It's been my privilege to serve as president of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada for the past 21 months, a role I'll be relinquishing at the Annual General Meeting on October 5.
It's been an eventful 21 months, dominated by the pandemic, of course, but also overlapping with the SWCC's 50th anniversary celebrations.
As I prepare to step down, and knowing that Thanksgiving is just a few days away, I'd like to give thanks to everyone who has helped make my tenure as president a smooth one. (I won't mention names because I would inevitably omit someone.)
First, heartfelt thanks to the members of the Board for your hard work, dedication, and friendship.
Thanks to the committee chairs and committee members. Your work is often invisible, but it shouldn't be unacknowledged. Whether organizing the annual conference, rejuvenating the membership, running the book awards or handling digital media -- you provide the services that keep us relevant to our membership.
Thank you to past presidents and board members for your wisdom, historical knowledge and patience in answering sometimes silly questions.
Thanks to our bookkeeper, and to our former and current general managers, for keeping the SWCC running smoothly.
Thank you to our sponsors, who have faith in us and our goals.
And finally, thank you, our members, for your involvement and commitment.
Looking at the list of board members who are staying on, and the ones who will be presenting themselves for your ratification at Tuesday's meeting, I believe that we are well positioned to begin our next 50 years with a diverse combination of experience, enthusiasm and energy.
It’s been a privilege to have served you as president. Thank you for providing me with that opportunity.
I’m delighted to introduce Katelyn Brown as the new SWCC General Manager.
Katelyn joined us starting August 1, 2021 and will transition into the role as current General Manager Nikki Berreth prepares to return to school (and to work on her novel) in September.
We’ll miss Nikki, who has been a steady hand on the SWCC tiller since 2019 and wish her all the best in the future. Nikki: we hope you can come to the 2022 annual conference so we can say a proper goodbye and thank you!
Katelyn, who attended McMaster University, comes to the SWCC from the World Molecular Imaging Society, where she was previously the sales and society relations manager. I’ll let Katelyn describe herself:
My name is Katelyn Brown and I am delighted and grateful for the opportunity to join the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada team! I am excited to use my skills and experience to connect and foster growth in all areas of science throughout Canada and beyond by building a strong sense of community and value. I am hopeful to engage with current members and future prospects through traditional communications and social media.
I look forward to making this transition as seamless as possible for everyone, as well as developing strong relationships with everyone. If there is ever any pertinent information that I need to know, please always feel free to reach out. I am very grateful for the opportunity and look forward to meeting you all!
Katelyn and Nikki will be working together during the transition over the coming few weeks, before Katelyn takes over sole responsibility for the role on September 1. As usual, if you need to contact us, please use the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 SWCC Book Awards.
Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom
Relax, Dammit!: A User’s Guide to the Age of Anxiety
Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet
Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives
This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias
Emmy Noether: The Most Important Mathematician You've Never Heard Of
SWCC would like to extend our sincere congratulations to Timothy Caulfield, Heather Tekavec, and Susan Batori. The two winning entries will each receive a $1,000 prize.
On behalf of the Book Awards Committee, we also want to acknowledge the volunteer judges for their time, effort, and thoughtful deliberations over the past five months.
We look forward to reviewing more outstanding examples of science writing when the competition reopens for submissions in September 2021.
TIMOTHY CAULFIELD is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. His interdisciplinary research on topics like stem cells, genetics, research ethics, the public representations of science, and health policy issues has allowed him to publish over 350 academic articles. He has won numerous academic and writing awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Trudeau Foundation, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. He contributes frequently for the popular press and is the author of two national bestsellers: The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness, and Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash. Caulfield also has a strong social media presence and is the host and co-producer of the documentary TV series, A User's Guide to Cheating Death. (Source: Penguin Random House Canada, 2021)
HEATHER TEKAVEC discovered while working as a preschool teacher that children's books were a lot more fun than adult books. In addition to books, Heather enjoys writing short stories, articles and poems for children's magazines, such as CRICKET, Chirp, Highlights and Totline, and has delved a few times into writing scripts and directing live theater. Heather lives in Cloverdale, British Columbia.
SUSAN BATORI is a Hungarian illustrator, graphic designer, and character design addict. Watch out — no one, not even her boyfriend or cat, is safe from becoming a funny character in an illustration. If you aren’t careful, she just might use you as inspiration. (Source: Kids Can Press, 2021)
Nikki Berreth, our amazing general manager, will be leaving us in September to return to school. Nikki has guided us well over the past few years, and we will miss her very much and wish her all the best in the future.
Because we are losing Nikki, the SWCC is in need of a new general manager. It’s a part-time, contractual position and should appeal to someone seeking flexibility, the freedom to work from home (or a coffee shop, a park bench or anywhere), and someone who likes working with volunteers, with writers and communicators and someone who is passionate about science.
Thank you to everyone who sent us an application. The position closed on June 11.
This week, I’d like to say farewell and thank you to two departing board members and welcome to two new board members.
Michael Robin, the former chair of the membership committee, and Shirene Singh, who served on the same committee, have both stepped down from the board. Michael and Shirene – thank you for your service.
