Events

Science in Society recognised for excellence in teaching

Breaking the mould yet again, Rebecca Priestley and Rhian Salmon were joint winners of the Early Career Teaching Excellence Award, an honour that is usually awarded to a single recipient.

two women one man smiling

Smiles all round as Georgia (Rhian’s 2 yr old daughter) calls ‘Mama’ from the back of the room

Rhian and Rebecca, who co-lead the Science in Society group, have, since they started working together in 2013, developed a suite of courses, including an undergraduate minor in Science in Society and a Master in Science in Society.   As a complement to their many undergraduate online courses, they have also been closely involved in the development and delivery of the university’s first massive open online courses (MOOC) – Antarctica: From Geology to Human History delivered through the edX platform last year. At Victoria University of Wellington’s recent teaching and research awards evening, the duo were recognised for developing an excellent teaching programme in a only a handful of years.

As she presented the award, Provost Wendy Larner commended what they have achieved together in only a few years, “Associate Professor Rebecca Priestley and Dr Rhian Salmon are joint leaders, close collaborators and team teachers in the extremely successful Science in Society programme.  They develop and evaluate their courses using a research framework and utilise innovative modes of delivery to facilitate student learning.  They regularly pilot new digital technologies such as a massive open online course and other online resources, allowing other staff who contribute to the courses to develop.  Rebecca and Rhian both engage in continual professional development and reflective practice and their individual teaching scores demonstrate sustained teaching excellence.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said that the awards were a chance to recognise the University’s most engaged and hardworking people.

You can find all out about all the award winners at Victoria University of Wellington Celebrates Staff Excellence

 

Advertisements

Imagining alternative futures | new book from Tim Corballis

Our Future is in the Air is the latest novel by Wellington author and Science in Society lecturer Dr Tim Corballis. The novel explores an alternative history of the 1970s, triggered by time-travel technology.  Lorraine Taylor talked to Tim about about his new book, his work and the ability of science fiction to ask the questions science can’t.

Set in the past, your book Our Future is in the Air explores an alternative past (or is it a present?) where a certain form of technology that we are all quite attached to (no spoilers!) has been rejected by society to protect its citizens. What were you trying to invite reader to think about?

This book, like a lot of science fiction (sci-fi) has an element of social thinking about science. There’s often a fictional theory or gadget or technology at the heart of sci-fi, which then builds a fictional world around the social consequences of that technology. It gives you a lot of resources to think about how technology works in the world, what effects it has, and how it might work differently, how life would be different if we had or didn’t have a certain technology and so on. And this works not just at the nerdy technical level but at the level of meaning. It can be a way to think about how technology alters the meaning of our lives. In Our Future is in the Air there are technological changes that effect how people think of their geographical place in the world and their relationship to the future – these are profound existential questions that science and technology influences.

Thinking of this alternative past or present – how much of this vision was hope and how much caution?

What the book imagines most clearly is an alternative past. The present, which is the future of the book’s past (confused?) is actually very vaguely evoked. I’m not sure this is about either hope or caution. It’s more about where we look for the seeds of the future, and how we face a future that’s unknown. I don’t think the book provides easy answers either way, though I would like readers to get a sense of openness from the ending – the positive side of that future vagueness or unknowness perhaps.

The work explores a number of social societal constructs as well, beyond science and technology.  How much of Tim Corballis is in this novel?

I’ve said this in other fora too, but I’m a bit of a fan of Ursula LeGuin’s ‘Carrier Bag’ theory of fiction: more or less, that a book is a nice handy bag that you can put a whole lot of stuff into, rather than a neat plot line from start to finish.  So if I’m in the book, it’s because I put in a lot of what I was interested in, what I came across, while I was writing it. For example, the Russian Biocosmists, who believed in the revolutionary necessity of a scientific programme to bring back the dead – and who really existed I should add – they’re in there, largely because I was interested in them at the time and wanted to build something around them.

You have one of the most diverse academic backgrounds I know.  Tell me about your academic whakapapa, and what led you to such variety?

