Monday, February 12, 2018

Researching the Hidden Side of a Science Career

Note: All photos in this article were taken right before the described events.

I think who I am can best be summed up in a text exchange with my friend concerning the book Daring to Drive:

Friend: Why did u get that book *laughing emojis* 
Me: Because I love reading about strong women activists! :D
Friend: Nahh ure just a feminist *laughing emojis* 

To all those who see feminists as bra-burning, man-hating, hairy creatures of vengeance, there are just as many feminist defendants who believe all men’s rights activists* are misogynistic, patriarchal, suppressors of female freedom. I would like to point out to both groups that, just as there is no such thing as a magnetic monopole, the extremists in each group do not represent that whole identity.
*For those decrying men’s rights activists, look up MensLib on Reddit to see their take on the term

What does any of this have to do with my journey through the SciComm program? The answer to that question is…

My thesis topic

As a feminist, I am very interested in the societal factors that place undue demands on disadvantaged groups, keeping them from fulfilling the romanticized quote unquote “American Dream.” This is especially true in academia because of the ‘filtered pipeline,’ or the challenges faced by groups like women and non-white persons that keep them from reaching the ranks of the elite at the same rate as white, straight, cisgender males. One of those challenges in particular is what my research focuses on: harassment.

Women’s mental capacities are biologically different than a male’s. Women cannot perform mathematics and science to the same level as men. - Told to me by a male colleague during my third year of physics research (Glass & Optical Materials Division Meeting 2016).

One reason women become science communicators is because they are exhausted from handling the hostile work environment many females experience in a traditional science career. But do they really escape that by switching to science communication? Ever since the #MeToo movement of 2017, people started realizing that the issue of harassment and assault extended to all corners of society, from Hollywood to news rooms. While harassment is certainly more evident in certain job fields than others, where does the field of science communication (scicomm) fit into that equation? And if it is a problem for scicomm, does that affect the way science communicators communicate science?

Nice cleavage - Told to me by a master’s student in science who had just denied the existence of sexual harassment (walking home from a workout at the gym).

I did not switch to science communication because of harassment in physics. I have wished to be a science communicator ever since I was 14 years old, and I pursued that goal by majoring in physics and communication during undergrad. The physics professors at my college were strong, supportive, feminist males who worked hard to encourage all the women in the department, and they would come down harshly on any males who voiced views against having women there. Despite this, I can still count on more than two hands the times I’ve been harassed, from the snide “inferior women” remarks to more serious offenses.

Sorry *giggle* I’m drunk - Told to me after a woman reached under my dress and grabbed my ass (Physics internship-sponsored dinner cruise).

Harassment takes many forms. It can be hostile toward a certain gender, like the experience with my male colleague. It can be uncomfortable, unwanted suggestions, like the master’s student who commented on my cleavage. It can even be inappropriate physical interactions, like the woman on the dinner cruise. Regardless of the form, harassment of any kind takes its toll, especially if it is experienced day after day. But by recording the ways in which people react to harassment (like by wearing baggier clothing and speaking up less in group settings), we can create a list of behaviors that indicate a certain situation may contain harassment. If we identify these situations and confront the harassment, we can create a safer work environment for everyone.

That is why I wish to dedicate my year at Laurentian to researching this topic. Harassment is greater than just myself, my field, or my country. Harassment is a part of society the world over, and I am proud this program gives me the chance to contribute to the ocean of research necessary to combat this societal ill.

- Lisa McDonald

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Behind the Scenes at Science North

When I first stumbled upon the Science Communication program, one of the first things that intrigued me was the relationship that this program had with Science North. I loved visiting science centres, though it had been 20 years since I had been to Sudbury’s. When I was here on vacation in 1998, my family visited Sudbury, though the only thing I remembered about Science North was that they had a beaver that I was able to pet! 
Me (left) with my two sisters and the beaver at Science North.

After I was accepted to the program, and started telling people that I was moving up to Sudbury from southern Ontario, the first question I invariably got was “What’s in Sudbury?” My answer became something like, “The program is awesome, I get to take classes at Science North!” To all of my friends who listened to me describing being at Science North with excitement, let me assure you that it is just as awesome as I imagined it would be, if not better!

Last term, we had our learning theories class at Science North, in which we learned how visitors are likely to interact with exhibits and programs at Science Centres, and began to think about ways of tailoring our science communication skills to various types of learners. This term, I have opted to take the exhibit design class at Science North. In this class, we are learning the process of exhibit design through the development of our own prototype exhibits. The prototype that I am working on with my partner, Lisa, is on gravitational waves. Through this process, we are meeting staff from around Science North who are helping us learn how to develop our ideas into fleshed-out sketches (low fidelity prototypes), thinking about our prototypes from the visitor point of view, learning about signage, being introduced to the shop where technicians are working with us to build a working (high fidelity) prototype, and finally, we will be testing our prototypes in the science centre with visitors over March break. If that sounds like a lot of work, it sure feels like it some days! Overall though, this experience is exciting, and the staff at Science North are helping us stay focused on the big picture!

