Interview with Lee Constable

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

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

Why did you choose to study science? 

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

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

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

Where has your career led you?

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

What excites you most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASC President Update July 2019

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

Lisa Bailey, ASC President

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

Here are the rules:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President’s Update June 2019

Save the date – ASC Conference February 2020 announcement

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

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

More to come very soon!

Jillian Browning; ACT ASC President June Interview

Jillian Browning; ACT ASC President June Interview

 

  • Why did you choose to study science?

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

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

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

  • Where has your career led you?

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

  • What excites you most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

 

President’s Update May 2019

How should we celebrate 25 years of Australian Science Communicators?

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

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

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

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

World Conference of Science Journalists 2019

Deep sea mining, indigenous science, the future of space exploration—Journalism has never been more important to the future of our planet. Science and technology pervade all areas of modern reporting, including politics, foreign affairs and the economy.

Join journalism colleagues and top scientists from around the world to learn more about the future of journalism, science and policy in Lausanne, Switzerland from July 1-5, 2019.

The best place for any reporter, editor or science writer to brush up on their scientific credentials is at the 11th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2019) in Lausanne, Switzerland from 1-5 July.

Top scientists and journalists from around the world will come together for an extravaganza of learning and networking on the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne. Whether you are a seasoned science journalist or a student interested in science reporting, WCSJ2019 is for you.

WCSJ2019 offers:

  • 9 plenaries and keynotes
  • 50 parallel sessions
  • 35 field trips
  • 50 lab lunches
  • 10 science luncheons
  • 7 side-events and workshops

Register now at www.wcsj2019.eu and follow us on Twitter @wcsj2019eu

Members of the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) are offered a substantial discount on their registration for WCSJ19. Join ASC now to claim your discount and enjoy a range of other benefits: http://www.asc.asn.au/join/

President’s Update April 2019

How does Aussie science reporting rate?

Lisa Bailey, ASC President

The quality of Aussie science reporting? Average, if you ask a bunch of journalists who cover science, researchers themselves and science communicators.

A recent paper by Merryn McKinnon, Bronte Black, Sophie Bobillier, Kirsten Hood and Madeleine Parker from CPAS examined the perceptions of science media coverage by the stakeholders of science journalism in Australia. Overall the study, which interviewed 43 participants, found that the quality of Australian science reporting is average, “with any perceived lack of quality attributed to the changing landscape of the media with recent cutbacks and declining numbers of specialised science journalists.”

Encouragingly, the scientists in this study no longer felt any stigma from being involved in publicly communicating their work through engagement with the media. Things have certainly changed in the last 15 years, with scientists stating that they saw a need for them to be engaged with the public. Researchers also had a positive view of science communicators, seeing value in their role in facilitating interactions with the media.

The use of Press Releases was one of the most common ways for science communicators to gain media attention, with most using a mixture of approaches including personal connections or providing reporters with rich media packages including video and images. The extent to which press releases are used, in some cases almost verbatim, contrasted between journalists who work for online or syndicated media outlets and those who freelance. Freelancers were less likely to say that their use of press releases had recently changed, however online journalists said they now use press releases more than they did five years ago ‘because online the currency is eyeballs, so you have to produce a lot of fresh content every day, so you’re relying on those press releases’.

Given this reliance on press releases as, at minimum a starting point, and in some cases, most of the actual news story itself, a system for ensuring that press releases are free from hype and easy to interpret would be a great help for both journos and readers. Famously a 2016 study found that the main source of hype stemmed from the press releases themselves. The UK Science Media centre last year started trialling a Press Release labelling system for new research – originally designed for health and medical reporting, the three categories would indicate:

  1. Is the research peer reviewed or not peer reviewed?
  2. What type of evidence is used to support claims? (eg Randomised control trial, observational study)
  3. What was the subject of the study? (eg humans, animals, cells)

The system in the UK is currently voluntary, but has been taken up by at least 5 charities and 20 universities since June 2018. It’s also being used by at least 5 major journal publishers including The Lancet, BMJ, Cell Press and PLOS.