Should I mention carrier bags again? I was a maths and physics geek as a kid, but after studying it a little at university my interest drifted. I think I was excited by the imagination of the world and the universe in those fields, but it just wasn’t there after a few years. Not for me anyway.  I crossed into philosophy via logic, which provides a bit of a bridge from maths. There I discovered versions of aesthetics and existentialism. Writing seemed like an obvious thing at some point, partly out of a sort of embarrassing young man’s existential desire to do something with my life, and partly again chasing that imagination of the world and other worlds. I’ve sort of wavered between writing and academic work ever since, but I’ve been interested in all kinds of subjects and ways of seeing things. My doctorate had elements of sociology, cultural studies, history, environmental humanities, architecture… I think it probably followed on from my philosophy studies, but broader (philosophy can be frustratingly narrow).

You teach within the Science in Society group at VUW.  How does your humanities work influence your understanding of science and how does your obvious scientific obsessions influence your work in the humanities?

I think the humanities, and the social sciences too, offer very good ways to think about how things might appear from other perspectives. They offer ways to think about what science might mean to people, and to put things in terms of the rituals and meanings they accrue around themselves. So, what kind of ritual is science (or the sciences, since I don’t really think there is a singular thing called science)?

I’m also really interested in new sciences – the forefronts of computing, biological sciences and climate sciences are really having profound social impacts, and aesthetic impacts too. So much of our culture obsesses over them, it’s hard not to be interested. So, I think you miss a lot by seeing them just as technical phenomena, or as new knowledge. They’re cultural phenomena too, full of undreamed of ways to imagine ourselves and the universe. I think they offer us amazing visions and stories.

Do you think fiction or literature or even the humanities have a particular way of doing this that science does not?

Literature and the humanities are both hugely diverse, obviously, but I think of them as doing quite particular things. They are both focused on things that science finds hard to measure, even qualitatively: meaning, interpretation, the imagination. And literature of course is free to make things up. Writers of fiction especially aren’t constrained by the need to get anything right. I think it’s really important to keep that sense of imagination unconstrained by boundaries and methodologies. It’s important politically – it allows us to think about how the world might be different. I happen to think it’s also important for science. This might not make me a lot of friends, but I’m a cautious follower of Paul Feyerabend, who argues against the idea of methodology in science too.

 

Tim Corballis at the launch of Our Future is in the Air at Unity Books. Image by John Duke

 

Lorraine Taylor is the Centre Manager for the Science in Society group at VUW 

Welcome back to Café Scientifique

After a year’s break the Wellington meeting of Café Scientifique has started with two successful events in July and August.

Jesse Bering, a Dunedin based American evolutionary psychologist, in Wellington to talk to students of CREW352: Creative Science Writing, packed out VK’s Comedy Bar in Dixon Street with his favourite research topics: sex, death and religion.

21007068322_919d031ffc_q

Jesse at WORD Christchurch 2015

Bering has had enormous success with his honest and humorous style. He writes a regular column, Bering in Mind, for Scientific American online, and his books include The Belief Instinct, about the psychological origins of our desire to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and PERV, which explores the range of human sexual desire and experience. Bering told students in the CREW352 that like many of us his academic interests have followed what he is naturally curious about, and he hopes talking about it is helpful to people struggling with these issues.

Bering’s Café Scientifique event followed a fantastic evening with Alom Shaha, a teacher, science communicator and author, who recently visited New Zealand to be the keynote speaker at SciCon 2016, the annual conference for secondary science teachers.  Shaha has become a teacher of teachers and points out that he does not consider himself to be a scientist, but rather an expert in pedagogy.  We took advantage of his visit to invite him to address students of SCIE311: Science Communication. “The world needs teachers,” says Shaha, “as we are the ones who make the scientists”.   Shaha disagrees with the common expression that children are born scientists. “Science is a range of methods and tools, for a particular way of looking at the world.  It takes years to practice these tools in the way that scientists do,” he said to our SCIE 311 students.

alom-shaha-300x300

Courtesy alomshaha.com

As this was Shaha’s first time in New Zealand, he was keen to understand the religious, cultural and educational landscape of our country.  His book The Young Atheist’s Handbook is part memoir, part philosophy, and part permission for others to wrestle with doubts about their faith.  “Religion is passed on from parents to children at a time when they are not able to think critically for themselves.  Sometimes young people find that it’s just easier to go along with it,” he told his Café Scientifique audience.

