My name is Ben and I want to write about
science, but I didn't always know it. I didn't even know for sure when I flew
to Sudbury to be in the 2012-2013 SciComm class. Luckily, having to hunt for
internships has a marvellous concentrating effect on the mind, and I realised
my true calling with many hours to spare.
So, with a few scrappy articles from local
newspapers, a barren CV, and a smile, I applied to get some experience in the
writing business. Alternatives Journal was extraordinarily compassionate to my
cause and I put my life on a bus to Kitchener.
There, I researched, fact-checked and, upon
completion of the latter activity, entered the witness protection program.
Fact-checking, you see, involves inspecting every clause, figure and
contextualization for accuracy. The goal is to protect the author and magazine
from saying something regrettable, but I took frequent excursions across the
line of pedantic nit-picking.
I also got to write. Eric, the editor, put
enormous trust in me and gave me assignments that fit me perfectly. These were
challenging—I had no experience
writing narratives; structuring long
pieces to flow and keep interest; cold calling people for comments; conducting,
recording and transcribing interviews or really much of anything that has to do
with science journalism.
Throughout, Eric mentored and advised, and
I learned many skills I'll need. I learned one more thing when I handed in the
articles: how important a good editor is. He helped turn my clunky and bloated
piece into a focussed story.
The statistics for a certain type of
internships are pretty depressing. They can be of no benefit for finding a job.
I didn't jump straight into full time work either, but I did become qualified
for the jobs I want, and I made contributions that I'm very proud of.
Ben Williamson, Science Communication Graduate 2013
Sometimes, life changes while eating cookies in bed. At least, for me it
did. When I got “the call” I was cross-legged, bending over my laptop and
wiping crumbs from my sheets onto the floor. It was Canadian Geographic on the
line, offering me an internship. This was the dream. I choke on my cookie and
immediately start sweating.
It’s now a few months after that day, and my two-month internship has
transformed into a paid position. I feel incredibly lucky. I’ve spent the past
two months interviewing, writing, and sitting in on editorial meetings. I’ve
met some wonderful people and learned a lot.
Among my favourite memories includes a fortuitous morning spent in a
production meeting where my first story pitch for the magazine was accepted.
Canadian Geographic is wonderful in that interns are always invited to the
editorial meetings, where we gain extremely useful insight into the process of
how a story is discussed and are able to observe the various social dynamics
that go on in a group of creative, intelligent people.
As for the science communication program, I think one of the greatest
strengths is its ability to expose students to a wider variety of options than
they may have thought were available. I remember scanning through the long list
of internship locations that past students went, and while I was pretty set on
what I wanted to do, it was comforting to know that Dave and Chantal had so
many friends in the industry.
In both internship and program, I’ve found that one cliché really holds
true: what you put into it is what you get out of it. My advice would be to
pitch both stories and ideas, volunteer at events, and if possible, spend at
least one afternoon playing porketta bingo and drinking too much beer with
people who are much older than you.
Or don’t do any of those things. By all means, find your own way and
discard everything I’ve said. After all I still eat in bed, and still consider
the floor an acceptable short-term solution for crumbs. But at least now I can
afford the brand name cookies.
Sabrina Doyle, Science Communication
Held in Boston, the 2013 AAAS conference brought together some of the
brightest minds in research, engineering and science communication. The
elusive, but deep seeded relationship between art and science was a major theme
as outlined by the AAAS motto: the beauty and benefits of science. Since
I began looking at swarming organisms a year ago, sessions on the beautiful
patterns in mathematics and nature were among my favourites at this year's
One of my all-time favourite methods of combining arts and science is in
videogames. While my research has been primarily in science content present in popular
entertainment games, there was an entire session about the future of
educational games. Dr. Gordon-Messer who is in the process of developing an
educational adventure game, is basing her model on a mass multiplayer online
(MMO) platform to captivate students outside the classroom. Funded by the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation and MIT, they launch a trial version in classrooms
The Artful Science session showcased the work of mathematicians, computer
scientists, architects, and biologists.
