Monday, March 18, 2019

Building bridges between Art and Science

Studying the sciences, I’ve often heard peers say, “I’m a scientist, I’m not really a creative type.” I’ve also heard this sentiment expressed in the reverse, as people claimed to be artistic, not scientific; creative, not critical; intuitive, not logical. 

More often than not, people classify themselves as either an artist or a scientist. This dichotomy is perpetuated in higher education, where science labs are located across campus from art studios, courses that span both disciplines are rare, and collaboration between faculties is limited.

As a student, I came by my love of the arts and sciences separately. Both disciplines excited me, both piqued my interest in exploration and learning, but I could not see how to connect the two. It was in science communication that I found a natural intersection between my interests, a point where I could use creativity and design to share science in a fun and understandable way. And it was in science communication that I learned we need to build bridges across the divide that exists between the disciplines of art and science. 

This is where the SciArt Exhibition comes in.

Innovation and exploration flourish when we look at ideas from a different point of view, and that is why the LU SciArt Exhibition challenges students, artists, and researchers alike to look at their work from a new perspective. Local students have used sculptures, paintings, or interpretive dance to enhance their understanding of their science curriculum. Researchers and faculty at Laurentian have reimagined their ideas in quilts, sketches, and a variety of artistic media. Community artists have used their chosen medium to visualize challenging scientific concepts in unique and beautiful ways.

For the past 5 years, the LU SciArt Exhibition has featured as a part of Laurentian University’s Research Week. This year, I have had the privilege of working with students, researchers, and community artists to bring the 6thannual LU SciArt Exhibition to life.

I’ve spoken to artists about the challenges of bringing themes of science into their work, and the many opportunities it brings. I’ve seen the work of artists who use nature to inspire their pieces. I’ve listened to researchers explain how they turn their data into poetry, or quilts, or sculpture, to reshape their understanding and visualize their research.

I’ve sat down with high-school students who felt they didn’t have an artistic bone in their body, and together we’ve dreamed up sketches and sculptures that beautifully illustrate the threats we face from climate change. I’ve worked with a memorable group of Grade 4’s, who taught me a thing or two about coding as they brainstormed their project that intersects sculpture and robotics. 

Through all of this, I’ve learned that the divide between science and art is not so insurmountable as I once thought. When people are challenged to think about these disciplines together, rather than as two separate fields, they naturally begin to amalgamate and new ideas flourish. 

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve struggled to find a connection between your twin passions for the arts and sciences. Maybe you’re a science enthusiast struggling to visualize your concept of interest, or you’re an artist looking for new themes to represent in your work. I challenge you to rethink the separation of art and science. Consider a new perspective, and explore new angles.

You may just create an innovative piece of SciArt.

- Kyelle Byne, SCOM 2019


The SciArt Exhibition takes place on Wednesday, March 20thas a part of Laurentian University’s Research Week 2019, before moving to Science North where it will be on display from March 25thto April 5th. There will be a special Gala evening to celebrate science, art, and SciArt poetry at Science North on April 2ndat 7pm. The exhibition is free to attend, and all are welcome!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Don't Feed Your Inner Critic Cocaine

This year, I started my Master’s in Science Communication at Laurentian University. So far, I’d have to say it’s one of the best educational decisions I’ve made. I am, as my friends call me, a career student. What that essentially means is that while all my friends are settling down, becoming liberated from student loans, and getting their first ‘anythings’, I’m crawling through the unforgiving depths of academia with student loans that could get you a luxury car or three years of non-stop travelling around the world.

You must be wondering how I sleep at night. I sleep very well, thank you very much. (I’ve also gotten fairly good at lying to myself.)

Stress is no stranger to me. Once in a while, we’re friends. But for most of the time, it’s like trying to handle your overwhelming, crazy friend, Caitlin.

I have often found that any social media-related post on stress and stress management was in the form of a cliché inspirational quote or a list of self-care activities. Meditation is a consistent contender on these infamous lists. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that meditation will fix all my problems. 

So, I tried it.

Your first thought is probably that meditation fixed all my problems. Well, meditation didn’t make my problems disappear. Neither did any of those inspirational quotes. I won’t lie—it did help. Just not to the extent of what avid advocates made it out to be. 