Shaha has a new book due to be released in 2017 about science teaching, and we hope to see him back in New Zealand next year.  In the meantime you can check out his Demo: The Movie  a half hour movie encouraging science teachers to use demonstrations to inspire their students look closely at the world.

Café Scientifique is jointly hosted by the Wellington Branch of the Royal Society and Science in Society Group at Victoria University.  Find us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events

Dispatches from 2016

It’s July! Over half way through 2016, and it’s been a busy time.  Rebecca has launched a new book Dispatches from Continent Seven and Rhian has grown her engagement team for the Deep South National Science Challenge.

BOOK LAUNCH

Rebecca’s new book Dispatches from Continent Seven: An Anthology of Antarctic Science was launched in March and is getting great rBookeviews.  Unlike most Antarctic anthologies, which focus on narratives written by explorers or writers, this book features accounts by scientists, including biologist George Murray Levick on the sexual habits of the Adélie Penguin, American geophysicist Robin Bell on the mountain ranges discovered beneath the Antarctic icecap, and Rhian’s own piece, Waiting for the Polar Sunrise, which she wrote based on her winter-over in Antarctica in 2002.

Rebecca talks about her book with Kim Hill on National radio and writes in more depth about her own Antarctic experiences on the Stuff news website.  You can also read an interview with Rebecca about Dispatches by Listener writer Mark Broatch. And because you wont want to share you can purchase your own copy from Awa Press.

Ice science

Dispatches featured in Ice Science held at The Embassy in March as part of New Zealand Festival Writers’ week.  While Antarctica is a “continent for science” it has also inspired many artists, writers and poets. Te Radar hosted a panel discussion of Antarcticans – including Rebecca and Rhian – about what drives people to work, and sometimes risk their lives, in this most inhospitable of environments.

Left to right Te Radar, Dr Rhian Salmon, Professor Tim Naish, Dr Rebecca Priestley

DEEP SOUTH NATIONAL SCIENCE CHALLENGE

The Deep South National Science Challenge is a $24M programme with a mission to enable New Zealanders to “adapt, manage and thrive in a changing climate”. Rhian sits on the management team and leads one of five programmes – on Engagement. This is a major action research programme that will not only deliver a range of engagement activities and research outputs, but is also serving to redefine how engagement with science is conceptualised and delivered in New Zealand.

By far the most substantial work Rhian carried out in 2015 was development of an Engagement Strategy for the Deep South Challenge. This received very positive reviews from an Independent Science Panel, and Board approval in December 2015. This strategy led to $1.68M being committed to work-streams in broad and public engagement, tailored engagement, training and capacity building in engagement, and programme evaluation and is already being used as a resource by several other Science Challenges.

Rhian’s leadership of this Challenge’s engagement programme presents an exciting opportunity to set new precedents in public engagement with science (PES) in New Zealand. By creating opportunities both for funding and capacity building in public engagement, and by setting ambitious engagement objectives – for example that require co-production and evaluation – this programme is substantially bridging the gap between PES theory and practice while also delivering tangible, innovative, and measurable, initiatives that enable New Zealanders to make more informed decisions about climate change. The impact of this programme will therefore be demonstrated not only in publications, but also in the outcomes of the activities that it funds, and associated capacity-building of all involved.

In order to deliver this ambitious programme, Rhian has recently established a “Deep South Challenge Engagement Team” at Victoria University, which includes a Partnerships Director, Engagement Coordinator, and Evaluation Coordinator.

SCIE COURSES

The new 300 level special topic: Antarctic Science and Culture has enjoyed its first semester as part of the SCIE course schedule and will be back in 2017. It may not be too late to enrol for Semester 2 courses in our programme.  But you better hurry!

SCIE212 Energy, Society and the Future

SCIE312 Revolutions in Science

SCIE311 Science Communication

Our courses are also available as continuing / professional education:

SCIE212 Energy Society and the Future

SCIE312 Revolutions in Science

SCIE312 Science Communication

 

New ‘Antarctica Online’ Course

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Following Rebecca and Cliff’s successful trip to Antarctica in December 2014, the Science in Society team have been working hard to put together a new fully online course called ‘Antarctica Online’.

