Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Student Perspective: Elizabeth Knowles

I’ve been home in Montreal for a couple weeks now, but the semester wasn’t actually over until I sent in my final two projects. We didn’t have any exams, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t lots of end of term work to do.

When I was looking into the Science Communication program last year, I contacted a few people who I knew had completed the graduate diploma to try to get a sense of the program. I’ve made a few choices in the last couple of years that have left me less than happy a lot of the time so I wanted to make sure the program was for me. One of the people I contacted exclaimed that the program isn’t just great, but that its greatness is something to climb a mountain and yell to the whole world about. I took that (and a few other things) as good signs and jumped right in. I have never looked back since.

To start with, the people are amazing! Our two program directors are supportive and always around (or if they aren’t, they answer emails within minutes). They listen to any concerns we have and encourage us to engage in coursework and community activities that push our limits but that are within our reach. Our other two profs provide interesting dimensions to the program as well. It sometimes surprises me how many different ways you can look at the same topic and still learn something new.

Since everyone in the class has a different background and we all come with different school and work experience, we learn a lot from each other as well. An 11-person class is the perfect place for discussion – as are a swing dance class, sushi, brunch, next to a telescope watching a solar eclipse, Science North and everywhere else we congregate. One of my classmates likes to say that despite trying to meet and befriend people outside of our program, she keeps coming back to us.

It’s not easy to summarize an entire semester worth of classes in a single blog post but I’m going to try.

Principles of Science Communication (commonly referred to as Rhetoric) was a class that we only had for half the semester, but twice as often as the rest of our classes. It was the grad student version of an English class where we talked all about how people go about convincing people of their views on different topics. We each brought in many “artifacts” or examples of science communication so the class was focused around our interests. Topics included climate change, Ebola, cancer, vaccinations, climate change, nanotechnology, climate change and space exploration (did I mention climate change?).

In Design Theory, we looked at the many steps of the design process and finished the semester off by designing an entire exhibit about the relationships between the Sun, Moon and Earth. Working as a whole class and with a short deadline was challenging, but it was extremely neat to see what we could do when we all worked together and challenged ourselves. It also felt like something real as opposed to just essay writing. Partway through the semester we also got to create a science artifact by changing the format of some other piece. Katie and I worked from a boring article to create our own movie about Curiosity on Mars.

Our Audiences and Issues class jumped around many topics from fish to climate change (there it is again) and from misinformation to science in the North. We learned how to make a communication map and are working on briefing notes, communication plans and presentations to come after Christmas. I worked with four other people to create a communication plan for the use of social media in promoting the program (Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and YouTube, and do whatever you do on Instagram and Pinterest [Coming January 2015! –Ed.]!)

We had our Learning Theory class at Science North so we frequently used the exhibits there as our lab to study how people learn in free-choice environments. Many of us looked at computer games (Yay Zoombinis!) for our midterm project, which was really interesting because you don’t always think of that being one of the places where learning occurs. For our final project we got to create our own Science Communication piece and analyze it for its learning potential.

Our Research Methods course replaces the Rhetoric one half-way through the semester and it’s just the beginning of our year-long research project. We’ve all come up with our topics, questions and preliminary literature review but there’s still a long way to go.

After Christmas we’re splitting up the class because we got to choose two out of three courses (Mass Media, Live Presentations and Exhibit Design). I chose the last two, which might surprise some people who know how shy I am, but I figure there’s no point in taking the classes if I’m not pushing myself. We still have one class all together – Science Communication Practices – which sounds like it is going to be an extension to Audiences and Issues. From what I can tell, it seems like next semester is going to be even more hands on and I’m really looking forward to taking even greater advantage of our partnership with Science North.

As well as courses we’ve had almost weekly guest visits from people like Tim Lougheed, John Miller, David Lickely and many others. We’ve also gone on fieldtrips around the area looking at the Sudbury crater, Dynamic Earth and way, way down to SNOLab.

As well as all of that, each of us has a GRA (Graduate Research Assistantship) we’ve been working on and I was lucky enough to get one where I’m looking at visitors interacting with exhibits at Science North and determining their learning potential.

As for Sudbury itself, it’s taken some getting used to, but it isn’t as cold as I expected – yet. I’m living with two other people from the program and all of us get together almost every day. Most of our classes are in a lakeside building with heated floors, so really I can’t complain too much!

