Member update: attending the 2023 PCST Venice Symposium

A/Prof Jen Martin, ASC national Vice President

At the end of September I had the great pleasure of attending the PCST Venice Symposium Science communication education and training: Challenges and strategies for research and academic institutions. Venice is a long way to go for a three-day symposium but having never come across an event before focused exactly on what my team does (teaching communication skills to scientists in an academic institution), my strong suspicion was that it would be worth making the effort to attend. And that definitely turned out to be the case. It was an absolute joy to spend three days with roughly 100 people from around the world who are deeply passionate about science communication education and training.

Many of the 100 symposium attendees in the beautiful courtyard at Venice International University on the island of San Servolo.

The symposium
took place at Venice International University which is located on San Servolo
island, about 10 minutes by boat (vaparetto) from Saint Mark’s Square in Venice.
The island is tiny and very beautiful and used to be an asylum. These days it
has a restaurant, café, lots of accommodation for students and other university
visitors and a variety of teaching and meeting spaces. It also has some
beautiful gardens and one of my favourite things was seeing people arrive each
morning on the early vaparetto to walk their dogs in the gardens – presumably
because there’s so little green space in Venice itself.

The first day of the symposium included a number of
keynote presentations and roundtables including discussions about what research
and academic institutions are doing to support researchers’ science
communication and how these institutions can integrate science communication
research and evaluation insights into practice and training. Day one finished
with a visit to the glorious San Zaccaria church in Venice and a fascinating
session on ‘The Art of Conversation and
Conversation in Art’.

On the next day we broke into
four working groups, each focused on a different aspect of the broader topic:

Supporting researchers’ public communication;

Recruiting science communication professionals and developing their

Evaluating and improving the quality of research communication;

Using science communication research results in institutional activities.

Each working group spent part of their time hearing presentations from members of the group and part of the time in discussion with the goal of coming up with key recommendations on their topic. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share my story of founding the science communication teaching program at the University of Melbourne including what my team does and some of the things we’ve learned along the way about how to establish and grow such a program. We also heard from many other people involved with amazing training programs and it was interesting (and more than a little sad) to discover just how common and widespread an experience it is for science communication education, training and research to be undervalued and insufficiently supported in universities and research institutions around the world.

The Australian contingent at PCST Venice (L to R): Toss Gascoigne (ANU), Jen Martin (University of Melbourne), Tullio Rossi (Animate your Science) and Jenni Metcalfe (Econnect Communication).

On the last day each group presented their
recommendations, and we had a fantastic whole-group discussion about our
conclusions and what useful steps we could take to improve science
communication education and training. The result is a statement to leaders of
academic and research institutions worldwide which highlights the need for research and academic
institutions to consider the strategic value of the public communication of
science, and to mobilise support for these activities. The statement is going
to be useful for anyone seeking institutional or local support for science
communication and I’ll share with our ASC membership when it’s published.

Aside from the
stunning location, of course the best thing about any conference is the people
you meet and PCST Venice was no exception. In addition to catching up with some
other wonderful Australian scicomm people (Jenni, Toss and Tullio), I met so
many other scicomm educators, practitioners and researchers from around the
world, many of whom I’ll definitely stay in contact with. Science communication
education is a small field and I feel incredibly grateful to have had the
opportunity to connect with so many others who do work I think is exceptionally
important and valuable.

WA Event: Communicate to Inspire – 24 June 2021

Brought to you by the ASC-WA, the seventh annual Communicate to Inspire will focus on practical skills-based workshops and the latest research in the discipline. Options to attend In person and Online! Our keynote address is by Dr Katie Attwell (UWA), discussing the Coronavax project and immunisation communication. The rest of the conference will have two strands of workshops running concurrently so you can choose the session most relevant to you. If you are unable to attend in person, there will be a Livestream of Room 1 on the day that you can tune into and watch sessions throughout the day. Snacks & lunch are provided, finishing up with a sundowner. More information on the Comm2Inspire Facebook page. Thursday 24th June at 9am Building 410, ground floor Koorliny Way, Curtin University, Bentley, WA Register online with TryBooking.

Silos or ecosystems? Reflections on ASC2018

Lizzie Crouch, David Robertson and Djuke Veldhuis of Monash University attended the 10th annual Australian Science Communicators conference (ASC2018) in Sydney in November 2018. Here, they jointly reflect on the conversations they had and sessions they attended.

