Posts Tagged ‘2103’

Day 336. The final month!

In July 2013 on July 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm


I’ve reached day 336, and that means there’s only 1 month to go in the inaugural year of ScienceforLife.365

In addition to my usual style of posts, I hope to spend some time during the next four weeks sharing some reflections on the past year, as well as some explorations as to what’s coming next.

Thanks for your support everyone, and enjoy the lead up to August 13 2013.

[image thanks to johncooke on flickr]


Day 335. Art reflecting nature

In July 2013 on July 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm


Yesterday I was completely taken aback by my first full-scale classical ballet performance.

The Australian Ballet production of Swan Lake was mesmerising for its wonderful music and its elaborate staging and costumes.

But of course it was the swans which took my breath away.

Odette was an avian delight. She floated. She glided. She hovered across the stage en pointe, with fine arm bones, muscles, sinews and feathers primed to take flight. The capacity of the lead ballerina (we think it was Lana Jones in our matinee) to mimic a bird was quite amazing, and emphasised further through the projection onto the rear screen of a swan flying in slow motion. Each individual component of the wing beat was visible, in both animated and human form.

It reminded me of Australian aboriginal dancers, mimicking each wing and neck movement of brolgas and emus with amazing accuracy.

I guess that’s what humans do. We try to capture and replicate what we see in nature.

Day 334. Crossing to the dark side

In July 2013 on July 11, 2013 at 12:27 pm


Jacqui Hayes plays underwater rugby, considers herself an expert with tandem bikes and is into physics.

She’s also a well-respected Australian science communicator and writer.

Given my recent Venn diagram-like explorations of science communication and science journalism,  I asked Jacqui if she could offer any insights into this world based on her own experiences.

This is what she said:

Crossing to the dark side

No doubt, almost every journalist who takes a role in PR or communications has been accused of “crossing to the dark side”. For me, it took a week. Not long after COSMOS Magazine announced their office would be moving to Melbourne, I started on a short-term contract as a media liaison and science communicator at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). A week into the new job, and I had my first visiting reporter and I mentioned how, until recently, I’d been working as a science journalist. She looked at me, a bit surprised. And then, she said it: “You’ve crossed to the dark side!”

It’s always said with faux horreur and a cheeky smile. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that in the numerous times since that I’ve heard the phrase, the crossing has only ever been referred to as a one-way transition. No one talks about the PR person who became a journalist. Instead, it’s treated a bit like going through puberty or baking a cake: once it’s done, it’s done, and no amount of wishing can undo those changes.

As I was working for a well-respected medical research institution – as oppose to one of the oft-maligned PR agencies – as often as not, the phrase was followed up with, “but at least you’re working for one of the good ones, right?”

To a certain extent, this is right. When I spoke with members of the public, they were already invested in the research – often they were suffering from a disease being researched at the institute, or they knew someone who was. When I called journalists, I was pitching new knowledge, new trials, new ways of thinking about old problems. I’m sure it takes ungodly persistence and nerves of steel to convince a journalist (or yourself) of the benefits of the product X or a strategic partnership, but luckily neuroscience and medical research, as with much of science, doesn’t require this kind of sales pitch.

In my (albeit limited) experience working in-house, there are some other great aspects to the role I hadn’t appreciated before making the crossing: you get to think creatively about how your story might work across all platforms. Having worked largely in magazines, online, and social media, it was nice to stretch to thinking about how to make a research outcome appealing for television, to think of interesting shots and camera angles (like this one). Depending on the role and which institution you go into, there are opportunities for event management, marketing and broader communications for industry, business development and government. Communicators often end up with a very broad skill set.

I had also thought that there would be fewer stories in house, because instead of working across all of science you are only covering one institution. I was pleasantly surprised to find the process of story discovery as a media liaison and science communicator is really rewarding. There’s far more stories to tell than can ever be told – and often researchers don’t think to tell a communicator about any of their work unless it’s a key publication. You have to dedicate time to building trust and relationships (and communication channels) to get some of these stories, something I couldn’t have done as a journalist.

In the near future, we may face a situation where institutions no longer need the media and journalists: they are slowly building their own audiences, through blogs and social media, and can now talk directly to traditional media’s audience.

In light of this, the role of the science journalist has not been diminished, as you might think, but become more crucial: they cross-check institutional messaging with independent experts; they can tell broader stories, synthesising research across multiple institutions; they can criticise science or individual scientists openly. They are there to defend the reader, not serve an institution.

Even so, as a science journalist who has recently made the crossing, I can say that, all things considered, there is some light on the dark side.

A ScienceforLife.365 guest post by Jacqui Hayes (find her on twitter: @SpaceKangaroo)

Day 332. Making an audience

In July 2013 on July 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm


Writing about science – or indeed any subject – you’re taught to think about your audience.

Who are you targeting? What do they want to read? How can you keep them coming back?

Today something popped up and made me think twice about this concept.

