President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for providing us with the President’s update.

I’m writing this ‘on deadline’  for the editor of SCOPE as I needed her to ‘just give me a few more days’. The reason for this wasn’t entirely the usual pressure of work, but rather the moribund state into which I fell after the Commonwealth Budget was delivered. My worry stems from the emails, the social media, the analyses that I’m trying to get my head around. I have shaken this off and had the opportunity to talk with a range of ASC members. Of course, the budget plans are not yet finalised and there are many uncertainties. We’ve started collecting views and experiences of members on our new ‘members only’ LinkedIn pages; there are also some good links on the open LinkedIn group to impassioned responses from our science sector. Please get online, join us on LinkedIn and help me (and the rest of the ASC) make sense to any impending impacts (positive or negative) you see in your area/organisation/sector. I’ll be advocating as loudly as I possibly can for science communication and for science communicators.

In the short term, I’m going to follow some inspiring advice I heard last week at the “Women in Science Communication Breakfast” in Brisbane, organised by Pahia Cooper for the SE Qld branch. Professor Suzanne Miller, CEO of Queensland Museum and Director of the Queensland Museum Network very wisely talked about the need to keep pushing the ‘value proposition’ of science communication. The political and institutional contexts of our work change. That doesn’t mean that our work no longer has value; it means that we need to re-interpret our value for these changed contexts. She said that she makes it a priority that each week there is some ‘story’ about her work context that articulates the value of what her team does. Now, of course, ‘good news’ stories can make their way in the world quite readily. But, even complex and difficult stories about our work can articulate the value of science communication.

Her example was as amusing as it was instructive. When she was working at the National Museum of Scotland, they were moving a bit of their collection around. The ‘bit’ they were moving were the elephants and elephant skeletons and they needed to be bubble-wrapped and removed from sight. This caused quite a bit of disappointment to people (including determined 4-year olds desperate to see elephants). So, she took one of these determined 4-year olds to view the bubble-wrapped elephants. The boy was amazed at the size and asked (as you would), “how much bubble wrap does is take to wrap an elephant?” This question caused a buzz at the museum and around Scotland—it was a question that resounded across media, across ages, among a range of audiences—and it gave the Museum an opportunity to articulate the value of its collections even as they were being wrapped up and becoming temporarily unavailable. If you want to know how much bubble wrap it takes, Professor Miller gave the equation and promises a reference to a peer-reviewed paper.
Now, I don’t want to see science communication under bubble-wrap, but the key message I took from this story is that sometimes you need to reconsider your situation and re-articulate the value of what you do accordingly. I’m once again grateful to ASC members, in this instance for the inspiration and pep-talk that I received at that breakfast. In Australia, we have a seriously talented pool of professionals in Science Communication at all levels. That will not be difficult to communicate.

Rules of order and the art of chairing

…with some words from recent ASC2014 conference session chairs…


(Modifed and re-used under Creative Commons License)

In the recent national conference for all those who make science accessible our session chairs had a lot on their plate.

As well as ensuring that more than five hundred delegates could move between over seventy individual sessions in a somewhat orderly fashion without stealing time from other sessions or from networking, they were also responsible for conducting each session in a way that delivered the greatest value to the gathered audience interested in the topic being discussed.

The role of a Chairperson can be traced back to the early development of procedure in parliament.

According to Robert’s Rules of Order,

“The distinguishing feature of the early parliaments was the fact that the barons of the Council were invited not only to express their opinions individually on matters laid before them by the king, but to discuss, with each other, the overall “state of the realm” —the business of “king and kingdom” rather than only “the king’s business”.
(see Introduction, xxxii)

The latter part of the sixteenth century through the seventeenth century “was a period of prolonged internal conflict over the Prerogatives of parliament—as opposed to those of the king—which stimulated an increased interest in procedure…” (see Introduction, xxxiii)

These early efforts to learn to rule democratically led to the development of a number of rules of order still in use by chairs today.

Points of order such as: ‘one subject at a time’, ‘alternation between opposite points of view’ and ‘refinement of the debate to the merits of the pending question’, help us to explore the “state of the realm” collectively with a view to discovering or creating new knowledge for the benefit of all.

Although our national conference is not exactly parliament, session chairs have a similar set of challenges.

We thought we’d ask three session chairs highly commended in recent conference feedback for a few pointers on how they do such a good job.

Will Grant:

“The only two things I’d say is

  • be religious on time (stop on time is *the* most important thing, start on time if at all possible. Reward those who came on time not those who turned up late), and
  • be human.”

