Science Writers &

Communicators of Canada

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  • 28 Mar 2020 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends and members of the SWCC:

    In light of current events, the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada board of directors has made the decision to postpone the 2020 conference to spring 2021.

    The board did not take this decision lightly. The best scientific evidence available from Canada’s public health officials advises the current wave of COVID-19 will not subside in Canada until the middle of the summer. In the interest of protecting the health and well-being of our members, friends of the organization, and the front-line workers across Canada, the SWCC are postponing our annual conference.

    The 2021 conference will still be held in Ottawa. We are working hard to announce the dates and location soon. 

    The interim period will be an uncertain time for the SWCC. The annual conference represents a primary source of income for the organization and is the organization’s main event for professional development and networking among our members. In the coming weeks, the SWCC will be reaching out to members to support us through this time, and to tell them more about how we will be giving back to them, through a new professional development series to supplement professional development and networking in the absence of an annual conference.

    Terry Lavender, President

    Rhonda Moore, 2020-21 SWCC Conference Chair


  • 16 Mar 2020 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Science Writers & Communicators of Canada will be electing new members to its board at the upcoming Annual General Meeting in May — three directors and the treasurer, vice-president and president. If you have ever wanted to have a hand in the way our organization operates, you are asked to please put your name forward.

    Please visit the nominations page and complete your nomination package by May 29, 2020!

  • 23 Jan 2020 3:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Joan Hollobon is a Life Member of the SWCC (formerly CSWA). She was a member of the NASW before the Canadian Science Writers' Association (CSWA) was founded in 1971, and she served as president of the CSWA in 1974-1975.

    I am excited to celebrate the news with you that 4 weeks before her 100th birthday, Joan Hollobon was named an Officer of the Order of Canada on 28 December 2019 in recognition of her contribution to Canada during her career as a medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959-1985.

    There are three levels of the Order of Canada - from lowest to highest - Member, Officer, and Companion - and on the strength of her contribution the Committee recommended that Joan should be appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, one of the highest honors a Canadian can receive.

    Joan's appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada appears on the website of the Governor General of Canada (, along with a short Citation:

    "For her career in journalism focused on increasing the public's understanding of scientific concepts related to health and medical advances".

    By Andy F. Visser-deVries

     Andy served as Executive Director of The Canadian Science Writers’ Association from 1991-2004. He was first elected to the Board of The Canadian Science Writers’ Association in 2011, serving as Treasurer until 2017. Andy is Managing Editor of Developing World Bioethics, a journal dedicated exclusively to developing countries’ issues that aims to provide case studies, teaching materials, news in brief and peer reviewed original articles. He is sole proprietor of Mistakes Can Happen, a copyediting and proofreading company he established in 2011.  Born and raised in northern Ontario, Andy has lived in Saskatoon, Toronto, Kingston and Cobourg. He is a graduate from the University of Saskatchewan and Queen’s University at Kingston with an education in business administration, theology, and world religions. An avid reader and book collector, Andy has a passion for history and family tree research and enjoys Baroque music, theatre, architecture, travel, and gardening.
  • 17 Jan 2020 4:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to 2020.

    I'll skip the jokes about perfect vision (my own eyesight is far from 20/20) and get right down to things.

    • I'd like to thank our former president, Elizabeth Howell, for her hard work and dedication to SWCC. It's going to be hard to fill her shoes. I'd also like to thank the SWCC directors for placing their trust in me as interim president.
    • A little background about me: I've been obsessed by writing and communication for decades, and grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. After a brief period on a tabloid-like community newspaper, I've spent most of my career at universities, helping scientists convey the excitement and importance of their discoveries for the public. I've been involved with SWCC and its predecessor, the Canadian Science Writers Association, since the 1980s, and I believe strongly in its goals and mission. I currently live in snowy (for the next day or so) Vancouver, where I handle communications for UBC president Santa Ono.
    • I'm looking forward to the AGM and annual conference in Ottawa in June. It promises to be a great event, and the U of O campus in summer is a great place to be. This year's theme - Building Bridges With the Science of Science Communication - is very topical and critical. We'll be posting information on sessions and keynote speakers on the conference page of the website in the near future.
    • We'll shortly be sending out a call for nominations to the board of directors. If you're interested in the future of science communication in Canada, please consider joining the board and helping us keep this great organization thriving. Bonus: you get to hang out (via teleconference mostly) with an amazing bunch of people.
  • 17 Jan 2020 2:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Terry Lavender has been appointed as the Interim President of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC), effective immediately and concluding at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) at this year’s annual conference in Ottawa June 25 and 26.