First day tour at Science North (I'm in the grey cardigan)!
The relationship this program has with Science North is about more than just taking a couple classes there, though. Everyone in our class is encouraged to go to the science centre whenever we can, to explore, to learn from visitors and staff, or just to relax after a long week. I personally like going to visit the butterfly room as a break from the cold Sudbury winter, and everyone in our class has developed a fondness for the porcupine Maple, who has kind of become our unofficial class mascot – we all love going to see him in his tree!

Science North has given us the space we need to grow and flourish in our “scicomm” abilities, showing us both the front and behind-the-scenes of what it takes to run successful science outreach events and be effective science communicators. Staff challenge us to meet the standards of a real-life business, giving us real world experience, while also letting us experiment and be students who are still learning. It is a creative and inspiring environment to be a part of. Even though each of us in the program have our own backgrounds, experiences, and interests, Science North has given each of us something new to discover and explore during our time here in Sudbury.

- Elizabeth Kleisath

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

a sonnet for scicomm

i decided to compose a sonnet about the science communication program. mainly because i wanted to write a sonnet. but i also felt like restraining my writing to fit within a specific structure would make me more deliberate about what i included and more in touch with what things i associate the strongest with being here.

i wrote the sonnet to encapsulate how complex the year has been: good and bad, funny and sad, inspiring and frustrating. there’s a fair amount of inside jokes, a little bit of love for sudbury even though i complain about it all the time, nods to the field of science and technology studies, and references to both the highs and lows of the year thus far.

so anyway, a sonnet is in iambic pentameter which sounds kind of like this:

say it out loud so you get it right. i promise it will only be sort of embarrassing.

an iamb is one duh-DUH and there are five of them in each line, so, pentameter.

iambic pentameter is kind of like your heart beat, but like, a poem.

shakespeare liked to follow a rhyme scheme like this:
abab cdcd efef gg.

so i did too. because why come up with something unique when i can just copy the best sonneteer? i learned that’s a word today—sonneteer. a writer of sonnets.

here’s a poem by an apparent sonneteer.

a sonnet for scicomm

can scicomm be distilled into an art?
or a precise science that is sublime?
an eloquent poetic truth imparts
a clarity that can shift paradigms.

chantal taught us to differentiate
behaviours breaking through museum days.
and slag and stacks as bears of black collate
in this, a crater where the earth gave way.

remember all the people meerna blessed.
and trees don’t talk apparently it seems.
and some of us are cursed—bad luck, unless,
perhaps the strike is still haunting my dreams.

so follow me along this frozen wake
the ice is cracking on onwatin lake

-jeremiah yarmie

Monday, January 22, 2018

Discovering the Creativity in Science Communication

There is no question about the importance of science in our society. From healthcare to the environment, and all the way up to space, science permeates every facet of life. But its importance needn’t overshadow its ability to be fun and engaging.

I entered this program confident that I would help to expel science misinformation by firmly delivering hard facts and truths. However, this assumption was quickly extinguished as the first thing we learned was that science communication is a two-way street, a relationship between the communicator and their audience – one that requires patience, tact, research, and perhaps surprisingly, creativity. The deficit model, or the one-way street, is condescending and outdated, and therefore, the best communicators are ones who come to understand their audience and find unique ways to introduce them to scientific topics and research.

The creativity element was one that I hadn’t considered, but has impacted me the most. Through this program, we’ve learned to marry the science with our passions, skills, and personal interests. We’ve been encouraged to explore every domain, to paint the world with science, and by experimentation, learn to communicate through a myriad of mediums.

Hard at work during Wiebke's workshop!
My personal journey has seen me transform an educational video into a series of tweets, try my hand at documentary filmmaking and editing, navigate the world of sexual education through presentation, and dream up underwater adventures using virtual reality. While the idea of complete creative control may seem disconcerting at first, it’s a rewarding way to combine your interests with your goals.

Of course, I can’t forget to mention the masterful creations by my talented classmates. I constantly find myself filled with excitement and wonder when watching them exhibit their projects. I’ve sat in admiration watching some turn an exponential graph into a building song, create an endearing storybook for young children, propose a bacteria paint night, and bake climate change into a cake (yes, it was quite delicious).