It only took me two bachelor’s degrees in biology and neuroscience and working with over a hundred students to learn that stress management isn’t about doing damage control via scrolling through the internet reading inspirational quotes or doing #5 on a self-care list or Netflixing until I felt better. Stress management is like exercise: you need to find healthy activities to do and make it a habit. It won’t happen overnight, but it is doable. It’s also called stress management. It implies that this is an ongoing process that needs readjustments. If meditation doesn’t help, then that’s okay, as long as you find something that does help. One thing I reflected on after working as a mental wellness mentor was that self-care tools and strategies change over your lifetime too. What worked when you were in high school may not work when you’re pretending to be a real adult in the real world after graduation.

Sometimes, stress management is stepping away and taking a break. Many of us are notoriously bad at taking breaks. Society has ingrained in us that admitting that we need breaks and taking time off is a sign of weakness or laziness. We need to be better at equating physical health as being just as important mental health. You wouldn’t tell someone who has the flu, “You got sick because you were lazy.” See how silly that sounds?

Lastly, stress management is being kind to yourself. Sometimes, we need to tell our inner critics to shut up, because stress is like cocaine to our inner critic. Don’t let your inner critic have cocaine.

Happy International Stress Awareness Day.

- Ki-Youn Kim, SCOM 2019

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Taking #SciComm to #MedSchool

Science Communication was a fairly foreign concept to me up until a few years ago when a friend of mine was completing the graduate diploma. I was born and raised in Sudbury, so I had definitely been exposed to science communication through Science North, Dynamic Earth, local hospitals, and other science establishments, but I didn’t realize its magnitude and all of the opportunities this field holds.

My dream since I was a little girl has been to become a physician in Northern Ontario. Having type 1 diabetes and a father with the same chronic disease really opened my eyes to the world of healthcare and interdisciplinary medicine, and offered me a glimpse of the collaborations that occur behind the scenes. I have volunteered in many departments at Health Sciences North and have organized fundraisers for Families of Children with Cancer in Northern Ontario, both of which helped solidify my passion for medicine. Then, on May 8, I received some wonderful news. I am very happy to announce that I have been accepted to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s class of 2022. With this acceptance, I am moving closer to realizing my dreams (starting this September!!!!!!!).

A Bit of My Background
J’ai toujours vécu à Sudbury, donc j’ai une grande appréciation pour la beauté du Nord. Je suis aussi fière de faire partie de la communauté franco-ontarienne. C’est donc très important pour moi de rester proche de mes racines et d’embrasser les différences de tous ceux que je rencontre.

I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science with Specialization in Forensic Science from Laurentian in 2016. In first year (2012), I started working as a research associate at the Northeast Cancer Centre doing research in multiple departments, including Radiation Oncology, Epidemiology, and Dental Oncology. I had a very “traditional” science background heavy in research. However, what was lacking at most of the meetings, conferences, and workshops I attended was effective communication. I really appreciated how difficult it was to translate science into something the public and specialists from different fields could understand. That’s what first lead me to the Science Communication program.

Coming in, I expected to learn a lot about communicating science efficiently to different audiences and was looking forward to exploring health sciences communication. What I didn’t expect is how much I would learn from the people around me in this program. My professors and classmates all have such varied and impressive backgrounds; I’m continually enlightened by their different perspectives and passions. Throughout the year, I’ve loved seeing my classmates present on topics that they undoubtedly care deeply about. Now, what’s even cooler is seeing them all immerse themselves in placements that suit them so well and will hopefully lead to long-term job opportunities. Mentorship is key at any stage in life, so these placements are invaluable.

Plusieurs personnes m’ont encouragé à poursuivre mes rêves au cours de nombreux stages de ma vie. Ces personnes sont altruistes en nature et ont sacrifié leur temps pour m’aider et m’offrir des opportunités qui n’auraient pas été accessible autrement. Je suis très reconnaissante de leur aide et j’espère avoir la chance de retourner la faveur un jour. Si vous êtes dans une position où vous pouvez offrir votre aide à quelqu’un, je vous encourage fortement de le faire. Vous allez laisser une emprunte permanente sur cette personne et leur motiver de faire le même.

