This blog first appeared as part of the Forward Thinking blog series published by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), British Columbia’s health research funding agency. It is written by Lori Last, MSFHR’s Director of Marketing & Communications, and Amy Noise, MSFHR’s Manager of Marketing & Communications.
How do you get people excited about the importance of research and research funding? You tell stories.
Since childhood, most of us have loved stories. They not only provide entertainment and an escape from the everyday, they have also played a key role in human cultural development.
Turns out, human brains are wired to process stories. When you are presented with a series of facts, two parts of your brain are activated (Broca's area and Wernicke's area). These areas decode the meaning of the words, so you can understand what you are hearing or reading. But when you read or listen to a story, many different parts of your brain light up. If the story includes a description of a delicious meal, your sensory cortex lights up. If it includes a game of tag, your motor cortex is activated as if you were actually experiencing the event.
Scientists have learned that we process imagined experiences, like stories, in a similar way to how we process real experiences, which explains why stories can stir up genuine emotions and stimulate behavioural responses. This is in part because of the chemicals released when we experience a story - cortisol, which helps us form memories; dopamine, which regulates our emotional responses; and oxytocin, which is connected to feelings of empathy and relationship building.
Our visceral reactions to stories explains their long standing place in human history. From the earliest days, humans told stories to each other to share cultural norms, warn of potential danger or to explain the world around them. Storytelling patterns evolved over time, and we still fall back on those patterns today.
Compared to hearing a list of facts, a story activates our brains as if we are actually experiencing what we are hearing.
What makes a good story?
Whether you’re a fan of comedy, romance or sci-fi, chances are your favourite stories all follow a similar structure: context, struggle, resolution.
Aristotle laid out this broad format over two thousand years ago, and since then many others have expanded on this structure from Joseph Campbell’s 12 step Hero’s Journey to Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots. The common theme is a protagonist being shaken out of their day-to-day world and embarking on a journey, overcoming a challenge, and returning triumphant.
We’ve all seen this structure play out again as it is a very common technique used by writers and film-makers, and it is also a technique that can help organizations tell their story.
How to tell your organization’s story
As a health research funder, it is important to us to consider both what we communicate about our organization and the impact we have, and how we communicate.
1. Provide the context
Like most organizations, we share routine information; in our case, information about our funding opportunities, award recipients, and other operational updates through our core communications channels (our website, monthly newsletter and social media). Although these always feature an element of storytelling, they are very closely tied to operational business needs – the context if you will.
2. Share success stories
We also share success stories. We launched Spark, our twice annual digital magazine, to give us a vehicle to tell the story of the broader impact of health research funding. Each issue follows a typical story structure; a research question that needs solving (the context), the researchers we’ve funded who worked to find answers to that question (the protagonist embarking on a struggle/journey), and the impact on British Columbians who are benefiting from this work (the resolution).
In Spark, the protagonists are either researchers or patients. So how do you highlight your organization as a protagonist in its own right? You have to show your own journey.
3. Don’t forget the journey
It’s a trap a lot of organizations fall into. Sharing operational information has to happen for an organization to function, so that gets done. Every organization wants to showcase their value and impact, so success stories get shared. But it is easy to overlook the journey in between.
The trouble with overlooking the journey is that’s where you fall in love with the characters, where you learn about the protagonist (that’s us!), how they work, and their challenges. You need that perspective in order to really care about the resulting success.
This is where our Forward Thinking blog comes in. It’s a way of sharing our journey and helping people understand what we do, and why it matters.
Of course, journeys are not always smooth. So as well as featuring the great work we’re doing, you are just as likely to read a Forward Thinking blog about an initiative we are still working through, the challenges we’ve faced and how we are working around them. Sharing vulnerability in this way can be scary, but it presents a great opportunity to learn.
Growing and learning
At MSFHR we are committed to continuous learning and improvement and feel strongly that removing the mystery of what we do, and sharing our experiences to advance the science and practice of research funding, is a key part of our role as BC’s health research funder.
So, if there are any areas of health research funding that you’re itching to hear more about, leave a comment and let us know!
Written by: Lori Last & Amy Noise via Forward Thinking blog series.
The best of the old school
By Tim Lougheed
Photo: "Calamai, Spurgeon & Laing, 1968." A newspaper science writing award ceremony. At the top left is Peter Calamai.
Photo: "Calamai, Spurgeon & Laing, 1968." A newspaper science writing award ceremony. At the top left is Peter Calamai.
Photo: "Calamai, Spurgeon & Laing, 1968." A newspaper science writing award ceremony. At the top left is Peter Calamai.
