Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Margaret Atwood in Sudbury

Margaret Atwood's Birthday Dinner in Sudbury
By Teresa Branch-Smith

Listening to Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s literary titans, read an except from her upcoming works proves that ‘story time’ can indeed be epic.  Not possibly any taller than 5’2 and dressed in a long red sleeveless coat with striking collar to frame her recognizable grey hair and clever smile, she has a commanding presence that had nothing to do with her status as the guest of honour.
Margaret Atwood has had her birthday dinner in collaboration with Laurentian University for the last seven years; however, this is the first time the celebration has occurred at Science North where close to a hundred people attended. Most were of an older generation or affiliated with the English department from Laurentian University that hosts the event. Featured prominently though, were members of the Native community whom Ms. Atwood has taken a vested interest in including in the festivities as a means to encourage awareness of their culture. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from the event goes towards building the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre on campus to be completed by 2017.
                                          Teresa with Margaret Atwood.

Once, the apple cider was finished and the dessert coffees and teas were made available, the stuffed dinner guests were invited to relax and watch a video by Debajehmujig- storytellers. The mockumentary traced the making of The Society of the Margaret Atwood Society of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve of Manitoulin Island and the Surrounding Area otherwise known as: MASOTWUIRMIASTSA . Intentions were honourable even though some of the camera work may have been a little shaky, but because it was created with such an earnest appreciation for Ms. Atwood’s literary accomplishments and admiration for her character, the audience smiled without reservation.
Never out of touch with popular issues, Ms. Atwood is all for the fantastical. Her upcoming works are dealing with literal femme fatales as werewolves, recounts of bigfoot and the ever popular zombie apocalypse. From the two brief excerpts, these werewolves are not the sort that needlessly take off their shirts to reveal flawless abs in order to better chase sparkly things. These creatures are sinister, territorial man-eaters, that wear stilettos by day and their date’s blood by night.
The only thing that could dare compare with the vicious werewolf hunt she described was the truly awesome recount of a trip to the bank in the middle of a zombie ridden town. To offer a taste of the disgust to come, she described the protagonist driving over a brain-eater who had previously jumped on her windshield as making a gurgling ‘amphibious’ sound post hit and run.
With Ms. Atwood, because of her enviable skill at vividly describing the world of her imagination, listening comes all too naturally. For this reason, we can all look forward to this version of the apocalypse and a compulsion to check out what else is on the old English reading list besides A Handmaid’s tale.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Internship Spotlight: Ryan

Ryan has sent us an update from jolly old England where he is currently doing his internship at the Natural History Museum.  Check out what he has to say!

From Ryan:
At the end of my day at the Natural History Museum, I join the mass of visitors being ushered out of the halls and galleries onto Exhibition Rd in London. In the past five weeks I’ve seen some children who really, really do not want to go; stomping angrily, and sometimes wailing for ‘just a few more minutes’ with the dinosaurs and meteorites and other wonders.
Thinking ahead to the end of my internship, I hope I behave more respectably when returning my ID to security – but I make no promises.
I work with the museum’s Interpretation team, ‘responsible for the creative and content development of permanent and special exhibitions and public spaces.’ They’ve been great in making me feel at home, including me in department and institution meetings and involving me in a variety of projects from the start. So far I’ve helped develop a display on the recent discovery of two new UK plants, conducted summative evaluations with visitors to Scott’s Last Expedition (try saying ‘expedition exhibition’ five times fast…), and contributed story and guest speaker ideas for a podcast series that will feature artefacts from a new permanent museum gallery. I will continue with this work in the coming weeks, and will start researching images on extinctions (cheery stuff), and developing text for a graphic redesign of the Darwin Centre.
The team has helped me make the most of my time in London, science communication-wise. They encouraged me to go to this year’s Museums & Heritage Show at Earl’s Court – a huge conference for the museum sector, with some interesting talks on exhibit design and new technologies – and have included me in their professional development seminars. As well, we discuss any museum/science centre exhibitions or events we’ve been to recently from an interpretation/visitor engagement perspective at weekly catch-up meetings.   
In short, I am learning a lot, and applying a lot of what I learned in Science Communication.  From evaluation techniques to learning theories to exhibit design to media to effective science storytelling, I find I’m using some theory, tip, or trick from one of our classes every day. It’s easy to feel a bit intimidated at an institution like this, but I feel the program has given me the tools needed to make meaningful contributions here.
It’s pretty easy to draw inspiration for communicating science walking past giant plesiosaurs and samples collected by Darwin on the way to your next meeting. But I’ll admit – nothing’s displayed with quite the same flair as Sudbury Arena’s wolf.
Looking forward to seeing everyone back in Sudbury, once I’ve been forcibly removed from the building.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Internship Spotlight: Ellen

Ellen sent us an update from Alternatives Journal in Waterloo, where she's doing her internship...