This may seem like a long blog post, but when I say that I’m studying Science Communication most people just assume that I mean science journalism, so I wanted to demonstrate that it is so much more – I wanted to scream it from the top of a mountain!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Internship Spotlight: Anik Brazeau

I recently watched the comedy The Internship. It's the movie where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite, this time crashing at the Google Headquarters rather than weddings. While I can't necessarily promise you that same level of entertainment in this post (I am no Vince Vaughn), I will share my internship experience in about two hours less time.

Four months ago, near the end of April, driving a van filled to the brim with stuff, I left Sudbury and the still frozen Lake Ramsey behind, en route to Ottawa. The five-hour drive gave me some time to reflect. As I cruised down Hwy 17, I thought of how much we'd learned this year, the skills we'd developed and the amazing connections we'd made. It hit me, then, that I was leaving the comforts of the SciComm bubble and that I'd be taking my toolbox with me to a whole new setting in the real world.

The following day, I started at NSERC (that is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada). Nervous and excited, I definitely felt outside of my comfort zone at first, but being welcomed by the External Relations and Communications team (ERC) put me at ease. I spent the first few days becoming more acquainted with what NSERC does, soon realizing that its role extends beyond funding science and engineering research. NSERC also supports science promotion organizations, it connects businesses with academic researchers, it celebrates top scientists and showcases the far-reaching impacts of their work, it promotes careers for women in the field and it engages with the community at live events and online. These many facets ensure that there are always several projects on the go, and, in this fast-paced multi-task environment, I discovered the importance of being as proactive as possible. 

I am extremely fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to contribute to a variety of different projects; from drafting speaking notes and developing communications plans, to writing plain language research summaries and orchestrating expert alerts, to attending meetings and being involved in staff consultations, it’s always busy and it's always interesting in ERC. I’ve really enjoyed being immersed in the communications world this summer, and I’ve learned a lot since my first day (I feel like I may have finally mastered the plethora of acronyms that make up the lingo). Through this experience, I have also gained new insights in areas with which I was less familiar, such as public affairs, branding and strategic communications, and I've seen my communications skills benefit greatly. It’s been a great final chapter to round out the past year in Science Communication and working in this capacity, with a highly proficient team of communication experts around me, has only reinforced my enthusiasm for well-crafted communication and given me greater confidence in this field.

- Anik Brazeau, SciComm '14

Friday, August 29, 2014

Internship Spotlight: Derek Chung

The Rush Is Worth the Price I Pay

When I think of journalism, I picture hectic chaos in the newsroom as new stories appear out of thin air like condensation on a cool glass of beer.  With science journalism, the environment is still the same – the only difference being every story is a fascinating publication that you want to cover.  The whole ‘fast paced, lots of action with endless amounts of news’ aspect ensures that it’s never a dull place at Science Fare Media, Canada’s first digital science news organization.  As an associate producer intern, I was involved in every aspect of science journalism from selecting my stories from the various daily embargoed listings to setting up interviews with scientists all over the world to finally writing up the story in a fun way that would engage readers.

Here at Science Fare Media, our goal is to always focus on one question: what’s cool about this story?  By figuring out the cool factor first, everything else seemingly falls into place by itself and before you know it, you’ve created this factual story that’s perfect for taking to the water cooler to impress all your friends.  The best part?  The connection you share when you begin to get excited about the research and the co-author you’re interviewing is equally as excited about their study – it’s an exhilarating sensation and it reminds you why you fell in love with science to begin with.  The role of being a science journalist also provides an added bonus: sometimes you get lucky enough to interview the scientists that you idolize because their bit of expertise on the matter is just what you need to help put your story together.

Based in the heart of downtown Toronto, I often felt as though I was competing with the streets below me in a race to see who can be the busiest that day.  The work may be tough and certainly demanding, especially when life throws curveballs at you, but thriving in an environment such as this is astronomically rewarding – not just as a scientist, not just as a science communicator, but as an individual thirsty for the knowledge of this world.

-Derek Chung, SciComm ‘14

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Internship Spotlight: Michelle Di Cintio

