Researchers behaving badly

This event is being hosted by our friends at the SJAA.

While we have confirmed that the live event is available for ASC members to attend, the recording of the event is likely to be limited to SJAA members only. We recommend registering and attending for the live event if this is of interest to you.

A discussion on research integrity and scientific misconduct
with Professor David Vaux
January 31 18:00-19:30 AEDT online, free

Professor David Vaux

From accusations of plagiarism against Harvard’s former president to the case against Marc Tessier-Lavigne and over to the horrific case of Paolo Macchiarini’s plastic windpipes — scientific misconduct has exploded into the public eye in recent times. Those high-profile stories are captivating, but they really only scratch the surface of a growing problem: There’s a lot of dodgy research out there and more is being uncovered every year.

One of the detectives investigating the scene of scientific misconduct crime goes by the name of Davo

Professor David “Davo” Vaux is a world-renowned cell biologist and one of Australia’s foremost research integrity experts. For more than a decade, he’s been calling for the establishment of an independent ombudsman / research integrity office in Australia to investigate cases of scientific misconduct. He is also the inaugural winner of the David Vaux Research Integrity Fellowship Award, established by the Australian Academy of Science in his name, and a member of the board of directors of The Center For Scientific Integrity, the parent organization of the Retraction Watch blog. 

The Science Journalists Association of Australia is thrilled to have David present on research integrity issues in Australia, explore how to spot dodgy research and explain why researchers might cut corners, fabricate data and falsify experimental results.

Direct from Davo: “This talk will provide some examples of where science can go wrong, and will be illustrated by examples of papers by high profile researchers in prestigious journals that would only have had some value had they been printed on absorbent paper with perforated pages.” (emphasis mine)

It’ll be on Zoom, so BYO, come hang out and learn from one of the best. Details below.

The important stuff!

When: Wednesday, January 31,
17:00-18:30 AEST | 18:00-19:30 AEDT |
16:30-18:00 ACST | 17:30-19:00 ACDT |
15:00-16:30 AWST

More details? Email events at

The STA Leaders Dialogue

Tom Carruthers, Co-President

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of representing the ASC at the STA Leaders Dialogue held at the Google Offices in Darling Harbour, Sydney.

The event was a summary of STA’s activities and policy wins for the past 12 months. {I took some photos of the slides but missed their policy wins – I’ll update this soon with the detail}.

In preparation for this dialogue, the STA membership highlighted 10 priority areas to focus on in advocacy for 2023. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first three priorities are to do with investment in science and R&D, followed by a focus on re-industrialising Australia’s economy.

In the breakout session, I worked on this challenge with a small team and our discussion tried to articulate the sovereign risk posed to Australia should we not rapidly turnaround the decreased R&D funding trend. STA President, Prof. Mark Hutchinson raised his vision for Australia deliberately choosing to retire the idea of Australia being the lucky country, arguing that we should focus on becoming a hopeful one.

Priorities 5-7 relate to STEM education and supporting the STEM workforce. These are areas the ASC can strongly engage, and I will continue to find opportunities for our members to contribute their expertise and vision here. STEM education was a significant theme of the dialogue, with many STA organisational leaders highlighting the need for more STEM training and for specialist teachers. I am sure that we have members who can bolster this advocacy with case studies and impact evaluation to support the evidence base for this ask.

Priorities 8 through 10 focused on STA’s advocacy in championing diversity in STEM. This is where STA’s Superstars of STEM program, along with their support for initiatives such as Deadly Science feature.

I raised my concern that there wasn’t a specific aspiration to better address the key advocacy platform theme we’ve been sharing over the past 12 months – namely the underappreciation of science communication expertise, and the significant gap in capability in forming the evidence base for Australian communication and engagement programs. We will continue to engage STA over the coming months and years to attempt to better articulate these issues.

After the dialogue, there was a networking session. It was great to see past ASC President Wilson da Silva at the networking (who had some ideas about future awards), several Superstars of STEM, and colleagues from across the industry. We had some productive discussions, and I hope that it will translate into a couple of areas being better represented on our membership into the future.

The networking event was also a small chance to farewell Prof. Mark Hutchinson who’s three-year term is coming to an end in three weeks. We welcomed incoming President elect, Prof. Sharath Sriram, as he takes on the role. The ASC is glad to offer our engagement and support into the future.

The Eureka’s with Toby Walsh

Recorded 30 October 2023

Due to technical connection issues, we have had to reschedule this event to 30 October.

Professor Toby Walsh is the 2023 winner of the Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding Science, and he joins the Australian Science Communicator’s co-President, Dr Tom Carruthers, in conversation about his win, his approach to explaining AI, and everything else.

