Thursday, December 31, 2009

Listing of Careers and Jobs in Science Communication

I came across a brilliant blog post that listed various organizations where science communicators could find a career or job. The list is compiled by Jo Brodie on the blog Stuff that occurs to me.

Although many people have careers in science communication in North America, they are not necessarily thought of as science jobs. They are thought of as communication positions. However the term science communicator is slowly being incorporated into employment listings.

The listing is mainly based on vacancies and organizations in London, where I assume the author is from. Nonetheless, it gives a great idea of the types of organizations which could potentially hire you. As Jo Brodie notes, the listing is heavily weighted towards biology / medicine, but it is still a fairly comprehensive list. I think I'll have to start compiling a list for Canada.....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poetic Science

All through my undergraduate degree there seemed to be a rivalry between arts and science students. Science, (from the point of view of science students) was concrete, logical and important for understanding the world around us. Arts, seemed sort of airy-fairy to us. Analyzing literature or studying music just didn't seem to match up to our science labs and assignments.

My arts student friends also seemed to distance themselves from science. They used to say they couldn't do (or did not want to do) science since they were terrible at math. I'm making generalizations here and there are plenty of students who excel in science and arts. However, I've seen lots of students who fall into the arts and science divide.

I suspect it because of how science and arts are taught in school. They are separate... which is unfortunate. It was not too long ago where naturalists brought artists with them to draw their specimens for them.Even in an age where everything is digitally recorded, first year students at my former university were still required to learn how to do biological drawings.

I see the divide as a real shame because people who are steeped in fine arts like music, poetry, dance, and visual arts are able to express themselves in different ways. Scientists are often stuck expressing themselves only in scientific papers. Research papers are important but they do not help much with the public engagement of science.

Expressing science through arts has the ability to reach a wide range of audiences, making it accessible and understandable. Mark Winston, a presenter at the Science and Technology Awareness Network Conference, is a  biologist and science communicator. His most recent project involves ecologists and dancers exploring behavioural ecology through the medium of dance. The Somatic Scientific shows are a partnership between Simon Fraser University and the Link Dance Foundation. Imagine dancers acting out symbiotic interactions in coral reefs. The shows have received a lot of great feedback from the public.

It is okay to be into arts and science and more parallels should be drawn in schools. We would all benefit from a better appreciation of both. In the age of social media, having and arts background would help greatly.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite poems. It is by Walter Garstang, a marine larval biologist who pioneered a lot of research in the field. A collection of his poems on larval evolution and biology was published posthumously. Take a look at the poem, he presents some pretty heavy science and biology but in an understandable and entertaining way.

From "Larval Forms, and Other Zoological Verses",
Walter Garstang, 1958

Oikopleura, Jelly-builder
Oikopleura, masquerading as larval Ascidian,
Spins a jelly-bubble-house about its meridian:
His tail, doubled under, creates a good draught,
that drives water forward and sucks it in aft.

A filter in front collects all the fine particles
Micro-flagellates and similar articles
Which pour in a stream through a jelly-built tunnel
Into its mouth and its mucillage funnel.

The funnel begins with his endostyle gland,
which flicks mucus up to his circular band:
the stream through his mouth trails it out into threads,
and the whole is rotated as fast as it spreads.

In effect this rotator's a neat centrifuge
that let's out the water and let's in the ooze:
The water is sucked outwards by paired water wheels,
the residue serves him with plentiful meals.

Now although Oikopleura sits by himself
In the midst of his house on a jelly-built shelf,
He's firmly attached in front by his snout,
and never lets go till his house wears out.

But his body behind is completely free
and bathed by the water that comes from the sea
Through two lattice windows let into the walls,
Which limit the size of incoming hauls.

Into this water-space the effluents flow
That start from the spiracles' outward throw:
And lest water-pressure the bubble should burst,
a tubular valve in front blows first.

What shall we say of this marvellous creature
Who breaks all the rules by his composite nature?
he puzzle increases the more it's observed
How far from the track of his fellows he's swerved.

When his jelly-house starts as a lump on his back,
His tail is the finger that stretches it slack:
He probes with its tip between body and test
And loosens the parts which too closely are pressed.

Then, after windows and and traps are all ready,
The tail pops inside, and with motions more steady,
sets the pump working, the water streams in,
The jelly house swells, and the fishings begin.

We believe we can satisfy any scrutator
That anatomy, house, and pharyngeal rotator
Are pure Doliolid in all their relations,
With highly original specialisations.