    The SWCC Board of Directors unanimously approved Lavender’s appointment at its meeting on January 15, 2020. He takes on the role of Interim President after Elizabeth Howell resigned as President for personal reasons in early December 2019.

    Terry brings with him more than 20 years of communications experience, chiefly in post-secondary education. He has held posts at the University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, and Simon Fraser University. He is currently manager of communications in the University of British Columbia’s president’s office, where he juggles social media, speeches, videos, blogs, podcasts, and more.

    The SWCC Board extends its thanks to Terry for stepping into the Interim President role. His appointment  will allow for a smooth transition to a new President, with the usual call for nominations and regular election of the board for 2020-2021 at the AGM in Ottawa at the end of June.

    If you are an SWCC member and are interested in joining the board of our organization, or would like to put forward an SWCC colleague as a suggestion, please reach out to our Board of Directors through the Contact Us page at

  • 09 Dec 2019 10:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With great sadness we announce that Elizabeth Howell is resigning from the SWCC Board as President and Director. Elizabeth is a space and science freelance writer, an international public engagement speaker and a technical writing professor at Algonquin College. She is stepping down from the SWCC Board for personal and professional reasons.

    Elizabeth has accomplished an incredible amount for SWCC in a very short time period. She spearheaded a successful membership drive for the organization. She tirelessly supported the teams organizing the 2019 SWCC conference in Winnipeg, and the 2020 conference in Ottawa. She helped to streamline SWCC’s very complicated membership and conference online payment system. She took an incredibly time-consuming inventory of SWCC’s hard copy documents to prepare them for digitizing and archiving. These documents represent the history of SWCC and will be made publicly available online. Elizabeth organized a major refresh of SWCC’s website, including a new theme and a reorganization of pages. She worked with student bloggers to contribute regular articles to the site. Her support for individual SWCC Directors, SWCC’s General Manager and SWCC Committees has been unwavering.

    The Board is incredibly grateful for all that she has done and wishes her the best in all of her future endeavours.

    If you have any questions about this transition, please contact the Board of Directors through our Contact Us page. 

  • 29 Nov 2019 1:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    If you're looking for some great gifts for the holidays, look no further than the winners of our 2018 book awards.

    And attention authors: Nominations for this year's process are open right now, so please check out this link and respond by the deadline to be considered for next year!

    Our three book awardees crafted two incredible books -- one for children and one for adults -- and you can find more information on them below.

    Do Frogs Drink Hot Chocolate? How Animals Keep Warm 

    Official description: When winter arrives, animals living in cold environments need to cope to survive. Do polar bears build homes? Do penguins snuggle with a friend? Yes! But their homes aren’t made of wood, and they don’t cuddle on a couch. Instead, these animals and many more have adapted in amazing ways to survive chilly weather.

    Whether it’s whales layering up with plenty of blubber, turtles burrowing into the mud to snooze and wait for spring, or emperor penguins coming together in a giant huddle, this book is full of fascinating tidbits about animal behaviour in winter.

    Written in a question-and-answer format, this interactive nonfiction book encourages kids to predict the answers and shout them out. Playful phrasing and comic illustrations make the content engaging for readers, who will gain newfound knowledge and an early understanding of adaptations in nature.


