Call for Conference Papers: Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (POPCAANZ)

POPCAANZ is a new organisation for anyone studying popular culture.  Our members span academics, professionals and enthusiasts.  As the chair of the Popular Science area, I would like to invite ASC members to submit abstracts for our upcoming 2011 conference at the end of June in Auckland, NZ.

The deadline for abstracts is March 1st, but please contact me (b.lott [at] qut.edu.au) if you are interested but need more time. We are also putting together a round table discussion at the conference to debate and define what popular science in Australia and New Zealand actually is. It should be an interesting and lively discussion. For more information about the conference please see our POPCAANZ website.

POPCAANZ also publishes the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, which offers one of the few opportunities in the world to publish peer-reviewed academic articles focussing on popular science. More information about the AJPC can be found here. I am the Popular Science editor for the AJPC, so if you would like to submit a manuscript, you can either submit it through the POPCAANZ president (t.johnsonwoods [at] qut.edu.au) directly to me (b.lott [at] qut.edu.au) for review.

Communication – it’s a Science too? SciComm Officers Forum 2010

Outside of events organised by and for ASC members, it seems that professional development opportunities specifically targeted at active science communicators are an emerging area. I was lucky enough attend the National Science Communication Officer’s Forum in Melbourne last month, as the recipient of an ASC-supported free pass.

The focus of this two-day forum presented by Liquid Learning was to provide attendees with the opportunity to share tools and approaches for the development of communication strategies within the workplace and greater community. The majority of invited speakers held senior communications roles, predominantly in public institutions, and the focus of the talks was on themed case studies. The lengthy presentation format (45 mins for talks, 15 mins for questions) leant itself towards meatier detail. The forum also provided an excellent opportunity for scicomm officers to network on a national level, where the majority of attendees appear to face similar problems in their roles and workplaces. Networking was a strong focus of the conference setup, with a generous amount of time provided.

It was interesting to note that several talks, as well as the roundtable discussion on the final day, brought up issues that the majority of science communicators are grappling with on a day to day basis – noting that there is little data on the effectiveness of scientific communication and that the need for meaningful evaluation of scicomm outcomes is a driver for the discipline as we understand it.

This forum provided an excellent opportunity for attendees to engage with peers as well as to hear a little about the practice of science communication research and the implications it may hold for the field in the future. It would be interesting to see if future Forums alter their format slightly and focus more strongly on specific examples of the effectiveness or otherwise of new campaigns or novel strategies outside of the currently understood mainstream comms approaches. I would strongly recommend this Forum to early career science communicators working in public institutions, although others may also find it valuable.

More info about this conference can be found at:
http://www.liquidlearning.com.au/documents/SCO1110/SCO1110_I.pdf
or I’d be happy to field any questions (as a random attendee!) – gillaan [at] gmail dot com

scicommunity: A Web-Based Platform for Community and Communication in Science

Who are the people in your community?
From my own childhood, and reinforced by more recent viewing with my own children, I recall a Sesame Street ditty showing the value of community:

‘Oh, who are the people in your neighbourhood,
In your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood;
Say who are the people in your neighbourhood–
The people that you meet each day?’

The melodic answers included familiar faces such as the postman and the firemen; those you could count on to be around each day for a friendly conversation and to discuss issues that affect the community.

As science communicators it can sometimes be difficult to work out who your neighbours are, what your community is. Many of us work in relative isolation on small projects with limited budgets and under time constraints. Heads down and bottoms up, we find little time or opportunity to touch base with each other.

However the launch of the Inspiring Australia strategy in February 2010 provides plenty of incentive for us to forge community. Recommendations from the report refer to the need to conduct community-based activities, to generate collaborative projects, to share information, to raise awareness in youth and under-served groups of opportunities in science and research.

Recently we have been working on a new online resource, dubbed scicommunity, aimed at bringing together these recommendations for Australians conducting science communication and engagement activities.

Inspiring community in science communicators
The goal of scicommunity then is to provide a free online meeting place for Australian science communicators who create a log-in profile, through which a sense of community may be created.By providing a space for people to share their initiatives, scicommunity will open up new collaborations and identify opportunities for outreach and engagement. To this end, and with support from the Inspiring Australia initiative, we recently developed a test site for scicommunity and submitted it to a pilot run. Our current focus is to develop it further and optimise functionality to achieve the following outcomes:

  • easy login and intuitive navigation;
  • facilitate pathways for communication;
  • provide mechanisms to keep informed of community activities;
  • encourage the identification of opportunities for collaboration and mentorship; and
  • allow the identification of gaps in the material and audiences being targeted by science communication.