The Australian Science Media Centre wants to bring this labelling system to Australia to integrate it as part of their SciMex platform for journalists. Ideally the labelling would be consistent with the already internationally recognised system, but this would require further training for Australian stakeholders.

Where has SciCom taken you?

Feature Interview with Lisa Bailey, ASC President

Lisa Bailey reflects on her experiences working in Science Communication (SciCom)

Where has SciCom taken you Lisa?

Weird places I didn’t expect SciCom to take me – that time in 2011 when I was 5 months pregnant, in Coober Pedy with a solar car, holding 3.4kg of solid gold that is the Melbourne Cup (that was really a thing that happened – the Melbourne Cup was on tour and that coincided with our visit to Coober Pedy with the solar car challenge) (see image).

So why did you choose to study science?

I was one of those kids who was always interested in science. I was a teenager in the 90s, so I basically wanted to be Scully from the X-files.

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

The friends I made along the way…. really, I have worked with some amazing, funny and talented people. One of the things I’m really proud of is SCINEMA International Science Film Festival. I started producing that at The Royal Institution of Australiain 2016, and by 2018 it had grown to be one of the largest National Science Weekevents in the country, with over 500 screenings around the nation. I love it because it was designed specially to make it easy for anyone to take part in science week, and the range of films we were able to curate was always so varied.  

And where has your career led you?

All over! In the literal sense it’s been wonderful in that I’ve had the opportunity to work both in the UK and Australia. I’ve been able to follow the World Solar Car Challengefrom Darwin to Adelaide, run SCINEMAin cinemas all over the country, been in the Prime Minister’s Office at the PM’s Science Prizes.

I started out doing a lot of public engagement programming – loads and loads of science events. So many. The last few years I’ve gone from science writing and film festival management, to teaching academic writing and teaching a University SciComm course, to Exhibition Manager at MOD at UniSA, a new museum in Adelaide.

What excites you most about your work?

I still love learning, and I think for any science communicator that’s obviously a huge part of what you are doing – being able to dig in deep to a field or topic, or even just an individual study, to be able to parse the relevance for your target audience. I love being able to talk with researchers about their work, what excites them about it and how they hope it can make a difference in the world. That, and then seeing your program in action and someone ‘getting it’ – even if it’s not for the reason you thought! I always use the story of a nanotechnology event I ran years ago now, where a truck driver had heard me speaking on the radio about the event that day and had driven several hundred k’s to the event that evening. Afterwards he came up and thanked me, he enjoyed the event because his son was studying nanotechnology and he had no idea what it was, but now he felt he understood it a bit more and could have a conversation with his son about it.

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

Join ASC! I have to say that as President, but honestly, I have found the network and personal friendships I’ve made through my involvement in ASCso beneficial. It really helps to be able to bounce ideas off people with a vast array of experiences in dealing with institutions, audiences, difficult topics, funding challenges. On a practical level it’s also a great network through which to find jobs when they’re shared through the list or Facebook group. I also say now that for anyone who is interested in science communication there’s no reason to wait for it to be your paying job to get experience. There are so many avenues for students to gain experience in SciCom through programs like FameLab, Fresh Science, 3MTand all the other various avenues for developing your communication skills. Gaining experience through a range of avenues can prove to an employer that you do have what they’re looking for, even if you’re moving into SciCom from another field. If you’ve kept a food blog running, or managed social media for a club through uni, or set up your own podcast reviewing Netflix shows, it shows that you’re familiar with the technology and the principles of scheduling, producing and building and nurturing an audience or community.

And lastly, what are some of your greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your SciCom career?

It took me a while to value the skills that I brought to a workplace or project as a science communicator. Some things that we take for granted, like considering things from the audience perspective first, really are not the frame that organisations or academics bring! So understanding what I was good at, and how that adds value for the teams I work with, has been something I’ve only really started to understand properly in the last few years. I had a massive case of imposter syndrome when I was asked to start lecturing in Science Communication!

I think one of the other challenges has always been that gap between what you’d love to be able to do, or what you know is most likely to work, and the resources and funding you have available to make it happen. That’s not unique to SciCom, it’s common in any scientific endeavour really. And tight resources can lead to some really creative thinking.

