It’s an anecdote my mum loves telling: “When Claire was a child, she told everyone she wanted to be a bush ranger!”. We all knew I meant park ranger, inspired from lots of time spent exploring the outdoors and trips away camping with Scouts. As a young thing I always knew I wanted to do science (environmental/outdoor preferably) so choosing my high school subjects and university degree was quite easy.
After completing a B Env Sci (and some serious time off enjoying beach volleyball and beer) I got work experience with Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries and then they offered me a job. It was fabulous: time outdoors, dragging nets through cane field drains in Maroochy, mixed with a bit of lab work sorting samples, mixed with office work and writing. I wrote the stakeholder newsletters and helped write the guidelines to explain what our science meant for policymakers and landholders.
Within various State government jobs, the Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management, I more naturally leaned towards project management and communicating about the research, talking with people about what it meant for them and what they wanted from the research projects. That’s when I started to do science communication study on the side, studying a PGDip at UQ (and ANU a few years later) part-time, around my fulltime work. This was also when I first came across the Australian Science Communicators. I joined the Brisbane committee, met with Jenni and others at Econnect and volunteered at Riversymposium assisting with media as part of a uni subject.
Learning about science’s role in society and how it can be valued, ignored, politicised or sidelined (cue shocking visuals of the John Gummer MP in the UK feeding a hamburger to his daughter during the early days of the mad cow disease discovery) was particularly fascinating.
Funnily enough, after travelling in Europe and the Middle East for 6 months in 2006, I happened to end up working for the UK government in the mad cow disease section as a science communicator. I rewrote technical stuff for non-technical audiences putting it on the web and in policy briefs.
Over the last 5 years I have worked in Canberra, communicating science in the natural resource management and agriculture areas picking up elements of knowledge management and social research at Land & Water Australia and CSIRO. I just finished a six-month secondment at the AG Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry working on comms strategy in the climate and carbon farming areas. It was extremely challenging but very fulfilling.
I’ve worked for many different agencies, learning new skills and exploring new perspectives all the time and I think this has really benefited my career. From what I see, the science communicators of today need to be able to explore new ways of doing things while also getting better at articulating why our roles are so important and the value we bring. I guess one of my purposes in life came from asking the question: if no-one considers, understands or can contribute to what science is then is there any point in doing the science in the first place?
Although I do sometimes get a little sad when I realise I’ve forgotten some science basics, I feel that I am helping in the best (and most fun, creative) way I can to have science contribute to better lives. And I am also passionate about raising the profile of science communicators. I feel great satisfaction when I am told that I have changed someone’s outlook forever – they will now always think about who they need to talk with and how best to do it rather than just being sure they only need a factsheet to achieve their outcomes!
ASC ACT President, Vice President ASC National Executive
At the moment I have a little project collecting links for communication conferences: http://delicious.com/claireharrisoz/tag_bundle/comms-conferences