Toby teaming up with AI (image via UNSW)

The Australian Academy of Science (where Toby is a Fellow) shares how the Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at UNSW has helped shape the conversation globally on the ethical implementation of AI. He writes regularly for print and online media and has authored several books on AI for general audiences.

Join us to find out more from Toby on his experience in science media, what it feels like being recognised by the Eurekas, and to add the ASC’s warm congratulations for his award.

The event will start with a short conversation with Toby, talking about his approach to public engagement and what’s important to consider when sharing stories about AI. We will then open to cover questions you may have for Toby.

Professor Toby Walsh is a world-renowned authority in artificial intelligence (AI), exploring subjects such as self-driving cars and autonomous weapons. On television, in books and at academic forums he leads conversations about our AI-driven future: what it will look like, how we can prepare and what we should be wary of.

Australia Museum, citation for Prof Tob Walsh, 2023 Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding Science

Members can register directly here.

Non-members purchase tickets via EventBrite.

2023 Careers Night

Hear from an array of people who might be able to answer the ‘What’s next?’ question that poses many of us. Featuring professionals across a range of careers and career stages, this event will address practical advice and tips for progressing your career.

This will be relevant for students looking to start their professional career in SciComm, as well as those who are well established in their career and/or potentially considering a future role change.

Hosted by ASC Vice President, Jen Martin, hear from:

  • Simon Torok
  • Sonya Pemberton
  • Rachel Nowak
  • Catriona Nguyen-Robertson
  • Belinda Smith

This session started with a panel discussion before jumping into an opportunity to chat directly to the speakers via breakout rooms (not recorded). This event was open to ASC members and non-members.

Speaker profiles

Belinda Smith

Belinda Smith became a science journalist after realising she wasn’t going to cut it as a scientist. Based in Melbourne, she’s currently a science reporter at the ABC. Her work appears on the ABC News website and has featured in the Best Australian Science Writing 2016 and 2018. You can also hear her talking about science on local radio and RN. In her spare time, Bel’s a GPS artist who runs routes in the shape of animals. Find her tweets @sciencebelinda and impressive GPS art on Insta @animalpunruns.

Catriona Nguyen-Robertson

Dr Catriona Nguyen-Robertson sings in the laboratory and contemplates immunology in the shower. She trained as an immunologist and is now an enthusiastic science communicator and educator. You can often catch her singing and dancing on social media and around Museums Victoria as a Learning Facilitator. She also works with the Science Communication Teaching Team (led by A/Prof. Jen Martin!) at The University of Melbourne, where she teaches the next generation of STEM researchers how to their work.

She is the Science Engagement Officer for the Royal Society of Victoria and regularly engages with science outreach programs, such as National Science Week, Skype a Scientist, Pint of Science, and BrainSTEM – sharing science online, on radio, and in schools across Australia and beyond. In addition to her work, Catriona is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM, and received an Out for Australia 30 Under 30 Award in 2022.

Rachel Nowak

Dr Rachel Nowak is a consultant, an advisor, a scientist and a journalist. She has been working in science, technology and innovation on three continents. Her specialities include science journalism, knowledge mobilisation, research and technology assessment, and stakeholder engagement. She has been Washington Bureau Chief and Australasian Editor of New Scientist magazine. She was Director of Research Marketing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. She founded the social-good brain tech start-up The Brain Dialogue.

Rachel did her PhD in agricultural science at the University of Leeds. She studied writing, alongside poets and novelists, at The Johns Hopkins University.

Her award-winning science journalism has changed R&D and medical practice, and research law and policy around the world.

Rachel immigrated to Australia on a Distinguished Talent visa for her international record of outstanding achievements in science communication.

Simon Torok

Dr Simon Torok is CEO and Director of Scientell Pty Ltd, a science communication business specialising in environmental and climate change communication.

Simon distils technical information for non-scientific audiences to communicate the importance of science in our lives and its role in understanding the environment. Simon has a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University, and completed a PhD in climate change science at the University of Melbourne. Simon has managed communication for CSIRO in Australia and for the Tyndall Centre in England. He was editor of the Helix and Scientriffic science magazines, and has published more than 200 newspaper, magazine and scientific journal articles. He has co-authored 20 popular science and climate change books, several of which have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Hungarian.

Sonya Pemberton

The incredibly creative Sonya Pemberton is one of Australia’s leading documentary filmmakers; an Emmy Award recipient and record-breaking five-time winner of the prestigious Eureka Prize for Science Journalism.