Science in The Pink City

2018 ASC grant recipient Linda Hales reports on her recent trip to the lab tours in Toulouse

How do you get an arachnophobe to stand in a small room next to a big glass container of spiders? One way to lure them in is by simply saying there’s interesting research being done in that room. That, combined with the fact I knew I wouldn’t hear the French scientist properly if I stood in the hallway, is how I found myself squeezed up next to a table in a little room with a collection of international journalists and a bunch of social spiders.

The lead researcher explained that unlike most of the thousands of species of spiders in the world, social spider species coexist peacefully (painting pictures of webs metres wide, filled with tens of thousands of happy arachnids, while I suppressed the urge to madly brush down my crawling skin). But scientists don’t understand the drivers of much of their behaviour. Even when they’re starving, why don’t they turn to cannibalism? Why do solitary spiders ‘lose’ their early social tendencies? Why are social spiders only found in tropical and subtropical areas? Combined with a deep shame at the thought of admitting to being an Australian zoology grad afraid of a crawling creature, it was fascinating enough to keep me still.

This was just one of many research groups we were introduced to during the laboratory tours at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition: we watched a little bee working out the fastest way to fly between a garden of ‘flowers’ holding sugar solutions; saw some robots that have been programmed to school like fish; tried a virtual reality tour of a termite nest; and were introduced to the famous, clever, brainless, slime mould (or the “blob,” which 2018 European Science Writer Award finalist Nathaniel Herzberg wrote about for Le Monde).

The lab tours were part of attending the European Conference of Science Journalists and European Science Open Forumin Toulouse, in July 2018.

The Pink City was absolutely buzzing, although sweltering—full of scientists, journalists, and people shouting at TVs screening the World Cup. The week had kicked off with the journalist conference on a Sunday, which included discussions on science journalism in an authoritarian context, the strengths and limitations of philanthropically funded journalism, whether true independence can be maintained with increasing numbers of science journalists also working as science communicators, and more.

I spent Monday to Saturday at ESOF—writing about thediscovery of the first complete skull of the mastodon species Gomphotherium pyrenaicum(for Cosmos), and sitting in on discussions ranging from cities of the future to science communication in the Nordics, and whether poetry can help people connect with science on a more emotional level. I met some wonderful people who I hope to see again at conferences in the future.

Although there were inevitable discussions on the challenges facing science journalism and science communication that flowed over from conference sessions into social events (put a bunch of science journalists together and they’ll keep talking science and journalism) there was a persisting thread underneath these. For better or worse, most people at events like these are addicted to the area. In one breath there’s funding cuts to science or newsrooms, but in the next is what everyone is investigating now. You’ll hear the reasons they’re still in their field: chasing stories, digging into studies, questioning findings, talking to interesting people. Asking questions, and always learning something new. It’s enough to keep anyone in a room with spiders.

Click here for 2018 ASC grant recipients

President’s Update March 2019

A short and sweet call out for contacts

It’s reached that point in the year where you’ve blinked and a couple of months have already passed.  Students are heading back across the country and, and it’s a good time to set some plans on what ASC could focus on in 2019.  I’d like to focus on our membership, and particularly on what ASC can offer for students across disciplines from science, engineering, media, journalism, education and the arts (and apologies to any I’ve missed in that list).

There are so many opportunities for students to develop their skills in sci-com by acting as student ambassadors, contributing to institutional blogs and video channels, or participating in any of the amny competitions and development opportunities like fresh science, Fame Laband 3 Minute Thesis.  I think it would be great if ASC was able to provide support in the lead up and follow on from these types of events for students keen to continue developing their network in science communication.

So I’d like to hear from you!

If you are

  • Interested in supporting a student ASC chapter at your institution
  • Involved in co-ordinating sci-com opportunities for students (eg 3MT)

Please get in touch with me at lisa.bailey@unisa.edu.au to discuss how we might best initiate this – or let me know if it’s already happening well in some areas!

Thanks
Lisa