This publication is an overview of programs offered by the Graduate School in Scientific Communication at The Australian National University. These programs are run in collaboration with Questacon--The National Science and Technology Centre.
Science on the Move
Item order Title
Professor C. Bryant
Convenor, Graduate Program in Scientific Communication
Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200
In a society like ours, in which the whole underpinning of our day to day activities is dependent on past and future scientific advances, it is of paramount importance that we understand the processes of scientific creativity and the nature of its fruits. Each generation creates a technical legacy for the future. We thus live in an increasingly technological world and the development of our technological sophistication must keep pace so that we can cope with issues raised by our accumulating knowledge. For example, a great number of the political decisions made at government level require a high degree of scientific understanding, yet most of our elected representatives are not trained in science (a notable exception is Margaret Thatcher!). Government needs interpreters of science, the private sector needs them and, most important, people need them.
In order to facilitate the communication of science considerable effort is put into promoting the fascination of science, cultivating a sense of optimism about it and emphasising its power in problem solving. Implicit in the process is the view that science and technology are inherently worthwhile activities, like painting and music. But interpreters of science must be honest. They must be prepared to deflate media hype about so-called 'breakthroughs'; they must be properly sceptical about the claims of scientific enthusiasts; above all, they must provide fairly argued, even-handed accounts upon which others can make decisions. Scientific communicators are, of course, allowed opinions but opinions must be unambiguously identified as such.
It is a big responsibility. In its purest form, the communication of science is not public relations, although, many of our graduates will undoubtedly find posts in this area. The best science communicators are independent of obligation to any vested interest. In my own field, I think of Stephen Jay Gould, whose essays on biology expound ideas, and only incidentally promote his employer, Harvard University. And this independence is the ideal for which we strive in our new Graduate Program in Scientific Communication.
Yes, late last year we became a fully fledged Graduate Program in the Graduate School of the Australian National University. From a modest start with a certificate course in 1988, we moved to a Graduate Diploma in 1990, and last year we enrolled our first Master's students, one of whom should be awarded the degree this year. With the advent of Graduate Program status, we will have fifteen Graduate Diploma scholars and we are able to enrol students in the Master's degree by course work or by research. The number of places is limited by the availability of supervisors. At the time of writing, we have the equivalent of five full-time students but, with the appointment of a new member of staff, which we hope will occur later this year, we should be able to take more. Theoretically, we are also able to enrol PhD students. I say theoretically, for we are still in the early stages of our development and there are staffing implications that have yet to be resolved. But I am confident that they will be resolved and that we can look forward to our first PhD student in the not too distant future.
I have insufficient space here to go into the details of the program but the essence of our philosophy is flexibility. No one has yet provided a definitive description of a science communicator and we believe they take many forms. Course design reflects this protean view, and individual programs are devised in consultation with students to take advantage of their interests and to maximise their abilities.
In 1988, at the conclusion of the first certificate course, I wrote that "It is hard to see how the magic can be repeated next year, but repeat it we must. We have established our standard of excellence and we have to live up to it." If we have lived up to it - and I believe that we have - it is due to the calibre of the students with whom we have been privileged to work over the last six years.
Adjunct Professor Michael Gore
Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre
PO Box E28
Queen Victoria Terrace
CANBERRA ACT 2600
In the beginning......
When we began to present short science demonstration shows at Questacon back in the early eighties, I guess that none of those involved could have imagined where it would lead. These shows were very popular and as time went on some of the student Explainers who made up the volunteer staff of Questacon were invited to try their hand at presenting shows. To ensure that no one lost the scientific plot of any of these presentations, regular sessions were held--the team of Explainers avidly discussed, criticised and revamped the original shows, commenting on the various techniques used to make points, hold the audiences attention, and inject humour. Everyone had something to offer, and we learnt from each other.
Chris Bryant and I began to visualise a training program in the art of communicating science for science graduates. In 1988, Questacon was merged into the new National Science and Technology Centre and simultaneously we established the first graduate course in science communication with nine scholars. (Three years after ANU took the decision to establish the course, Imperial College in London also set up a Masters course in the same field.)
In its early days the course was informal and unstructured, but the results were very gratifying. To see how these newly-graduated science students blossomed was fascinating. The way in which their confidence and verbal presentation skills improved was really spectacular. It was clear to even the most casual observer that the program really was successful in producing good communicators.
