Event review: That time we talked about sex at a networking event

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Written by Sarah Keenihan

How can we survive and stay sane as professional scientists and communicators in a world where the public appetite for science may wane and wax with each new Prime Minister?

How do you get a foothold writing or podcasting or presenting science content when you don’t know what sorts of material people want to read or listen or watch, and what is already out there?

How can you meet people who work as science communicators tucked away as individuals in teeny offices within institutions, people who have the same professional drives and challenges and needs as you?

By networking.

With a new members on board and expectations high for exciting ASC times moving into 2016, a networking and end-of-year celebratory event was held by the SA committee in Adelaide in December 2015.

This session was designed quite simply to give attendees the opportunity to meet and make friends with people who are inspired by science and its communication.

And we had an ice-breaker: the 2014 Unsung Hero of Science Communication Winner, Michael Mills. Attending as his alter-ego the singing palentologist Professor Flint, Michael gave us:

“A brief and hilarious history of the role of sexual reproduction in increasing species biodiversity, the evolution of it’s associated rituals, and the strange, and sometimes awkward parallels this has for humans when engaged in networking activity!”

Awks, right? I mean, who wants to even put networking and sex in the same sentence? Well, it worked. Professor Flint convinced us that perhaps with a few tips from nature, through networking we might yet move forward to new and exciting collaborations in the world of science communications.

He told us:

The person you’re talking to might be the one who helps you get your dream project to the next step.

How do you find out?

You find out by being bold, by making the move, by singing the song, by being preemptive, by inviting them into your love garden and maybe going into their love garden too.

You may be a part of someone else’s dream. And equally they may be a part of yours.

The ‘love garden’ bit is a science reference, and relates to…oh never mind, I guess you had to be there.

A great crowd of around 50 people was in attendance, with some old and many new faces. Our new committee member Bowie (Matthew, not David sob) had the great idea of bringing along some colleagues from the Ecological Society of Australia conference also in town. It’s great to hear outsiders’ perspectives from time to time.

The formal networking aspect of the evening commenced by people moving along seats at tables every 3 minutes, but then progressed to more casual conversations at the bar and around the place.

It was fun, it was loud, and it was different to anything we’d done before.

We look forward to a great 2016 as a local committee, and as a part of our national body of Australian Science Communicators that is establishing a new way forward to help us all communicate science in novel and impactful ways.


Event review: Pre National Science Week Mixer

Thanks to Bonnie Murphy for the event review!

“ASC Victoria kicked off the 2015 Pre National Science Week Mixer at Markov on August 13th, this time joined by international guest Yvette d’Entremont, aka SciBabe.

With over 50 attendees the mixer was a hit yet again. National Science Week event holders were given the opportunity to promote their events with a short and sweet 2 minute presentation, flyers and brochures as well as posting their shows on the timeline wall.

Representatives from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Mt. Stromlo Observatory, Laneway Learning, 3CR community radio and many more filled the room with conversations and enthusiasm for the upcoming science week.

While everyone munched on crispy wedges and sipped their drinks, ASC Vic president George Aranda started off the presentations with introductions. We were honoured to have in our presence Yvette d’Entremont (SciBabe) who joined science week taking arms against the likes of anti-vaxxers, homeopathic cures and food additive alarmist.

Raffle door prizes on the night included show tickets, books, NatSciWk coffee mugs and more. Thanks to several generous event holders and Science in Public, nearly everyone was lucky enough to walk out with goodies including tickets to events like New Scientist: Mysteries of Matter, Blinky Bill movie screenings and Dr Karl’s most recent books.

The event was of a success- a night of networking, entertainment, learning and fun. It was inspirational to see the members of ASC Vic community and event holders active and interactive! “

Happy punters enjoying the event - R to L George Aranda, Claire Farrugia, and SciBabe and friend.

Happy punters enjoying the event – R to L George Aranda, Claire Farrugia, and SciBabe and friend.


Event review: Ultimo Science Festival

 Thank you to Isabelle Kingsley for the event review.