Leonie Rennie:

“I think Will put his finger on the key issue: Timing. You need to agree with presenters before the session how long each will speak, in what order, when there will be questions and who will field them. Give signals (eg five fingers for five minutes left) to warn speakers when to stop.

Start on time, otherwise speakers are disenfranchised, and those who arrived on time are forced to wait.

Being human is a good idea, although it isn’t something I consciously think about. I will try harder.”

Sarah Lau:

“I would say one of my main things is to prioritise content. I know I will always have a few things more than I can get through so I like to know in advance what I can chop when I start to run short on time.

I agree with Leonie’s strategy and if I can, discuss time limitations and signals with speakers beforehand.

Will’s recommendation is also important – stopping on time, although I find the ‘organic’ conversations may carry on. I normally try to signal the end of proceedings, formally wrap up and then let people continue to chat if they so desire.”


A big THANK YOU to all our ASC2014 Conference Chairs and Facilitators for volunteering their time and expertise to facilitate the growth of new knowledge fairly and collectively.

See: Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition (By Henry M. III Robert, Daniel H. Honemann, Thomas J. Balch).

#ASC14 wrap up

Thank you to Claire Harris for preparing the ASC2014 wrap up.

Well it was an amazing, full on four days for the Australian Science Communicators National Conference held in Brisbane at the beginning of February.

The Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre welcomed 372 delegates through the doors.

The Sunday Storytelling of Science event — featuring Prof Peter Adams, Prof Tim Flannery, Prof Jenny Graves, Lynne Malcolm, Dr Jesse Shore and hosted by Dr Andrew Stephenson — attracted 266 people in the audience.

The conference featured more than 65 sessions from plenary talks in the auditorium to workshops in the smaller concurrent rooms, speed networking and an Australian and New Zealand breakfast.

We had many lovely volunteers who helped the event run smoothly and this included four reporters/bloggers and people helping to livestream the event to 13 subscribers from around Australia and one in New York.

Some key links to re-live or explore what happened:

Media and other stories:


Post-conference surveys are always interesting and we know from past surveys and feedback, gathered over the years, that we can expect a range of opinions. This is understandable when you consider the diversity in job roles, experience, needs and interests. So far, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with people telling us the conference was extremely valuable to them. A couple of people told us that it was their best conference experience ever (and they’ve been to more than a dozen in their careers). Wow.

The survey recently closed and so we will be busily combing through all the feedback and passing it on to those who will benefit in coming weeks, once all the data is in. However, we thought it might be timely to share just a few of the comments with you below.

If you feel that you could have offered a better session than what you saw, or an important aspect of the science communication landscape was missed, then the ASC would love to hear from you.

ASC2014 Program Committee

Any comments about the professional development sessions?

We encouraged a range of PD sessions with a whole stream devoted to them. Some hit the mark and some didn’t. The ASC would be very interested to learn more about what PD and training needs you feel you need to support you in your work, so please get in touch.

  • “The editing sessions were excellent – I really enjoyed the little games and exercises and the presenter was very knowledgeable.”
  • “Mind-blowing”
  • “Hands-on, interactive, information-rich sessions were valuable and I got a lot out of them. It is easy to tell the well-prepared sessions from the ones with no content at all to those that were mere presentations. More activities that really make you think and learn are most effective for these PD sessions.”

What were the best aspects of the conference for you?

Networking of course came through as the best aspect of the conference. Some of the comments:

  • “Feeling and being part of the Australian Science Communicator’s community – the opportunity to meet friends and acquaintances and make new ones, and to find out about science communication activities and research around Australia.”
  • “Sense of community spirit. Presence of younger, less jaded folks.”
  • “Networking and the opportunity to exchange ideas with peers.”
  • “Learning about all aspects of science communication from all over the country. Networking opportunities.”
  • “The Plenary sessions with Drew Berry and Lloyd were fantastic and inspiring.”
  • “Hearing creative ideas put into practise and seeing the evaluations of how these have worked.”
  • “Thanks again for one of, if not the, best and inspiring professional conferences I have attended.”


Some speakers rocked attendees socks off and some need to develop further (including improving their presentation skills). Some people said that the sessions were great, but they did want (or were expecting) something more or different. All feedback is valuable so thanks again. Some comments:

  • “Ian Lowe was fantastic!”
  • “I will never look at WWE wrestling the same way again!”
  • “The vast majority of the sessions I attended (if not all) had really good speakers and were really engaging and informative sessions.”

Profile – Anna-Maria Arabia, Questacon

Interview with Anna-Maria Arabia, General Manager, Strategy and Partnerships, Questacon
Words: Sally Miles

Anna-Maria Arabia has recently taken on the role of General Manager, Strategy and Partnerships, at Questacon. She has hit the ground running and is using her passion for science education to build on Questacon’s world class science engagement activities.