Each year, graduates of the course have sought temporary employment with interactive science centres, museums and science festivals in North America, Europe and the United Kingdom. Reports coming back indicate that these graduates are now eagerly sought after. They have the advantage that where ever they go, they are able to 'hit the ground running'--they have helped set up and run public science programs, presented demonstration shows, trained explainers and been involved in many aspects of interactive science centres. The next stage in this international facet of Questacon is to find ways of establishing exchanges between science centres and other science communication organisations around the world. There is no doubt that cross pollination of this kind will be invaluable to the world wide endeavour of improving the public understanding of science.
The course has steadily evolved and broadened as the following pages show. The Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication, is unique in the world of Academe. Down through the ages, universities have frequently been the leaders in social change. So it is with ANU and the Science Communication program.
The Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication
The Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication offers a unique opportunity for science graduates who have a flair for communicating. Currently fifteen scholarships are offered on a competitive basis to science graduates from around Australia. A short list of applicants is identified based upon their academic qualifications and achievements, as well as their potential for becoming good communicators. To some extent the last is assessed through their written applications. The final selection of scholars is made from the short list and is largely based upon an 'audition' video tape of the applicant presenting a short 'science show' to the assessors .
During the year-long course each scholar is instructed in methods of communication and ultimately all scholars learns to communicate scientific information in a variety of formats to a diversity of audiences. There are two distinct training components in the program. First, theoretical and practical instruction is provided to the scholars by experts at The Australian National University, Questacon-The National Science and Technology Centre and by visiting lecturers at each of these institutions. Second, the Shell Questacon Science Circus, an 'outreach' science program and flagship of Questacon--The National Science and Technology Centre, provides the major vehicle for scholars to practise and develop their scientific communication skills. Canberra based course work is interspersed between six national science circus tours during the year. While on tour, scholars practice what they have learned in the theoretical component of the course, which is to communicate science to people of different ages, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.
Shell Australia Sponsor of the Shell Questacon Science Circus
Shell's sponsorship of the Shell Questacon Science Circus is entering its eighth year. Support for the circus is a natural fit for Shell--being a science and technology based organisation and recruiting young science graduates every year.
Shell commends the Science Circus and its 'scholars'--a team of dedicated young science graduates -- for their success in bringing science to the people of Australia in a unique and appealing way. To enhance Shell's sponsorship of the circus, support has been extended to these young graduates through assistance in developing the Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication at the Australian National University.
It is a pleasure to be associated with a program that raises awareness of, and changes attitudes to science and technology. If the Shell Questacon Science Circus can continue to do this and stimulate young people to pursue careers in science whilst promoting a positive image of science to the public, then it will have achieved its aim--Shell's sponsorship objectives will have been met and Australia will be the beneficiary.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Shell Questacon Science Circus
The science circus began touring Australia regularly in 1988. It consists of the team of scholars, a tour coordinator and the team truck driver who is responsible for transporting the fifty-three transportable interactive exhibits and science shop which are moved to different venues in the Science Circus pantechnicon. Scholars are responsible for the setting up and running of the Circus when it opens to the public, they also conduct visits to regional schools.
Setting up the science circus at a venue includes the arranging the exhibits, lights, public address system, shop and show areas. During opening times at the venue, scholars present a program of entertainment including lively presentations (see science shows and busking below), open the science shop and explain exhibits to visitors. The latter is an integral component of the Circus since scholars are required to explain the scientific principles and implications of all the exhibits to members of the public. It is therefore very important for scholars to have or acquire those skills enabling them to 'talk science' to people from all walks of life.
Scholars are also responsible for training local high school students to be 'assistant explainers' enabling them to help in the routine running of the venues. Assistant explainers are useful as their help gives scholars more time to mingle and interact with visitors. It also provides aspiring young high school science students with the opportunity to see some practical applications of the science they have learned and to meet and talk to scholars .
Another major role of the science circus is to visit the full range of regional school settings. When visiting schools, scholars work in pairs where they each present a science show to a group of up to 120 students. Scholars must be able to make adaptations to the content, language and presentation style of their shows to suit different school audiences. They are required to cater for all ages of school students as well as be prepared for the technical problems imposed by an array of localities.