The curtain has fallen on the eighth annual Ultimo Science Festival.  Between 12 and 22 September, Harris Street Ultimo was transformed into a nucleus of science. There was something for everyone — talks that challenged our perceptions of the world, hands-on activities to puzzle over, startling exhibitions, inspiring science shows and even the chance to share ideas with real research scientists.

The Festival kicked off with a bang on Thursday 12 September with 387 people packing into the grand UTS Great Hall to hear Shari Forbes from UTS Centre for Forensic Science talk about death, decomposition and detector dogs.

Other lectures at UTS included Dr Elizabeth Denney-Wilson and Associate Professor Robyn Gallagher who discussed why it’s so hard to avoid putting on weight at the UTSpeaks Fighting Fat lecture, and it was standing-room-only at the Great White Sharks talk by Barry Bruce and Professor William Gladstone.  Overall, UTS lectures attracted more than 1100 people during the Festival.

Friday 13th challenged our perceptions with science, maths, magic, marine science and myth-busting, while unwinding with drinks and live music.  Featured were talks about Adam Spencer’s TED adventure and love of prime numbers, Emma Johnston’s passion for Sydney Harbour and Ruben Meerman’s look into the science of crowds and cocktails.  Lying on a bed of nails and encounters with Joanna the goanna, a children’s python and a sweet grey-headed flying fox were some of the highlights.

Art and data come together to create past, present and future forms of life at the Living Data: Art from climate science exhibition at The Muse gallery at Ultimo TAFE.  Brilliantly curated by Lisa Roberts, the exhibition challenged our senses with artworks that combine scientific and sensory knowledge of climate change.  Three discussion forums brought together thinkers, artists and scientists to lead lively discussions on topics including our relationships with things we eat, how we know things and our understanding through art and science.

Speed Meet a Geek was a huge success with over 100 people of all ages coming in to sit down and meet research scientists.  The Powerhouse Museum café was buzzing with chatter — children as young as 5 were engaged in asking questions and discussing science.

On Monday 16th ABC Radio National’s ‘Health Report’ was broadcast live from the Ultimo Science Festival. Dr Norman Swan lead a discussion with 3 experts covering diet, exercise and the psychology of maintaining health. A full-house of audience came along.

260 high school students took part in the Festival’s school day.  Students met research scientists and found out about their science careers, made biodegradable plastic, floating houses and demonstrated how the internet works using bing-pong balls.

A new event for USF was the popular Young Master Scientists competition. The Live Finals hosted by Ruben Meerman, the Surfing Scientist, featured 5 student teams from schools around Sydney area performing a ‘seven minutes of science’ in front of a cheering audience and 3 judges to compete for the title of Sydney best young science communicators.  ‘Interrobang’ from Mercy Catholic College in Chatswood took home the crown.

The always popular Art and Science Soiree brought together artist and scientists in a networking event.  Guests took part in speed meet sessions, saw some amazing performances and had tiny 3D versions of their heads printed.  Some incredibly interesting and creative ideas and projects came out of the evening.

By popular demand, Simon Pampena, the Angry Mathematician from ABC’s Catalyst, teamed up with Nerd Nite Sydney’s Dr Justine Rogers and UNSW’s Dr Rob Brooks to bring out the funny side of science at a hilarious night of nerdy comedy.  Not surprisingly, this event sold out.

The final weekend of the Festival was all about the kids.  Slime, steam, electricity and things that glow were all on show throughout the Powerhouse Museum.  Visitors also got to get an exclusive peek at the Museum’s collection with curator tours, and families packed into the theatre to hear Chris Lintott (BBC One, The Sky at Night) speak about how hundreds of thousands of people collaborate to help scientists study galaxies, discover planets and even map the Milky Way at the How to discover a planet from your sofa talk.

Lashings of scientific fun were had by all who attended.  Thank you to Inspiring Australia and the City of Sydney for making it all possible.

Event review: Nerd Nite Sydney

Thanks to Nolanne Chang for this event review.

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

“Maths, Maths, Maths!”