While Questacon’s science centre is aimed mainly at primary and early secondary students, the approach to make science fun and interesting appeals to all ages. In fact, staff pay close attention to ensuring each exhibit can be enjoyed by all. The exhibits are produced and delivered by a team of very talented, creative people who are responsive to feedback from everyone who interacts with the exhibits.

But Questacon is a lot more than one great science centre.  From national initiatives as part of the Inspiring Australia strategy, to on-tour programs and exhibitions, the organisation does its fair share of community outreach.

This even extends to international partnerships with science centres around the world. Questacon engages with many countries by sharing ideas, developing skills and overall capacity building. This includes training their staff in science communication and even bringing exhibits across the seas.

Domestically, Questacon maintains relationships with both the public and private sectors.  Anna-Maria emphasises the benefits of strategies such as those of Inspiring Australia.

Inspiring Australia is a bridge to many initiatives. It is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”. Inspiring Australia offers many things, including national leadership, partnership opportunities across the country, and a great array of activities to get involved in.

Anna-Maria recognises science centres as an important part of our overall science education. Informal out-of-school science learning at Questacon complements formal education that happens in the classroom.

“Science Centres play a critical role in engaging children in science education.” Anna-Maria says. Questacon, one of Canberra’s most popular tourist attractions, uses hands-on interactive exhibits and a philosophy of ‘science by doing’ to motivate and inspire many thousands of students every year.

Questacon is a great vehicle to switch people on to science. It will continue to play an important role in the future of science education, and Anna-Maria looks forward to contributing towards a future of greater science engagement and inspiration.

Thank you, Anna-Maria, for taking the time out of an already hectic schedule to talk about science communication. We look forward to hearing more about the fantastic initiatives at Questacon. 

ASC National conference 2012 – three great days

What happens when you have 250 science communicators in the same place at the same time? Going on observations from the recent national conference in Sydney you get an intense buzz of social networking. Every face to face gathering was busy with people talking, laughing, exchanging ideas and contact details, moving around to meet new people and to catch up with a wide range of colleagues. Cyberspace was filled with an intense stream of tweets which lasted well after the conference – and they are still coming although now at a trickle (see #ASC2012 for the latest). One tweeter during the conference pleaded for others to slow the pace as he couldn’t keep up with the flow and catch a moment of the sessions at the same time.

We are still digesting the results of the post-conference on-line survey. We had around 130 completed questionnaires – a great response rate. I’m happy to report overwhelmingly positive feedback. There were good suggestions for improvements which will be considered as we start planning for the next national gathering.

I look forward to developing the relationships with the federal and five state Chief Scientists and with all the Inspiring Australia representatives who featured at the conference. The ASC is growing its connections all the time.

My choices for conference highlights

Day 1: Ian Chubb’s talk provoked much ongoing discussion about several big topics and issues. One was that public interest in science developed countries is declining while the inverse is true in developing economies. Why is this? Is this a worrying trend (I say yes)? What do we do about it? Is there an inverse relation between celebrity appreciation and cerebrum use?

The cocktail function at the end of Day 1 gave us a look at UTS’s impressive new function space. Around 150 delegates got together for two hours of intense chatting and mixing in a most pleasant atmosphere. I thought this worked far better than a sit down dinner for networking. Also we didn’t have to charge for the event (thanks to UTS sponsoring this most hospitable function).

Day 2: The opening plenary about career possibilities for science communicators featured good energy and diverse jobs paths. It not only highlighted several talented early career sci-commers but revealed the Australian Museum was holding a ‘Jurassic Lounge’ event that night which added to delegates’ choice of social events for the evening. I enjoyed the ABC Café Scientific chat-fest but I noted the tweet stream from rapt Jurassic Loungers.

Day 3: Chris Fluke in the morning plenary said that he was satisfied with 85% accuracy in his astronomical animations (he sometimes exaggerates vertical scale for visual effect). This kicked-off a discussion topic that we won’t see the end of. In the afternoon plenary about science to policy I was interested to hear about how rallies of scientists were organised to get media attention and public support to pressure the government not to cut funding for medical research work. The threatened funding cut was a rumour at the time but timely action of getting scientists onto the streets may have been instrumental in preserving funds during a cost-cutting period.

Days 1-3: I was also impressed with the efforts exhibitors at the conference put into making their display areas look appealing. It enticed me to chat with a few of them and I would have visited all the stands if I had less running around to do.

