by Malgosia Ip
SWCC People’s Choice Award Winner - Canada’s Favourite Science Site: Let’s Talk Science
Amy Cook was a graduate student at Western University when she and her colleague Mira Ray started a small not-for-profit organization called CRAM Science. They were both passionate about science outreach, but found that outreach activities typically missed the teenage demographic.
“Interest in science tends to wane for teens,” says Ray, so we wanted to do something that would connect their world with science and technology.”
The result was an online, interactive, popular science magazine for teens to engage with scientific content. With stories written by an army of graduate student volunteers, CRAM Science explored teen-relevant topics through a scientific lens.
But as Cook and Ray finished their stints at Western and took on other full-time roles – Cook as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Ray as a consultant with McKinsey & Company—they needed to find a new home for CRAM Science.
“With full time jobs, we didn’t have the capacity to take it to the next level,” explains Cook, “but we wanted to ensure its longevity and continuity.”
During her time at Western, Cook was a site coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development. Let’s Talk Science was already well connected with the educator community, an area that Cook and Ray wanted CRAM Science to grow into. It was the perfect fit.
Ten years later, CRAM Science is CurioCity, part of the network of websites featured on Let’s Talk Science’s site, winner of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada’s People’s Choice Award for Canada’s Favourite Science Site. With over one million page views last year from Canada alone, Let’s Talk Science is an important online resource for teachers, parents, and youth.
But this type of success story is nothing new for Let’s Talk Science, which despite being a national organization with 45 sites across Canada, is at its core made up of local volunteers and their ideas.
The founder and current President of Let’s Talk Science, Bonnie Schmidt, was in the third year of her PhD in physiology at Western University when she had the idea for a science outreach organization. The timing was right: the country was in a recession, and funding for the sciences had been hit hard. Never had it been more important to rally public support for research.
“At that time, there was really no such thing as University outreach,” says Schmidt. “If a teacher wanted to know something about research, they didn’t know who to call.”
Schmidt recruited graduate student volunteers who were then matched with elementary and high school teachers in the region to lead their students in hands-on science activities and share their research experiences. It was an easy and effective model for any University to implement, and what started out as a small outreach project soon grew to multiple sites and became what Let’s Talk Science is today.
Because of her own experience turning an emerging idea into a national, award winning organization, Schmidt makes sure that Let’s Talk Science consistently encourages the entrepreneurial spirit and supports the big dreams of its volunteers.
Each year, Let’s Talk Science hosts a national conference for all of its site coordinators. They meet, learn what’s new and exciting at each site, and decide the direction they want their own site to take. Amy Cook was inspired to create CRAM Science at one of these conferences, after a presentation on accessing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through different forms of online and print media.
Paul Cassar, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, also left his site coordinator conference with the enthusiasm and motivation to do something big. He and his fellow graduate students, David Grant and Angela McDonald, were inspired to create a youth-oriented TED-style event about stem cells. With the support of Let’s Talk Science, Cassar, Grant, and McDonald created a program model and drafted a proposal for the Toronto District School Board.
The first StemCellTalks event, sponsored by the Stem Cell Network, ran in March 2010 at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. High school students from across the city learned about stem cells from experts in the field, listened to debates, and participated in breakout sessions. The model was soon picked up by other Universities. In 2018, StemCellTalks events will run in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Guelph, and are expected to reach over 1000 high school students.
Pick any of the major Let’s Talk Science initiatives listed on their website and chances are, there’s a passionate group of graduate students behind it. Cassar says Let’s Talk Science is really “a platform for grad students,” where they can learn the skills they need for their future career path. For Cook, it cemented her interest in STEM outreach and education.
“[Let’s Talk Science] definitely influenced my career move outside of academia and shaped where I am today,” says Cook.
Cook is currently the Director of Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and continues to build on the skills she acquired with Let’s Talk Science and CRAM Science.
Today, Let’s Talk Science, continues to grow, not just because of its enthusiastic volunteer base, but also because of the increasing awareness of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education in schools—70% of tomorrow’s jobs will require STEM. The Let’s Talk Science Canada 2067 initiative focuses on shaping the future of STEM learning for Kindergarten to Grade 12.
According to Bonnie Schmidt, the Founder & President of Let’s Talk Science, “The world is changing. We want to show [youth] that they’ve got capacity—even if they have to work at it—and that there are so many opportunities.”
This applies not just to the elementary and high school kids served by Let’s Talk Science’s outreach programs, but also to its volunteer base of graduate and undergraduate students. That’s the secret to making big ideas happen.