None of us knew what to expect when attending the ASC2018. Having spent a large part of our recent working life in Europe, we were not overly familiar with the landscape of the science communication sector in Australia.

ASC2018 was an opportunity to find out more about the wider science communication community and to raise conversations about topics at the centre of our practice, including designing engaging events, art-science collaborations and institutional recognition of impact and engagement.

As well as meeting some wonderful people, from conversations, debates and workshops we identified recurring themes that provoked our thinking. We have captured these below and welcome feedback and your perspectives.

Silos or ecosystems?

There are many domains of science communication in Australia, and there seemed to be a degree of ‘silo’ mentality between them – school outreach; science edu-tainment for adults; strategic and political science communication; journalism and popular science writing; PR and research translation, and more. This phenomenon is not unique to Australia. Given that people have specific jobs and all have to specialise to some degree, you might ask, ‘Why is this a concern?

Our observation is that this ‘silo mentality’ impedes collaboration and information sharing across sectors. People have had to work hard to build up their programs, prove what they are doing is valid and fight to get access to limited funds. It is therefore understandable why it can be tempting to hold on tightly to content, or critique activities of others based on one’s own objectives and approaches. But this leads to ‘competition’ and will ultimately prevent our practice developing as fast and efficiently as it could. Some silos are already starting to crumble – for example, the idea that researchers themselves are incapable of communicating about their field – but how to take down further barriers? How do we grow the field overall so there’s more resources to share around, rather than divide up and protect what little there is now?

Can we identify strategies for addressing this through lessons learned from other sectors and countries? And how do we identify factors and infrastructure that are unique to Australian science communication ‘silos’?

Communication or engagement?

The landscape of science communication and public engagement (PE) has changed dramatically in the last decade; many people now speak of public engagement rather than communication, reflecting a movement from deficit model to dialogue/engagement activities (although evaluation has shown that although the term ‘engagement’ is used, often the activities prioritise one-way delivery of information).

After working for almost a decade in the UK, and living this change, it was interesting to hear so many at ASC2018 speak only of science communication rather than engagement. But does this mean that engagement activities are not being done? Or is communication just a convenient label for a swathe of diverse activities? Many conversations made us think yes; others no. There was certainly substantial debate about whether we’re stuck in deficit model activities, and the usefulness of such definitions. Examples from other disciplines, such as ‘designerly’ approaches, offered the opportunity for new directions and collaborations.

One possibility is that, due to lack of interaction and a ‘competition for recognition’ between science communication ‘practice silos’, we are not listening to each other and appreciating the role for diverse types of activity/practice. Thinking of the sector as an ‘ecosystem of engagement’ could be helpful; like a biological ecosystem, each part of the complex web has a role and value, and while boundaries exist, these are places of active exchange and cross-pollination, rather than walls.

What’s our value?

As hinted at above, part of the struggle of science communication, whatever our practice, is to prove the value we create. Almost everyone seemed to be grappling with the same question: ‘How do I show that what I do has any impact on those I engage?’

As we move into an ecosystem of engagement, rather than deficit-model communication, it should be easier to justify the work we do. Evaluation frameworks which capture stakeholder insight and action as well as the usual demographics will be able to capture the rich value of our work; the inspiration, the behaviour change, as well as the knowledge learnt.

It was suggested during a number of sessions during the conference that a unified approach to impact-evaluation could allow us to share expertise and provide a national framework that would allow us to properly analyse the impact of our sector.

At the moment this type of impact is little recognised by formal reporting systems, such as the Engagement and Impact assessment (a companion activity to the Excellence in Research Australia). Could the creation of a national evaluation framework could allow better recognition of the societal and cultural impact of our work, enabling greater participation and funding?

The framework could draw on a number of existing sources such as Science Capital (a research project that seeks to ‘understanding patterns in science participation’ in the UK) and frameworks developed by cultural organisations around Australia. It will require a working group to speak on behalf of a diverse group of science communicators as well as state and federal organizations. It will be tricky to find a framework that works for all, but what could it look like?

Continuing conversations

We all appreciated the insights, contributions, conversations and efforts of our fellow science communicators at ASC2018 – as well as the organisers (especially Kali for tireless help!) and hosts at the wonderful Powerhouse. The questions above are not ones we can answer or resolve alone – we’d love to hear your thoughts, in the comments here, or in public forums such as Twitter.

President’s update

Thank you to ASC President Craig Cormick for the update. Below is the transcript from his first address at the 2017 ASC National Conference.

Let’s talk about these times we are living in.