Since its beginning, show giving has been an integral part of the science circus and scholars are required to develop a number of science demonstration shows which explain the concepts underlying particular topics or themes such as; music (sound), collisions (energy transfer), and liquid nitrogen (states of matter). Shows are presented in a lively and entertaining manner. Many scientific concepts relating to a particular theme are illustrated using common household implements, so that these 'experiments' can be easily repeated at home by members of the audience.
These shows are performed in the full array of school settings as well presented to the general public who visit the science circus. Thus scholars adapt the same show to suit diverse audiences in a variety of locations.
'Science circus busking' is a different style of presentation designed for situations requiring short, dramatic demonstrations or presentations, which engage and entertain small groups of people. Busking is used in a number of ways to entertain visitors queuing to enter the science circus venue; to entertain between shows during a school visit; to engage visitors inside the venue; to attract the interest of passers-by in public places (as a promotions vehicle) and to entertain at media interviews.
This format gives scholars the opportunity to busk some aspect of their chosen scientific specialty. Busking may also be used to focus interest upon a particular exhibit at the venue, or the science-based toys sold at the science shop. It often involves interaction that is more personal and can be focused upon the needs and interests of a particular group, and thus, may develop into questioning and discussion.
The science circus has a policy of visiting institutions and organisations outside the general education system. Science shows are presented to people in hospitals, Rotary Clubs, homes for the elderly and correctional institutions as well as to isolated communities including Aboriginal settlements and Schools of the Air. Scholars must be able to adapt their presentation style in order to communicate with these disparate groups. At isolated Aboriginal communities, for example, English is usually a second language and science is not taught in a similar manner to that in the mainstream education system. In this situation, less reliance can be placed on verbal explanation of concepts. Therefore, a workshop, consisting of many, varied, highly interactive and visual demonstrations, where all participants may experiment for themselves, is most effective. Scholars in such situations must learn to deal with children's shyness and neutralise their fear of embarrassment in front of peers. Once such initial barriers are overcome these participants are often highly experimental, energetic and enthusiastic.
Scholars also present science shows at schools and workshops for people with a range of physical and mental disabilities. This requires a different approach again. In these situations scholars have to address the challenge of giving demonstrations which can be 'experienced' by all members of the audience.
School Of The Air
School of the Air is an education program designed for children living in isolated areas of Australia. Lessons are taught via radio links from the teaching base to each student's home. Thus, a classroom may stretch over hundreds of kilometres. Communicating through this medium presents a novel and challenging experience since scholars are required to master and deal with the shortcomings of radio communication and interact with an audience that they never see. In preparation for these venues, scholars attend training workshops in order to gain techniques in script writing and verbalising instructions. School of the air students are sent 'demonstration kits' (Exsciter Paks) about certain scientific themes for example, 'air pressure' or 'sound', prior to the science circus school of the air programs. During these sessions scholars use the scripts they have drafted as an aid to guide School of the Air students through a variety of demonstrations presented in their kits. Despite having rehearsed the scripts and issuing well-designed kits, scholars cannot be totally prepared for the unpredictable nature of responses and questions from a class of especially independent students.
Scholars are responsible for organising and participating in media coverage and promotion of the science circus while on tour. Electronic media workshops provide training in skills required for scholars to present themselves and represent the science circus effectively in both radio and television interviews. A number of interview situations are encountered. Radio stations may choose a 'live to air' telephone interview or sometimes invite a number of scholars to bring some noise-producing scientific toy to help entertain the listening audience of a chat show. Television crews often visit the circus venue to shoot news footage and scholars have performed at television studios for morning and variety shows. Since a wide range of interview styles are encountered on tour, scholars must be adept at dealing with interviewers and well prepared for their sometimes unpredictable questions.
A journalism workshop introduces scholars to the print media. Here they learn techniques in writing science articles for local and national papers, science journals, magazines and press releases. This section of the course is coupled with training in magazine layout and design so that scholars gain skills in drafting science circus media releases and writing articles for publication.