Alternative Experience

I thought about writing this blog while lying in the hammock in the boardroom. A bit unconventional for an office, but Alternatives Journal is a bit of an unconventional workplace. As the oldest Canadian environmental magazine, the purpose of the magazine is to provide accurate environmental news stories covering political, societal and technological issues - and solutions. Their goal is to "deliver reliable, future focused environmental journalism, support environmental education in Canada, and help build the Canadian environmental movement." Across the street from city hall in Kitchener, the office sits on the second floor of a building that used to be a bank - the journal's archive is housed in the steel vault in the office. It's a small operation, with less than 10 people occupying the office. They are supported by volunteers, interns, and freelancers. 
Alternatives is generous when it comes to their interns. As the editorial intern, I performed a variety of tasks that took into account my Science Communication degree. Fact-checking  is rigorous for all stories - is the information coming from reputable source, is the science being accurately depicted, are the author's conclusions viable based on the information presented? It can be challenging, but it's never dull. I wrote short pieces for print, and blog pieces for their website. I interviewed environmentalists, reviewed books and films, and went to events to report on the proceedings. The experience was well rounded not just in terms of my responsibilities, but in the way I got to experience all of the different aspects that go into publishing a journal.
I think the most rewarding aspect at Alternatives Journal was that it allowed me to watch science communication in action, and to participate in that action. Science communication isn't about collecting and reeling off facts, it's about inspiring action, and providing necessary information in order to make informed action. At Alternatives Journal, keeping people informed and aware of environmental news is just one part of creating an effective environmental movement. I am grateful to have been a part of their movement for a time, and hope to use what I learnt to the best of my ability.

-Michelle Di Cintio, SciComm '14

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ten Things I Learned During My Trip to SNOLAB

By Maxine Myre
1. Why are they 2 km underground, anyways?
Getting to SNOLAB is a whole process.  The first step in reaching the lab is getting geared up with mining clothes and descending 2070m (or just over 2 km) underground in a mine shaft. The 2 km of rock above the SNOLAB facilities protects the sensitive detection system from cosmic rays.

2. An entirely new appreciation for the term 'clean-freak'.
SNOLAB is a Class2000 clean lab.  This means that only 2000 particles of dust and other materials are permitted in a 1-meter cubic space.  If we compare this to the 35 million particles per cubic meter found in everyday environments, that's clean.  But remember, workers have walked 1.8 km in a mine drift before arriving at the lab doors!  Workers must fully shower and change clothing before entering the lab.  Now that the workers are clean, there's all the equipment!  Every single piece of equipment brought in is cleaned before installation.  This even includes the many nuts and bolts on the machines.

3. SNOLAB has its own sewage system facility underground.

SNOLAB has something special that is unique to underground facilities but rarely mentioned: flushing toilets.  This is possible due to their small underground sewage treatment facility, which can support up to 100 people.  How does it work?  Aerobic bacteria are responsible for breaking down waste products.

4. There is still so much to discover about the Universe.
Experiments conducted at SNOLAB are attempting to answer some of the most fundamental questions remaining in physics - from the development and fate of the Universe to the workings of the smallest sub-atomic particles.  It turns out that there is more that we don't know than we do know!  In fact, what we know as matter only makes up about 5% of what exists!

5. Dark matter is different than dark energy.
For non-physicits, it is difficult to distinguish between similar sounding terms like dark matter and dark energy.  Without going into too many details, dark matter is different than dark energy.

6. Multiple Instruments are trying to detect the same thing.
Physicists are pretty sure they know how much dark matter there is, but do not know what it is.  In the quest for dark matter, multiple experiments are seeking the successful detection of dark matter.  Each of these experiments is located in a separate cavity connected by hallways.

7. International collaborations are key to success.
SNOLAB functions as a collaboration between five Canadian Universities - namely, Carleton University, Laurentian University, Queen's University, University of Alberta, and Université de Montréal.  In addition to being a national research facility, international partnerships play an important role in conducting each experiment.

8. Scientists at SNOLAB are accessible and willing to share their enthusiasm.
Unlike the physicists portrayed in shows like The Big Bang Theory, the scientists and other workers at SNOLAB are friendly and engaging.  While concepts such as astroparticle physics, the search for dark matter, and neutrinos can often seem too complicated to understand, SNOLAB scientists always make an effort in explaining their research to anyone who will listen.

9. Exciting projects are coming to SNOLAB.
SNOLAB operations began in 1990 and show no signs of slowing down.  Along with their current projects on neutrinos and dark matter, their scope of research is expanding to geology, mining, and even biology by exploring deep sub-surface life.

10. SNOLAB is an internationally known facility.
I'm proud to know that such cutting-edge science is ongoing in Sudbury.  Thanks to SNOLAB, Canada remains a key player in the search for answers to the big questions of the Universe.

- Maxine Myre, SciComm '14

Friday, June 13, 2014

Internship Spotlight: Jillian Leonard

Three Countries, One Internship
Communicating Science in Canada, Austria and Italy

Sudbury is approximately 2100km from the Atlantic Ocean. It is 3800km from the Pacific Ocean and 700km from the Arctic Ocean (if we’re calling James Bay the Arctic Ocean). My internship with the European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and Water Column Observatory (EMSO) is based in Sudbury, but it still keeps me close to the ocean, gleefully communicating the importance of marine research.