The People's Choice Award for Canada's Favourite Blog was won by Body of Evidence. Read about it here:
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada & Simon Fraser University
April 12-14, 2018
Vancouver, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia
Dip your toe in the ocean. Climb a mountain. Enjoy the leading edge of springtime in Canada.
Plus our three areas of focus are all on the edge too!
British Columbia. Controversial science topics. The future of science writing and communication.
We are going to be at Science World with our friends at STAN on April 12 and at SFU Harbour Centre April 13 & 14. April 15 will be at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.
Everyone is Welcome!
Comments from our previous conferences:
The conference was my first exposure to SWCC. What a breath of fresh air. As a mid-to later stage professional, I don't get the opportunity to interact with other communicators and writers. I came back with information and contacts that are beneficial for me and my organization. I feel reinvigorated in my practice. Follow up and responsiveness on the part of the organizers after-the-fact has also been excellent.
My second week into my Masters of Science Communication program I was lucky enough to attend the 2017 SWCC Conference. It was a great experience to get a broad view of science writing and communicating in Canada as well as having a chance to listen to and meet some amazing presenters. When thinking about future career opportunities the SWCC Conference really got my wheels turning about where I can go and the different kinds of things I can do. It was perfect for my introduction into the exciting field of Science Communication. Highly recommended!
I look forward to this conference every year and there's nothing like it. SWCC keeps a community connected across Canada and these few days energize us for the rest of the year. The people you meet and the insights you gain are so important for all science writers and communicators' work.
The SWCC conference is a chance to get out of your science silo and pick up new approaches to communicate science, learn about other exciting scientific fields and share ideas with your science writer colleagues from across Canada.
The SWCC conference 2017 offered me a perfect way to not only learn some good 'best practice' tips in science communications but more importantly offered me an opportunity to meet, network and benefit from learning from an incredibly friendly, smart and experienced group of science communicators. I have already recommended the conference to a number of my colleagues back in the UK.
"The annual conference is a great place to meet your peers, strike up friendships, and to maintain relationships over the years -- important in such a lonely profession. As a writer, I've found stories and more than paid for the cost of a trip. As an editor, I've had the chance to get to know writers who have ended up freelancing for me, or have been offered jobs working with me." Jude Isabella, Editor- in-Chief Hakai Magazine
"I needed to find an expert on cattle for a story I was doing about wearable technology in the beef industry, and immediately thought of USask because of the tour we had done during the conference." Brian Owens, New Scientist, Canadian Geographic, Inside Science, Hakai
Book Awards 2017
The 2017 book awards are now closed for submissions.
The winners will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during
Science Literacy Week in September, 2018
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada offers two annual book awards to honour outstanding contributions to science writing 1) intended for and available to children/middle grades ages 8-12 years, and 2) intended for and available to the general public. Competitors must be Canadian citizens or residents of Canada, but need not be members of the SWCC. Entries, in either French or English, must have been published in Canada during the 2017 calendar year.
The prize for each award is $1,000 and the presentations will take place in the authors hometowns during Science Literacy Week.
Entries may deal with aspects of basic or applied science or technology, historical or current, in any area including health, social or environmental issues, regulatory trends etc.
Books will be judged on literary excellence and scientific content and accuracy. Specific judging criteria will include initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation and value in promoting greater understanding of science by the general reader.
Books must be understandable to the layperson or children, with appropriate clarification of medical and scientific terminology, and an orderly marshalling of facts.
Also the subject matter should be significant and relevant for the majority of the public or children, and so presented that it increases public awareness.
Rules for Submissions
Include a fully completed entry form with each submission
Submit a brief biography of the author(s)
6 copies are required for judging purposes
Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2017 calendar year
Entries should be received at the SWCC National Office by Dec 15, 2017
Entries failing to comply with these rules will be rejected. For more information please phone the SWCC office at 1-800-796-8595, or email email@example.com
All entries become the property of the SWCC
Entry Form available here
On The Edge
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada & Simon Fraser University
Controversial science topics.
The future of science writing and communication.
This is what delegates had to say about our 2017 conference:
By Kristina Campbell, Photos by Theresa Liao
Where do you get your science information from?
This was the question that greeted the attendees of #ScicommnightBC, an SWCC event hosted in collaboration with the Royal BC Museum, Science Borealis, and Curiosity Collider in Victoria on Friday, September 22nd.
