Posts Tagged ‘study’

The climate is social?

In August 2014 on August 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm


Sarah: I’ve signed up for my first online course, an 8-week ‘coursera’ through the University of Melbourne entitled Climate Change

Why? Quite simply, I want to be better informed. Don’t get me wrong, I do strongly believe climate change is happening. But I also feel the need to know more. I want to see the actual numbers; I want to be able to argue the case with conviction; I want to wrap my head around some solutions. 

My first bit of learning hit me straight up between the eyes: week one of the course was not about science.

Huh? Surely they’d want to start with some evidence? But instead we heard from Professor Jon Barnett about climate change as a social problem – an issue of people.

By the end of John’s lectures, I could see why this was a good idea. Yes, climate change is about rising temperatures, melting ice, oceans creeping up in levels and acidity, and changing weather patterns. We can take this as a given – the evidence is solid.

But the primary reason we’re in this predicament, and also why we care, is because of us.

People, folks, homo sapiens. Humans created emissions, humans measure and interpret their changing world, humans suffer the consequences and humans have to come up with solutions to ensure the survival of our species and other animals and plants. 

In his lectures, Jon talked about his own particular geographical area of research, the Pacific islands. He spoke of differing levels of exposure, sensitivity and adaptability of the people in these nations to climate change. He talked us through impacts of increased rates of cyclones, altered rainfall (drought and extreme falls), sea level rises and altered local weather systems. He also imparted a sense of hope about the capacity of people to deal with the impacts of climate change, suggesting that climate change adaptation isn’t so different from thinking about sustainable development, and ethical economic development. Dealing with the social arm of climate change doesn’t have to be a massive step necessarily. 

But….with a proviso. Only if we keep the average global temperature rise to around 2 degrees C. After that, the rules will probably change. 

[image thanks to US Pacific Fleet on flickr]



Not that Adam

In August 2014 on August 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm


Sarah: Federal member for Melbourne Adam Bandt featured as a showcase interviewee at ANU’s excellent PhD to Present event last week.

Adam trained as a lawyer, and returned to university for PhD studies after 10 years in the workforce. He made many interesting comments about being a postgrad student, and of the broad value of doing a PhD. I jotted a few of these down in case of general interest.

On the process of starting a PhD:

“For me the biggest barrier was just beginning to write. I though ‘I can’t possible being writing until I understand everything about this field.’ But then someone said to me ‘you’ve just to start writing – it will be rubbish but you have just got to start’.”

On the transferable skills coming from a PhD:

“For me it’s less about methodology and more about being to able think about and distill ideas.”

On knowing when to stop researching and just write it up:

“One of the best things I got from working as a lawyer was a recognition that deadlines insist upon themselves. It’s not always going to be perfect, but sometimes you just have to get it done by a certain date.”

“As long as you’re prepared to acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge.”

On why he got into politics:

“It was actually scientists who convinced me to get into politics – reading the science of climate change.”

In answer to a question relating to whether research is partisan or not:

“I think we do badly in Australia in terms of encouraging pure research and letting people use PhDs as a place to explore ideas”

“We need more money, we need more academic independence, and we need to prioritise research as a country.”

On the value of staffers with postgraduate degrees:

“We’re really lucky in parliament because we have a parliamentary library. It’s full of people with PhDs and we’re better for it.”

On whether having a PhD should be overtly stated:

“It’s not something I hide, but to be frank, I didn’t want to be seen as too up myself.”

“We don’t do ‘the popular academic’ that well in Australia.”

On why he is passionate about research:

“Partly it comes from having done a PhD, but more broadly it’s a debate about which way we want our country to go and what do we want to prioritise.”

“I think someone needs to stand up for pure, undirected research. It’s about saying ‘what kind of society do we want?’”

On the role of expert opinions:

“It’s important, especially when people can advance ideas in the public realm.”

“It is important but it’s not sufficient.”

“The attack on the role and the legitimacy of science and research has been mind-boggling, and has a chilling effect on everyone else. It also de-legitimizes science and research more generally.”