Times of False News and times of Alternative facts.

Times of popularist politics and times of contested truths.

Times of polarised opinions and times of diminished trust.

Times of intuitive knowledge and times of reinforced biases.

Times of denial of scientific truths and approval of scientific falsehoods.

Times of anti-science and times of silencing of scientists.

Silencing of Scientists!


Let’s talk about these times.


Times of growing alternative beliefs and times of self-styled experts.

Times of decreasing impact of the media and rampant impacts of new media.

Where everyone is an authority and strength of opinion is confused with being correct.

Times of diminished funding for science and science communication.

And times of such very creative science communications being created,

But not always seen nor heard by vast numbers of the population.

Not seen nor heard!


Let’s talk about these times.


For we are also living in times of great enthusiasm for science communication.

Times of growing numbers of talented communicators,

Across a very wide range of disciplines and knowledge and mediums.

Times of a focus of understanding in the challenges facing us.

Times of an imperative to do better.

To do more with less.

To measure impacts, not smiles.

To convince not oppose.

To nudge not unsettle.

To find new tools and new methods and new understandings

Based on solid research into how communication works

–  and how it does not.

And how it does Not!


Let’s talk about these times


And be the voice of reason, not of antagonism.

To listen before we tell

To educate rather than indoctrinate

To be right rather than righteous.

And to accept that not everyone is going to get it.

And that for many our science-centric view is not the way they see their world.

Not the way

They see their world.


Let’s talk about these times.


We will stand upon the shoulders of giants to see further

And we will see far beyond the dusty monolith of the deficit model.

We will see how people’s values are the key to understanding their choices and behaviours.

We will see how framing can be used to unpick and alter perceptions

And we will see genuine engagement with publics is integral to two-way communication of science and to social licence.

Genuine engagement.


Let’s talk about these times.


For above all these are times for standing up for what you believe in.

For fighting the good fight.

For calling out bad science

And vested interests

And dangerous bad medicine

And piss-weak government decisions

And anti-science scare campaigns

And fear mongers and dick-heads,

And Haters of all kinds.

Of all kinds.


Let’s talk about these times


Without being superior or arrogant or dick-headed ourselves.

For we have so much to do.

And so much still to learn to be able to do it.

So we can look back over what we have seen and heard and shared and learned and taught, and then say, with a humble sense of pride:

‘We are science communicators. And we are making a difference!’


Let’s talk about that.




New global science of learning website launches

International publishing group Nature Research has launched a global online community dedicated to improving knowledge on the science of learning, in partnership with The University of Queensland.

The npj Science of Learning Community website is a space for communicators, teachers, policymakers and scientists working in neuroscience, education and psychology to discuss how to enhance learning in schools.

The website’s launch content includes:

  • An opinion piece from leading education researcher Professor John Hattie
  • Interviews with education thought-leaders and policymakers including Microsoft Corporation Teaching and Learning director Dr Cathy Cavanaugh, Google Australia Engineering Community and Outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams, and social commentator and writer Jane Caro
  • An article by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Dr David Dockterman

The site is a place to discover and share information and news, learn from experts, and collaborate to advance the science of learning. You can explore and share content, follow your favourite contributors, and make your own contributions to the Community.

The website is live now and free to join.

Contact: Donna Lu, npj Science of Learning Community managing editor,, +61 7 3346 6419.

President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the update.

Still taking the conference in…

I’ve attended a lot of conferences over the years and fashions in conferencing certainly change—there is a ‘pre-conference’ mania, the 4 day multi-streamed headspin, the International plenary shock-and-awe—and this year the ASC went for a one-day plenary with wide but high-quality programming, association with the World Festival of Science, and opportunities for networking. I haven’t had that much fun and been so engaged in a conference in a fair while.

I am still sitting with a copy of David Throsby’s “Economics and Culture”—in a great session curated by Lisa Bailey at RiAus, Professor Throsby and colleagues, Professor Julian Meyrick and Dr Tully Barnett—really put the question to science communicators about how much our industry is worth and how best to express that (hint:  not in dollars).  This question of the value of science communication and value in science communication is just so important.  I’m reminded of Dr Melanie McKenzie who said to me, “and who decides what value science communication has, anyway?” Indeed. I’m sorry she isn’t alive to help me in my reflections on that conference session, but for me, it was a turning point for the field. WE need to articulate our value—in a narrative—and not be bullied by dollar signs.

I’m also really appreciative of the session Heather Catchpole curated with the best of new modes for doing science communication—in video, through art, in journalism, with obvious passion.