A role for social media in scicommunity
An additional feature of scicommunity which we are exploring is the use of social media as a community builder.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of social media tools such as Twitter. Whilst Twitter can be a forum for banal chit chat if you allow it to be so, it has emerged as a powerful communication tool for professionals in many fields. In the 2010 Andrew Olle lecture, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger listed 15 characteristics of Twitter which make it an effective tool for communication and information sharing. Of interest to science communicators may be the following:

  • Twitter creates communities;
  • Twitter is a series of common conversations;
  • Twitter changes the tone of writing;
  • As a search engine, Twitter rivals Google;
  • Twitter is a formidable aggregation tool;
  • Twitter is a great reporting tool;
  • Twitter is a fantastic form of marketing; and
  • Twitter has different news values.

A more detailed discussion of these issues and other features of twitter can be found in this Guardian newspaper article: Why Twitter Matters for Media Organisations (Alan Rusbridger).

You might imagine then, that scicommunity users could create conversations and communities using Twitter as a platform. Capturing these conversations using a hashtag like #scicommunity and supplementing them by further information about our interests and initiatives through the scicommunity website will enable further relationships, collaborations and projects to occur.

Welcome to the community!
Over the Christmas break you’ll no doubt be spending time in your own personal communities and neighbourhoods just like the gang at Sesame Street.  As you start 2011, we invite ASC members to keep their eyes and ears open for the launch of scicommunity, and we hope that it provides you with new ways to connect with each other as a community of science communicators.

scicommunity (www.scicommunity.net.au) is being developed by Kristin Alford, Sarah Keenihan and James Hutson at Bridge8 Pty Ltd, www.bridge8.com.au.

Follow us on twitter: @kristinalford @sciencesarah @jameshutson @scicommunity

National Science Communication Officers’ Forum, Melbourne

ASC is supporting Liquid Learning’s National Science Communication Officers’ Forum to be held 29th & 30th November 2010 at Marriott Hotel, Melbourne.

This is a well structured professional development event with networking opportunities and has an impressive range of speakers including several ASC members. Dr. Rob Morrison, ASC vice-president is delivering a half-day work-shop on the 1st of December 2010.

Liquid Learning offers a 10% discount off standard registration fee to all current ASC members.

Also there is one free delegate pass to the event for a current ASC member. To apply for the free pass write in 25 words or less why you want to attend the event and email it with your full contact details to Kali Madden at office@asc.asn.au by 21 October. The ASC Executive will make the selection and I will inform the winner promptly.

For full information and registration information see http://liquidlearning.com.au/llg08/November/

Cheers, Jesse

Jesse Shore

President, Australian Science Communicators, 2010

http://www.asc.asn.au/


Are you connected with other Australian Science Communicators?

Missing out on the latest news from around the country?   Here’s a quick reminder of the ways to stay connected with ASC:

Note that anyone can join the lists as observers, but only current, financial ASC members can post messages.  Membership to ASC does not automatically register you to the ASC email lists. You must register through the separate system as described here.

ASC-list is the mailing list for discussing science communication issues and promoting events.  The ASC-media list is for press releases and self promotion.  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) including details on unsubscribing, converting your list preferences and accessing the archive can be found here.

The toe in the door: getting started as a science communicator

“Science Communicator” – it’s a great title, but it can be a perplexing one to explain to someone outside the field. Science communicators are so diverse in what they do that attempting to show the professional links that bind book authors and TV presenters to museum curators and researchers can be a challenge. It is even harder when someone asks you “How do I get into science communication?”

The obvious link between us all is that we are interested both in science and in getting science over to others, but that has little practical value when someone wants to know how they can join us as a practitioner. If they are clear that they want to be a teacher, journalist, blogger, volunteer zoo guide or any of the other many activities that nestle under our label the way is clear, but for those simply interested in the vague attraction of science communication, or who have started down one path (like research), feel that it is not for them and they want to do something else, it can be hard to know what advice to offer.

Science communication can also be a pretty idiosyncratic pursuit. Before the Australian Science Communicators formed, many of us had carved our own niche, but that doesn’t mean that it remains a niche now waiting to be filled by another. You only have to look at the speed with which mainstream media are changing to realise that getting into science media now is very different from doing it twenty or thirty years ago, and so older ASC members, often with the greatest experience of science communication, may also provide the least useful examples for others to emulate.

That said, we do get many enquiries from those who, in a general sense, “want to get into science communication.” I was asked to present a session on this at the recent conference but, living in a bushfire-prone region, I like to stay home in February, so had to miss what seems to have been an excellent few days. I haven’t ducked the request, however. I thought about what I would have presented and here, for better or worse, are 17 points that might help someone who is interested enough in science communication to want poke their toe into the water.  They are in no particular order and cover writing, journalism and media presentation. That simply reflects some of my own experience, and I’d be delighted for others with different (or similar) backgrounds to add their points to the list.