Heather Bray is a researcher and science communicator based in Adelaide, and uses her training in agricultural science to work in and around food science and related fields. She’s currently running the second annual University of Adelaide Intensive Course in Communicating Science (#cs7020).

This morning Heather tweeted the following:

Prof Mike Wilmore‘s media lecture in #cs7020: media makes content & audiences, same with social media. Not thought of myself as audience maker before

Maybe as science communicators we need to think about ourselves as audience makers a whole lot more (follows prev tweet) #cs7020#onsci

This is an idea I really like. In fact, I had a little lightbulb moment when I read it.

*ding* As a writer, I am an audience maker!

There is not a pre-defined mob of people sitting out there waiting for me to fill a void in their lives. If I write stuff that is good enough, I will create a group of followers who actively seek what I write.

Scarily enough, this sounds a lot like marketing.

But I guess that too does make sense. If I can write well enough to convince people that I’m adding value to their lives, then yes, I am a marketer.

[image thanks to Electric Images on flickr]

Day 331. My real CV

In July 2013 on July 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm


Just now I read this truly realistic CV of a scientist.

I thought it’d be fun to write my own:

Hi, my name is Sarah Keenihan, and I’m a science writer. I love to read and write about many different kinds of science, and the people involved in it.

In an ideal world, I’d be set up in a sun-lit office with a comfortable chair for thinking and a standing desk for writing. I’d write from 7am to 3pm each day, and then prepare a leisurely and nutritionally-balanced meal.

In reality, I have a small wooden desk to which I dash back and forth over the course of a day. When I have a new idea, I hammer out some thoughts and walk away. Most of my thinking I do on my feet. I return sporadically to my desk to edit and rewrite. I am a caterer, with sandwiches and quick slap-up kid-friendly dinners my speciality. I am a juggler of laundry. I am a runner and a walker, sometimes to set destinations, sometimes just to burn off steam. I am a manager of three personalities in addition to my own – a sensitive and social 10 year-old, a musical and efficient 8 year-old and a temperamental and hilarious 3-year old. I have extraordinary skills in reading, signing and filing school notices. I do reading in classrooms and sometimes I boss other people’s kids around when they irritate me. Between 3-5pm each day, I drive, I watch balls of various sizes, I see kids swim up and down a pool and I load and unload enormous bags from the back of my car.

I finish writing most of my articles once the kitchen is clean and the house is silent from about 9pm.

If you are still interested in my professional activities, please click here.

[Image thanks to the italian voice on flickr]

Day 327. Vacation humour

In July 2013 on July 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm


The mid-winter school holidays are here in Australia.

In my house, that means lots of pyjama wearing, couch lazing, excessive screen viewing and parental work-load panicking.

Although we’re not going on an actual vacation, this cartoon did make me giggle. It’s exactly what I do on holiday trips.

Hope all you parents survive the next couple of weeks intact.

[image thanks to Unearthed Comics, via Karyn Traphagen]

Day 326. Physics with Salvatore Pepe

In July 2013 on July 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm


All of today I’ve been reliving my wonderful experience of a Salvatore Pepe cooking demonstration.

Last night, Salvatore volunteered his time to support Adelaide’s Helpmann Academy by cooking a three course meal for a small crown of dedicated foodies and art lovers.

We enjoyed:

risotto ai carciofi e parmagiano – risotto with artichokes and parmesan

involtini di pesce spada – rolled and stuffed swordfish

pere ubriache ripiene di ricotta – poached pears stuffed with ricotta, chocolate and pistacchio

Simply magnificent.

Little did I expect to be cast back to high school years circa 1988.

Having shown us how to strip, scoop and chop artichokes in preparation for the risotto, Pepe threw them into a large saucepan with shallots and alarming amounts of butter. He then advised:

“If you put a lid on, you will reduce your cooking time by half”.

This is pretty much Boyles law.

Recalling the wisdom of Mr Miller my corduroy-wearing physics teacher, it goes a little something like this:

The absolute pressure exerted by a given mass of an ideal gas is inversely proportional to the volume it occupies if the temperature and amount of gas remain unchanged within a closed system.

In my kitchen, I word it this way:

To make the dinner cook quicker ’cause the kids are going feral in the background, put a lid on your saucepan. This will reduce the cooking volume, and that results in higher temperatures and pressures for quicker slap-it-up-plates-on-table.

Somehow it sounded so much better coming from the beautifully-accented mouth of an Italian-Aussie cooking legend.

Day 323. Science and social media: a case study

In July 2013 on July 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm


More and more scientists are embracing social media.

Many are on twitter and Facebook, others write blogs and share images using Instagram and flickr.

But what value does this have? Are there any rewards or positive outcomes to be gained by scientists through delving into these relatively new and sometimes scary online platforms?