When the graduate diploma program was introduced in 1991 the research project was initiated. The empirical research project is an important part of the Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication. It is more academically oriented in comparison with the rest of the work for the Diploma, it is essential because it ensures that scholars are equipped with the ability to design a simple research project, and therefore with the ability to detect bad experimental design when interpreting science for others. It introduces students to the special problems of working in the social sciences, in particular the importance of not being intrusive or threatening to subjects. It provides practice in designing simple instruments to elicit information without trespassing on the rights of individuals. Finally, it develops an analytical approach to problem solving and provides experience in the interpretation of statistical data. This last is a large part of scientific communication because problems frequently arise which involve making statistical assessments of risk, at which the public is notoriously poor. Some of the past sub-thesis titles include:
"The Effect of Sexism in Science Demonstration Shows" (Rebecca Collis, 1991)
"Prior attitude and its influence on recall and comprehension of controversial environmental information" (Fiona McFarlane, 1991)
"The relationship between behaviour, interest and knowledge in non formal learning: which presentation format is most effective?" (Jenny Robinson, 1991)
"Gender Bias in the Evaluation of a Science Essay by Science Teachers"
(Imani Gunasekara, 1991)
"The Evaluation of Different Styles of Graphic Label for Exhibits from the Shell Questacon Science Circus" (Michelle Marsh, 1992)
"A Comparison and Assessment of Three Methods of Science Communication" (Sarah Vandermark, 1993)
"Are Farmers Getting the Message? An Analysis of the Use of Information Sources by Farmers" (Caroline Peters, 1993)
"The effect of a structured visit on the social, physical interactive and knowledge outcomes on a school excursion to Questacon." (Will Inveen, 1993)
Scholars are required to organise their work schedule to include project design, data collection, analysis and writing their research reports around a hectic timetable which includes attending lectures, workshops and seminars, interspersed with long periods of touring.
Exhibition and Science Show Design
Exhibition design was introduced as part of the course work in 1992. Prior to this change, scholars were required to develop their own science demonstration show. Scholars are now given the choice of developing either a science/technology show or an interactive exhibition. Regardless of which they choose to do, this part of the course work introduces scholars to the fundamental design requirements for putting together good interactive exhibitions. This course work prepares scholars for creating a theme for an exhibition that is suitable for a particular target audience.
Scholars design an exhibition to a particular 'brief'. In 1992 scholars were asked to design an exhibition for a large gallery in Questacon. In 1993 scholars were required to design a travelling interactive exhibition that would extend Questacon's national profile. Apart from drawing upon their experiences with the science circus and visits to other science centres, scholars are given a series of design seminars and workshops to aid in developing their exhibition concept. Scholars are required to present their exhibition concept to a panel of Questacon representatives. This presentation is given in the form of a 'sales pitch' --scholars have to convince managers of the worthiness and potential of their exhibition. Scholars also produce an illustrated dossier outlining their exhibition ideas, including designs for three exhibits. Both the oral presentation and the dossier contribute to the assessment of the exhibition design. Some titles of past exhibitions include:
1 "Science Playground" (Leah Witton, 1992)
2 "WHODUNNIT" (Michelle Marsh, 1992)
3 "Great Moments in Science!" (Caroline Peters, 1993)
Science and Society
Another component of course work is a series of evening sessions entitled "Science and Society". Master's students, scholars, ANU academics, Questacon representatives and visiting lecturers attend these evening sessions, where two scholars present different and provocative views on topical and often controversial scientific issues. An open discussion, in which the scholar is called upon to defend his/her argument, follows each presentation. These discussions often become lively debates and before the end of each session all members of the audience must state whether they support or reject the argument put forward by the presenter. The proceedings are tape recorded and both presenters are required to submit a summary of their argument and defence and major points of disagreement
The numbers of scholars per year has steadily increased --to 12 in 1993 and 15 in 1994. Only ten scholars are on tour with the Science Circus at any time. During tours the remaining scholars visit and work with other science communication institutions in Australia. Hosting institutions for 1993 included: Beyond 2000 (Ten Television Network); A Question of Survival (ABC Television Network); CSIRO Information Services, Film and Video Unit; CSIRO Centre for Environmental Mechanics; Northern Territory Conservation Commission; ACT Department of Environment, Land and Planning; The Powerhouse Museum (Sydney); The National Aquarium; The Canberra Times; The Australian and The Helix magazine. These placements offer opportunities for scholars to investigate new fields of employment, learn new skills, and apply recently acquired skills and, most important, make contacts within the science communication industry. Scholars were successful in having articles published in key Australian newspapers and magazines including The Australian, The Canberra Times and The Helix. Other projects completed during past placements include the production of a feasibility report for establishing Frog Watch in the Australian Capital Territory; contributions to television productions of topical scientific research and 'screen tests' for television and video presentations.