"Coworkers" figured prominently, yes—so, learning about science through real-life social interactions. But "Twitter" and "journal articles" were the top answers, closely followed by "Google". This meant the majority of people in the room regularly got their science information from digital sources.
The digital world, of course, allows people to create communities around their own narrow set of interests. And while it's great to have a thriving online hub for soil bacteria enthusiasts and devotees of astrophysics—where does that leave all that's local?
The SWCC science communication event took shape to explore this question. And the gathering of some of Victoria region's best science communication talent—the 100-mile diet of #scicomm, if you will—did not disappoint.
First up was the SWCC 2017 book award, presented to Mark Leiren-Young for a story he chased for more than 20 years: The Killer Whale Who Changed the World. Leiren-Young, a seasoned writer and interviewer, says many of the book's stories were brought forth from a single question he asked the people around him: when did you first see an orca?
Next came representatives from the blog aggregator Science Borealis: co-founder Sarah Boon introduced spider scientists Catherine Scott and Sean McCann, who shared stories of their early-morning expeditions to local beaches to track and photograph spiders. In their passion fused with scientific inquiry (plus videos of the cutest, fuzziest spiders ever), Scott and McCann argued convincingly that spider stories can help almost anyone get to appreciate arachnids a little better.
Shelley McIvor of Curiosity Collider then took the podium, sharing stories of their unique efforts to draw in those who might not normally take an interest in science. When the organization brings together scientists, artists, and other collaborators in various projects—from a dance that models how the brain forms a memory, to a line-following wheeled robot—the audience may be inspired to think outside the traditional "science" box. Vancouver artist Larissa Blokhuis, for example, challenged the #SciCommNightBC audience to imagine a beetle species that changed some aspect of its body or behaviour after the recent eclipse. Her explorations of the same challenge were represented in an art installation at the back of the room during the event.
The collections manager of invertebrates and the curator of invertebrates at the Royal BC Museum took the opportunity to speak about the science communication work of their institution. They emphasized the constant battle against the idea of museums as places to park old specimens: in reality, not only does the Royal BC Museum lead dynamic research efforts, but they also do constant outreach in the wider community. And even these taxonomists emphasized that it’s not the specimen or its name that matters—it’s the story. This, they said, is what science communicators should always be trying to uncover.
The final activity of the night, led by Chris O'Connor, Program Developer in the Learning Department at the Royal BC Museum, made use of all the science communication talent in the room, professional & amateur alike. O'Connor gave each small group an object that looked like a random, unremarkable item a small child would have collected from a BC beach: a shell perforated with holes; a hollow rocklike object, brown and crumbling. O'Connor asked each group to come up with a name and a one-sentence story about the object.
In five minutes, the mundane objects all been transformed with a story. They had all been tethered to something, or someone, that had made them come alive.
Also at the event: the definitive Victoria faceoff between "Oxford Comma" and "No Oxford Comma". Attendees voted with their spare change. Although various participants argued eloquently on both sides, Oxford Comma was the winner with 79% of the proceeds.
Sarah Boone wrote a report about this event for Science Borealis. You can read more about it here
This event was organized as part of Science Literacy Week.
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada and Science Borealis are excited to announce the nominees for the 2017 People’s Choice Awards: Canada’s Favourite Science Online!
Vote for your favourite websites and blogs and bestow upon them the bragging rights they so richly deserve! It’s easy to do.
Check out the nominees, especially the ones that are new to you (they’re all fabulous), and vote for your 3 favourites in each of 2 categories: Favourite Science Site and Favourite Science Blog. Once you’ve voted, join us on social media to cheer for your faves using the hashtag #CdnSciFav.
Voting closes October 14th. Winners will be announced during the Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov 1-3) and simultaneously across the SWCC and SciBor social media channels.
Top 10 List for Canada’s Favourite Science Site:
It’s the Burning Man of science! Beakerhead is an annual program that brings together the arts, sciences, and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete, and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity, and entertainment.
Evidence for Democracy
About: Standing up for science and smart decision-making in Canada. Evidence for Democracy (E4D) is the leading fact-driven, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada.
About: Hakai Magazine explores science, society, and the environment from a coastal perspective.
Let’s Talk Science
About: Let's Talk Science is an award-winning, national, charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development.
Nature Conservancy Canada
About: The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is Canada's leading national land conservation organization, envisioning a Canada that conserves nature in all its diversity, and safeguards the lands and waters that sustain life.