Did you know that Sonya’s passion is creating quality science documentaries for international audiences? Sonya has written, directed and produced over 70 hours of broadcast documentary, her films winning over 80 international awards. As a writer and director, her films include the critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning feature length specials ‘Cracking COVID’ (ABC), ‘VITAMANIA’ (SBS, ARTE, CuriosityStream) and ‘Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines’ (SBS, ARTE) and ‘Vaccines-Calling the Shots’ (PBS NOVA). Her multi award-winning film ‘Catching Cancer’ (SBS, Nat Geo) was an expose of viruses causing cancer and her film ‘Immortal’ (SBS, Smithsonian), featuring the work of Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, won the 2012 Emmy award for Outstanding Science. Sonya has also executive-produced many award-winning factual series and one-off programs, including ‘Carbon- the unauthorised biography’ (ABC, CBC, ARTE), ‘Uranium: Twisting The Dragon’s Tail’ (SBS, PBS and ZDF/ARTE), and ‘CRUDE – the incredible journey of oil’ with Dr Richard Smith.

Previously Head of Specialist Factual at ABC Television, Sonya commissioned and managed over three hundred hours of factual television; her understanding of audiences’ desire for smart, accessible television saw ratings rise across the genres.Sonya has been honoured with Australian Health Journalist of the Year in 2011 and 2013, the 2014 Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason, the Jill Robb Award in 2015, and in 2016 she received the Stanley Hawes Award for contribution to documentary.

The Eureka’s with Jo Chandler

Jo Chandler is the 2023 winner of the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Science Journalism, and she joins the Australian Science Communicator’s co-President, Dr Tom Carruthers, in conversation about her win, her award winning piece, science journalism, and everything else.

In her blog, she shares how excited and honoured she felt to be awarded the prize, and how she felt her winning story entangled exploration, science, politics and policy all together with human ambition and endevour.

Join us to find out more from Jo on her broad experience in science journalism, what it feels like being recognised by the Eurekas, and to add the ASC’s warm congratulations for her award.

The event

The event started with a short conversation with Jo, talking about her award winning piece and her views on what’s important to consider when sharing science in today’s media landscape.

The Australia Museum’s citation for Jo Chandler

Jo Chandler’s longform essay Buried Treasure follows the most ambitious Australian Antarctic endeavour in a generation. The award-winning journalist had tracked the story for over a decade before pitching her article, which skilfully navigates urgent questions about science, our heating planet and the human condition.

The piece was published in the Griffith Review (Edition 77: Real Cool World), 2 August 2022

Long-term science communication is a ‘damn good investment’ – but how do you make it happen?

Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell is an accomplished researcher who – in the words of grant assessors – started out as being ‘unheard of’, to someone with an ‘international reputation’, now leading an Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence, the highest amount of funding awarded by the ARC.

In a webinar in September 2023, Arnan discussed the importance of science communication in establishing reputation, demonstrating a track record, and how they can lead to securing successful grants.

We sat down with Arnan, and science communicator Rachael Vorwerk, to ask some follow-up questions about why science communication is such a ‘damn good investment’ (in Arnan’s words!).

“A damn good investment”: the power of long-term strategic science communication
  • Arnan, how do you fund science communication on a budget?

Most universities invest in science communicators centrally – at their research office, and sometimes at the school and faculty level.  My suggestion would be to find out who these people are and have a discussion with them about what they are looking for and how best to engage with them.  If you have a little bit of money (or you can convince your university to invest in this), the next thing to do is to try to get some professional pictures – both of you and your team in the lab or out in the field doing research and some interesting and engaging pictures of your research. Engaging pictures will make people want to read about your work and can be a great way to get attention. Do this regularly so that you build up a library of great images. Probably the next step up is to engage a science communicator as part of your team. Maybe you could fund a day a week for someone from the central team? Or share a science communicator with a collaborative centre? (hint: most ARC Centres of Excellence have a budget for a science communicator, if there is a relevant centre in your institution, maybe have a discussion with them about whether you could share the cost of a science communicator?).

  • Rachael, do you meet regularly with your team of academics to plan your media schedule?

In a team of about 40 researchers, there are two ways I keep up to date with them. The first is through weekly scheduled meetings with my Director, Arnan, where he reports on whether there are any newsworthy events coming up from the team. The second way is our fortnightly team meetings – where we have a schedule of update presentations and achievements, and I can get a sense of any interesting news stories coming up.

One benefit of being embedded within the research team is that I feel very ‘on the pulse’ with news, and over the three years as I’ve been working with the researchers, more and more team members have been coming up to me at the end of team meetings, telling me about updates with their research – this is a major shift compared to when I was chasing the team for stories in the beginning! There’s something to be said for being present in the team and attending these team meetings, I’ve found that trust only grows over time.

  • Rachael, do you ever have periods of ‘no news’ and what do you do in these moments to keep the momentum going?

I always try to find news – and have a few mechanisms to do so (as mentioned above). However, being the science communication for a small research team means that the definition of ‘news’ changes slightly.