The brilliance of this program is that with all of us coming from varying scientific backgrounds and worldwide locations, the way we approach science communication is multifaceted and unique. We learn from our courses, but we also learn from each other.

Likewise, our instructors also come from diverse backgrounds, allowing us to experience many different perspectives and disciplines. The concepts introduced in each course can be carried over to the others, and as a result, our communication repertoires have expanded with each new direction we take in class.
Early on in our first term, we were privileged to participate in a 3-day intensive filmmaking workshop led by Dr. Wiebke Finkler of New Zealand, whose directorial knowledge and love of whales were equally inspirational. Later on, we were also visited by Julia Krolik, creator of Art the Science (, whose projects sing of ingenuity and innovation. Both of these women employ their diverse interests to produce awe-inspiring bodies of work in the spirit of science.

Art the Science founder Julia Krolik.
Having class at Science North also helped fuel our creativity, complimented by behind-the-scenes chats with staff scientists, project coordinators, and producers. Walking through the science centre on Wednesday mornings, you couldn’t help but feel the unlimited potential circulating through the building. Indeed, there isn’t anything quite like finishing your class then heading downstairs to say a quick hello to Maple, the resident porcupine. The setting invited our minds to explore, prompting us to think up and create different pathways leading to scientific understanding.

I often think of this program as a long corridor lined with rooms, with each door representing an invitation to try our hand at a new form of science communication. Some rooms I’ve enjoyed more than others, but I’ve left every one having gained new insights and skills. I’ve learned to go beyond writing, where I feel most comfortable, and instead transform the science and my ideas into tangible objects and new technologies.

Science can sometimes feel limiting in its creative license, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s possible to combine your passions in science with art or technology, and let the world see the unique creations that result. It also doesn’t need to be an overwhelming or daunting task, you simply must allow yourself to explore this field through different lenses, always keeping the science message en tête.

As we move into second term, our new courses present additional opportunities to go further down the corridor and open more doors, ushering us to new realms of science communication. 

- Meerna Homayed

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Communicating Bioleaching Science

            Being a part of the Science Communication graduate program gives us the opportunity to hold a GRA (Graduate Research Assistant) position. This year, my classmate Torben and I are extremely fortunate to be working with Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk and diving into the world of communicating the Elements of Bio-mining (EBM)!

We Got This Cooking GIF by WE tv

       The Elements of Bio-mining is a large government-funded program that includes projects from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and of course, Laurentian University. The aim? Harness the capabilities of microbial communities to stabilise mine waste and turn this waste into valuable metals such as nickel, copper, and zinc. These guys can handle extreme conditions and thrive at mining sites, including the nickel mines here in Sudbury. To learn more, go to

Biology Lab GIF by University of California

Extracting metals from sulfide minerals creates sulfide-laden waste tailings, which develops the risk of acid mine drainage (AMD).

“Hey Shahana, what is AMD?”.


It’s basically when oxidation causes iron sulfide within these tailings to ultimately convert into sulfuric acid that can outflow and create acidic water. This drainage eventually leads to ecological destruction and contamination (as you can imagine). Methods to prevent oxidation and slow down AMD has included engineered covers or disposal under water. 

HOWEVER - There are ways to take these oxidising processes and make them beneficial, i.e. using bacteria to extract metals from ore or mine waste - also known as, bioleaching.

In this process, you also remove the iron and sulphur and make them less likely to produce AMD in the long run. Dr. Mykytczuk’s research involves in-situ bio-treatments and exploring strategies for low concentration metal extraction. However, because of Canada’s colder climate, these waste heaps have a hard time maintaining temperatures high enough for mesophilic or thermophilic microbial growth. So Dr. Mykytczuk’s research is looking at how to optimise cold-adapted microbial communities and identifying alternate bioleaching pathways. This is a great long-term, cost-effective (and most importantly in my eyes, ECO-FRIENDLY) solution, especially since there are ~5000 mine sites in Ontario alone.

Adventure Time Finn GIF

            In the end, this research is extremely important since there are few examples of bioleaching technologies that work in Canada. Hopefully, these technologies can be developed in Sudbury and made available for other sites! To learn more about Dr. Mykytczuk’s research, go to

            The first task Torben and I had was creating individual cards that summarised the elements of each of the three projects. For us, these cards were a great learning opportunity. Obviously, we got to dip our toes into the realm of graphic design to create images, icons, and colour schemes that helped us communicate the specific science of each project. We also applied what we learned about understanding our audience to select the appropriate vocabulary and concepts that would be best understood by the reader. Here is the card we created regarding Dr. Mykytczuk’s project about Passive Bioleaching (inspired by the graphic work of SCOM alumnus Hiba Farran):

- Shahana Gaur


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Student Perspective: Conferences in Canada

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Geology, I was lucky enough to find jobs abroad in some pretty neat places. I assisted with research at a biological station in Costa Rica, taught English in Spain, and then worked on the science investments team in the New Zealand government. I chose this program because I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my foot in the door in the professional world here in Canada.