His tail is the problem and also the base,
For nothing will work if this you erase:
It seems that, from lack of metamorphosis,
He's larva and adult in half and half doses.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Surfing for Science

In Surfing for Science we explore articles and videos on the web about science communication.
  • Is social media a fad? More likely, Social media is a Revolution. This video by Socialnomics details some facts on social media that are hard to ignore. See how social media stacks up to other types of media and how important it is to the present and future generations. Social media a fad? I think not. 
  • Michael McRae, a science educator from Australia discusses how science communication and education relate in the blog post Science Communication and education - Micahel McRae from PodBlack Cat. He gives some tips and pointers for teaching science in school and how to be an effective science communicator.
  • Are protests a good way of getting your message across? Framing science discusses how Protests in Copenhagen are unlikely to be an effective communication strategy. Although protests are organized by passionate people, their message is often unclear. The campaigns tend to appeal to like-minded protestors, however does the message appeal to the general public? How the protests are covered in the news can also hurt the message they are trying to communicate.
  • How important is blogging to science communication? It is another way of engaging the public in science and it is gaining more attention each day. Blogging provides a way for scientists to directly communicate with the interested public. Michael White from Adaptive Complexity talks about Why You should Blog and how it complements professional journalism.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How I forgot to send it in.

We put a lot of emphasis on narratives in science communication, so I'd like to share a story with you. Every week we have assigned readings for our "Theories and Principles of Science Communications" class. The class covers rhetorical analysis of science communication. We send in discussion questions before class and find a communication artefact (article, video, poster, etc.) that demonstrates the topic we’re discussing. Our last day of class, my classmate James, forgot. This is his e-mail to our professor, Dr. Philippa Spoel.

From: James Baxter-Gilbert
To: Philippa Spoel
Subject: How I forgot to send it in.

Sorry I did not send you my questions from the reading for Monday. I would like to tell you the story of the explanation why and how it happened.

How I forgot to send it in... a tale by James Baxter Gilbert

Our story begins with a plucky young science communication student named James. There was something unique about James, he had the uncanny ability to lose all track of time (both during the course of a day, the day of the week, and occasionally what year it is). This ability to become temporally lost has hindered James on many occasions, but it also becomes very handy when camping or doing tedious tasks. It may be linked to his aversion to wearing a watch, but no one knows for sure.

One Sunday James was preparing for a communication trip to the Far North, to attempt to establish ties with the Eabametoong Aboriginal community. James had complied a mental list of things to do, such as pack, prepare for the meetings, get a good night’s sleep, and, of course, do his rhetoric readings and send them in, as well a myriad of other things.

Sadly James' internet had been down for the past week, and he was relying on the Science North’s connection to receive his emails. So he knew he had to head in to complete all of the tasks on his list.

Throughout the course of the day James was checking thing out his list.... and then it struck. James had lost his sense of time once again and suddenly it was night. He was worried he would over sleep and miss Dr. Dave in the morning and in doing so... his flight! He rushed to bed forgetting to check his list, and forgetting to send in his questions for his rhetoric class.

Luckily he did not over sleep, and made the flight north. While sitting at breakfast the next day James' mind began to review the work he needed to do when he got home from the trip. Seeing a geologist working on her laptop he thought to himself, "I mustn't forget to send in the question for the rhetoric reading for Monday's class". And then it hit him... today was Monday... he had miss sending it in, his computer was 600km away, and he had no Internet or cell phone coverage to let anyone know. Sadly there was nothing he could do until Wednesday when he returns to Sudbury and Science North.
And here I am.    

The end.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Latest articles from the Science Communication class

Classes are over, but we're still working away at our projects. As Sarah mentioned, we have two papers due Monday and we just finished a week of various presentations.We have our extracurricular projects too! We always try to "walk the talk" as Dr. Dave always says. So here are some of the latest articles written by us for local newspapers.

Jenn McCallum wrote the article, "Vitamin C, colds and health" for the Sudbury Star (Dec 5, 2009). It gives the history and clears up the issues about fighting colds with Vitamin C. My (Justin So) article on "Confronting the challenge of Aboriginal Diabetes" was published in The Northern Life (Dec 2, 2009). It talks about the issues surrounding aboriginal diabetes and the local cafe scientifique on it.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Twas the night before... the last day of classes.