From Ellen:

    Four weeks ago, I started interning at Alternatives Journal, and so far I’ve found it a great fit given my wide-ranging interests.

    Based in Kitchener, Ontario, Alternatives is Canada’s oldest environmental magazine. Because the Alternatives team is a small one, each person – including me - is responsible for a range of tasks. In my short time here I have fact checked articles, taken subscriptions, written a short article, and other miscellaneous tasks. The bulk of my time, though, has been spent on this year’s edition of Alternatives’ annual Environmental Education Directory: a guide to Canadian universities for prospective undergraduate students.

    Having earned a biology degree and spent most of my career cleaning up after animals, working at a magazine is a big change. Fortunately some aspects of my background are also useful here.  Environment-focused courses and jobs have familiarized me with many of  the topics covered in the magazine. Also, my experience with university environmental programs and student organizations helps me when I’m interviewing faculty, staff, and students for the education directory: I know what information will interest the kind of student who reads Alternatives, so I know what questions to ask. My research skills are getting a workout, too!

    One part of the Science Communication program that has proven particularly useful is the Mass Media section on interviews. Even though my interviews are very informal and not recorded for the world to see or hear, it is still helpful to have had some experience writing good questions and guiding interviewees through the process. The journalism guest lectures and workshops also provided valuable insight into the world of science writing for a non-specialist audience.

    The friendly staff at Alternatives have made me feel at home my first month. Now I’m looking forward to whatever the next one has in store!

Internship Spotlight: Courtney

Courtney sent us an update from SCRIPT Medical Communications where she's doing her internship, see what she has to say!

From Courtney:

     My first few weeks at SCRIPT have been very interesting and eye-opening.  Coming right from university as a Biology major with no industry experience, I had always suspected that my idea of the business world was very naive.  Unfortunately, ‘green’ doesn’t even begin to describe my notions of the medical communications/marketing industry.  Thank goodness for terms like ‘5-alpha-reductase inhibitors’ or I would be completely lost in translation!  Needless to say, my science background has come in very handy here at SCRIPT.  I always took a personal interest in the health sciences, and that was very much reflected in my choice of courses such as Human Anatomy, Physiology, Behavioural Neuroscience, Virology, Metabolism, and Biochemistry to name a few.  From referencing and researching skills gained through producing laboratory reports to the understanding of specialized chemical and biological terms and processes I have studied, the skill set and knowledge I gained in my undergraduate studies in science are what allow me to not only understand the projects I work on, but also to make meaningful contributions.

     That said, it is definitely my Science Communication skills that have really helped me stay afloat and be more confident in communications areas.  One of the first projects I worked on at my internship has been helping prepare a power point slide deck for health care industry conference, so all that practice with power point in Live Presentations really helped.  Even when I thought I would never be asked to edit anything, the fourth week I was asked if I knew how to edit audio clips.  Why yes, yes I do – thank you Mass Media podcasts.  Finally, I was asked to help source a bunch of images. I would never even have known what that entailed if it wasn’t for Mass Media or Exhibits projects.  The other practical skills we learned like writing and preparing research briefs did help when I was asked to do a little informal research to help some of the staff prepare for a meeting.  I really feel that the SciComm Program did a very good job of helping me develop relevant tools that help me fit into the industry and organizations like SCRIPT.  I rarely go a day at my internship without thinking “Oh, I learned that in SciComm!” Seriously.