It was an adjustment being a student again, but on the positive side there are student perks! This semester I have benefited from health and dental care, student prices and discounts. Furthermore, I am taking advantage of the opportunity to go to conferences. I have been lucky enough to attend 3 conferences since September, as well as a WISE event, Ladies Learning to Code workshop and even a luncheon talk about sustainability in businesses I’m here to learn as much as I can, and you need to get yourself out there to get noticed.

Science Communicators and Writers of Canada conference

Since we did this in our very first week of classes, it was a bit overwhelming, but I personally found the whole conference quite useful as a great overview of science communication (although many colleagues didn’t share my same enthusiasm). There were lots of sessions looking at all kinds of science debates and topics and they had some strong panelists (I love hearing my old professor, Jeremy Kerr, speak

Canadian Science Policy Conference

I chose to attend this conference because the program looked jam-packed with interesting science topics, speakers, and panels. I was keen to learn more about science policy in Canada since my only real experience was with the New Zealand government, so I was curious to see how things were done here. It was challenging going by myself to a conference where I didn’t know anyone, but I managed to chat with some interesting people and had a lot of business cards by the end of the 3 days. I got to experience a Science Slam, attended speeches by Mona Nemer and Kirsty Duncan, and I enjoyed my 3 course dinner while Julie Payette gave her controversial speech

This was a one-day intensive conference run by Let’s Talk Science, which looked at the future of science education here in Canada. This was really interesting (and swanky) and I got to talk with educational professionals from all over the country. Working as an English teacher and running children’s programs for over 10 years, I have always been interested in how we are working to make Canada one of the best education systems in the world. I did find a lot of the content quite obvious (“if we had more passionate teachers our students would do better”...duh!) but the attendees were really dedicated to the mission and the positive atmosphere was contagious.

My advice to anyone entering this program is make the most of it. It is only one year, and it goes by quickly, so get out there, talk to people, learn as much as you can, and listen to the wise words of the science communicators around you.  

- Brigid Prouse

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Passion in Science Communication

All of my classmates will tell you that I am a geneticist first. Then they’ll tell you about my obsession with my cat, Garfield. For context, my background is in Cancer Research. I have an Honours B.Sc. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from McMaster University and an M.Sc. in Pathology and Molecular Medicine from Queen’s University. Science Communication was not something I ever saw myself doing. I just assumed I would follow the classic academic trajectory of an undergraduate degree, followed by a Masters and then a Ph.D. As much as I loved the research I was doing, I did not love the environment in which I was doing it and it was time for a change. So, I came to Laurentian, ready to free myself from the discipline I had been confined to for 6 years and learn more about the other scientific disciplines. But before I knew it, I was back in my genetics bubble. I am currently a volunteer in the special exhibit at Science North, Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code. My final Audiences class seminar will be all about CRISPR technologies. I recently went to a Science Café about the ethical issues surrounding genetic testing. My research project will be about public perceptions of molecular biology research. And to top it all off, I’m looking at doing my internship at Genome Canada.

My question is, therefore, do you need to work outside of your passion to be a good science communicator? Or is it okay to stay inside your specialized field? When you look at the class of
2018, you’ll see people with a wide variety of interests. We have an avid chemist, a student with a passion for herpetology, another with a passion for whales, and several who are inspired by social change. That’s just to name a few. For some people, the passion is the content itself such as graphic design or social media. And a pattern is starting to emerge where students are choosing to present on their passions for class projects. Is it necessary to branch out from our passions to learn science communication? From my perspective, as long as we have the fundamental communication skills and understanding needed to talk to our audience, the content itself doesn’t matter. If you have the skills to bust myths about genetic testing, then you can also bust myths about climate change. If you can assess the learning framework behind a video about whales, then you can also assess exhibits at science centers. The great thing about this program, is that the foundation it gives you is universal. We can take whatever we learn in our classes and apply it to what we love. In Learning Theories class, we’ve been taught that the way in which you learn comes from your past experiences. If we can frame what we learn from the perspective of past experiences with our passions, won’t we therefore take more away from it?

So, I have to apologize to my classmates because you’ll probably hear a lot more about genetics before the year is over. But know that I am putting passion into each one of my projects because of it. And I know I’ll see the same from all of you. 

- Catherine Crawford-Brown