Current Projects
My program internship is at Public Health Sudbury & Districts on the Health Equity team. It is a completely new atmosphere for me, having been at the Cancer Centre for about 6 years now. I am collaborating on a very exciting project with my fellow classmate and talented videographer, Brandon Gray, to develop 3 videos that will inspire millennials in Public Health Sudbury & Districts’ catchment areas to increase citizen engagement and compassion. Keep an eye out for those in the near future!

I am so grateful for all of the experiences I have had and for all of the people I’ve met throughout this program. This past year I’ve felt like a proud mom watching everyone grow, work hard and pursue something they’re extremely passionate about. As for me, I’m currently loving my placement and eagerly awaiting to begin my medical studies at NOSM here in my hometown. I’m excited to incorporate all of the valuable lessons I’ve learned during my time in #SciComm into my practice as a Northern Ontario physician. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it forever – you could have the soundest research with absolute ground-breaking results, but if you can’t effectively communicate it to your colleagues, family, friends, community members, strangers, and so on… then, what’s the point? 

-Sophie Lamoureux

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The 2018 STAN Conference Experience

Catherine and I at the STAN conference.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Science Technology Awareness Network (STAN) conference, titled Building Bridges, at Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For those of you, who (like me, previously) are unfamiliar with STAN, here’s a bit of a rundown. STAN – formally launched in 2003 – is a Canadian network that works to enhance the profile and influence of the science and technology education and public awareness sector. Members include government ministries, school boards, corporations, museums, science centres, and individuals. Membership is free (but join quickly – with such fantastic programming and potential, I personally don’t think it’ll stay that way for long!) and along with it comes access to a network full of influential, creative, and inspirational organisations and individuals.

In essence, STAN is working on strengthening science and technology culture in Canada. This year’s conference was around the theme of collaboration across cultures, disciplines, sectors, regions, and gender to collectively support skill development for all Canadians.

The lens used? STEAM. For the uninitiated, STEAM (not the kind from a kettle) is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Though the notion of STEM-skills, and STEM-focused learning has been around for quite some time, the inclusion of the creative approach to those fields is still quite new. “Art” is the acknowledgement that creativity plays a key role in using the STEM skills that we acquire over the course of our lives. It opens up a new on-ramp of sorts, a new way to ignite the curiosity of both children and adults. There has been lots of talk about retaining underrepresented populations in STEM – be it women, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons of colour… the list goes on. However, there is a need now for the conversation to shift from one of lamenting the absence of those underrepresented populations, to fearing what STEM fields will become without those perspectives. The inclusion of arts, of creativity, is perhaps a first step in that direction – towards making the STEM fields representative of our diverse population, and the richer for it.

Exploring Science World with Catherine.
One talk that particularly touched me was Chad Leamans’, who is the Director of Innovation for the Neil Squire Society. He advocates for using the immense potential in our schools, in our interest groups, for nothing less than the betterment of society. For example, a STEM club using the equipment to which they already have access and creativity to work to build accommodations for an individual with a disability. The equipment is custom made, serving not only the individual, but posing a design challenge for the kids, and the opportunity to learn to connect with a part of the population that perhaps would be invisible to them up to that point. It’s making the work that the kids are doing matter and giving them a way to make a difference. It’s making accommodations that would normally be prohibitively expensive accessible for all. It’s building community.

But Building Bridges was about more than the theory of inclusion, of diversifying and enriching partnerships, and harnessing the full spectrum of available resources. It was a space for storytelling, for deepening of connections and for planting the seeds for true collaboration. I’m walking away with a head full of ideas and inspiration, and new connections to passionate individuals all around the country.

 Take homes? I thought you’d never ask.

On collaborations

Having fun between sessions!
These need to be built on equal recognition and inclusion. Power relationships can tint them in all kinds of ways, and we need to be aware of these. Listening must be a 2-way street: we can't walk into conversations with our ideas ready-made, they need to be developed together.

On the future of education

We need our students to acquire skills and competencies that automated processes can't replicate for them to be successful in the future: critical thinking, compassion, human skills, and creativity.

We need to break out of the mold where teachers deposit knowledge into the students, the students deposit the knowledge onto tests, and the tests get deposited in the bins (and how wise are high school students for pointing that out to us…).

And one last thing…

If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching Jay Ingram (previously of Daily Planet) and Nikki Berreth (Lit Scientist, Science Slam) do a PowerPoint karaoke – I highly recommend it.

- Liz Vickers-Drennan

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