The excerpt on biology, hosted by Dr. Flannery, was particularly interesting because I learned botany was historically considered a woman's science
since it appeared passive. At the time, everyone including Emily Dickinson
collected pressed flowers.
Glass Flowers showcase from the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
To compliment the
incredible sessions hosted at the conference, Boston has several other science communication
attractions in its cultural roster:
Firstly, art in botany can only be seen at the The Harvard Museum
of Natural History. In this lovingly hand created collection, the life-sized
plants are both sculpture and teaching tool – a marvel in both cases. Their
astounding models, made between 1887 and 1936, are intricately crafted and
meticulously kept. In my opinion, it is the best representation of the
confluence of art and science to capture the theme of the AAAS.
Pulsating jellyfish from the New England Aquarium.
Secondly, The New England Aquarium is captivating
because it offers the opportunity to see stunning creatures like reclusive
octopuses or ethereal jellyfish. Also, there are several open tanks that allow
the guest to feel more immersed in the experience (for example, touching live
sting rays as they jet by). Finally, there is a strong conservation message
throughout about sustainable fishing practices that could not come at a more
An example of the geometric art found in the Museum of Science, Boston.
Lastly, TheMuseum of Science, with its renowned lightening show,
actually currently houses an art exhibit explaining how there can be great
beauty in the natural world as seen in geometric patterns.
In conclusion, the AAAS set the stage for the discussion
of the beauty of science while the city showcased practical examples of science
communication though its cultural institutions and academic powerhouses. By
melding theory and actual examples thereof, I can without a doubt exclaim:
Boston is for the curious!
This trip would not
have been possible without the generous support of Laurentian University and
partners of the Graduate Diploma in Science Communication program.
The interview was hastily scheduled. I was
leaving for Boston the next day and the deadline would come before I got back,
so it was Monday or never. That Dr. Nigel Smith, Director of SNOLAB, would give
the interview on short notice showed pretty clearly that he was serious about
getting the public interested in physics.
SNOLAB is an enormous laboratory at the
bottom of an active nickel mine. Over two kilometres down. Real deep.
The complex is about a half hour from town.
After signing in, the security gate was raised and I drove through. I was
sharing the path with mining transport trucks and men in hard hats.
The interview would be in the above ground
office building. Going down into the lab would require catching the lift at
6:00, showering, and putting on a clean suit. Dr. Smith came out of a meeting
right on time and we sat on some leather couches in the reception area.
I asked about the research at SNOLAB: the
search for dark matter, the ultra-sensitive neutrino detectors and the various
other projects. Then I asked him about a public talk he had given at Science
North last fall. How do you explain particle physics to the public?
"Particle physics is tough stuff. But
if you talk about things in the right way, everything is accessible. You're not
going to wade into the standard model and start talking about the role that the
Higgs has. Taking the historical perspective puts it in context because you
bring people along to a point of contemporary knowledge . It's the old standing
on the shoulders of giants concept: building on the work people have done
In his public talk, Dr. Smith wound the
clock back thousands of years to give a sketch of physics from the ancient
Greeks up until the Higgs Boson was confirmed last fall at the Large Hadron
Collider. This might seem like a lot of unnecessary history, but the idea makes
sense. Scientists in this century made discoveries by first learning what
scientists in the last century had figured out. Why shouldn't the public walk
the same path to understand current theories?
He also gave some tips on how to present
science in a compelling way.
For the people demanding practical results,
Dr. Smith notes that, "It's very easy to demonstrate the technology that
particle physics develops, how it spins out everywhere. Every non-invasivetest done in a hospital is developed from
some fundamental research."
Stories about researchers and methods are
compelling too. "There's that human angle, which I think is obviously very
strong because people empathise when you talk about the struggles you are going
through when you're trying to do an experiment."
These are good strategies, but he wants
mainly to inspire people.
" I tend to prefer the look at the
science. It inspires me. Trying to understand what's going on around you is one
of the fundamental things that make us human. People are generally fascinated
by the universe around them.
"As somebody engaged in trying to
understand the universe around us,I
think it's my duty to get out there and explain to them what we think is