I have the luxury of working on researchers’ stories that aren’t always ‘newsworthy’, or suitable for a media release. With these stories, I like to work with the researcher to find other strategic channels for their news – it might be through a case study on our Centre website that can be sent to an industry partner, or a LinkedIn post from the researcher themselves which helps them to build their online profile, or perhaps even something that turns into a Three Minute Thesis that helps the student to solidify their research elevator pitch.

By having my weekly meetings with Arnan and attending the fortnightly team meetings, I find that there is always news flowing in!

  • Arnan, who should pay for science communication and how do you convince them?

Good question! The only explicit funding source I have been able to find to support science communication over the long term is the ARC Centre of Excellence scheme. Often short-term programs will have some funds to support promotion, but this is usually a single event (like a launch). My view is that science communication is investment in reaching your stakeholders including industry end-users, and so if you are able to do industrial work (like we have been), then maybe try to build an overhead into this industrial work to support your team (including a science communicator?). I am currently working with my university to make funding for a long term embedded science communication as part of the funding that the university would provide to research centres.

  • Arnan, at what point in the research cycle should you think about science communication?

I would say from the very beginning. I am very outcome oriented – so I like to try to imagine the outcome that I want to achieve. What story would I like to be telling and to who? What would I like them to do in response to this story?  This then becomes the end point in a plan to do the research to be able to tell that story most effectively. What images would be best to include here?

So, in short, I believe we should try to imagine the story we want to tell and the science we want to communicate right from the very beginning.

  • Rachael: What are the differences between a role in a central media team at university, compared with being embedded within a research team as a science communicator?

One of the main differences I have found between the two roles is that in a central media team (from my experience in the media team at CSIRO), you jump in and out of a researchers’ life, depending on when they have a journal article coming out. However, being embedded within a research team means that you are with the researchers’ through thick and thin – you know when they’ve put in a grant application because you probably helped them with it, then you know when they didn’t succeed, you know when they try again, and then you know when they finally succeed. It’s this long-term relationship building and deep trust that is so satisfying in being embedded within the research team itself.

The other main difference is that it can get quite lonely being the only non-academic in a team of academics. Contrast this with a media team, and you have other communications-minded people around you that you can brainstorm with, who are completely on the same wavelength as you, they get it. This is the biggest disadvantage I’ve felt in the embedded model, however it just means you need to pro-actively reach out to other like-minded people and attend things like the Australian Science Communicators Conference!

  • Lastly, Arnan, you say science communication is a damn good investment, show me the money!

It is very hard to draw a direct link between the investment we have made in science communication and the increase in value of our research (both income and impact) – it is hard to isolate the specific ‘cause and effect’. The number and scale of research projects that we have been successful in winning has certainly increased over the years while we have been pursuing this strategy – so there is definitely a correlation – is it cause and effect?

Recall our hypothesis: if assessors or decision makers already knew what we were doing and had a positive view of it, then we were more likely to be successful in the decisions that these people would make. I can identify a few specific examples where this is clearly working. There have been several times where I have been introduced to people at conferences and the people (who I have not yet met) that say they already know me because they are following what I am doing on LinkedIn or other online media – this clearly shows that the first part of our hypothesis is working. Several of these people have spontaneously asked whether I was planning on submitting a Laureate Fellowship and following up with encouragement that they thought I would be very well suited for this (including one person who was on the ARC college of experts). This indicates that the sort of people who might be making these sorts of decisions already felt like they knew who I was and were feeling positive about that. 

There have been a couple of instances where we have deliberately been talking about some unusual applications of photonics (for example visible wavelength photonics) in our media stories – fishing to see if people are interested. In one case, this resulted in a company engaging us to do a project on integrated photonics and this funded us to turn what we thought was possible into a reality. This is an example of the science communication about what we thought was possible, then leading to engagement with end users to turn that possibility into a reality (flipping the traditional model of doing the research first, then communicating what you have done). 

I have also been invited to give higher profile talks – e.g. plenaries at major international conferences (such as SPIE Photonics West in 2023) – sometimes I feel like ‘who the hell do I think I am?!’ but then I think about this as science communication leading the research agenda.

Thank you to Rachael and Arnan for your time contributing to this Q&A and webinar.

ASTEN 2023 and Canberran adventures

ASC Member and ASC Policy Assist, Shanii Phillips, recently attended the ASTEN 2023 conference in Canberra. The below is a recount of her experience.

Q: What’s better than one conference in a year?

A: One conference that you spend 12 months planning for, and a surprise conference that your workplace sends you with 4 weeks notice! ???? 
(Okay, it wasn’t quite as chaotic as it sounds.)