Graduates with a Diploma in Science Communication from the ANU are equipped with a variety of communication skills and experience. They have been trained to communicate science effectively to a broad range of audiences, through an array of media. While acquiring these skills scholars gain insight into the Australian public's perception of science. Finally, after a year of working, travelling and living together, scholars have developed skills to make them effective team members.
The Master's Course In Scientific Communication
The essence of the one-year Master's Course is flexibility. Sometimes we are so flexible as to be bewildering to would-be students but, as I remarked elsewhere, no one has yet provided a definitive description of a science communicator. Some immediately think of science journalism in newspapers and magazines, others of popular TV programs, still others of the increasing role that environmental consultants play in our society. Of course, scientific communication is all of these and more. Potential Master's students arrive at the ANU with their own interpretations of their future roles and it is our task to equip them, within our broad framework, with the skills and the knowledge to make their visions possible.
In contrast to the Graduate Diploma, the emphasis of the master's degree is shifted heavily towards the academic side. A student has to complete eight identified units and write a sub-thesis for the Degree. At present, three of the units are specifically tailored for the degree course and offered within the ANU. The first is a theoretical approach to communication, Communication and Science, and is presented by the Director of the Communications Research Institute of Australia, Mr David Sless. It is a series of fortnightly seminars that run throughout the year. Science Policy and Public Relations is also a seminar course, and is undertaken jointly with the Graduate Diploma students. Dr Judy Slee, who convenes the Graduate Diploma program, presents it. Both of these courses are based on readings provided before the sessions and depend heavily on the participation of students. The third course, Science Journalism, has two components. Multimedia introduces students to the art of visual communication, using the latest techniques of information technology, and is presented by Mr David Worral, Director of the Australian Centre for Arts and Technology at ANU. The second component is Journalism. In 1993, this took the form of an intensive three-day course in Sydney, run by Dr Peter Pockley, the prominent science journalist, followed by a day with a large public relations company.
Three practical units are offered by Questacon. The first, Design of Shows, Exhibits and Exhibitions comprises a minimum of 60 hours instruction in any or all of the facets indicated by the title. Shows are for people interested in direct interaction with the public. They involve preparing and delivering carefully scripted and orchestrated demonstrations of scientific principles to an audience. The art lies in understanding and relating to audiences that might as diverse as young children or aged politicians! The second is Exhibits and Exhibitions and involves the development of a single interactive exhibit, or a concept for a collection of exhibits. It requires the identification of a scientific message or theme, and its presentation so that it engages of the casual or interested visitor. The essence of design lies in understanding the nature of the 'message' to be communicated and the modes of communication to be used, and then incorporating them into a display that is both informative and durable. Finally, Public Speaking and Acting Techniques is supervised by the staff of the Education Programs Branch of Questacon. The emphasis may vary according to the needs of the student; it may focus on the development of voice, use of body language, acting, public speaking or media techniques. It culminates for the student in a public performance of some form.
The remaining courses may be selected from the many graduate courses offered by other programs at the ANU. For example, under the heading Research Methods , a student may wish to include some advanced statistics and, for Philosophy of Science, to attend a course offered by the Department of Philosophy at ANU. It is also possible for students to cross-enrol at other institutions to take advantage of specialised courses that may be offered there. In this context, the ANU has a close relationship with the University of Central Queensland. UCQ is using its specialised techniques of distance education to offer courses in science communication. Some ANU students have already taken advantage of this.
Next, there is a requirement for a sub-thesis which should occupy about half the student's time. This is a piece of scholarly work, externally examined, that may take a number of different forms. One of them is the traditional thesis format, a piece of investigatory research, written up and analysed. For example, last year one student devised and analysed a questionnaire that looked at the efficacy of science communication by Cooperative Research Centres. But other modes are possible - for example, an exhibition or the development of educational material suggest themselves.
