science communication

Want to be a science writer?

Ashleigh Young and Rebecca Priestley are teaching CREW352: Creative Science Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters again this year. Past students have included undergraduate science and humanities students, experienced writers and journalists, environmental advocates and practising scientists. Students on the course have written engaging non-fiction stories about science and had these stories published in literary journals such as Sport, Overland and Landfall, in the student magazine Salient, and in industry journals such as Organic New Zealand magazine and books such as Tell You What: Great NZ Fiction 2014. Other students have used the course to kickstart a book-length project.

Here are some links to some online stories you can read that were written and workshopped as part of CREW352.

The albatross in the cupboard by Nina Powles on Te Papa blogs

Four circles by Sarah Bainbridge in Landfall

Simply air vibrating by Simon Gennard in Overland

Is it getting hot in here? By Bronte Ammundsen in Salient

Applications for this year’s workshop close this 21 June. You can find out more about how to apply here:


Citizen science, outreach, history of science communication: we’re looking for summer scholars!

Applications for Victoria University of Wellington summer scholarships are open! Summer scholarships offer students (third year or above) $6000 along with valuable research experience for projects running over the summer. Information on how to apply is here – applications are due on 1 October.

Here are the projects we’re involved in this year. Please contact Rhian or Rebecca if you want to know more.

How and why do scientists publish their outreach efforts?

Scholarship code: 540 
Supervisor: Rhian Salmon

Many scientists are involved in public engagement and science communication efforts—often collectively referred to as “outreach”—but there are few academic fora to share best practices in this field.

Where scientists do attempt to share best practice in this field, it is usually in their own discipline-specific journals, not reviewed by peers with expertise in science communication, and not read by scientists in other fields who are exploring similar outreach practices.

This inadvertently serves to separate practice and theory in this field, as well as to make it extremely difficult for scientists interested in developing their understanding of outreach to learn from robust communication by their peers on this topic.

This research project will explore how and where scientists from a variety of disciplines are currently sharing their best-practice and experiences in outreach, as well as new models that are being used elsewhere for interdisciplinary publication and sharing of best-practice.

History of science communication and outreach by DSIR scientists, 1926-1992

Scholarship code: 534 
Supervisor: Rebecca Priestley

This project will look at the motivations for and practice of science outreach by DSIR scientists 1926-1992. It will primarily involve archival and newspaper research, to discern government and organisational policy and activities (such as open days, public lectures, promotional booklets) around connecting with the public. This is part of a wider project that looks at how science outreach was performed, reported and critically evaluated at different times in the 20th century. This project seeks to determine the impact of New Zealand’s radical late-20th century science reforms on science outreach, and explore links between institutional and political change, and outreach practice.

Citizen science in Wellington

Scholarship code: 039 
Supervisors: Stephen Hartley and Rhian Salmon

In October 2014 the Great Kereru Count will run. This is a citizen science project where people will count kereru and upload the information through an app or website.

We need a student to analyse the data from this count, looking at current kereru trends within Wellington, and also to evaluate the way the count was promoted and the data was collected.

There are many opportunities to use citizen science in Wellington, and this is an opportunity to explore those possibilities and make recommendations for future projects.

What courses are we running at the moment?

It’s mid-trimester break, so it seems like a good time to reflect on what Science in Context courses are running at the moment … and what’s coming up. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the dates of term-times in New Zealand so for those other non-antipodeans out there, we’re currently in Trimester 2, which runs from July to October. We offer all of our courses through Continuing Education as well – so they’re open to anyone, even if you’re not a student or don’t need the credit. Continuing Education students get to enjoy the learning, discussions, and content but don’t need to take the assessments: score!

This trimester, we’re running SCIE201: Energy, Society, and the Future. This online course has about 80 students this year who appear to be really enjoying the content and having some robust conversations in the discussion forum – they’ve learnt about different energy sources until now and next up will be looking at different options for our future.

SCIE311: Science Communication Rebecca and I are really enjoying teaching this course – one of our few face-to-face courses, and the only compulsory course in the Science in Context Minor. We have about 25 students enrolled who are submitting and developing fantastic work. Their first assignment had to be a piece of written science communication, and the second can explore other media (infographic, video, podcast, spoken word, event, performance, visual art, app, game … you name it, they’re trying it). We’re also really enjoying the fantastic line-up of visiting lecturers who are showing the breadth and potential of science communication and opportunities for public engagement with science, as well as sharing more thoughtful insights into the goals and purpose of these activities. I look forward to sharing some of our students’ work on this site at the end of the trimester.

CREW352: Creative Science Writing Workshop Rebecca is co-teaching this course with Ashleigh Young, using the successful workshop technique developed by the International Institute of Modern Letters, and a small and select group of students are busy critiquing a wide range of creative non-fiction science writing while also developing their own portfolios.

Another course, run exclusively through Continuing Education, is Ethical Issues of our Time: Computers, Climate, and Conception. Every Wednesday throughout October we will be joining colleagues to look at ethical issues from climate change to phone hacking and wiki-leaks to reproductive technologies. This course is open to anyone with an interest in learning more.

Coming up in the summer: SCIE211: Contemporary Issues in Science and Society Offered as a 12 week course Nov – Feb, or a 6 week course from January. This is the original and longest-running of our courses that explore ‘Science in Context’. In 2011, we started with 28 students and a module led by Sir Paul Callaghan. Three years on, we now have over 200 students each year and a diverse range of contemporary modules that all explore some aspect of the relationship between science and society. This year we’ll exploring big questions like “Should genes be patented?”, “What is the most important thing to understand about climate change and what can we do about it?”, “What are the potential benefits and implications of more nanotechnology in our society?”, and “Is there any value of a predator-free New Zealand and of so, what would it take to achieve this?”

SCIE401: Climate science and decision-making This short course will run for the third year in Jan-Feb 2015 and looks at the complex relationship between science, policy, international diplomacy, and economics … among other things. Also available through Professional and Executive development, this course traditionally attracts students working – or wanting to work – in the climate science/policy sector.

And in March 2015 SCIE312: Revolutions in Science Another popular online course with an energetic discussion forum. This course reviews major theories in science history, from classical Greek science to the European enlightenment to 20th C revolutions in physics, biology and earth sciences including New Zealand’s science history.