In one national capital, over two days of the ASTEN conference, three days in Canberra, four Scitech representatives, giving five presentations between us, I think we can successfully say “achievement unlocked” on ASTEN 2023 ???? To compare ASTEN with the PCST conference I attended earlier this year would be like comparing apples to oranges – both valuable in their own right, but at very different scales, with different target audiences and key outcomes. ASTEN was a great opportunity to catch up with former colleagues, meet new people and share stories from a practitioner-focused perspective. 

As usual, I underestimated how much one can fit into three days, so will pick out a few key highlights to share below, and my traditional post-conference acrostic poem ????

Penguin (my domestic travel mascot) excitedly about to enter Questacon

After a quick catch-up with ASC National Co-President Tom Carruthers, I continued my ‘free day’ in Canberra by visiting Questacon, the national science and technology centre. As a proud card-carrying member of the Scitech community, I must admit I was on a bit of a mission to prove that Scitech is better than Questacon, because Western Australians suffer from the need to prove the rest of the country that we’re valid and important. However, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by our national science centre offering. While it was fun to recognise the ‘classic science centre’ exhibits and experiences, I especially enjoyed the use of the science/art installations found in the entrance foyer and on your journey to the top level.

Acknowledgment of Country artwork by Lynnice Letty Church
No Plan B, because we do not have a Planet B
Just too many mirrors – but who doesn’t love that?
Light-based sculptures, and Ngunawal word for learn
Ceiling fans with blades removed and replaced with colourful fabrics! So fun 🙂

I was also a little bit mesmerised by the moon installation in the central column of the building. As you walked down the ramp from the top level (with galleries spoked around the edges), you could look into the centre and see a giant sphere with the moon projected on it. At the ground level, you could walk into the ‘moon room’ and sit, or lie, or simply arch back and look up at the beautiful installation. It also made a great-looking nap room! ????

Penguin visiting the moon

Another important thing to add is that the Questacon café sold fairy bread … enough said ????

The Conference Itself

I’m always amazed by how much you can fit into a two-day conference. 

ASTEN 2023 kicked off with three insightful sessions from MOD, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, and the Australian Museum, exploring how they incorporate First Nations perspectives into their programs and experiences. What was especially amazing (for me) to see was all three talks were presented by First Nations staff members who play an integral role at their organisations to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories and content is being shared in a culturally sensitive manner and represent their experiences in a genuine way. While Scitech continues to work on our Reconciliation Action Plan, we don’t have any dedicated First Nations content or key First Nations staff members responsible for providing their perspectives on how to integrate Aboriginal knowledge into our experiences. It highlighted to me that while Scitech is taking steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go – but many other peer organisations and colleagues we can learn from. A key learning that stood out for me was during the presentation by Kalkani Choolburra from the Royal Botanic Gardens, who had recently put a lot of hard work, research and community consultation into developing a First Nations Protocol Handbook to use when discussing native plants. 

“Non-First Nations people can announce the chapter, but it is the responsibility of First Nations people to tell the story.”

This means that non-First Nations staff members can give broad overview (such as pointing out that Aboriginal people used a wide variety of plants for food), but the specific cultural knowledge (such as explaining the preparation of Zamia seeds for safe consumption) was the role of First Nations team members. Such nuances are something I’m still learning and want to learn more about moving forward to ensure I, and Scitech, can continue to play our role in extending equity and respectfully sharing the stories and wisdom of our First Scientists.

It was a delight to see former Scitech colleague, Amy Boulding in fine form as she and Felicity (Flick) Waldock from CSIRO shared how they engaged First Nations and rural students through the STEM Together program. As an experienced science communicator, Amy began the session by bribing everyone with lollies and using a physically interactive exercise to wake everyone up after a long morning ????

Amy and Flick warming up everyone’s brains with a ‘Meerkat’ activity ????

STEM Together focuses on highlighting the existing strengths of students, aiming to build Capability, Confidence and Connection. There were strong analogies between the goals of STEM Together and the Equity Compass/YESTEM projectwhich I use for evaluation at Scitech. Key principles for practice are shown in the image below:

Key guidelines: Open questions, Praise the process (not the outcome), Celebrate skills and behaviours, Role model curiosity and learning, and Encourage visitor-led learning.

Finally, Flick shared a tool she had developed called the My Strengths Wheel, which is a self-reflective tool that could be used with students to identify what they’re already good at. Keeping in mind teenagers often don’t want to admit they’re really good at things, the Strengths Wheel focuses on hobbies and favourite activities (which tend to indicate strengths). 

