

Vanessa Fuchs ASC Science Communicator Scope Interview

Why did you choose to study science?

I am completing a Master of Environmental Science at the University of Sydney and I only have one subject to finish in semester 1, 2020. The countdown is on! It’s been over four years of juggling part-time studies with full-time work but it has complimented not only my professional career, but also fulfilled my curiosity for learning on a personal level. I should clarify that I didn’t start my academic studies with science. I completed a dual Bachelor of Journalism and Business degree with a major in Advertising at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane in 2010. I chose these areas of study because I’ve always loved storytelling and influencing people to change the way they think. I grew up in an area which Google Maps calls a ‘rural village’ on the east coast of North Queensland called Alligator Creek. Needless to say, apart from the bush and the beach, there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. So my passion for nature and science began very early on as I loved to use my parent’s home video camera to create my own nature documentaries. Unfortunately, these embarrassing videos have resurfaced at my 18th and 21st birthday parties. Cringe! I always knew very early on that I only wanted to use my storytelling skills to create positive change – particularly in the environment space. That’s why I decided to compliment my communication studies and skill set with a Master of Environmental Science later on. I wanted to improve my scientific literacy and critical thinking and delve deeper into some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time on a technical level.

 

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

The best part of my career in SciComm has been launching, producing and presenting the science podcast at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney called Branch Out, which encourages people to discover the surprising world of plants. I started at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney as a Science Communicator in March 2018 and two months later I launched episode 1 ‘No Plants No Medicine’ which landed at #5 in the Apple Podcast Top Charts in the Science & Medicine category. I received amazing hands-on training with one of Australia’s best podcast producers, Miles Martignoni, for the first five episodes and now over 1.5 years later, I’ve made 25 episodes with over 68,000 downloads (and counting). Being presented with the opportunity to create this podcast has allowed me to interview all sorts of fascinating people both inside and outside of the organisation, including a NASA astronaut. I have been able to learn an entirely new skill set in podcast producing, interviewing and audio editing. Being able to get out of the office and immerse myself in all sorts of fascinating topics that I am interested in on both a professional and personal level is so rewarding.

Where has your career led you?

As I explained above, I knew very early on in my undergraduate studies that I only wanted to use my storytelling skills to change people’s attitudes, perceptions and behaviours to create positive change. I have predominantly worked for not for profit and government organisations that align with my own values throughout my career. I have only recently officially started my career in a Science Communication role but every career step I took throughout my professional journey brought me closer and closer to it. In 2016 and 2017 I was working at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage in a Public Affairs Officer role and I worked closely with the National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Science Division to create stories to highlight their projects. It wasn’t until I met a Science Communicator in the organisation that it clicked that this is the role I wanted and was always working towards. So, I became a member of the Australian Science Communicators, set up SciComm job alerts, kept working on my science stories and enrolled in the Master of Environmental Science at the University of Sydney. In March 2018, I landed the Science Communicator role at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney!

What excites you most about your work?

I have a particularly unique SciComm role at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, which allows me to present and produce podcasts, host Facebook live shows and set up amazing stories with media that receive national and international coverage. I really enjoy the challenge of bringing plant science to life as plants are often the runner up when it comes to stories about animals. So finding the story or the angle in new research that is going to captivate people is really fun. One of the most exciting stories I recently did was about a plant known commonly as ‘dog’s balls’ because it produces two red berries covered in soft hairs that hang from a short stalk – you get the picture! It was finally given a correct scientific name after almost 250 years but I used the hook of the cheeky name to capture people’s attention. Ladbible, Pedestrian and Brown Cardigan featured the story as well as a variety of other mainstream media across Australia. I really struggle with repetitive tasks so being able to have so much variety in not only the type of work I do but the content I get to unpack is so exciting.

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

I think it’s important to remember that while having a degree in communications and science is extremely helpful, I don’t think it is completely necessary to have both. For example, I work with so many scientists that are naturally amazing communicators and they just need to refine or learn a few new comms skills. Secondly, even though science communication is a niche field, it can still seem quite broad when you’re first starting out. There are so many different fields of communication you can specialise in and there are so many different areas of science to focus on too. For example, at the moment my main focus is plant science and using the podcast to tell those stories. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’re not sure what direction to go in, think about what you are good at and what you enjoy on both the communication and science side to help narrow your direction down.

What are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your SciComm career?  

As a media and communications professional, stepping into the science world can often be a little bit challenging when it comes to developing the trust and respect from scientists. This is where having the Master of Environmental Science has really helped. It has given me a little bit of what I always describe as ‘street cred’. Some scientists can be particularly challenging to work with because they either don’t see the value of media and communications or they are scared of it. I organised professional media training for science staff which helped to alleviate some of these issues. It also demonstrated to them the power of great communication to create awareness of their research. It’s also important to build up the scientists media skills for interviews slowly. For example, starting with written questions they can answer in their own time and building up to radio and television interviews. Being able to break down complex concepts without watering them down too much is another challenge but the Branch Out podcast engages everyone from the 7 year old to the scientist. I have overcome this by keeping a fun and curious approach to the sort of questions I ask and I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the podcast RadioLab.