You can read our Chief Scientists opening speech here, but what you can’t read is the obvious affiliation he has with science communication. Sometimes we need to recognize when we have an advocate who ‘gets it’. Our current Chief Scientist ‘gets’ science communication.

What next?

We’d like to come off this high of this conference with a plan for the next.  So, if your organisation would like to make a day-plenary conference happen again, let us know. We’re looking for bidders for the next ASC conference.  Multi-streamed, shock-and-awe, plenary…pitch us!

President’s update

Thanks to Joan Leach for the update.

The Conference is just about now!

I spent a very productive hour this week listening to the new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, AO, give his maiden speech at the press club. I’m now looking forward even more to his plenary opening of the ASC conference in Brisbane on the 11th… 11.00 am. Actually, it strikes me that the national press club has not one, but three (!!) featured science sessions this month. After the Chief Scientist, Alan Alda is speaking. Finally, there is a ‘women in science’ panel to round out the month. Science meets Parliament also looked to be a big success again this year. And the World Festival Science is heating up. Then, there’s the gravitational waves that must be coursing through us even as you read this. So a lot of buzzy things happening. I hope to see you in Brisbane!

Bernard Schiele on the challenges of science communication

Bernard Schiele is a Researcher at the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST), and Professor of Communications at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

Professor Schiele frequently teaches and lectures in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has been working for a number of years on the socio-dissemination of science and technology. He played a significant role in the creation of the master’s program in museology at UQAM as well as the development of an international PhD in museology in partnership with the Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse (UAPV). Professor Schiele is a member of several national and international committees and is a regular consultant on scientific culture matters to governmental bodies and public organizations. He is a founding and current member of the scientific committee of the International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST). He has chaired the International Scientific Advisory Committee for the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing and the scientific committee for the 2012 International Conference on Science Communication in Nancy, France.

In 2012, Professor Schiele was recognized with the Annual International Achievement Award from the International Council of Museums Canada (ICOM).

We sat down with Bernard to chat about his research and find out more about his involvement with science communication.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

Bernard: I am not in science communication per say. I am an observer of science communication: I try to understand how it works, what its features are, and the processes at play. I came to science communication by studying the representation of science on television, how it was presented to the public, and how it shaped the image that each and everyone had of it. Afterwards, this interest expanded to science museums and science centers. If television remains the single greatest source of information for the majority and a way to interpret the world, museums are appreciated by the public. In short, what drew me towards science communication was this question: how do knowledges – plural – circulate in society once they are beyond the control of specialists? This question entails another one: how does the public appropriate these knowledges, and how, once shared, do they transform our understanding of the world?

ASC: Why is science communication important to you?

Bernard: First, the global impact of science and technology upon society, environment, labor structures, and daily life today is such that no one can remain indifferent. In our modern world, the development of science and technology is the main dynamic behind social transformations and nothing remains immune to it. But science, once synonymous with progress and hegemonic in a world permanently changing, is now viewed as ambiguous as its many promises entail an element of risk. This is why some consider that society’s relationship with science is in a critical phase.

Second, in parallel — and probably as a result — we observe a legitimacy crisis of authority figures, including scientists. Therefore science communication is now synonymous with the involvement of the public. A public that does not want any more to be kept apart from the decision processes that may affect it, especially those involving social choices. The public is not naive : what are usually advertised as purely scientific or technical questions usually involve questions of a social, economic and ethical nature. To exclude them from the debate only fosters doubt and resentment. When facing their consequences, no one as a greater say than any other. The issue is thus no longer about an impossible rise in the individual and collective level of knowledge, but about the impacts of technoscience’s encroachment on society. This is why the debate nowadays focuses more on issues of participation and dialogue, rather than on diffusion. Furthermore, the idea of dialogue implies reciprocity. In other words, it involves equal partners. Thus, it is not enough to be a scientist or an expert to be listened to, let alone to have the final say. The mobilization of the public has become a major social phenomenon.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