About: Winner of the 2017 Canadian Magazine Awards, this French language magazine features science and technology news, commentary, and a fun youth page.
About: Science.ca serves up the biographies of over 250 Canadian scientists and their work, features experiments and quizzes, as well as Ask a Scientist, and Canadian science news.
Science on Stage Canada
About; SoSC brings together the best minds in science education to inspire young people to explore science and technology by providing teachers with tools to transform their classrooms into innovative learning environments.
About: Not just a good science news read, The Conversation is also a source of ideas, media-ready experts and free content written by academics and researchers with deep expertise. The site features a searchable database of more than 30,000 academics.
Youth Science Canada
About: Dedicated to the thrills and excitement of science fairs, this bilingual site features news and blogs for budding scientists.
Vote for your faves now!
Top 12 List for Canada’s Favourite Science Blog
The Body of Evidence Dr. Christopher Labos, Jonathan Jarry
Twitter: @drlabos @crackedscience
About: Through a podcast, a shared blog, and videos (and even appearances on the radio and in person), they explore what reproducible evidence has to say on important medical topics, and how scientific thinking shouldn’t be the sole purview of researchers. The bickering is just the cherry on top.
The Intrepid Mathematician Anthony Bonato
About: The Intrepid Mathematician began in early 2015 as a means for me to write for non-mathematicians about mathematics and mathematicians. Since then, I’ve written about mathematics in popular culture and my own journey as an academic, thinker, and writer.
ScyWhy Claire Eamer and many others
Twitter: @PaulaJohanson @CEamer @helainebecker
About: In the beginning, Claire had an idea. It was a simple idea - to gather a group of like-minded writers and launch a blog. Why? To help parents, teachers and librarians discover the wide world of Canadian science writing for kids.
Art The Science Blog Julia Krolik, Alex Pedersen, Owen Fernley, Catherine Lau
Welcome to the Art the Science Blog – dedicated to featuring global sciart! The content is divided into four main categories: Creators: These days, it is not uncommon for artists to self identify as scientists and vice-versa. Therefore, the term refers to anyone influenced by science for artwork creation; Works are any artworks or exhibitions that are inspired by science; Spaces include any public or online gallery/magazine/organization that is dedicated to the promotion of scientific art and; Bits: Fast coverage of #SciArt.
Theory, Evolutions, and Game Group Artem Kaznatcheev & many others
I am Artem Kaznatcheev, and this is my venue for articles that are more long-form than G+ posts but aren’t quite long enough for more formal publication — although the ideas developed in the posts often lead to that. Instead of trying to give you a short summary, I will provide you with seven broad themes -- Algorithmic theory of biology, Bounded rationality in economics and finance, Cognitive science and philosophy of mind, Evolutionary game theory, Mathematical oncology and theoretical biology, Metamodeling and philosophy of science, and Theoretical computer science and machine learning.
Ibycter Sean McCann
About: Ibycter is about the beauty of natural history and animal behaviour research, conveyed through photography. My primary inspiration comes from getting out and exploring nature with my camera whenever I can, and this blog is an opportunity to share what I find.
Gil Wizen Gil Wizen
About: I am a naturalist with a great affection for small creatures. This is what led me to study biology and later to focus on entomology (the study of insects) as my main field of research. I created this website to present my inspirations and work in greater detail, as well as to educate and ignite a similar passion in others. Small organisms, and arthropods in particular, display a huge diversity of interesting behaviors and adaptations for survival but they are often overlooked or worse – feared of for no good reason. I hope this website will help to show their true beauty.
Pseudoplocephalus Victoria Arbour
Pseudoplocephalus is the home base for Dr. Victoria Arbour, an NSERC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Royal Ontario Museum. Victoria has been writing about dinosaurs, palaeontology, museums, science communication, and women in STEM since 2010.
Astroquizzical Jillian Scudder
All things astronomy. Any lingering questions about anything to do with space? Your questions aren't silly. Ask them here!
Spielraum Jared Stang
Spielraum: 1. Playspace; 2. The set of actions available to an expert agent in a situation; 3. A blog about an instructor finding his spielraum in a university physics classroom.
Companion Animal Psychology Zazie Todd
About the science of people’s relationships with their pets. Topics include dog training, canine behaviour, feline behaviour, enrichment, behaviour problems, attachment to pets, and the human-animal bond. Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, horses and fish are all included. Topic suggestions are welcome.