ASC President’s update November 2019

President’s Update

25 years old!

The quarter-century milestone has prompted a time not just for reflection on the past, but consideration to the future challenges science communication faces in Australia.  I’ve had many interesting discussions in the last couple of months about the impacts of media fragmentation, how to engage audiences around new and emerging technologies, or what even the role of science communication is when it comes to averting environmental catastrophe.  Over 25 years there have been many ASC presidents, and I’ve reached out to collect some of the thoughts, hopes and fears of our illustrious alumni in response to the question

What are the biggest science communication challenges Australia faces right now and over the next decade?

Over the next couple of months, these will be published as a series on the ASC website, you can read the first in the series from our most recent past president, Craig Cormick, by pressing here.

 

Astha Singh ASC NSW President Scope Interview

 

Astha Singh – ASC October SCOPE interview

 

  • Why did you choose to study science?

The decision to study an undergraduate degree in science for me was led by interest and curiosity. I have been genuinely curious about scientific concepts, new technology, discovery and innovation. One of the most important factors for us to choose in our field of study is the impact of family, friends and peers. This was the case with me too, my family influenced this decision to pursue studying science and navigating careers in this industry. 

 

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

Generally speaking, I really enjoy meeting and speaking to talented and bright minds in STEMM. The experience of learning about their work is rewarding and inspiring. The finest experience in my Scicomm, science outreach and marketing journey so far has been the FameLab program by British Council, Australia. It was fascinating to work with the top scientists from all over Australia, learn about their research and be part of their coaching and mentoring through the program.  

The other aspect of my career that I enjoy the most is bringing people from a wide spectrum of backgrounds together. I believe that reassuring Diversity and providing opportunities to people from all communities, colours, languages and backgrounds is the key to tapping into the bright minds and talents that exist amongst us. 

 

  • Where has your career led you?

My career path has had a navigated journey so far. I manoeuvred my profession from academic science and research into the communications, marketing and media space of the STEMM industry. Currently, I work in the startup Centre of the University of Wollongong’s Innovation and Commercial Research called ‘iAccelerate’. At iAccelerate, I work with CEO’s and teams in over 60 diverse startups that have spun out from research initiatives, startup ideas and business plans that the local, regional and internationally based founders have come up with in recent times. I enjoy assisting people with technical and business acumen that have huge potentials to make impact, in turn generate opportunities for themselves, for the region and create employment. 

I also work towards multicultural initiatives and Diversity in STEMM advocacy as I’m passionate about this space. 

 

  • What excites you most about your work?

Promoting the wealth of talent that Australia holds in the STEMM industry and being part of the greater impact is what excites me the most. I love creating marketing campaigns, external media opportunities, public relations avenues for technology, ideas and people that are committed to creating impact. 

 

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

Do not be afraid of failure: it is but a stepping stone to success. Wear it like a badge of honour. Things didn’t always go my way during those PhD years, but I am not the first research scholar to say that! And even after, as I decided to manoeuvre my career into something different, all I got initially was a series of knockbacks. Those moments though, became a foundation for resilience and endurance, and motivated me to soldier on with the career pathway of my choice.

Never stop learning. I have taken this desire to learn, and the courage to ask questions, beyond the walls of university, constantly challenging myself with new opportunities and ideas. I don’t need to tell you that it is the simple desire to discover, that fuels science. For myself, I hope to maintain a childlike curiosity even as I grow into my sunset years!

There is no bias in this world. We make our own prejudices. As an international student, I came to realise early on that it is our attitude and response to circumstances that ensure how connected we become in a new place with new people. I strongly believe that diversity and inclusion open doors to empowerment and future leadership, for everyone. You will all have different circumstances but no matter what they are, Australia has and will continue to provide equal opportunities and a great start-line for a promising future – so give it all you’ve got!

Twitter- @asthasingh —— LinkedIn- www.linkedin.com/in/singhastha/

ASC President’s update October 2019

President’s update

Sci-com research presented at ASC2020 will be published with the Journal of Science Communication.
The research program committee have negotiated with the Journal of Science Communication, JCOM, to publish a set of commentaries from the ASC2020 conference.  Example of a commentary based around a conference can be found here.  A selection of papers for inclusion by commentary will be co-ordinated by the research program committee (noting that not all submissions will be selected).

This is an excellent opportunity for outcomes of the conference to be published in an academic journal.  We will now extend the deadline for submissions of research papers to Thursday 10 October to allow anyone who was unsure whether they should submit, to definitely submit by pressing here.

Thanks to all those who have submitted their proposals so far, we are looking forward to reviewing these as we finalise the program over the coming month.

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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.