And as if all this was not enough, finally, there is the placement. This is a structured 'apprenticeship' in areas such as Questacon, Australian Centre for Arts and Technology, the Communications Research Institute of Australia, ABC, newspapers and magazines and museums. The placement is about three to four weeks full-time work.
(For further information about the course and about the Graduate School, write to The Registrar, (Graduate Students Section), The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200)
Vocations of graduates
There are now fifty graduates in Scientific Communication from the ANU. The variety of vocations being pursued by graduates is a clear indication of the value of a qualification in science communication. As science and technology are driving forces shaping and developing many aspects of society, it is not surprising that science communication graduates are in demand across a wide range of occupations. The following vocational profiles of graduates gives an overview of career paths vocations of a representative group of graduates.
Science centres provide a environment in which people's interest in science and technology may be stimulated and encouraged. These centres clearly have a need for science communicators. Many graduates are employed at Questacon - the National Science and Technology Centre. For example Kate Mossop, a 1988 graduate, is an Education Officer at Questacon and is responsible for the preparation and provision of educational support material for teachers and their classes visiting the centre. Oral presentation and writing skills, as well as a knowledge of science centre educational programs learned during her science communication course are directly relevant to her position.
The Shell Questacon Science Circus employs three past graduates of the science communication program. Kerry Moore, (1988 graduate) is an associate lecturer who coordinates the graduate diploma program for current scholars. The two science circus tour coordinators, Joanne Codling (1989 graduate) and Geoff Thompson (1990 graduate) each organise and manage three circus tours a year as well as provide support and guidance for scholars.
Both Linda Cooper (1988 graduate) and Sue Skinner (1989 graduate) are employed by The INVESTIGATOR Science and Technology centre in Adelaide. Linda is the Assistant Director of Planning and Development, responsible for the development and design of The INVESTIGATOR'S exhibitions and the coordination of the medium term planning for the programs, promotions, and visitor services for the centre. Linda maintains that many of the diverse experiences and skills acquired while studying science communication are useful in her current position. These skills include increased confidence when communicating, an awareness of the diversity of audiences and communities, development of interpersonal skills and hands-on participation in all tasks. Sue Skinner is the manager of the INVESTIGATOR'S public and education programs and is accountable for the development and implementation of new programs to accompany exhibitions. Sue says that her qualification in science communication provided her with the perfect skills, confidence and contacts for achieving her current position and she still draws upon those skills when designing science shows, using television media, liaising with contacts and exploring novel ways of thinking about science. Sue says the skills and experience gained from studying science communication at the ANU are much appreciated at the INVESTIGATOR and many other Questacon/ANU graduates are employed within the organisation.
Deborah Abberton (1990 graduate), would have "certainly found it much more difficult and near impossible" to gain her position as Education Officer for the Queensland Department of Education, at The Queensland Museum SCIENCENTRE, without her experience and qualification in science communication. Skills such as the appropriate use of language for different age groups, science writing and presentations are vital to her occupation.
Many graduates have chosen to pursue vocations in education. Jenny Robinson (1991 graduate), is the Curriculum Coordinator, Integrated Science, CCET at the University of Alabama. Jenny works as part of a team in a pilot program that aims to revise the integrated science curriculum for high school students, in 15 states of the United States as well as Quebec, Canada. Their approach is to design and script one hour television shows, with accompanying lesson plans which include 'hands-on' activities, as well as to plan student handbooks which will supplement textbooks. Another aspect of her position is to assist teachers in developing teacher training workshops to improve their science classes. Jenny says that the communication and writing style that she developed as a science communication student was central in acquiring her position. Furthermore, experience in television and radio presentation, scripting shows, use of appropriate language, explaining -- giving her an ability to make many topics understandable -- and her attitude towards caring about science education are all useful in her daily tasks and were products of her science communication training at Questacon/ANU.
"Dr Andi" alias Andrea Horvath (1990 graduate), believes a qualification in science communication from the ANU, was "absolutely essential" in acquiring her university lectureship in Science Education and Philosophy at Monash University. The addition of a science communication qualification to her doctorate allowed her to further develop and expand her science communication skills and opened up a realm of new career directions. Andrea hopes to further her role as a freelance science broadcaster, having presented the radio show 'Einstein a-go-go' and researched for SBS television's Science Series.