Writing and journalism

  1. Try to write/prepare material that lets you build a portfolio that someone will take seriously. Newsletters can provide an outlet and, since they don’t pay, they are often desperate for copy, but choose carefully. Don’t go for a photocopied one with an audience of 10 and so short of material that you can rabbit on at will. Go for something that is edited, well read, professionally printed and where the editor can give you a brief (word count/photo requirement /style etc), although some people say that they don’t care what the outlet is as long as they see evidence of someone who knows how to write a story. Writing material for edited newsletters that have a clear editorial style, professional look and a large audience is good practice in learning how to write an interesting piece, so it is not to be disregarded. Start building a portfolio of your work, even if you are not paid for it.
  2. A lot of material in newsletters, corporate circulars etc shrieks “We want you to know this.” Practise, instead, writing something that makes the reader or listeners think “I want to read/hear/watch this.”
  3. Most (all?) universities have newspapers in which they write thinly disguised “We are wonderful” stories about their staff and research. These go to the community but also to media. Some stories are well written and others no more than puff pieces. See if you can evaluate those of real strength versus those that are uni propaganda. Ask the Media Unit if they will accept/look at material from you. Again, most won’t pay (although I know of one uni which worked with beginners, helped them develop their style and then paid for what was used). MAKE SURE you understand their brief (length, style etc) and match it with what you write. You may get no money, but should get your name in a byline on a printed article that you can add to your portfolio.
  4. Always try to find some kind of story to deliver, rather than just facts/figures. Journalists are often told that their audiences are thinking (if subconsciously) “How does this affect me or the people that I love?” Think of how you can make your story answer that.
  5. Avoid hyperbole, especially the tired clichés of science writing, particularly “breakthrough,” “cutting-edge,” “leading-edge” “world-beating.” Some editors I know are so sick of these that they bin on sight any media releases containing them. Think, instead, of how you can convey why the work is interesting/important rather than resorting to overused and tired clichés that suggest you may not know much about the subject.
  6. Media reports are often called stories, although they are anything but. Remember the power of a true story. Attune your ear to the great broadcasters (e.g. David Attenborough and the late Alistair Cook) and you will find how they can make a report into a story that captures and sustains interest.
  7. Think about and learn how to take an interesting photo to supplement your story. Some outlets will simply not use a story without a photo. Learn the rudiments of composition (for video as well). Practise being able quickly to make the focal interest of your pic one third in and one third up or down in the frame. An interesting picture is NOT people standing to attention in a group smiling at the camera or clustered around a computer. Think of a photo that makes people want to say “What is that about?” and read your story. Some good examples can often be found in finance pages where, faced with subject matter that bores most readers, photographers are often inventive (face seen through glass of wine, reflected in hubcap, shot down length of bore tube etc).
  8. Find science or similar journals that interest you and in which are articles that you believe you could match. Look at (or ask for) their editorial policy that should tell you if they take unsolicited material and in what form. Ask the editor if you may submit something for scrutiny. I work/have worked for a number of science journals in Australia whose editors are (cautiously) ready to mentor beginners if they don’t get overwhelmed with submissions. Some are surprising – have a look at Readers’ Digest policy – and they may pay if you get in.
  9. Remember that many staff in newsrooms go on leave around Christmas and January. Skeleton staff may struggle to find enough material at that time. This also applies to regional media outlets. That may be a good time to make your pitch to see if they will take stuff. Keep what you submit short and punchy and relevant to their readers. If they like it they may, in time, let you get longer, but at least you’ll have something in print for your portfolio. Monday is also often a slow day in the media as the material from the week before is old.
  10. Explore what outlets there may be online. Many people have developed their reputations as good and interesting bloggers. It is another way of learning the discipline of writing competitively (by which I mean making people want to read you when there is so much on offer).
  11. Try your Community Radio and TV stations. They won’t pay, but may be able to take some stuff that you do and may also give you some valuable training in editing, microphone craft, studio practice etc.
  12. Some radio outlets, community and even commercial, may be interested in a package of short pieces. I was recently asked to do one on our state’s ten top scientists. They were only about 2 minutes long, but there were ten of them – a short series for the CV. Think of a similar series you might offer and make it relevant to the outlet (10 top female scientists of Australia? Who should have won a Nobel Prize and Why? 10 science predictions that didn’t come true, kitchen science etc). Sadly, science journalists are being dropped and not replaced as mainstream media struggle to balance the books. Few regular journalists are strong on science, and it can be a good field for a freelancer. My pathway into TV newsrooms for 16 years was not through a journalism degree but a science background and experience in TV presenting.
  13. Learn how to edit a radio piece. You can download a very good digital editing package free from the Internet. It is called AUDACITY (Google it), and sits on your computer. You can record on various (good quality) devices, feed the track(s) into the computer, and edit in Audacity, outputting it as MP3 tracks, downloaded to a recorder, CD or similar. I have used Audacity for quite a bit of nationally broadcast material. It is pretty easy to use and an extremely valuable (and free) way to learn digital sound editing (1 or multi tracks). There is also a manual on line and a Q&A section. This is a good skill to have with the increasing number of online outlets. (Audacity is also good if you are a musician and want to do some mixing).
  14. Similarly, learn to shoot video that looks professional. Use a tripod for steady shots, collect wide and closeup shots (from different angles) and practise editing them together on one of the many editing packages (many free – see what came with your version of Windows). It is a good idea to start with a short, simple, defined project (there is that “brief” again) like a holiday, family gathering, wedding etc. Watch to see how professional media material (eg a news story) is put together. You will learn heaps and, again, have some skills that you can offer when people want science talks or events videorecorded.
  15. See what may be around in terms of Prizes and Awards. There are such things for amateurs in writing, photography and even video. Again, they usually define the brief, and learning to work to a brief is essential. Working up material for the entry will give you training, may give you a prize or may produce something that, even if it doesn’t win, can be used somewhere else.
  16. Many societies need a publicity officer. This might only be for special occasions (awards; events) or they might have much to communicate. Consider volunteering for that role, and learn how to produce a professional looking media release. Many amateur releases are simply long narrative paragraphs; fatal! Media releases have their own “Lego” construction for very good reason – it is easy for journalists to select and join different parts as needed and at great speed. Media releases that don’t look like that often ring alarm bells with journalists. Learn how to put a good media release together with interesting quotations (grabs) from people involved (there are online sites that offer examples) and then where to send it. It will give you useful insights into how journalists try to deal with the barrage of material they get each day. Perhaps your society will pay for you to do media training. If so, grab it, but get it from someone who has actual experience in a newsroom or on the media; there are many “experts” offering training who have done neither, and they make take you down very counterproductive paths.
  17. ASC is a society. That means that there are members with great experience in many different aspects of science communication who are approachable. They are all busy, but most will be happy to help with constructive advice; even reading some of your work if it is not too lengthy. Find someone who has experience in the area of science communication in which you are interested and try them.  Good luck.