     I am enjoying my internship and I have been given so many exciting opportunities by the very accommodating staff.  I have been given the chance to test the waters in the wide range of the work that SCRIPT does, including both the pharmaceutical marketing and the medical writing side.  I was able to attend a market research session which was really interesting and fun – not quite up to Mad Men infamy but very enjoyable none the less!  I have also been able to take part in training sessions the company provides to their science writers.  The first discussion we had was about getting out of the habit of writing in the passive voice, a lesson we learned very early in SciCom.  When I have been able to work on slide decks for some of the projects at SCRIPT, the only thing I have found difficult is the process of accommodating so many people’s interests.  Taking very much a Naked Presenter approach to most of my presentations (or attempted to anyway), it is a whole different ball game when you are faced with information that your client insists is included, your designer encourages you to rearrange or change, media which is under various levels of copyright protection, plus your own person and company standards that must be met.  It’s very difficult, and sometimes the process becomes tedious when phone or email correspondence goes off the radar.  But these are the experiences I feel are probably the most important for me personally.  These are the lessons that if I learn well now, will really give me a competitive edge in my career and put me further ahead of some of my peers in the industry.

     As you can tell, everything is going well for me and I am really looking forward to what comes next at SCRIPT!          

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Internship Spolight: Chantelle

Chantelle is working with Let's Talk Science in London, Ontario.  She is one of three Science Communication students (and alumni!) working there.  Keep reading to find out more about her first few weeks...

Holly Baker (class of 2010), Susie Taylor (class of 2011) and Chantelle Lafleur (class of 2012) at Let's Talk Science.
From Chantelle:

             For the past few weeks I have been interning for the Outreach team at the Let’s Talk Science national office in London, ON. My main role is to support the Outreach team with a number of projects that they have on the go and to assist with other Let’s Talk Science team members as well. My first couple of weeks interning here were very busy as Let’s Talk Science is preparing for the All Science Challenge - a fun filled questioning and answering day where grade 6, 7 and 8 students are tested on their science knowledge. This event is happening at 22 universities across Canada this year, and much preparation has gone into making sure that these events are a huge success.
        My role in all of this preparation was to create a media release template for the sites to use to generate a media alert about their event for their local media. Along with this template, I also wrote specific media alerts for a few of the sites that had interesting components involved and a general press release that would be available for press at all of the sites. I am also responsible for tracking all the media attention that the All Science Challenge brings.
         I have also been writing a number of web stories for the national Let’s Talk Science website. These stories describe different events that Let’s Talk Science is holding or different volunteers that Let’s Talk Science wishes to recognize. I have also partnered with a few members of the Outreach team to brainstorm new ideas to enhance an activities database. This database is designed to allow volunteers to upload activities that they present so that other volunteers can find new activities to present themselves. I have been working on creating a new method to organize this database so that volunteers will be able to find a specific activity much more easily. Lastly, the Outreach team has been working on creating a new Outreach Operations Video Manual for all of the coordinators at their sites. I am helping this process by editing video, voice-overs and a powerpoint slideshow together to create the final product.
        My first two weeks at Let’s Talk Science have been great. Every project that is begun at Let’s Talk Science is done so with the goal that it will increase science literacy in children, and the staff all work together as one large team to ensure that each task is completed. Each staff member is very friendly and helpful, and have made me feel very welcome during my time there. I am looking forward to what comes in the upcoming weeks! 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Stories from Harvard : Jeff

We're still working on submitting our final exhibit papers.  Updates about exhibits and our event are coming!

In the meantime, we've all started our internships.  The class of 2012 is spread across the globe from Vancouver to London, sharing science with the world!

Jeff sent us this story from Harvard :