The Computer Science Department of James Cook University, of North Queensland, employs Peter Stephenson (1989 graduate) as a lecturer. Peter teaches computer science at the graduate and post graduate level as well as pursuing his own research. Many of the skills gained during his science communication degree are extremely useful in the teaching component of his work. Peter believes that an important skill gained from 'explaining' circus exhibits to diverse audiences was the development of personal communication skills. He says that "When you have a research student who needs to understand something, your ability to discover what they know, what they don't know and what they have misunderstood can save a lot of anguish." Although promotion in universities is based upon research achievements, there is an increasing emphasis on teaching at the tertiary level; thus, experiences gained directly from a qualification in science communication at the ANU will benefit Peter and his commitment to teaching and the development of courses.
Fiona Scott (1988 graduate), is a secondary teacher of Science and Religious Education at Burdekin Catholic High School. She says that a qualification in science communication provided her with an ideal perspective on how she wanted to teach science.
Jessica Yuille (1988 graduate) is probably the most remotely located education employee. Her position is leader at 'Mittagundi', an outdoor education centre/farm for teenagers, in a remote region of the Victorian Mountains. Nine day programs are run, where participants live as the early pioneers did, without electricity, and are involved in physical work and activities. A qualification in science communication gave her experience in working with teenagers and contact with the community at large; these have proven beneficial in her present position.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Scientific research institutions and industry are appropriate environments for the employment of science communicators.
Carrie Bengston (1989 graduate), is the Communication Manager at CSIRO Division of Mathematics and Statistics. A qualification in science communication is directly relevant to a vocation which involves helping business people and the general community to understand how the mathematical and statistical research completed by CSIRO is relevant and useful to them. Carrie says that many of the skills which she currently finds useful were acquired and developed when she was a science communication student. These include; presentation confidence, an understanding of what kinds of attitudes people have to science and how to make science meaningful to them, science writing and media experience. In her present position she is often communicating to business people, showing them, creatively, how mathematics can be applied to help their business. She says that this is part of the challenge of her job.
Bronwyn Terrill (1991 graduate) is the Show Coordinator for CSIRO Education Programs in Melbourne. A qualification in science communication provided the basis for Bronwyn's career, in which she is responsible for the management of the CSIRO Science and Technology Show. This is a travelling interactive science theatre, illustrating a link between scientific research and industry with classroom science. Bronwyn's other responsibilities include developing hands-on science workshops, involvement with the Double Helix Science Club and teacher in-service training.
It is becoming increasingly popular for graduates to further their contacts, experience and science communication skills by visiting science centres overseas. Conversely, overseas science centres are becoming increasingly more aware and interested in graduates from the science communication program at the ANU. This relationship provides a dynamic environment which graduates can explore and ultimately such new avenues may offer exciting job prospects overseas.
TECHNIQUEST, in Cardiff, Wales, has been host to four graduates since 1988. Adam Selinger (1992 graduate) is spending a year travelling and working in science centres, attending science festivals and science centre conferences. At Science North (in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada), Adam was involved in presenting science theatre, outreach programs and the coordination of designing a temporary exhibition.
Leah Whitton (1992 graduate) spent six weeks at TECHNIQUEST, as an education Officer, writing a teachers' information pack and developing pathways through exhibitions, as well as designing and administrating questionnaires to evaluate written text on exhibits. While in The United Kingdom, she was: a Consultant for the Edinburgh International Science Festival; a Director and co-founder of Goanna Productions, a science entertainment group offering science shows, workshops, busking and science theatre, contracted by the British Association for the Advancement of Science; and a Demonstrator and Explainer at the Dome of Discovery in Scotland. Leah is currently working as a Project Researcher and Developer at West Office Exhibition Design, San Francisco, California U.S.A. In her current position she is providing research and development support for an exhibition design project on biology, which includes developing the communication goals of the exhibition and ideas for interactive exhibits, coordinating with science curators and exhibition sponsors, and developing written material for the exhibition. Leah says that the grounding in the principles of communication and practical experience accompanying it, which she gained from the scientific communication program, have proved extremely useful. These skills have been especially useful in helping her to interact with people and exhibits. and to adjust the level of language complexity to suit particular audiences. Leah added, the experience she gained from the design and development of an exhibition is directly applicable to her present job. She says that "the Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication opened a lot of doors for me and has pointed me towards a career with great travel opportunities and a great diversity of areas in which to work."