The Science-As-Art exhibition seemed to be a big hit. More than 100 votes were cast for the People’s Choice winner and there was a lot of feedback that the exhibition should be a regular feature of future conferences.

Several teams of people worked hard and effectively to achieve a great conference. The ASC conference organising teams lead by Rod Lamberts are deservedly basking in the bright glow of congratulations for the high quality of the overall event. Our professional conference convenors ensured that all ran smoothly and made the most of the excellent venue.

So how do we do even better next time? I’ll leave that to you to send your suggestions.

Jesse Shore
National President

National Science Week Feedback Event – Adelaide

Do you want to have a say about National Science Week in South Australia? Do you have feedback or suggestions from this year or a great idea for 2012 and beyond? Are you keen to meet others involved in science-related outreach? You are invited to a Planning Session on Monday 31 October at RiAus (The Science Exchange, off Pirie St, City) from 1.00pm to 4.30pm.

Everyone is welcome to attend this session where we will be looking at ideas for the future direction of National Science Week in SA. These ideas will then be considered by our Coordinating Committee at a meeting in November, and a Strategic Plan set in place.

Some of the topics to be discussed include:

  • What does your organisation want to get out of National Science Week?
  • How can National Science Week be used to support and develop programs throughout the year?
  • What outcomes from National Science Week should we be measuring?
  • Who currently participates in National Science Week and how can we encourage more individuals and organisations to be involved?

Can’t attend in person? You can contribute to digital discussions by signing up to and going to the dedicated National Science Week forum at:

If you can join us on the day, please RSVP to Rona:

Rona Sakko
On behalf of SA National Science Week Coordinating Committee

Note – National Science Week is planning for the 2012 National Science Week grant round to be open for applications from 7 to 28 November 2011.

New look for ASC Website & Scope

A big thanks to James Hutson for putting a lot of (volunteer) effort into reviving the ASC website – the new look is fresh and clear – we love it!

Also, our new Scope editors, Sally Miles and Silvia Piviali, have given our newsletter a new look. Sally, Silvia and I welcome suggestions from members for content and further ideas for making Scope more valuable.

I like the section listing Internet sites of interest. This is one area where members can surely contribute new or refreshed websites that they have come across, that address science communication and related areas.

Given the growing flood of information, it’s useful to have many eyes to help pick the plums from the orchard.

Jesse Shore

National President

Evaluating Effectiveness ASCSA event Adelaide July 19 2010

19 July 2010
6:30 pmto8:30 pm

On Monday 19 July we held an event at the Science Exchange on evaluating science communication activities.

A key challenge of science engagement activity is showing your effectiveness and measuring success.  How do we know that our programs and activities are making a difference?  Do we have the impact we desire?  Are we engaging with the right audiences? How do we evaluate what we’re doing?  At the July ASCSA meeting we’re inviting several people from community engagement/education programs, including science shows, museums and science events, to share their experiences of how they go about evaluating their programs.  This event will be relevant to anyone involved in community engagement/education programs, and we’d especially love to see you if you’re involved in planning a National Science Week event for August this year.

A podcast of the evening is now available at

Some references on evaluation:

Beacons for public engagement:
National STEM Centre:

Come on in and start communicating

Welcome to a brand new phase of Australian Science Communicators, a website which makes use of interactive technology to give every member access to heaps of ASC-related material and the ability to post your own material, and to add to and comment on anything posted by others.

It brings with it, the capacity to establish sections for any special interests among the membership. Already we have sections to do with regional branches, people, a calendar of events, research and education etc. And all can be monitored with an RSS feed, so you will know whenever anything new is posted.

New postings will appear on the Home Page as three-line intro with a two-deck head. If you are interested, just click on the head and it will take you to the rest of the post. And they can contain all sorts of material, such as supplementary files, links, pictures, audio and video files, whatever you like. At the bottom of each post will be a place to add your own comments.

To find out the basics of how the site works, click on to Using This Site, in the top right hand corner. You will get a rundown of what’s available and how to use it.

Until we get set up in a more sophisticated manner (with editors for sections), please send anything you wish to post to the scope editor, Laura Miles at

In a country like Australia, where we are all spread very thinly, and can only get together face-to-face intermittently, this new website hopefully will develop into the glue that binds.

It has been the dream and brainchild of, and realised by James Hutson and Laura Miles in Melbourne, and Kali Madden in Sydney. Please use it to bits—comment on it, criticise it, and help us develop it into a bubbling hub of discussion of communicating science.


A shiny new ASC site.

But is it what you want? What you need?

What would you add? What would you take away?

Give us your feedback via the comments field below (and yes, you have to be logged in to comment).