Dr Rob Morrison is a freelance science writer and broadcaster, and National Vice President of ASC

From the President, April 2010: Survey winners, making friends and IY

I am happy to announce that Tesse Hoekstra and Annie Harris were selected from the respondents to the ASC post-conference survey as the winners of copies of Julian Cribb’s ‘Open Science’ book. I expect they will find it as a good a read as I did. Julian’s book contains a range of useful and sometimes surprising tips.

The responses to the survey also made a good read. Many of the 70 respondents made constructive suggestions about how to make the conference better as well as mentioning numerous aspects they found as highlights. In general respondents rated the conference highly, finding it informative and useful for networking. We now have to consider when to hold the next conference. Expect to be asked for input.

Since the conference ASC National Council and Executive have been working on numerous matters relating to medium and long-term planning, and considering the implications of the Inspiring Australia report. I have had preliminary discussions with DIISR personnel and will continue the process. I am optimistic that ASC will play a significant role in helping to fulfil the aims of the report. Actions we are taking now include seeking new or closer relationships with professional scientific and educational bodies and government scientific organisations. In general we will act to place us in a beneficial position when government funding eventually becomes available to implement the recommendations of the report.

We are currently considering members’ responses to Rob Morrison’s request for feedback about the Inspiring Australia report. We are still awaiting responses from a member and branch or two but we already have plenty to chew over. Your feedback will help guide our actions.

Next year is the International Year of Chemistry. IYC offers opportunities for chemical-inclined ASC members (think laterally here) and our branches to engage with a wide range of professional chemistry, educational, industry, government and environmental groups. To find out the contact person in your region view http://www.chemistry2011.org/connect/the-iyc-network?show_node=1241. Get in touch with these people now because some groups have started their planning for next year’s events.

Jesse Shore

National President

Canberra networking opportunity 4 June

4 June 2009
6:00 pmto10:00 pm

Wondering who else is communicating science in Canberra? Wondering where they are, what they do, and what great ideas they can share?

This is an open invitation to anyone interested in meeting other professional science communicators and those interested in science communication — whether from government departments, research organisations or the private sector. Join us to meet new people and make professional contacts. Bring your colleagues or just bring
yourself –we’ll have an activity to get people talking.

Date: Thursday 4 June 2009
Time: 6:00pm
Location: King O’Malley’s Irish Pub, 131 City Walk, Canberra City.
Food: Some nibbles will be provided – gold coin donation gratefully received.

RSVPs appreciated (but not essential) – email Claire (claire.harris at csiro.au).