Dave Hawkes says yes. I’m delighted to present his guest post to explain a little further:

Science is a collaborative process. We meet other scientists through the labs we work in, or conferences, or even by making contact after reading some of their research. I have been fortunate to have a number of great collaborators both in Australia and overseas (which has meant trips to the UK, Spain and France to meet them in person).

Recently I formed a new collaboration through a slightly unusual means.

I am a virologist who now works in creating viral vectors to understand the anatomy and function of neurons associated with a neuropeptide system, relaxin-3. Outside of the lab I have been involved in trying to combat misinformation about vaccination for about the last four years. Through these activities I have become involved in a Facebook page called Stop the AVN. During a conversation with two other people associated with this page – an epidemiologist from Adelaide (Candice Lea) and a data modeller from Wollongong (Dr Matthew Berryman) – we agreed that there seemed to be a lot of people asking questions about the recently (2007) introduced vaccine against HPV.

We decided to write a paper answering some of the most common questions about this vaccine.

This paper has now been published and is freely available for anyone who wants to have a read. From experience we know that while people may be interested in a topic they might be intimidated by a paper in a scientific journal, so we produced a layman’s summary and a companion article about the paper.

Another advantage we have discovered is that by having active online networks – particularly those with a specific focus (in this case health) – we have been able to promote this paper through both twitter and Facebook to a much wider audience. We have also been very lucky that prominent health tweeters such as @DoctorKarl and @DoctorChristian have been supportive and retweeted our paper with strong recommendations.

I that this whole experience has taught me a number of things:

    • If you make collaborations with people who are passionate about a topic, things happen much faster;
    • People generally respond to tweets much faster than emails; and
    • The number of people who follow a particular tweeter is not necessarily a good measure of the impact these people can have.

I will finish with a recommendation to scientists: social media is a way to get your science out of the lab and into public forums which will result in more people reading and understanding your work.

Thanks to Dave for suggesting this post idea, and putting it together over the weekend.

Calling all scientists and non-scientists: if you’ve got an idea and would like to write a guest blog post for ScienceforLife.365, please let me know via @sciencesarah or

[image thanks to malias on flickr]

Day 320. Journalism versus communication

In June 2013 on June 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm


What is the difference between science journalism and science communication?

This question has been nagging at me recently.

I’ve even been thinking it through at strange hours of the night, sometimes with the company of a three-year old (I knew I had kids for a reason).

Joel Werner had an ongoing conversation with twitter followers of RealScientists recently on this exact topic. You can review some of the ideas which were discussed here.

It’s interesting at the outset to consider it by asking the question:

Who actually are the groups of people talking about science in the Australian public sphere?

There are many different folks involved.

Some use traditional media platforms, some use the internet (including social media), many use both.

Some are members of Australian Science Communicators; some are not.

They call themselves different names: journalists, writers, communicators, bloggers, outreach officers, educators, researchers.

Some have as science background; some do not.

Some are paid professionals; others are fuelled entirely by enthusiasm, creating blogs and other content for no fee at all.

Of the paid professionals, some work for media outlets, some work for academic institutions, some work for marketing companies, some work for public relations units.

Some are teachers: either full time in schools and tertiary institutions, or part time in ‘guest’ roles.

Some are full time scientists, with a drive to spread the word and share their perspectives via communication platforms based on writing, art and video. They do it for the love.

Some are innovators, designers and inventers, passionate about their trades and eager to earn a dollar from many years of hard work.

Something tells me I’m just getting started on this topic. More soon.

[image thanks to erix on flickr]

Day 316. Running for life

In June 2013 on June 24, 2013 at 9:37 pm


Before I started  running, this is what I thought runners looked like.

Alone. Driven. Focussed. Fearless. Silent. Tall. Scrawny.

Then a girl I knew – someone who had none of the characteristics on this list – signed up to train for a marathon, and by jingos she did it.

I could do that!

I thought.

So I joined a running group.

I still haven’t cracked a marathon – life is too full of other things to commit to such a task at the moment – but I’ve become a runner.

And running is really not at all what I thought it would be.

Sure, I’m often alone when I do it, and I am driven to an extent. But I’m not fearless, and I’m definitely not tall. I’m leaner than I was when I began, but certainly not what you’d call scrawny. Indeed, I’ve met people of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and with varying motivations in my weekly running get-togethers.

One of the best things about running in a group is that you learn to run at a manageable chatting pace. Once you start heading out for longer than about 15kms in one hit (i.e. running for more than about 1.5 hours at time), being able to chat and distract yourself is a very valuable thing.

This past weekend I participated in a 5 km fun run with my nine year old son. Although he’s a good footballer and cricketer, he is not a particularly athletic kid. My goal was to encourage him to run the whole distance, enjoy the scenery and have a chat with his Mum along the way. I expected we’d end up walking some of the course.

But he made it the whole way running! It was a complete joy for me. And he got a real kick out of sprinting past his Mum over the finish line.

Running is a great skill for life. We’ll be doing plenty more runs together in the future.

[image thanks to familymwr on flickr]