    Etta Kaner writes for both children and educators. A number of her books have won awards, namely, the Silver Birch award, the Henry Bergh award, the Animal Behaviour Society award, the Scientific American Young Readers book award and the Science in Society book award. Etta lives in Toronto, Ontario. Visit her website at:

    John Martz is a cartoonist and illustrator in Toronto, Ontario. His 2016 graphic novel for children, A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Early Readers. His book Burt’s Way Home was nominated for Best Book in the 2017 Doug Wright Awards for Canadian cartooning.

    18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Its Weather (ECW Press)

    Official description: We live at the bottom of an ocean of air — 5,200 million million tons, to be exact. It sounds like a lot, but Earth’s atmosphere is smeared onto its surface in an alarmingly thin layer — 99 percent contained within 18 miles. Yet, within this fragile margin lies a magnificent realm — at once gorgeous, terrifying, capricious, and elusive. With his keen eye for identifying and uniting seemingly unrelated events, Chris Dewdney reveals to us the invisible rivers in the sky that affect how our weather works and the structure of clouds and storms and seasons, the rollercoaster of climate. 

    Dewdney details the history of weather forecasting and introduces us to the eccentric and determined pioneers of science and observation whose efforts gave us the understanding of weather we have today. 18 Miles is a kaleidoscopic and fact-filled journey that uncovers our obsession with the atmosphere and weather — as both evocative metaphor and physical reality. From the roaring winds of Katrina to the frozen oceans of Snowball Earth, Dewdney entertains as he gives readers a long overdue look at the very air we breathe.


    Christopher Dewdney is the author of five books of non-fiction as well as eleven books of poetry. A four-time nominee for the Governor General's Award he won first-prize in the CBC Literary Competition for poetry and was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize, given in recognition of his contribution to Canadian literature. His non-fiction book, Acquainted With The Night; Excursions into the World After Dark, was nominated for both a Governor
    General's Award and The Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction, and was published in six countries. 

    Dewdney appeared in the critically acclaimed film, Poetry in Motion, and an adaptation of his book, Acquainted With the Night, was released
    as a feature documentary by Markham Street Films in 2010. The movie garnered a Gemini award in 2011. His most recent non-fiction title, 18 Miles: The Epic Drama of our Atmosphere and its Weather, was published by ECW in 2018. Dewdney teaches creative writing and poetics at York University in Toronto.  

    Happy reading!

    Elizabeth Howell 
    President, SWCC

  • 07 Nov 2019 1:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Can people really multitask? How do our brains imagine the future? Why do we get so fired up about sports games?

    With topics like this under their belt, this year’s Favourite Science Site win is a no-brainer. Minding the Brain, a podcast created and hosted by Dr. Kim Hellemans and Dr. Jim Davies, brings deep yet accessible understanding to complex and varied questions about the mind and brain. The show uniquely combines evidence and ideas from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy – and in this, fills a gap in the science podcast landscape.

    Minding the Brain reflects Dr. Hellemans’ and Dr. Davies’ shared passion for teaching, science outreach, and all things mind and brain. So how did it all begin? Appropriately, with a student project. Dr. Hellemans wanted something different to come from one of her students’ independent study courses – something more imaginative and impactful than your typical term paper. Playing to the students’ past experiences in the world of podcasts, the idea for a brain science podcast was born.

    Photo by neil godding on Unsplash

    But the Minding the Brain story goes back even further. Kim and Jim are long-time teaching colleagues. In fact, this is not the first scicomm project they’ve worked on together. One day, after Dr. Davies sat in on one of Dr. Helleman’s neuroscience classes, the idea for a teaching app on action potentials – basically how neurons, the building blocks of the brain, work- came to him. And so marked one of their first collaborations. Fast forward to Kim sharing the story of her student’s podcast; the project foundations combined with Jim’s long-standing interest in starting a podcast made Minding the Brain the natural next step.

    Minding the Brain’s origin story highlights how Dr. Hellemans and Dr. Davies embody science communication in all parts of their professional lives. And the podcast is but one example of their commitment to education and outreach. In a world where many of us can access endless information at our fingertips, what role is there for scicomm? Our winners argue, rightfully, still a big one. In fact, perhaps more now than ever. Sure, we can find information about any scientific topic or field of study – but what does that information mean? Does information equal knowledge, understanding? How can we sift through the nuances and think critically enough to make sense of it all?