Well, with a snow storm in Sudbury, semester one is coming to a close!  It has been quite the experience!  The last month has been really busy for all of us!  We have spent hours working on presentations for various classes (such as our Audiences and Issues class, where we had to present any science topic to a chosen audience) and preparing for final papers and assignments.  Now that classes are done for the semester, we have less than a week to finish up our two final papers before enjoying a relaxing holiday season!
All I can say is how lucky we are to have such a supportive bunch!  With all of the work to get done in this program, it can be overwhelming at times!  Being able to go out and enjoy the activities going on in and around Sudbury (between paper-writing and presentation-preparing sessions, of course!) has been one of our main stress relievers this semester!
Every year at Science North, there is the Festival of Lights, where the parking lot at Science North gets set up with beautiful displays of Christmas lights!  Parking lot entrance is by donation only and raises money for local charities.  Some of us spent an evening there walking around in the snow enjoying the lights!  The night we went, we donated towards the Ten Rainbows Foundation.  Check out the Science North media release  for more information about the Festival of Lights.

Julie, Holly, Sarah and Merissa at the Festival of Lights

This year, we also had a great time at Chantal’s annual Christmas party!  (For those who don’t know, Chantal is one of the Co-Directors of the Science Communication Program.  She is in charge of a lot and also teaches us a few classes!)  Although there was not much snow on the ground last night (and just so you all know, there is PLENTY of snow today), everyone had a great time outdoors sliding, and had an extremely relaxing and fun evening! 

SciComm Students having fun in the snow at Chantal's...

We all want to extend very warm thanks to Chantal and her family for hosting us!  We had a great time and really appreciate how much you and all of the other Science Communication staff really make us feel like family!

I wish all my fellow Science Communicators a happy holiday and very good luck on finishing up those two papers!  We are (almost) half way there – We will soon have our G.Dips (I put that in there for you, Myles)! 
Also, for fun, here is a remake of “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore – but this time, it’s SciComm style!  I had some help from Julie and Holly! Also, please note that the reason I went into Science Communication is because my forte is in science – and not poetry.  Enjoy!


'Twas the night before the last day of class, when all through Chantal’s house
The SciComm students were tired, but not quiet like mouse...s
The Secret Santa gifts were put under the tree with care,
In hopes that we would be able to open them there;
Chantal’s kiddies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Julie’s shortbread cookies danced in their heads;
And the SciComm students who had gotten dressed and said some puns,
Had just run outside for some fantastic sliding fun,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I ran down to the lake to see what was the matter.
Mylene’s sliding was fast – she flew like a flash,
Into the tree she had a big crash!
The moon was out but there wasn’t much snow
Kevin and James ran into rocks and objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But more SciComm students, and all of their sliding gear,

With her expertise, so lively and quick,
Out came Chantal with all of her sliding tricks!
As soon as she spoke, quiet we became
And she whistled, and shouted, and called us by name;
“Now, Justin! now, James! now, Merissa and Mylene!
On, Kevin! on Steph! on, Myles and Jenn!
Slide to the bottom of the hill! On the way down, don’t hit the wall!
(Then) It’s cold outside so let’s go inside, that is all!" 

Not quite as fast as the speed of light,
We went inside – it was quite a sight,

So up to the living room we all quickly flew,
With our rosy red cheeks, and Iara’s crutches too.
And then, I hear, beginning in the other room
The “Happy Birthday” song – Holly’s 23rd Birthday I assume.
As Sarah busted out the camera, and got ready to picture take,
In came Justin with a homemade red velvet cake.
Holly blew out her candles with all the strength that it took,
And I hoped that her cake would taste as delicious as it looked.

With all of our plans right on track,
Our gifts, one by one, we began to unpack.
To each person, the gifts Justin did carry!
As we opened the gifts we all were so merry!
Despite these events, the excitement was getting a little low,
After a day full of science presentations, we were tired, you know!
Some girls wound down doing dishes in the kitchen,
Despite Chantal’s orders not to do them.

We also grabbed some extra cookies to fill up our bellies,
And drank our hot chocolate and apple drink that were wonderful-smelling.
The guys and Merissa went out for some air,
While Iara sat on the couch, her sore knee and upcoming papers her only cares;
A look at Holly and the drop of her head,
“I think she’s falling asleep by the fire,” I said;
She must have been dreaming of quarks or quirks,
And we knew we should head home so tomorrow we could do homework,

Getting all bundled up to drive home in the cold,
We were told to check our emails to see how Wednesday’s class would unfold;
We were thankful for Chantal and family’s hospitality,
Because we had a fantastic time – honestly.
I don’t think I heard it (but I know everything thought it) as we drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Science Communication Class Christmas Photo 2009
-    Sarah

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Communicating Forensic Science and the CSI Effect

Our guest lecturer this past week for our Thursday forum was Dr. Scott Fairgrieve, Associate professor of Forensic science at Laurentian and Forensic Anthropologist for the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario. He talked to us about the importance of science communication in his field.