In early 2008 Canadians found their collective attention drawn to a nuclear reactor that few of them had probably thought about in a long time, if they even knew it was there. The National Research Universal (NRU) in Chalk River, Ontario, several hours’ drive west of Ottawa, had been shut down for repairs and created an international shortage of Molybdenum-99, an isotope employed in millions of cancer-scanning procedures every year. Since this 50-year-old facility had been turning out close to half the world’s output of this exotic product, its absence left patients with unexpected and often agonizing delays in diagnosis.
It was a story that was bound to confuse many observers, including reporters trying to sort out the intricacies of how an isolated research facility built at the beginning of the cold war wound up as the lynchpin of a medical supply chain for a sophisticated imaging technology used in hospitals all over the world. Peter Calamai, on the other hand, was just getting warmed up. He had been writing about the NRU for 10 years at that point, getting acquainted with dozens of nuclear engineering experts from across the country, religiously attending public meetings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and making Access-to-Information requests for documents about the reactor’s operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. By the time the “isotope crisis” had arrived, no one was better positioned to write detailed, meaningful articles about what was happening, why it was happening, and what it meant to Canadians. And he did just that, exploring the politics, economics, and technical intricacies of the situation in language that was engaging and accessible. ... Read More
Peter Calamai, Mentor of Many Charms
By Margaret Munro
Photo: "Gannets" by Peter Calamai
I met Peter Calamai at Southam News in Ottawa in the early 1980s – me a recently hired young science correspondent; Peter a feted foreign correspondent just back from a posting in Africa.
Our flamboyant boss, Nick Hills, would herd the staff in the bureau overlooking Parliament Hill into a crammed conference room for morning news meetings. Nick would run down the stories expected from Southam’s far-flung international bureaus; national reporters would lay claim to the hot stories of the day; and columnists Charles Lynch and Allen Fotheringham would pontificate for the assembled crew.
The political junkies were kind, but were about as interested in my science and environment stories as I was in their scoops on the inner workings of Pierre Trudeau’s government. ... Read More
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 March 22, 2019!
We have a new addition to the masthead!
It brings me particular pleasure, on behalf of our Board of Directors, to break the news we have hired Nikki Berreth as our next General Manager, effective January 15, 2019.
Nikki assumes the role vacated by Janice Benthin, who took her well-deserved retirement in September after having served the SWCC’s members, board and partners since 2011. We thank Janice for her countless – and ongoing – contributions to the organization, which have benefited science writing and communication efforts in Canada.
Many of you will be familiar with Nikki’s work as co-founder of both Science Slam Canada and LitScientist. She is also the Communication and Event Manager for STEAM Communication and Events, and brings a breadth of experience in event management, science communication, branding and social media.
(After hearing Nikki’s talk at last year’s SWCC conference, I still try to imagine which room in my house would be representative of any new emerging social media platform I encounter.)
Nikki will be the primary contact for our members and will serve as a knowledge steward responsible for helping develop, implement and support our programs. In the process, she will also help advance fundraising efforts and modernize our digital footprint.
I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our hiring committee – which also included, at various stages, Michael Dwyer, Jennifer Gagné, Christel Binnie, Tim Lougheed and Janice Benthin – who gave generously of their time, thoughts and ideas as we reimagined the role and its objectives, developed hiring processes and assessed potential candidates.
Collectively, we’re thrilled to welcome Nikki to the fold. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to reach out to her once she assumes the role next week.
Happy New Year, everyone – here’s to a 2019 filled with science and the compelling stories that come from it.
THE MARINE DETECTIVE
The Marine Detective aka Jackie Hildering is the winner of SWCC’s 2018 People’s Choice Award for Canada's Favourite Canadian Science Site. She is an educator, Humpback Whale researcher, underwater photographer, and author living on Vancouver Island, BC. She co-founded the Marine Education and Research Society and is active in conservation and as a naturalist trainer.
The Marine Detective
sea slug, Alabaster Nudibranch (Dirona albolineata) at a depth of 3 metres
The first sentence on The Marine Detective’s page reads, “Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.”
It’s an invitation. If you accept, there’s a good chance your mind will be blown (in a good way).
An excellent place to start is the photos. Many of The Marine Detective’s underwater images are from a part of the ocean that even most divers have never seen. She dives the cold, dark waters off Vancouver Island’s northeast coast. As promised, she captures great beauty, mystery and fragility with her camera. If you think exquisite, colourful life forms are only found on tropical coral reefs and not in dark, cold water, prepare to be amazed.
One of the things I like about The Marine Detective’s site is that there is no sign-in and no ad-packed slideshows. You can view the lush, full size images without annoying distractions, possibly for much, much longer than you’d planned to spend oohing and aahing at the mysteries of the deep. For the divers and photogs, there’s technical info about the photographs.