    “I'm very very passionate about people who go on the internet…read stuff, think that they're experts in something and have an opinion. Just because they've read information. And the way I say it is that's the equivalent of me reading a textbook on cardiovascular surgery and then waltzing into an OR and thinking that I can do it.” - Kim

    In an information rich age, we run the risk of being critical thinking poor. And this is a big part of why the podcast is so important to them – especially for the complex and often misunderstood realm of brain science. As they note, translating science for the public is critical – but scientists haven’t generally done a good job of this.

    Minding the Brain is Jim and Kim’s way of helping people better understand the science of the mind and brain – to... 

    “teach people not only about how minds work but also try to reinforce the idea that there is a science to it at all”. Jim 

    They appreciate the role that good science communication plays in being a trusted source of accurate information that also engages audiences in critical thought.

    “So that’s one thing I think is great about it – if you have a source that you sort of trust…and we hope that with the podcast we’ve built that trust." Kim

    But talking about science to the public is difficult. Talking about neuroscience and cognitive science in a podcast can be especially challenging given that so much of the learnings are visual in nature - from complex data to literal representations of how brain areas work and connect.

    Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

    So what makes Minding the Brain work? For one, the podcast’s multidisciplinary approach: by blending neuroscience with not only a psychology or cognitive science angle, but a philosophical angle too, the podcast doesn’t just share information about the brain, it provides a critical lens on that information. We learn about not only the physical brain and how it works, but the mental capacities and experiences that it gives rise to.

    Minding the Brain also strikes that difficult balance between making information accessible and engaging, without oversimplifying content or making it gimmicky. These are complicated topics – and we shouldn’t deny that. Minding the Brain acknowledges that brain science is complex but communicates complex and scientifically accurate content in a casual, conversational way. Kim and Jim’s friendship and recognized histories as educators goes a long way in rounding out the engaging nature of the podcast. Their unique voices and unique perspectives on the mind and brain just make sense. As they say: “the magic is in the conversation”.

    Dr. Kim Hellemans is an award-winning university instructor, neuroscientist, and Chair of Neuroscience at Carleton University. Her science story starts with her interest in understanding the causes of addiction. In addition to Minding the Brain and her Post Synaptic Simulator app with Dr. Davies, she helps her students run a campaign that aims to decrease stigmas associated with mental health and substance use and runs workshops on addiction stigma with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Her favourite Minding the Brain episode is “#15: Multitasking”

    Dr. Jim Davies is an award-winning scientist, artist, playwright, and author. He runs the Science of Imagination Lab at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University – the only Cognitive Science department in Canada! He is a long-time member of Science Writers and Communicators of Canada and as a lover of science communication, produces content on how the mind works for a variety of media outlets. His favourite Minding the Brain episode is “#5: Concussions”

    They are both always happy to take episode ideas from their listeners!

    By: Maria Giammarco

    Maria is a Senior Researcher at the  Conference Board of Canada where she applies her research skills and background in the behavioural sciences to challenges in education and skills and equity, diversity, and inclusion. On the side  She is a Science Borealis co-editor for Science and Society. 

    Maria holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Guelph; her research focused primarily on understanding the intersection between memory, attention, information processing, and decision-making. She also holds a MSc and HBA from McMaster University where she focused on human psychology and philosophy

  • 27 Sep 2019 12:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Credit: Michael Soledad

    I'm fortunate to work with many students at SWCC, and also in my teaching job at Algonquin College. While our day to day conversations focus on learning about writing, when they get to know me I find there is a lot more on their minds.

    Will what I'm learning today actually help me get work?

    How am I going to make it -- financially and in terms of opportunity -- once I get my degree?

    Is there a place for me long-term when so many jobs are changing quickly and are automating?

    I'm a poor futurist. After all, I graduated in 2007 with a shiny journalism degree to a sunny industry. Less than eighteen months later, I struggled to find work in the recession -- along with so many of my older colleagues! So I hesitate to offer them certainty or promises. Except in one matter.