As science and technology are having a greater impact upon all aspects of life, the employment possibilities and career choices for graduates expand.
The Endangered Species Unit of the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, selected Stephanie Maxwell (1990 graduate) as their Project Officer. Stephanie is partially responsible for the administration of a grant program to promote the recovery of Australia's endangered species as well as implementing the education and awareness program for endangered species. Being able to communicate ideas meaningfully, working as a member of a close team, writing for the media and fast thinking are some examples of the types of skills which Stephanie acquired as a science communication student and which she uses daily.
Kym Turnbull (1992 graduate) is currently an honours student in the Department of Botany and Zoology at The Australian National University. Her research is in an area where there are few specialists and therefore, she finds her scientific communication skills useful. Kym also says that the training in voice production and general verbal presentation skills have aided her in preparing and giving professional seminars.
Imani Gunasekara (1991 graduate) is employed at The Powerhouse Museum as an Audio-Visual Systems Officer and Assistant Curator. A major component of this position is to produce and direct museum information documentaries. Prior to acquiring her present position Imani worked in film for the SBS television network. She says her communication experience, especially in developing electronic media presentations, was helpful in gaining her initial appointment at SBS and her qualification in Scientific communication was "hugely helpful" in gaining her present position. Imani is also involved with researching and developing exhibitions, multimedia projects and public programs for The Powerhouse where she uses a variety of skills gained during her time in the scientific communication program.
The development of postgraduate degrees in science communication, including plans to introduce the PhD degree, reflects the commitment of the Australian National University and Questacon-the National Science and Technology Centre's commitments to science communication and the importance of increasing society's awareness and appreciation of science and technology.
As noted previously, a number of informal exchanges have taken place, mostly between Questacon/ANU graduates and overseas science centres. A number of these visits have proved fruitful with good reports from overseas science centres, regarding both the graduates and the scientific communication program as well. There have been several letters from directors of overseas science centres suggesting that Questacon encourage more graduates to visit them. These positive signs may lead to the establishment of a grant system to more actively support exchanges between Questacon and overseas science centres. It will be interesting to monitor the establishment of formal exchange programs for both staff and graduates between Questacon/ANU and similar institutions.
There is also a plan aimed at improving local and international networks of science communicators. This will happen as more graduates find employment in a diverse range of communication positions in Australia and overseas. Moves are afoot to establish an Australian Association of Science Communicators, which will be of interest to graduates and staff of the scientific communication program.
The success of the 1993 placement program has prompted planned improvements and increases in the range of placements for future years.
Another area to be developed in the scientific communication program is to establish closer links with manufacturing and service industries which have a strong science and technology base. These industries need communicators to liaise with their clients (including government representatives, educational institutions and consumers). The science circus already has a strong relationship with the Shell Company of Australia. In 1994 the science circus scholars are trialing a new type of 'science busking' using the science and technology interests of Shell as content. Examples of such busking topics may include the viscosity of lubricants, used oil purification and recycling, effects of fuel additives and uses and types of bitumen.
Most importantly the post-graduate program in science communication aims to maintain its production of well trained high calibre graduates. The 1994 team of scholars have a challenging year ahead and, as indicated by the following quotes, they seem to be fully prepared with high expectations.
Quotations from 1994 scholars
"To me, the course is very flexible, allowing for a wide ambit of expectations to be met. This coming year will hopefully develop my capacity to convey scientific concepts and give valuable insight into the manner in which science is perceived in the community."
"What I am most looking forward to in this course is the chance to step outside the 'insiders' view of science and listen to the thoughts of non scientists."
"I have both science and journalism backgrounds, and this course will draw both areas together."
"I would like to gain some experience in the communication industry as well as learn to design exhibitions and science shows. I am looking forward to gaining skills important for successful communication and acting as a member of close knit team."
"I hope that a placement will allow me to gain experience in a specific field of interest and open doors or introduce contacts for future employment."
"I feel that there is a growing need for government and private institutions to provide an interface between their research and the general public. A scientific communicator would ideally fill such a position."