Jackie’s blogs about marine animals drew me in and kept me reading. I came across something called Bubble-Net Feeding. What could that possibly be?
Turns out it’s a co-operative hunting strategy of humpback whales. A well-coordinated team works together to corral a school of small fish by blowing bubbles into a netlike shape. While some whales are hard at work doing that, another whale, the caller, screams like you’ve never heard a whale scream before. It’s one of the freakiest sounding things you’ll ever hear. You might not be anthropomorphizing when you think you hear rising excitement in the caller’s shriek. You can learn how and why, watch the humpbacks work together, and listen to the astounding caller here: Bubble-Net Feeding
While checking out Jackie’s Orca blogs, I came across a whale of a tale spawned by a viral video in 2015. Orca were seen rubbing their bellies on a pebbly bottom in shallow waters off the Discovery Islands. The internet went wild. No Orca had ever done this before! Um, wrong. According to The Marine Detective, “It’s not rare behaviour at all. It is rare that people get to see it.” Not only does Jackie explain what’s going on, she even identifies the individual belly-rubbing whales! Other recordings have surfaced since the original viral video and have been added to the story: Beach Rubbing Orca
And if you’ve ever wondered how, exactly, an octopus poos (and let’s face it, who hasn’t), you’re welcome. Octopus Pooing
The blog includes links to more resources and research, and there are informative excerpts of The Marine Detective from various TV programs on the site as well.
There’s something for the kiddies too. Her book, Find the Fish, is a Where's Waldo of the fish world. It’s intended for kids aged 5 to 10 and the adults who love them. There is another Find the Fish in the works, scheduled to be published in 2019. Find the Fish is available on The Marine Detective site, along with calendars, cards and prints featuring Jackie’s photographs.
The Marine Detective, Canada’s Favourite Science Site, is a love letter to nature, to the ecosystems that support all life. If you love something, you want to learn more about it, and when you know more about it and realize its true worth, you want to protect and nurture it. You want others to discover, love, and protect it too. And that, in short, is what The Marine Detective’s site is all about.
Along with her fact-based blogs, Jackie writes about the things that are on her mind and in her heart. Below is a meme she created for her site, and closing thoughts from The Marine Detective herself.
Humpback Whale “Jigger”
It is such a limitation to think, and feel, and speak in a way that this is somehow about something outside ourselves . . . saving “the environment.” We are the environment. It’s not about saving something outside ourselves ... whales, wetlands, trees, fish. It’s about choices that benefit ourselves and future generations, providing the greatest chances for health and happiness. It’s about children. That’s what all these photos and words are about here on “The Marine Detective” folks. Inspiration. Connection. Understanding our capacity for positive change. Caring More. Consuming Less. Voting for the future. And, knowing our place IN the environment.
On behalf of the Board of the Science Writers & Communicators of Canada, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to long-time Executive Director, Janice Benthin, who has taken her well-deserved retirement as of November 1, 2018.
Janice has long provided tremendous wisdom and service to our Board, our members and our partners alike, and will very much be missed in this capacity.
Congratulations on your retirement!
Douglas Keddy, President
Science Writers & Communicators of Canada
Yes, we’re hiring!
Do you believe you’re the one to help guide the organization in the next phase of its evolution? Or, do you know someone who is passionate about science and storytelling in Canada who would be a perfect fit?
Either way, we at Science Writers and Communicators of Canada are hiring a new General Manager, starting in January 2019. Please take a look at the attached posting, share with your networks and get in touch with any questions.
GENERAL MANAGER PDF
Summary of the position:
Science communication and science journalism are changing. As the Canadian professional membership organization for science journalists and communicators, we are also changing. We need someone who can help guide us into the future.
Science Writers & Communicators of Canada (SWCC) is hiring someone who is passionate about the world of science communication, is an idea builder, a knowledge-steward and thrives on change.
This position will keep you connected to Canada's science community and expose you to an endless array of ideas. You will have time for your other passion projects as this is not a full-time position. We encourage and expect flexibility. If this excites you, we hope to hear from you.
Position Title: General Manager
Contract Details: Services are required from January to June, with a strong potential of an extension upon successful completion of the initial contract.
Start Date: January 15, 2019
Posting Closing Date: November 12, 2018
Hours:This is a contract position with flexible hours. Hours increase leading up to the annual conference, and decrease during the summer. You will be working with people across the country and office hours need to accommodate their time zones.
Location:Canada. For the most part, this is a job that works wherever you are. You will be able to work on your own computer from your own preferred location.