And a warm welcome to new board members Noelle Chorney and Alice Fleerackers. Noelle is a writer and consultant based in Saskatoon, and the leader of Tall Order Communications. Alice is a researcher, freelance writer and editor and a student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, where she is pursuing a PhD in science and health communication. I’m looking forward to working with both Noelle and Alice in the coming months. You can read the bios of all the board members at sciencewriters.ca/board-members
If you’re interested in joining the board, nominations are now open for the 2021-2023 term and will close on October 4, 2021. Getting involved with the SWCC is a great way to hone your skills, to network, to add to your resumé, and it can be a lot of fun as well. You can find details on the nomination process here.
Today, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, a time to reflect on the value and necessity of free, unfettered media.
As the United Nations puts it:
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada holds as one of its principles that we support “the democratic principles that protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
Freedom of the press is precious, and it is precarious. Let us celebrate and honour the journalists who keep us informed and empowered.
Learn more about World Press Freedom Day here.
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) is pleased to announce the list of finalists for the 2020 Book Awards.
Written by Timothy Caulfield (Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada)
Written by Daniel J. Levitin (Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada)
Written by Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz, and Evan D.G. Fraser (Publisher: University of Regina Press)
Written by Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Susan Batori (Publisher: Kids Can Press)
Written by Helaine Becker, Illustrated by Kari Rust (Publisher: Kids Can Press)
Written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Illustrated by Drew Shannon (Publisher: Kids Can Press)
Please stay tuned for a virtual announcement about the winner in each category at the annual conference for SWCC in June 2021.
Information about the SWCC Book Awards (including a list of past winners) can be found online. If you’re interested in reading more about the topic of science writing, please check out these recent blog posts from SWCC:
1. What We’re Reading This March
2. Art, Science, and Dog Derrieres: Creating Carolyn Fisher’s Cells: An Owner's Handbook
3. Communicating Science: New Book Explores Science Communication Across the Globe
On behalf of the board of directors of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, I would like to recognize and thank everyone who has given their time to the SWCC. Whether you’ve served on the board, on a committee, organized an event, or helped out in any way, we’re grateful.
This is National Volunteer Week, but believe me, we’re thankful to you year-round. The SWCC was started by a group of volunteers in 1970, and has been representing the interests of Canadian science communicators ever since, thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who have contributed over the past 50 years. And today, because of you and your efforts and energy, we continue to be a strong voice for science communication across Canada.
Thank you again.
Terry Lavender, SWCC President
Popular Canadian science broadcaster Jay Ingram (CM) launches original podcast series examining our complex relationship with wildlife.
ANTHROPOMANIA, the entertaining and thought provoking original series, featuring CBC and Discovery Channel alum Jay Ingram, is a much needed breath of fresh air, inspiring listeners to look at non-human life through a new lens.
TORONTO, MARCH 8, 2020 – A snake with personality. A plant that feels. Feral boars and cocaine hippos. A world famous taxidermist who sings like Roy Orbison. Why do we have such complex relationships with wildlife? All this and more in our inaugural season of Anthropomania.
Dropping on March 15, 2021 across all podcast platforms, the Canadian-made series will explore everything from whether animals have distinct personalities to the enigmas of plant consciousness and the fascinating world of taxidermy. At its helm are heavy-hitting science broadcasters and journalists, including acclaimed television host and bestselling author Jay Ingram (Daily Planet, Quirks and Quarks). He’s joined by two fresh voices: biologist and science journalist, Niki Wilson, and biomedical scientist, Dr. Erika Siren. The trio, alongside fascinating guests, examine — and challenge — our attitudes towards animals, plants, and all life on earth.
Anthropomania is our made-up word, but the concept has always existed. While anthropomorphism means attributing human qualities to other species, anthropomania is that, but magnified to the extreme. Peeling back the layers of our human-centred perceptions, Anthropomania dares to see the true nature of animals and plant life as they really are.
“The deeper we dig on Anthropomania, the more we discover there’s hardly a living thing on this planet which doesn’t bear the imprint of humans,” says Ingram. “We hope everyone who listens will see opportunities to change the way they think about the living world.”
The series fills a gap in the podcast genre, inviting world-class guests to take a contemporary approach to investigating some of the most compelling wildlife questions out there. Weaving together stories and interviews with a diverse cross-section of scientists, experts, and trailblazers, each episode unearths the absurd — sometimes laughable — facets of our own conceptions of the natural world.
Produced by award-winning production agency Lightscope Creative, the podcast also reunites Ingram with fellow Discovery Channel veteran, and agency founder, Frances MacKinnon (Executive Producer).
“During this difficult time in the world, Anthropomania provides an upbeat, optimistic approach to looking at non-human life from a new vantage point,” she says. “Listeners are guaranteed to learn something new, but more than anything, we hope they walk away loving the planet and its creatures a little bit more after every listen. And, on International Women’s Day 2021, we are proud to be amplifying female voices in science.”
Anthropomania straddles culture and science, sparking curiosity in the most unexpected of places, and occasionally ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Established in 2013, Lightscope Creative produces story-driven podcasts and video for some of the biggest and best brands in the world. Founded by Frances MacKinnon, award-winning television producer and journalist, Lightscope brings high quality, documentary-style storytelling to branded content.