Bernard: I had two main challenges. The first was to explain pervasiveness of communication technologies result in a constant flux of information that not only subvert traditional forms of communication and dramatically increase the number of – often contradictory – information sources, it also results in the creation and development of new forms of participatory collaboration. Thus, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate information and knowledge from opinion and judgment. This proliferation of immediately accessible discourses by web users, regardless of their actual location, far from allowing the expansion of knowledge, tends on the contrary to limit them to their function as sign. Unless, they actually engage themselves in a systematic and critical investigative process. The second challenge was to explain that nowadays new knowledge is constantly produced in all fields at an ever-increasing pace, forever widening the gap not only between scientists and publics but also between scientists. How can we then expect the public to acquire an all-encompassing scientific culture? Thus, a lack of scientific culture is the dominant feature of our ever more specialized modernity, and this ignorance cannot but further increase. The issue has thus shifted from raising the level of scientific literacy at least to the bare minimum required to become a credible interlocutor, to involving citizens. It is only collectively, with the participation and involvement of each and every citizen, regardless of background, that we will find solutions to the problems we face. It is thus the mobilization and involvement of the scientific community and of all social actors, invited to work alongside each other, that must be encouraged and brought about.

Bernard will join our rejection of science panel at the ASC Conference on March 11 in Brisbane. 

Chatting with Christine O’Connell about science communication

Dr. Christine O’Connell is the Associate Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and a faculty member in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. As a scientist with an extensive interdisciplinary background in policy, outreach and communication, she brings a unique perspective to the Alda Center. She received her Ph.D. in Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, and her B.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University.

Christine teaches and develops curriculum for graduate and undergraduate courses in science communication and speaks at national and international workshops for the Alda Center. She was part of the original group of graduate student scientists trained by Alan Alda in improvisation back in 2009, and manages The Flame Challenge, an international contest that asks scientists to communicate complex science in ways that would interest and enlighten an 11-year-old.

We sat down with Christine to find out more about her involvement with science communication.

ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?

Christine: I went to school for science in the 1990’s and got frustrated that my research just ended up on library shelves or in the hands of other scientists. I decided to switch careers and go into environmental advocacy and policy, where I thought I could make more of a difference. After years of doing that, I got frustrated that there wasn’t enough science in important policy decisions and decided to go back to graduate school and get my PhD in the sciences to try and bridge the gap between science, society and policy. That’s when I was asked to be part of the initial pilot group of scientists being trained by Alan Alda in improv techniques to help us be better communicators. I was hooked and have worked with the Alda Center in science communication ever since. This is where I see myself making the biggest difference.

ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?

Christine: Clear and vivid  communication of science is so important for an informed society and for sound policy decisions. Many scientists are scared of the word “advocacy,” but, in today’s day and age, where science itself has become politicized, we must be advocates for science and the scientific process. Otherwise someone else will fill the void with bad science or muddled intentions, and bad decisions will be made. We need to have an informed and inspired public to help build the next generation of science leaders and to make sure we are making sound decisions about our world. Also, not only does effective science communication help with funding important research, educating the next generation, guiding public policy and increasing the public’s understanding of science – it also just makes for stronger science. This is something we hear over and over again after scientists go through our training – it makes them better scientists.  Communication is what makes scientific process work.

ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?

Christine: Jargon. There is discipline specific jargon, where even as a scientist, I find it hard to understand my colleges half the time; and then there is academic jargon. Its important to remember to speak in clear and vivid everyday language. Another challenge is always focusing on my audience and remembering that communication doesn’t actually happen unless they get what I am saying, otherwise I’m just talking. You need to always be listening, even when you are talking. Its hard to keep this level of focus and energy all of the time, but it is so important.

Christine will deliver a keynote presentation at the ASC Conference on March 11 in Brisbane. Find out more on the conference schedule.

Premier science communication and science journalist conference comes to Brisbane

On March 11, the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) will bring together leading science communicators and journalists from across the globe to network and discuss current issues for science communication at QUT University, Gardens Point. 

ASC2016 - March 11 in Brisbane, Australia

Speakers include Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland John Cook, Director of Communications and Outreach at the Australian Academy of Science Kylie Walker, and contributing editor at the Scientific American George Musser. 

ASC President Professor Joan Leach said this year’s conference will provide direct access to leaders from industry and academia.

“This is an important opportunity for busy science communicators and journalists to take a step back and look at the future of communicating science,” said Prof. Leach.

Topics to be presented include understanding and responding to people’s rejection of science, the cultural value of science communication, a look at new narratives in science communication and the future of science journalism.

The ASC National Conference 2016 (ASC2016) is being held in Brisbane to tie in with the first World Science Festival held in Australia. The festival runs from March 9 to March 13.

ASC national conferences have been a regular and important feature of the science communication landscape in Australia since 1996. These events are the premier networking and professional development opportunity for those making science and technology accessible. 

Check out the conference website for more details –

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