    The future of your work life will definitely depend on face time, and I don't mean the app. I mean those small connections that you make as you go through your workplaces. Everybody from the admin assistant to the janitor to your colleagues all have their networks and their connections, and the more people you know, the more likely it is you can weather the storm. So talk to everyone. Take them out for coffee. Help them. Learn what pain points you can ease.

    I tell students to focus on doing the thing that will make the lives of their boss and colleagues easier. I tell them to be prepared to shift as the industry shifts, and to remember that "communication" does not always mean putting yourself in the journalist or teaching or communication box. You can do all three. (I know this because I do all three.)

    Among the young ones, I can see these boundaries between careers already blurring. In an era where the gig economy is at the forefront of our minds, youngsters pick up contracts and use that to leverage themselves into the next one. And the next. And the next. There's saving furiously in between and certainly some income uncertainty, but there's also an element of "You know what? I can keep changing up my career as much as I like in five years, let alone 50."

    In a short blog post, I can't capture the amount of worry and of opportunity in this new economy. Stable jobs definitely have, and had, their benefits. But so does entrepreneurship. And as a person who thinks optimistically, or at least tries to, I try to look for the silver lining. And I can't but think there is some good in reinventing yourself once in a while.

    Here at SWCC, we regularly go through this reinvention process, too. We used to be an organization of writers, and now we're a more diverse group of people. And I'm always looking for more help in making our workshops and conferences as agile as possible. In the next few weeks, we will announce a couple of livestreams with examples from people who are making their way in this next generation of communication careers -- and I invite you to join in the conversation. If you know an interesting science Canadian communicator who would be glad to share their expertise with us, let us know at

    Looking forward to hearing from you online!

    Elizabeth Howell
    President, SWCC

  • 30 Aug 2019 9:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Credit: Elizabeth Howell

    After I graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota earlier this month, many people asked me: How did you do it?

    I was of course very lucky. I received partial tuition support and could afford to support any other fees that were required. I have a moderately flexible work schedule and a supportive family. My supervisor, in a word, was awesome.

    But when I dug down into these questions by others, I realized that what they were really asking was how I found the motivation for it, on top of working full-time.

    It really came down to doing one thing at a time. Literally. Every evening before a weekday, I'd ask myself, "What is the one thing I need to do tomorrow to push the Ph.D. a little further?" (I tried as best as I could not to work weekends; while my husband can attest to the occasional sulky Saturday where I'd be buried in paperwork, really, it wasn't that often.)

    The weekday "one thing" sometimes it meant a call with my supervisor. Sometimes it meant a couple of more hours of "coding", or labelling portions of transcripts, for analysis. Sometimes I'd do research with one question in mind to answer, so that I didn't get overwhelmed by the amount of literature.

    It's amazing how far a focused hour or two daily of work gets you, if you're lucky enough to have the time for it. Take that effort over seven years, and you might be able to do something remarkable. Me, that's how long it took to finish a Ph.D. But for you, this might mean something even more meaningful.

    Perhaps you have a book in you. Or you'd like to build a website. Or you want to mentor students. It doesn't take a full-time commitment to do any of these things. If you treat your life priorities as a small part-time job, working a few hours every week, over time you will see progress.

    We have big goals here at SWCC, as well. We're going to run a conference in Ottawa in 2020 and will soon be asking for volunteers -- keep an eye on our website and social media for more details in the fall. Our committees are ramping up activity to work on our website and values and awards. A group of people are helping me go through several decades' worth of SWCC files to decide how best to preserve everything.

    These are all huge projects. They do feel overwhelming at times. But I remind myself -- it just takes one thing every day. One thing, build it up with other things, and progress will happen in a few months or years.

    Is there one thing you would like to help us with? Send me a note at to ask about volunteer opportunities, which includes things such as blog posts, serving on committees or helping with the conference.

    Otherwise, I wish you luck in figuring out your "one thing" for the fall!

    Elizabeth Howell 
    President, SWCC 

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