Who we are
Science Writers & Communicators of Canada (SWCC) is a national alliance of professional science communicators in all media. Founded in 1971, the organization links science and technology communicators from coast to coast to coast. The mission of the SWCC is to cultivate excellence in science communication and our goal is to increase public awareness and accessibility of science in Canadian society.
The new General Manager of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is:
● Engaged in the science community. You understand Canada’s science ecosystem and its stakeholders.
● Effective in building partnerships and securing funding. You have sponsorship and fundraising experience, and will be able to represent the organization confidently as you seek, and find, new sources of support in a changing communications landscape. You will work with the president and board in approaching potential partners, and will at times be the organization’s sole representative.
● Organized and productive. You are a guru in multitasking and setting priorities. You will be working with a very busy group of volunteers. You are skilled at giving gentle yet firm reminders of tasks to be completed and doing regular check-ins. Think: General Manager Extraordinaire.
● Detail-oriented. You will be responsible for coordinating programs on behalf of the organization, renewing memberships, managing the website, scheduling social media posts, administering a book awards program, setting up event registration, managing member services, taking and sharing board meeting minutes, as well as generally keeping projects and people on track.
● An expert in customer service. As the primary point of contact to the organization, internally and externally, you will work effectively with a wide variety of members and stakeholders.
● Skilled at event management. The annual conference is currently the main sponsorship opportunity and a chance for members to connect in person. Each year, a new team of SWCC members organize the conference in a different location across the country. To ensure its success, you will be the consistent voice and knowledge-holder during the planning phases of this critical event.
● Tech and social media savvy. The website and social media are primary points of contact for our members and others. You will be responsible for updating web content, as well troubleshooting on the site’s back-end. You will also facilitate an overhaul of the site's front end. You will use your social media expertise to promote the SWCC, raise its profile, and build new relationships.
● Experienced in managing financial resources, including proper record-keeping and adhering to principles of accountability and transparency.
Education and experience required
● University degree or college diploma in a relevant discipline (e.g., management, science, communications, marketing, journalism) or the equivalent combination of education and experience.
● A minimum of five years of experience in business or communications, preferably with a focus on executing strategies and coordinating operational requirements.
● Experience working in a non-profit or association environment.
● Experience working with a board of directors or senior officials.
● Experience working with an organization in transition.
● Knowledge of social media tools, such as Hootsuite.
All qualified applicants are welcomed to submit a current résumé and any relevant portfolio materials to email@example.com. We thank all applicants for their interest; however, only those candidates selected for interviews will be contacted.
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada offer 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 2018 calendar year.
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, entry forms are available on our website in English and French
Submit a brief biography of the author(s)
Submit 6 copies for judging purposes
Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2018 calendar year and must be received by Dec 6, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
All entries become the property of the SWCC
Who did you vote for in the 2018 People’s Choice Award for your Favourite Canadian Science Site? If you voted for The Marine Detective, you voted for the Winner!
Congrats to The Marine Detective, Jackie Hildering!
Watch the Winner Announcement video and catch a glimpse of some of Jackie Hildering’s awe inspiring work.
The Runners-Up are:
Inside the Perimeter
Congratulations to all our nominees. In our eyes, you’re all winners! See you next year.
Voting is now closed for Canada’s Favourite Science Online. We asked you to vote for your fave science site and you did! Did your choice become a Finalist? And who won? The winner will be announced via video on Wednesday, October 10th on social media and on this page. Be sure to check back and cheer for the winner!
In the meantime, here are your Finalists, three science sites we’re all proud to call our own!
Finalists for Favourite Canadian Science Site:
Who doesn’t want to understand the universe? Inside the Perimeter you’ll find mindbending ideas in theoretical physics. Combined with research, training, and outreach the PI aims to stimulate the breakthroughs that could transform our future. To explore bold new ideas Inside the Perimeter, visit their website or check it out on Twitter.
Does quantum physics answer unanswerable questions? Can farmed algae replace fossil fuels? Why is the bread wheat’s genome more than five times larger than a human’s? So many fascinating topics in the world today, so much iffy information on the internet. But don’t worry, real science is just one click away. Get the facts from world class scientists at Canadian universities who share their leading edge research online on this site.
Jackie Hildering is an educator, conservationist, diver, underwater photographer, and Humpback Whale researcher in BC. Her mission is to raise awareness about life in the ocean and to illuminate the fragility, beauty, and mystery of the deeps. Her underwater images expose the vital importance of conservation and illustrate that the merging of science and art is breathtaking.
Science Borealis will announce the Winner for Favourite Blog on Wednesday October 3rd on social media, and is announcing the runners-up starting on Monday October 1, 2018. @ScienceBorealis http://scienceborealis.ca/
P.O. Box 75 Station A