Being the token evaluator at Scitech, it’s always nice to learn about how other organisations collect data on their visitors (in the name of research), so I enjoyed hearing perspectives from Jenny Booth (Questacon) and Dr Chris Banks (CSIRO) about how they conduct evaluation during the “MELding” session. Chris Banks was brutally honest in his reflections on the challenges of conducting evaluations, with key challenges being Time, Complexity and Capacity. 

“At the level of individual [STEM] programs, impact assessment has been next to impossible.”

South Australian Academy for Gender Equity in STEM

In good news, these challenges can be overcome by good Program Design, Planning and Evaluation. Dr Banks also shared some key guiding theories that I hadn’t come across before – the ‘Bodies of Water classification’ became a popular framework referred to by presenters over the rest of the conference and I can’t wait to explore the others in more detail!

Examples of guiding theories to assist with program evaluation, as shared by Dr Chris Banks

“If she can do it, maybe I can too.”

Sally Hurst

The world is full of some incredible people, and science communication is filled with amazing role models, but it’s always extra amazing to be taken by surprise by the stories and accomplishments of unassuming people sitting in the row in front of you at a conference – and Sally Hurst is one such example. Sally shared an empowering story of growing up in a rural town with limited STEM engagement and education resources, she never had strong experiences or role models for science at school, thinking she’d end up in a humanities-focused career. It was through informal learning experiences and jobs, such as working at the National Dinosaur Museum, that enlightened her passion for science, which sent her down the path of archaeology and palaeontology at uni. After completing a Masters degree and becoming a Superstar of STEM, Sally is now a passionate advocate for rural students to have access to STEM role models, and uses her communication skills and science knowledge to showcase how it is possible to follow the same career pathway. Superstar indeed!

Sally Hurst sharing stories of her early years at the National Dinosaur Museum.

I also loved hearing about the ‘Science is a Superpower’ program being run by Scienceworks in Melbourne. The program combines short online videos and full-day workshops to encourage 10-to-12-year-old girls who have begun to ‘switch off’ from STEM to identify their ‘superpowers’ and see how they can apply those to STEM careers. The superpowers, very importantly, are human qualities vs. ‘STEM Skills’ of Curiosity, Kindness, Energy, Strength and Calmness, and the content explores the different ways these can be successfully applied to STEM careers.

Jonathon Shearer sharing ‘The Superpowers’

And finally, no conference based at Questacon would be complete without an appearance by the explosive and enthusiastic Graham Walker! Not only was it fun to go back to my roots and watch some fun science dems, but as a researcher, Graham also brought some much-needed academic flavour to wrap up the conference. Using a series of science demonstrations, Graham explained the power of simple dems to make abstract concepts, such as climate change and energy, visible and immediate. While showcasing his suite of home-made contraptions, he was very open to providing advice and assistance for others who wanted to build their own. My favourite moment was when discussing how to build an electrolysis device from a metal lunchbox, outlet power and a concentrated salt solution: 

“If you want to build one, please get in touch – there’s heaps of things that can go wrong!”

Graham Walker, when discussing how to make home-made green hydrogen

Conferences are all about people ❤

As mentioned, I was lucky enough to travel to Canberra with three wonderful colleagues (Lisa, Will and Colin) who made the three days especially enjoyable. It was also lovely to catch up with former Scitech Outreach Manager Amy Boulding (who is kicking all the goals at CSIRO) and research colleague Graham Walker.

Great to see you, Amy!
Colin testing Questacon’s Bernoulli blower
Because fun photos = best photos
Pre-conference networking
Hanging with Graham Walker and ‘Piston Pete’
Colin sharing how Scitech is pivoting our Outreach strategy to extend equity
Will and his bread

ASTEN 2023 – An Acrostic Summary

A is for Access and Acceptance. It is a universal truth that most people don’t enjoy public speaking, and several presenters began their talks with an acknowledgment that they were pushing through their nerves to speak. Something that surprised me at the end of the conference was an acknowledgement of this by Will, the ASTEN President, who called for a round of applause for the kindness and support of the ASTEN audience and congratulated the nervous presenters for pushing through and delivering their talks. I’ve never seen anything so wholesome in the context of a large public speaking event! As someone who recently pushed to overcome my own fear of public speaking, I used to ‘suffer in silence’ while everyone else confidently spoke. It was really lovely to see such encouragement and recognition that while public speaking is something “we all have to do”, it’s not something everyone feels comfortable doing – and that’s okay.

S is for Stories. Not only were there great stories of successes and learnings from practice, but also a range of beautiful and personal stories from the ASTEN presenters themselves. Flick Waldock and Sally Hurst both stood out because they shared stories of their own experiences growing up, and how they use their current work to advocate for and improve access to informal STEM engagement to students in regional and remote areas through their work. It’s wonderful to hear such examples of success while not forgetting your roots, and using your vocation and skills as a tool to share, give back to your community and be a role model for others. 