The course features lectures that were filmed on the ice and examines contemporary Antarctic scientific research, placing it in a wider scientific, historical, social and cultural context. Rebecca and Cliff gathered material over 10 days around Scott Base, McMurdo Station, and the Ross Island historic huts and three days at an Antarctic Research Centre field camp in the Transantarctic Mountains.

As well as filming lectures for their own modules—on Antarctic science history, and Geology and paleoclimate—they also filmed material for a third module, Constructing Antarctica, which will be led by Rhian, and Leon Gurevitch from the School of Design.

Most of us will never get to visit Antarctica, but this course hopes to offer the next best thing.

The course runs from Monday 28 September to Friday 6 November 2015 (6 weeks)

Fee: $120  (There are no prerequisites for this course)  ENROL HERE

 

 

HeLa play: Henrietta Lacks comes to New Zealand

helaThe University of Otago, Wellington, in partnership with the Science in Context group at Victoria University of Wellington, the British Council of New Zealand and Made in Scotland, is delighted to be hosting and sponsoring a theatrical performance of HeLa, an internationally award-winning one person play currently being toured through New Zealand.

Coming all the way from the UK, this solo show by Adura Onashile takes as its inspiration the true life story of Henrietta Lacks and the extraordinary life of the HeLa cell line. HeLa is an all-consuming story, intertwining genetic identity, social responsibility and current ethical debates about human tissue research and ownership …

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks walked into the coloured section of the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with a pain in her abdomen. A biopsy revealed a cancer that would kill her just months later. A cell sample taken without her permission was used as the raw material for some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past 100 years.
HeLa is an engaging exploration of the vast scientific progress made possible by the cells of one, unknown woman.

Adura Onashile is a writer and charismatic performer with diverse experience in political, verbatim, site-specific and physical theatre. She has worked with companies including the National theatre of Scotland, National Theatre, Urban Theatre Projects, Australia’s foremost site specific company, Chicago Shakespeare Company, St Anne’s Warehouse, The LIFT festival, The Clod Ensemble, The Belarus Free Theatre and Vox Motus. Adura has toured internationally with both the Foreign Commonwealth Office and the British Council.

“…a shocking slice of shamefully hidden history … theatrically bold in the telling, with Onashile’s heart-rending performance at its centre.” [The Herald]

“The fusion of video, music, monologue and physicality makes HeLa a feast for all the senses. This extraordinary, true story is treated with delicacy and astuteness …” [The Peoples Review]

This production was designed to be presented in a Medical School lecture theatre environment, so we are delighted to be hosting this only Wellington performance of the show in the Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre at the University of Otago, Wellington in Newtown. This will be a one night only performance on Thursday 16 October at 7pm, so make sure you book now as tickets will sell fast.  Bookings can be made online only at www.otago.ac.nz/heLa. Please note that tickets are non-refundable, but are transferable to another person.

HeLa is also showing in Christchurch (October 9, 10) and Auckland (October 21 – 25).

download flyer

Art, Science, and Theatre: three events coming up

Rebecca and I are excited to be involved with three upcoming events that explore the relationship between art and science, and public engagement with science.

On Saturday, October 11th, we’re both taking part in Breaking Ice: art-science symposium, part of NZ IceFest in Christchurch.
In this one day public symposium, 15 leading artists, scientists and designers will explore new ways of working together to create innovative solutions to urgent issues related to the environment, human health, and climate change.

On Tuesday, October 14th, 6pm, we are collaborating with Massey University College of Creative Arts and the Royal Society of New Zealand “At Six” events:
Re-integrating Art, Design and Science for a Future World
Featuring: special guests David Buckland, Natalie Jerimijenko, and Frances Whitehead

On Thursday, October 16th, 7pm, we are delighted to be bringing a one-woman play about “ethics, equality, and ownership of our DNA” to Wellington in collaboration with the University of Otago at Wellington. HeLa is showing in Wellington (October 16th), Christchurch (October 9, 10) and Auckland (October 21 – 25). We’re also excited that the playwright and star of the show, Adura Onashile, will be coming to speak to our Science Communication and Creative Science Writing students when she’s in town as well.

More about each of these events to come… but please come along!