A huge thanks to Adam for contributing to the day, and for his frank revelations.

And I’ll forgive him for not being *that* Adam.

[image thanks to chris m on flickr]

I want to unearth known unknowns

In May 2014 on May 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm

kirsti colourful petri dishes

Kirsti: Over the past 100 years, science and technology have changed our lives almost beyond measure.

In that same time period, tertiary education has become accessible by almost anyone with an internet connection. Courses are offered via a range of universities and other providers, including those with established integrity but also featuring those with little credibility at all. Whatever you choose to call it — whether it be off-campus, external, online or distance education — enrolments are UP and costs are DOWN.

So in an age when the ethical and accurate communication of science is so important, and you can virtually study anything from anywhere, I decided to search Australia. I looked for options in external postgraduate studies in science communication, and for a Masters or graduate Diploma course with flexible options. Why? So I could use my existing work, research and communication activities to learn……well, learn to do it better, learn more stuff, learn new strategies and unearth my ‘known unknowns’.

Is that too much to ask?!


The search was more complicated than I anticipated! Finally, I did manage to establish that you CAN do an external Masters of Science Communication through the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU. It’s a convoluted path to enrolment, and the webpage doesn’t explicitly state you can do it…..but you can.

Event if I was willing to move, my choices for science communication postgraduate studies would actually still be limited. Although there are Masters of Communication and Masters of Journalism available at universities across the country, many of them include aspects of communication not suited to me at the moment, like advertising and traditional journalism.

Distinct to what I’m looking for, there are numerous fabulous single units available that cover issues in science communication and practice at an undergraduate and postgraduate level. Among many examples, the University of Melbourne offers science communication at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and this unit is a diverse exploration of effective engagement strategies in science communication. The University of Newcastle’s 2nd year science communication unit includes a project and portfolio submission, and Monash University students all take the core science unit ‘Scientific Practice & Communication’ as part of any BSc. or BSc. double degree.

And if you’re serious about postgraduate study in science communication, it is dominated by three Australian universities:

  1. The Australian National University (the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science)
  2. University of Western Australia
  3. University of Queensland

My advice?  Just call the coordinator or graduate convenor.  After a healthy chat, many things are possible.

But have I missed anything? Are there any other or even better options? I’d love to hear about your experience with science communication study at a tertiary level.

[image thanks to Anne Flaherty on Flickr]


First year biology

In October 2013 on October 23, 2013 at 9:13 pm

kirsti biology Spiral succulent

Kirsti: First year biology at university. Most Bachelor of Science students did it. I did it. It’s a prerequisite for many, more specialised second year units, and the foundation for other degrees like agriculture, food science, biomedicine and medicine, and sometimes environmental science.

I’ve been doing some lab and tutorial teaching of first year biology this past 3 months. It’s been rewarding. But I’m now launching into my first trimester of purely external (online) first year biology students at the University of New England.

I know. EXCITED!

The students will experience an intensive practical school to ensure they get into a lab, get their hands dirty, make observations of actual specimens and get to talk to other students first hand. But other than that, everything’s in their own time, at [mainly] their own pace, and – the killer – during the summer holidays of most university courses.

I’m looking forward to live chats about our topics, setting some fun interactive quizzes to get them thinking, but most of all, advising them to get out there and look around! They could, for example, look for evidence of symmetry in their own gardens, arthropods on their kitchen bench-tops and shared features of any vertebrate pets in their vicinity.

In my own head right now I might choose to go off on a tangent with thoughts and grumbles about various things relating to university study these days. Like the reduction of semester weeks to trimesters at some universities, decreasing the number of lectures, practicals and assessments in first year biology (primarily due to increasing student numbers and decreasing budgets), and superficial learning by generations of IT-savvy kids. But I will not force you to endure that. Not today anyway. 🙂 

Instead, I will continue writing my lecture on animal development, and marvel at radial symmetry, a developing gastrula, arthropod diversity and the existence of nematodes.