That’s the sound of Simon Pampena revving up the crowd at this month’s Sydney Nerd Nite. Simon was the first of three guest speakers on the night, with subjects ranging from comedic science to a treatise against traditional lecture methods, to a review of the current thoughts by leading scientists on PTSD. Last month at Nerd Nite Sydney, topics included why we root for Michael Corleone in the Godfather, an obscure treatise on French philosopher-driven films, and a discussion of what makes a good film review, by local critics. Over time, the topics have ranged from the prosaic to the downright crazy, and from the humanities to the sciences.

Nerd Nite Sydney was co-founded by Justine Rodgers and Jessica Grisham, both academics at UNSW. Justine had just come back from studying at the University of Oxford in England and missed the intellectual atmosphere. She wanted an environment where discussions that would normally only be had between academics could be conducted with a broader audience. Stumbling upon the US organisation of Nerd Nite, she wondered if a similar event could be hosted in Sydney – they put her in touch with Jess, who had also expressed interest. Thus, Nerd Nite Sydney was born.

The event is held at Café Lounge in Surry Hills on the first Wednesday of every month. For the first few months around 40 to 50 people turned up; and now, one and a half years later, there are online ticket sales and the venue often reaches maximum capacity (120). This is something to be justifiably proud of, as it goes against the anti-intellectual stereotype often portrayed of Australians. Curiously, the audience seems to have a large age range, and, glancing around the room it’s noticeable that not everyone attending is an academic or the type of person that would normally attend a lecture. This is partially why Café Lounge was chosen – it’s a relaxed, “non-threatening” atmosphere where the audience members can buy bar food and drinks (I can personally vouch for the excellent chips). There’s a small stage and a screen – though not all presenters even use slide decks, preferring to interact more directly with their audience.

On the other hand, the atmosphere presented by the current location, would be harder to accomplish in a larger venue, which would be desired to accommodate their expanding crowd. Occasionally, the group behind Nerd Nite spins off special events, such as organizing a Stand-Up Comedy night at the Ultimo Science Festival (two years in a row now) or Nerd Gala, a night when they brought back several of the most popular Nerd Nite speakers. In addition to their monthly speakers’ night, they are also now trying to expand the role of their Facebook page, to reach their audience much more frequently. Posts on this page include interesting science tidbits, updates on what past speakers are up to, and teasers about the next month’s program.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nerd Nite Sydney – check out their page on Facebook. The event is held the first Wednesday of every month at Café Lounge in Surry Hills – the next event is October 2nd.

Event review: Simon McKeon Big Picture Seminar

Thanks to Maia Sauren for the run down of the Big Picture Seminar.

The problem with research, say hospital CEOs, is that no one is held accountable for it. If the Australian government followed the recommendations of the McKeon review, that might not be the case. The Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research 2013, chaired by Simon McKeon, highlights that the majority of the 1998 Wills Review recommendations were successfully implemented, and delivered a substantial positive impact on the sector.

Hospital CEOs begin each fiscal year with a nice line item for research, but there’s no KPI that holds them to it. Over the year, amounts are slowly shaved off for urgent and accountable matters; if reducing surgery waiting times is on the public’s mind, then that’s where the money goes.

In terms of bang for buck, Australia does pretty well. Our life expectancy is 82 years, a good 3 years above that of the US, at half their per capita cost. While total investment in HMR is not known, it was estimated to be over $6bn in 2012. In 2009-2010, government expenditure on health care amounted to 4% of government expenditure, estimated to rise to an unsustainable 7% in 2049. Just by addressing healthcare-associated infections by translating research into policies, Australian healthcare costs could drop by up to $1–2bn p.a.

The catchphrase of the McKeon review recommendations is “embed research into the health system”. This includes optimising investments, tying health outcomes to research recommendations, translating existing and new research into practices and policies, monitoring and evaluating outcomes, and supporting research commercialisation. To support this, the McKeon review recommends helping drive philanthropic investment in health and medical research, similar to overseas models.

So what can you do, as a science communicator? Bang the drum.

The summary report has clear, specific, strategic recommendations, supported by facts and figures, clear visualisations, and case studies. Ensure policymakers know the about it. Highlight the economic value of streamlined investments, of commercialising research outcomes, of priority driven research. Ensure people in decision making capacities have the facts.

The full 300-page McKeon Report and the summary version are available online at http://www.mckeonreview.org.au