T is for Tiny Science Centres. I never realised the Australasian science centre network was so vast, and included so many small organisations! The UOW Science Space literally brought half of their team (of 8) to ASTEN, the Cairns Children’s Museum is still on the hunt for a permanent home, the Discovery Science and Technology Centre in Bendigo runs with 11 permanent staff … and they’re all doing incredible things! One day, when I have the time and money, I’d love to visit each and everyone of them ❤ 

E is for Equity and Environment. Extending equity and considering the environment (both in content and experiences, as well as the physical make-up of those programs and experiences) were key themes of ASTEN 2023. A lightbulb moment for me came from the presentation by MOTAT, where they discussed printing graphics panels on biodegradable cardboard and using screws to hold them together instead of plastic-based glues and tapes. Even considering how parts of exhibits could be reused or repurposed, such as giving away glass jars in one exhibit to staff members as a Christmas present prior to dismantling was a lovely touch. Going that extra step further to consider the whole life cycle vs. just the planning and delivery is an important part of walking the walk when it comes to sustainability, and New Zealand often outshines in the respect! Equity is obviously a passion of mine in science communication, and it was fantastic to see the amazing initiatives being implemented across the country in science centres and museums, both big and small ❤

N is for New Networks. Yes, ok, the “N” in “ASTEN” does stand for network, but it holds true for the acronym and this acrostic! Despite the cosy nature of the ASTEN conference, with around 55 attendees, there was so much opportunity for new collaborations and forming of networks. 

Last but not least …

Special thanks and congrats to the ASTEN Executive for organising the conference, Questacon for hosting us bunch of rogues, and Scitech for letting me tag along. Looking forward to hearing more stories from everyone in 2024!

The original copy was posted on and is reproduced here with permission.

The ASC honours & post-graduate research symposium

21 November 2023
3pm AEDT | 2:30pm ACDT |5pm NZDT |
2pm AEST | 1:30pm ACST | 12pm AWST

In the world of science communication research, it’s not often that students find a platform to present their findings, especially if they’re not pursuing a PhD. Building on the success of last year, we’re championing these budding researchers by hosting our annual symposium. This is our endeavour to bolster the SciComm community, providing a unique stage for students from both Australia and Aotearoa, New Zealand to share their insights with their peers.

While students undoubtedly refine their skills through research, it’s the broader SciComm community that stands to gain the most, staying abreast with the latest data to enrich our practices.

Our annual event isn’t just a showcase; it’s a commitment to nurturing confidence in our students and offering the community a timely glimpse into ANZ research. All presentations will be recorded and made available on the ASC YouTube page. This serves a dual purpose: it not only keeps the community informed but also provides students with a valuable asset to showcase their presentation prowess—a trait increasingly recognised as invaluable in our field.

We invite you to spread the word. Let your colleagues, networks, and anyone with a vested interest know about this enriching, free event.

We are also very excited that our host for the symposium will be Jo Savill, senior science communicator at the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC). 


21 November 2023

3pm AEDT | 2:30pm ACDT | 2pm AEST | 5pm NZDT | 1:30pm ACST | 12pm AWST

3:00pm AEDTSymposium begins
3:10pm AEDTCommunicating Science: Is it Time for a More Anthropological Approach?
Chris Ellis (PhD student, The University of Sydney)

There is an increasing pessimism of science communication as science  attempts to define origins of the universe, life and consciousness. Science communication is essential in order to mobilise people to act against some of humanity’s most pressing problems, including climate change, but it may have trouble achieving this if it does not take a more anthropological approach. 
3:35pm AEDTMusical NMR: Building a Molecular Ensemble
Jake Willett (Masters of Science (Physics), The University of Melbourne)

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is a staple in the molecular imaging world and is the foundation of MRI. It is an inherently quantum mechanical phenomenon which is often hard to understand. HOWEVER, there is a connection between NMR and music: a more familiar topic, that may help in bridging the gap between the micro and macro world.
4:00pm AEDTComparing COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Indonesian and Singaporean Online News
Priscilla Seah (Master of Science Communication, ANU)

Comparing how COVID-19 vaccine information was presented in two vastly different countries in terms of their COVID-19 management, secularity, and cultures. Did religion themes dominate, or were news media articles more scientific-based? What perspectives were emphasised? How did news media in these countries convince the public to take the vaccine and counter hesitancy?
4:30pm AEDTFrom 2D to 4D: Reconstructing a Giant Extinct Aussie Amphibian
Jack O’Connor (PhD student, Monash University)