I never really thought of science communication in law or forensic science, but it makes sense. Every time Dr. Fairgrieve is explaining evidence in court, it is science communication. It is especially tough because you are communicating to a jury who come with a lot of preconceptions.

Dr. Fairgrieve called this the "CSI effect". Thanks to shows like CSI, NCIS, Bones etc, forensic science has become sexy and entertaining. In the real world, however, cases are not wrapped up in 1 hr time slots. He mentioned one incident where his report took an entire year after the case began. Processing DNA so quickly is also a bit of an exaggeration. (I'm not picking on the science of CSI, I know it is a show... but it still bugs me when they do not balance the centrifuge.)

He anecdotally mentioned that juries seem to place a lot more emphasis on forensic evidence because of CSI. At the same time, he needs to dispel TV forensic myths so that they have an understanding of the science. It is skill that needs to be developed in all forensic scientists that have to present evidence. In the forensic program, his students go through a "moot court" where they practice being expert witnesses.

Various personnel of the law need to understand the forensic science, from the police officers initially approaching a crime scene to the lawyers and judges in court. Imagine trying to defend or prosecute a person if you didn't understand the forensic evidence or how it was obtained!

To help promote understanding of his field, he was involved with developing a forensic science DVD for law personnel and forensic science students called "Forensic field techniques for human remains: An introduction".

Lastly, Dr. Fairgrieve has to work with the media. Since he works mainly on homicide cases, the media often contact him for comments. Although he is not allowed to discuss current cases, he sees these as opportunities to dispel misconceptions. It is a skill to deal with media who are trying to extract details out of you on current cases. After all, they are just trying to do their job. 

It was really interesting hearing about Dr. Fairgrieve's experiences, and it just goes to show that science communication is truly everywhere.

If you are interested in the forensic sciences program at Laurentian, visit their website. They also have forensic science podcasts and a promotional video posted that were developed by Dr. Fairgrieve and previous SciComm students.

- Justin

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Careers in science communication?

One of the first questions I had when researching this program was "What kind of job or career can I get with this program?". It is a hard question to answer quickly. It is like asking what careers can you get in Biology? Which field? Zoology? Microbiology? Marine biology? Entomology? You could be a research scientist, a professor, a lab technician, an environmental officer, a policy maker, an aquaculture technician, a zoo keeper, a field biologist... and the list goes on.

Science communication is even harder to describe because it encompasses and connects with so many different fields. Think about it. In what jobs/careers would you communicate science? The most obvious answer would be working in a science centre/zoo/aquarium. You could design exhibits, educational programs, marketing plans, communication plans. If you are interested in podcasts or radio, think about Bob MacDonald at Quirks and Quarks. For television, you could have a career at Discovery Channel on one of their many science programs.

I've mentioned the more sensational ones, but lots of governmental and non-governmental organizations need science communicators to write science policy or distill the information for ministers or the public.Off the top of my head, organizations like Project Seahorse, World Wildlife Fund, or Ontario Power Generation. One of our past graduates did her internship at Pollution Probe in Toronto and is now their project manager.

In the movie Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) there is science fiction regarding using material from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to make a bomb. The organizations and scientists with the LHC created a website to distinguish fact from fiction. Without good science communicators, there could be a lot more fear and misunderstanding about the entire project.

So... why not just get these jobs with the education you have? Say... a Bachelors or Masters (or even Doctorate) in science. You absolutely could, but it would be a bit harder. Just because you have one or more degree in science doesn't mean that you can communicate well (Think about your most boring university professor..everyone has one). Also, all the practical and transferable skills you learned during your university career are not necessarily apparent to employers.

After completing a program in science communication it will be quite apparent on you CV, not to mention that you'll have a portfolio showing potential employers what you can do. In North America we are the only comprehensive program in science communication. Because we are unique and because this is a rapidly growing field it makes your CV/resume stand out.

Before I applied to the program, I emailed lots of alumni to see where they ended up. Many of them had jobs in the field soon after graduation. One alumna commented that she was getting interviews and job offers for positions that normally went to people with Phds. Her Science Communication diploma really distinguished her from other candidates.

This program is so worthwhile and the career options are huge. You readers must think I'm biased since I'm always "selling" the program. I'm in the program so I am biased. It is just that I see so many potential opportunities with this diploma that I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm.

- Justin