For inquiries or interviews contact Victoria Bouthillier, Director of Marketing email@example.com
What do you have in common with the derriere of a Boston terrier? No, this isn't a riddle – but a legitimate question. Now before you lose yourself in a dog's breakfast of ideas, I'll give you an answer.
Both this canine booty and our bodies are composed of thousands of cells – the fundamental unit of life. It’s the focus of Carolyn Fisher's SWCC award-winning book, Cells: An Owner's Handbook, where she elucidates the building blocks of man through the eyes of his best friend.
Carolyn joined me via video link from her studio in Calgary to describe her story's evolution from its initial conception to book, a process akin to how a cell biologist painfully polishes their thesis. The relationship between editor and author mirrors that of student and supervisor, and Carolyn explained the story that ended up on paper could be told five ways.
Her first idea was to write about Paramecium, an organism that fascinated her since drawing it out in Grade 10 science class. However, after being encouraged by her editor to generalize the book to "cells" and letting the idea mull for a few years, it evolved into a comical tale about a girl who catches herself a pet rhinovirus or simply put a nasty pet cold. Not yet striking the right chord, her rhinovirus idea evolved to Cells: An Owner's Manual. The second iteration of this novel, narrated by Phoebe the Amoeba, was close to captivating her editor's attention. Still, she cast about for a relatable story that would captivate these hungry young readers.
Frustrated, Carolyn resorted to a tactic employed by writers and young academics alike: scream into her pillow and thrash her limbs on her mattress. Somewhere between that frustration point and putting pen to paper, telling the story of cells from a tiny but captivating narrator living on the derriere of terrier was born.
I asked Carolyn how she translated a fairly abstract concept to a new generation of scientists, something I struggled with when completing my own thesis in molecular biology. She responded with a take of scientific discovery.
"When I have an idea to make a book like this, I am learning the science too," she said
This discovery approach makes the information within her books so tangible to younger audiences. Cells are complicated machines, with many subparts (known as organelles) and hidden mysteries like deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that codes every creature's trait. By moving along this journey with her grade school readers, it helped clarify whether complicated structures like the endoplasmic reticulum (the cells transport hub) should be included on a page or whether it was essential to define terms like microscope (it was).
The most awe-inspiring aspect of the picture book is viewing a cell's world through the lens of Carolyn's creative microscope. When asked about her art inspirations, Carolyn lit up.
"I've always just thought things you look at under the microscope are beautiful, and you could have many art shows with the beautiful things you see under a microscope."
The real challenge, though, was to capture the ephemeral beauty of cell parts as seen under a microscope. To translate that translucency and movement on paper involved playing around with different textures and media. Carolyn turned to software such as Photoshop or Procreate along with physical techniques such as glass monoprinting. This is a medium where an image can only be derived once, using tools like ink and a brayer (a small roller). Carolyn painstakingly conducted her own experiments to recreate images of what a biologist would see under their own microscopes.
Like most scientists, both the physical and written portions of Carolyn's creation were created by her own hand, which isn't the case for many children's books that clearly separate the author and illustrator's role. However, the same way a professor fine-tunes the error bars on a graphic in their manuscript, she perfected every last drawing, massaged every last word. This resulted in a unique creative process for her.
"Writing is painful. However, it's just never a straight line," she laughed. "Therefore, I end up bouncing back and forth between writing and illustrating, creating many sketches. Sometimes the writing tells me what the illustration needs, sometimes the illustration tells me what the writing needs. Then sometimes, nothing will tell me what it needs."
So, what about the dog’s butt? Well, this part of the story was a bit less defined in Carolyn’s mind than her dive into cellular anatomy. Although not a huge dog person herself, her mind went on a flight of rhyming fantasy. Once she knew it would be a dog, she made a list of all the breeds that she thought would be fun to draw.
"I had settled on the terrier, and the skies open up, and the music started, and I thought, ‘Oh the derriere of a terrier!’"
From here, things just fell together, and as a writer, you have to know run with inspiration like that.
Carolyn did depart with one vital piece of advice for any adult writer vying to embark on a journey into children's literature.
"If you want to try writing for children the first time, just write."
Proving that like a thesis pen might not always hit paper successfully, but eventually, the stars will align, and that dog's breakfast of creative ideas you had could turn into an SWCC award-winning book.
By: Miranda Stahn
A prairie girl at heart, Miranda completed both her Bachelor's and Master's of Science at the University of Alberta. Her thesis research focused on classifying new bacterial viruses for a unique class of bacteria known as Methanotrophs - named for their ability to survive off of unusual carbon compounds such as methane. Outside of her studies, Miranda has always been passionate about science communications and outreach. Since undergrad, she has been involved in several outreach initiatives run through well-known programs such as the Telus World of Science Edmonton (TWOSE), the University of Alberta's DiscoverE, WISEST (Women in Scholarship Engineering Science and Technology), and Science Slam Canada.
Miranda is committed to making science accessible to everyone and firmly believes that effective and entertaining science writing is key to helping the public disseminate truth from fiction. For more details, please check out her LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/miranda-stahn-93229483/
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