Can 2D skeletal illustrations inform 4D locomotion animations? This talk outlines how I developed a novel procedure in 3D modelling software to recreate the morphology of one of Australia’s few described Jurassic vertebrate species; Siderops kehli. The resulting animated asset provides insight into the lifestyle of this giant Australian amphibian through the lens of science communication.
4:55pm AEDTChanging environmental behaviours, using ABC’s War on Waste as a case study
Rachael Vorwerk (Master of Communication, RMIT)

Non-preachy tone. Relatable contexts. Step-by-step how to’s. Targeting consumers, businesses and government. What exactly was it in ABC’s War on Waste that led to such widespread change in Australia? Learn about new insights and practical tips on how we can use communication strategies to change behaviour at scale. 
5:30pm AEDTSymposium ends

To enhance accessibility and promote ongoing learning, all presentations will be recorded and uploaded to the ASC YouTube channel. This serves two purposes: it keeps the broader community informed about the latest developments in our field, and it provides our students with a valuable platform to demonstrate their presentation skills—a key attribute in academic and professional environments.

Join us to engage with pioneering research and support the next generation of scholars.

We look forward to your participation in the symposium!

Last year’s symposium

The symposium was run for the first time last year.

Last year’s presentations are now available in this playlist.

The ASC Honours & Post-Graduate SciComm Research Symposium

The future website

The ASC website has been overdue some serious attention for some time. We’re currently over-capacity for server space, and our ability to host a breadth of resources or support updates to lists has been very limited.

In addition the member-management system currently doesn’t fulfil our organisation’s needs anymore. Billing for conferences or running online events isn’t as smooth as it should be. Ask anyone who’s tried to change their branch!

Dealing with this is something various committees have been working on for the last several years.

Today we’re proud to announce that we’ve commenced the project of integrating the membership system with a new website. It’s going to take some work to complete, but we hope that in the end our systems will be easier to maintain, while giving more benefit to members and the broader scicomm community.

As part of this work, we have defined a set of principles for our digital platforms. They include:

  • simple – for members, staff and the public, to use, update and maintain
  • integrated – as few platforms as possible, and multiple platforms readily connect to share required information
  • automated – with simple actions to prioritise staff time on complex cases
  • flexible – to adapt to the needs of the organisation into the future
  • supported – help from suppliers if/when it’s needed, and ideally in time zones reasonable for our volunteers and staff
  • sustainable – financially affordable, yet not afraid to invest money if it saves significant paid staff time
  • secure – meet Australian (and ideally global) privacy laws and legal requirements

Our decisions moving forward have been based on how well any option meets these. To that end, we have chosen a new Australian membership platform supplier: Membes

We will keep you up to date with detail as it comes available.

What does this mean for me?

In the immediate term – we will start the work of setting up the membership software to suit the ASC. We ask that if you have an active membership, that you consider logging in to update any details so that when we get to porting information to the new system, we do so with up-to-date information. You can do this at the webpage.

Over time we will start to port member management over to the new system, as well as the ASC official website. We will communicate with everyone this process, but aim to ensure that the switch over will impact very few, if any, members.

Finally, once we have pressure-tested the new system, and established a new integrated member website, we will retire the current systems and archive them for future research purposes.

By the end of this process, the hope is that we will have one unified member site as the home and host for all ASC material, resources and event registrations. We want this simplified system so that we can focus on engaging with each other, rather than spending all our time on making systems talk to each other,

If you want to be involved in the process, please reach out to the office inbox and we’ll connect you with the project team. Also, if you have got to the end of this blog post thinking ‘oh I have always wanted the webpage to have a _______ section’ – now is definitely the time to quickly shoot us an email.

The June 2024 conference

Shared values and established relationships often hold more weight in decision-making and building trust than mere facts or truth. As humans, we inherently seek community. We are drawn to groups that affirm our perspectives, make us feel welcome, and dismiss notions we don’t like. The danger, however, is that we might find ourselves trapped in an echo-chamber, ensnared by confirmation bias.

A pressing challenge for today’s science communicators is leveraging this innate human need for connection to effect positive social good. How can we assist those transitioning away from groups founded on disinformation, ensuring they feel embraced and encouraged when exploring new ideas? And how can we simplify the journey for those open to incorporating science-based evidence into their decisions?

Introducing Support, Connect, Grow, the 2024 conference.

The Support, Connect, Grow conference presents an opportunity for professionals, researchers and educators from diverse fields to come together. It’s an occasion to delve into the ways quality communication can dismantle barriers, bridge knowledge gaps, and foster evidence-driven decision-making. This gathering not only offers a moment for reflection on the fundamental tenets of quality communication in science and technology but also serves as a hub for strengthening relationships, developing new collaborations, and elevating professional practice.

The conference will be held in Perth 16 – 22 June 2024. More details and early-bird tickets will be available shortly.

Sign up for updates.

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