EMSO is a consortium of 13 countries in the European union with observatories scattered throughout Europe from the Arctic to the Black Sea. The information collected at these laboratories ranges from seismic and physical data to acoustic readings contributing to marine mammal research. This varies based on the primary research goals of each country, but combined will help us understand the relationship between the atmosphere, geosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere.

Although it would be a dream to spend time in all thirteen countries, my travels with EMSO involved just two: Austria and Italy.  

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) regularly holds their general assembly in the capital city of Vienna, Austria. I was lucky enough to be a part of this year’s event as a member of the EMSO team. Over 10,000 people attended the conference, representing every branch of the Earth-Ocean sciences.

While I did get to listen to some of the many interesting seminars, my main role at EGU was to chat with conference-goers at the EMSO exhibit. In the weeks leading up to the conference I prepared two short videos using footage provided by EMSO’s partner institutions, which were played on a TV in the background of our booth.  Meanwhile, the dynamic personalities of EMSO charmed and informed the masses. Overall it was an amazing experience where I met some pretty incredible researchers and learned more about the history and future plans of EMSO.

EMSO’s interim office is currently hosted by the Istituto Nazionale de Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) in Rome, so after a busy week in Vienna, I headed to Italy to meet these EMSO team members in person. As a new and evolving organization, their focus is currently on developing and implementing a communication plan. The things I learned in Vienna combined with the interviews I had with EMSO members in Rome gave me all the material I needed to prepare a communication map and strategy for future internal and external communication.

During one of my meetings in Rome, I met with a geophysicist who is a scientist with EMSO. He told me: “statistics is truly the common language that links scientists”. An insightful statement, but EMSO’s goals are even more amazing and much more challenging. They are using science as the common language to link different research institutions and to a larger extent, different nations. If 13 nations with unique languages, cultures and histories can be joined by science, then there is hope for scientists in other countries around the world. 

-Jillian Leonard, SciComm '14

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013 Field Trip Toronto & Waterloo

On November 19, 2013, we SCOMrades hopped in various cars and convoyed down to Toronto.  The impetus for the trip was the Canadian Science Policy Conference, at which Dave and Chantal were running a science communication workshop.  Once our 13-person class un-mobbed itself enough to mingle, we met loads of brilliant, creative and welcoming people.  Many inspiring conversations were shared over delicious conference fare.

Another highlight of the trip was the tour of CTV studios.  Our guide Nina was eternally patient and answered the thousandth excited question as fully as the first.  We spent most of our time around the set of Daily Planet—behind the scenes with the production team, on the sidelines while the show was taped, and even right on the main couch, attempting to read off of the teleprompter.  (It’s harder than it looks, believe me.)  Dan Riskin and Ziya Tong were personable and energetic hosts.  I think we all left the studio with hoarse throats and sore legs—the pace of television production is crazy!
We skipped out of the city for a day or so to visit the Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo.  Both places were a bit outside my own science experience (would I…would I take my car to Quantum Mechanics?), but the two physicists in our class were right at home!  And our hosts—Damien Pope at PI and Martin Laforest at IQC—were incredibly approachable, welcoming questions of any knowledge level.  At PI, we were awed by the sleek-yet-warm design and Damien’s tricky physics demonstrations.  At IQC, we saw a super-stable building within a building and a piece of equipment that, at near-absolute zero, was colder than the far reaches of space.  It was clear that both PI and IQC were spaces of innovation and imagination.

My personal favourite experience was back in Toronto, at the Royal Ontario Museum.  We were invited to attend the staff opening of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.  WPY is an international photography competition run by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum in Britain.  This year there were 43 000 entries and we saw the cream of the crop—100 gorgeous backlit photos that showcased the diversity of life on this planet.  The winning photographs included wildlife big and small, plant and animal, terrestrial and marine, pristine and heavily human-influenced.

This experience really demonstrated the stunning impact that visual science communication can have.  After taking in a spectacular image of an elephant or a dugong or a bumblebee, it was gut-wrenching to read about the damage humans are inflicting on these creatures and their habitats.  The WPY exhibit showed the power that visuals can have, and this power was further developed through public programs and events accompanying the exhibit.  The Fleming College Environmental Visual Communication group put a lot of work into this programming: Friday Night Live “Go Wild,” Twitter and Instagram participation with #ROMWPY, photography workshops and expert lectures.

Overall, our trip was packed with fascinating, fun content and we all came home tired, but happy.    

-Kate Henbest, SciComm '14