Dispatches from the Field Catherine Dale, Amanda Tracey, Sarah Wallace
So much of what happens in the field has no place in scientific papers, and never makes it into the public realm – yet these stories are the core of the experience. We want this blog to serve as an outlet for those stories, and also a way for us to share the rare, quiet lessons we’ve learned from the many landscapes we’ve been privileged to get to know.
Vote for your faves now!
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada are celebrating our two book award winners this week. Both events are open to the public and feature special guests - and additional activities. Come and join us us if you can!
Wednesday Sept 20th, 10:30 am at the Ontario Science Centre, we present this year's youth book award for Higher, Faster, Smarter to Simon Shaprio
Friday , September 22, 7:00pm at the Royal BC Museum, we present this years general audience book award for The Killer Whale Who Changed the World to Mark Leiden-Young
Wednesday, September 20 – Honouring Science Communication
Join us as we partner with the Ontario Science Centre and Science Literacy Week to honour author Simon Shapiro for his outstanding contribution to science writing for youth. Shapiro will be presented the SWCC Youth Book Award for his book Faster Higher Smarter, which looks at the science behind inventions and improvements in sports – from swimming to basketball and skateboarding to wheelchair athletics.
Hear Shapiro talk about Faster Higher Smarter and ask him your questions about research, writing and communicating science.
Hot Zone, Level 6
Included with general admission
As part of Science Literacy Week the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) and the Royal BC Museum join forces for a dynamic evening discovering the myriad ways to effectively communicate the relevance of science.
From the powerful written language in a book or text panel in a museum to multimedia exhibitions, how the concepts of science are crafted makes all the difference in making an authentic and meaningful impact on an audience.
The evening will begin with a Science in Society book award presentation by Jude Isabella Editor in Chief at Hakai Magazine and former Vice President of SWCC to Mark Leiren-Young for his book The Killer Whale Who Changed the World.
The event will also feature local innovators in science communication, with talks by spider scientist Catherine Scott and science photographer Sean McCann representing Science Borealis, and art-science experiences from Vancouver's Curiosity Collider.
Follow the event on Twitter: #ScicommNightBC
Date: September 22nd, 2017
Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Location: Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria
About Mark Leiren-Young
Mark Leiren-Young was swallowed by a whale named Moby Doll. Mark is directing a feature documentary about Moby and his short documentary The Hundred-Year-Old Whale, debuts at festivals this fall. He hosts the popular podcast, Skaana, about orcas, oceans and the environment (www.skaana.org). Mark is also a playwright whose work has been produced around the world. He has two plays running in Vancouver this season — Shylock is at Bard on the Beach in September and Bar Mitzvah Boy debuts at Pacific Theatre in March, 2018. www.leiren-young.com @leirenyoung
Representing the Canadian science blog aggregator Science Borealis, Catherine Scott and Sean McCann will be at #SciCommNightBC to talk spiders! Here's a little more about these scientists:
About Catherine Scott
Catherine Scott is a behavioural ecologist and arachnologist who studies sexual communication in spiders. A former arachnophobe, she is passionate about trying to shift perceptions about these fascinating creatures by engaging in science communication. Catherine blogs about spiders at spiderbytes.org and you can also find her on twitter (@Cataranea), where she is always happy to answer questions about spiders and other arachnids.
About Sean McCann
Dr. Sean McCann is a behavioural ecologist, entomologist and wildlife photographer who specializes in capturing the natural history of arthropods through imagery. He studies diverse animals, from mosquitoes, wasps, ants and spiders to barn owls and other raptors. Sean blogs about natural history and shares his photography at Ibycter.com and tweets as @Ibycter.
At the event, keep an eye out for work by these two amazing science artists: Erick James and Larissa Blokhuis!
About Erick James
As a biologist and artist, Erick uses art as a form of science outreach. His pieces convey the wonders of the natural world to the audience. Erick has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of British Columbia and an Honors Metal Certificate from the Kootenay School of the Arts at Selkirk College. Erick has worked and studied in labs for more than 20 years and still finds wonder there. It is this curiosity and excitement for the natural world that Erick brings to his art. In larger than life metal microbes, scanning electron micrographs in gilded frames and framed fixed specimen slides, the often invisible are made visible. At #SciCommNightBC, Erick will be displaying his work “Fixed”.
About Larissa Blokhuis
Larissa’s art is inspired by the evolutionary history of plants, and the repetition of life cycles. Her current focus on using glass and mixed media by incorporating ceramic, steel, wool, polymer, and wood as needed has allowed her to develop a distinctive style.
P.O. Box 75 Station A