   I have been looking for Ivy on the historical halls of Harvard University (where I am doing my internship) but I haven’t found any yet.  Perhaps I am a botanical anti-talent.  It’s there and I just can’t see it.  Or perhaps Ivy is an endangered species, threatened by some invasive species of beetle?
   Having to write about working at Harvard is a daunting task, rather like having to write about Martians after H. G. Wells.   
   Jeremy Lin and Natalia Portman are not the only famous Harvard students.  Many famous writers have been here, from Cotton Mather in the 17th century, through Thoreau and Emerson in the 19th, to 20th century writers like T. S. Eliot and John Updike.  And even writers who were not students here have written about Harvard – Ann Patchet’s recent novel Run is set, in part, at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where I work.  So I am on well travelled verbal ground. 
   The Museum, MCZ for short, (yes Americans really say Zee rhymes with tea, not Zed rhymes with bed) has a lot of history itself.  Louis Agassiz, the Swiss scientist, founded it, in 1859.  Agassiz was a student of the famous French scientist Georges Cuvier, before coming to America. 
   Among his scientific achievements, Agassiz discovered that ice ages exist, though the most famous geologist of the day, Darwin’s friend Charles Lyell, opposed the idea.  1859 saw, not only the opening of the MCZ, but also the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species
   One of Agassiz’s colleagues at Harvard was the botanist Asa Grey.  Grey was, like Lyell, a close confidant and friend of Darwin.  Shortly after the MCZ opened it was the scene of a famous debate between Grey, who defended Darwin and his evolutionary ideas, and Agassiz, who opposed them.
   I am now working in Room 151 of the MCZ.  This office previously belonged to the paleontologist Steven Jay Gould.  A few years before Gould died, he decided to redecorate his office.  So all the paint was stripped off the walls.  What they uncovered were the original signs from when the museum opened in the 19th century.  The public galleries are now on the third floor, but were originally here on the first.  Rather than have the walls painted over, Gould left the old signage on the walls.
   I don’t know if a museum sign, like a picture is worth a thousand words, but here is one of the original signs from the days of Louis Agassiz and Asa Grey.  Perhaps there was Ivy on the walls of the MCZ way back then?

 - Jeff

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eww! What's Eating You?

Ever heard of rats that love cats?  It sounds like a lyric out of the children's song 'Down By The Bay', but it really does happen.  Hayley was caught on camera this month explaining how parasites can change a rat's behaviour.

Check it out!



P.S.  I haven't been updating much lately - because our projects are keeping us really busy!  But, look back in April to see how our exhibits, events and podcasts turn out!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sci Comm Students on the Road!

How many graduate students get to go on a field trip?!  We do!

Just this month we toured Southern Ontario; visiting the Perimeter Institute, the Institute for Quantum Computing, CTV studios, Daily Planet, the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum!  It was a fantastic week with so many things to see and learn!

On our first day, we met SciComm alumnus Lisa Lambert at the Perimeter Institute.  She gave us a tour, introduced us to Alice and Bob AND invited us to stay for lunch at PI's very own cafe. 

Lisa Lambert and the Science Communication Class at the Perimeter Institute

Later that afternoon we met Martin Laforest at IQC, and boy does he have a tough job.  Everyday he has to explain quantum computing in a way that makes sense to everyone!  He did a wonderful job explaining it to us and we wish him, and the rest of IQC, a happy tenth anniversary later this summer!

Martin showing Hayley and Emily a real quantum computer!

That night we got the wonderful opportunity to attend one of PI's famous public lectures.  Kenneth Libbrecht spoke about the science of snowflakes.  Did you know that snowflakes are made up of ice crystals?  And those crystals grow into different shapes at different temperatures!  If you're interested, you can watch past PI lectures here.

The next day we woke up bright and early to tour the CTV studios in Toronto.  There we met Dan Riskin and Ziya Tong, the hosts of Daily Planet!  They invited us to tour the studio and walked us through a day in the life of science television.  We were extremely lucky to be there on Groundhog Day, so we met Clover the groundhog and got to watch them tape part of the show.

 Emily and Chantelle take photos of the Canada AM studio.

Ziya and Dan were kind enough to spare a few minutes for us
before they filmed a segment with Clover the groundhog.

Next it was off to a fun-filled afternoon at the Ontario Science Centre.  There, we really got a chance to let loose and play.  They even let us into the KidSpark area (it's normally reserved for their younger visitors).

On our last day we visited the Royal Ontario Museum.  There we found another SciComm alumnus, Julie.  We got to tour the biodiversity gallery (one of our alumni worked on the development of this gallery as an intern), the bat cave (Courtney's favourite!) and the Mayan exhibit, just to name a few.

Jeff, Chantal, Laura and Hayley were enthralled by Leaf Cutter ants at the ROM.

It was a busy few days, but we really got to tour the world of Science Communication.  We got to apply all of the theories we've learned, and see how they're put to practice in other places.

Now we're back at Science North and getting ready for our busiest months yet.  Stay tuned for updates about our exhibits, research projects AND a special event that we're planning at the end of March (you're invited!).

Until next time,