Coming to Winnipeg for SWCC 2019? A few conference attendees will be able to add on an overnight tour of the Experimental Lakes Area.
By Jay Whetter
Lake Erie “died” in the 1960s. Excessive nutrients in the lake, due to runoff and pollution, first caused a massive growth in algae. As this algae died, it took up all the oxygen in the water and the fish died. The scientific name for this process is eutrophication.
In response to the Lake Erie situation, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans set up the Experimental Lakes Area (https://www.iisd.org/ela/) in 1968 to study causes and solutions to eutrophication. Lakes 226 and 227 were the first lakes studied. Those first studies concluded that phosphorus added to a lake caused excessive algae growth that led to eutrophication. By reducing phosphorus runoff through farm and lawn fertilizer practices, regulation of detergent ingredients and improved water treatment facilities, we could greatly reduce algae growth.
ELA kept going, studying acid rain and mercury effects on freshwater lakes and more recently nano silver, diluted bitumen (from oil pipelines), aquaculture and climate change effects on lake habitat and health.
The research facility seems stronger than ever. After the federal government pulled funding in 2012, a non-profit called the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) took over. This summer the facility has 60 researchers, students and support staff on site – the most ever. ELA has 58 lakes, chosen for their relative containment and variety of sizes and depths. Through IISD, ELA also expanded its mandate to include education and outreach. That is why the ELA staff look forward to presenting at the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada conference in Winnipeg May 23-25, 2019 and, for a select few, hosting an overnight tour at the ELA site four hours east of Winnipeg.
Research at ELA is in five primary fields: Water chemistry, hydrology/limnology, fish biology, zooplankton biology and phytoplankton biology.
Here are a few quick notes and observations from my visit to ELA on Friday, June 1, 2018:
1. When studying the effects of additives, researchers use very low doses. They want to mimic the more serious of contaminated lakes and rivers, but they don’t want to test higher levels that will cause unnecessary stress on the ecosystem. So they take a low and slow approach. For mercury research, for example, they use a mercury isotope so it can be tracked through the ecosystem. Over five years they have added only one teaspoon of mercury isotope to the waters. They don’t even use mercury thermometers anymore in case one breaks and adds more mercury unnecessarily. Top predators will accumulate the most mercury, but the good news, as ELA science has shown, is that once mercury levels coming into the ecosystem are reduced, bioaccumulation throughout the ecosystem will start to reverse.
2. As many of the research projects at ELA have concluded, once a problem is identified, it can often be corrected through changes in human activity. We can make a difference!
3. Because Canadian Shield lakes have bedrock bottoms for the most part, they are not rich in food for fish. Lakes with weedier or bio-rich beds also have more food and therefore more and faster-growing fish. With climate change, the ice-free periods for Canadian lakes are longer. You might think longer summers would mean fish get bigger, but the opposite happens. Fish are cold-blooded, so a longer summer means the fish metabolism is increased for more days per year. But the food source in these Shield lakes does not increase to the same extent. Therefore, since fish can’t take in enough food to match that rising metabolism, climate change means that fish are getting smaller.
4. ELA’s remote and pristine location makes it perfectly suited to study climate change effects on fresh-water lakes because it doesn’t have the other influencers, including human population growth, changes in energy use or sewage treatment, etc., that will confound trend analysis for others bodies of water.
5. ELA has its own scientists on staff, but also does a lot of collaboration with various universities and institutions. While I was there, a representative from the U.S. EPA was looking into the diluted bitumen research at ELA.
In the few hours I was at ELA, I saw a black bear outside my truck window and encountered an aggressive and very territorial ruffed grouse. ELA is a hive of science, complete with lots of indoor labs, ATVs to access remote lakes on little trails, canoes galore and, at night, complete darkness to show off the amazing skies. It combines world class science in a wild Canadian setting. It’s pretty easy to fall in love with the place.
Here is a link to further information about ELA and science communication.
Jay Whetter is on the SWCC board and leads the Winnipeg 2019 organizing committee. He lives in Kenora, Ontario, and spends most of his time writing about agriculture.
In a sad week for science journalism in Canada, we note Daily Planet has been cancelled following a tremendously successful 23-year run.
The Discovery Channel program not only brought fun, informative daily science news to Canadians from coast-to-coast, it served as a unique and important training ground for a generation of science journalists, producers and presenters, many of whom are, and have been, valued members of the SWCC. We send our best to those directly affected by the cut, and thank all of those who have contributed to the program’s effort to enrich our lives with science.
Douglas Keddy, President
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
Here is the shortlist for the 2017 award for youth science book written by a Canadian. The winner will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during Science Literacy Week in September, 2018
The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)| illustrated by Natasha Donovan
Portage & Main Press, High Water Press
To the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia, the sockeye salmon is more than just a source of food. Over its life cycle, it nourishes the very land and forests that the Skeena River runs through and where the Gitxsan make their home. The Sockeye Mother explores how the animals, water, soil, and seasons are all intertwined.
Who is watching you . . . and why?
Social media and the internet are great for sharing information, meeting new friends, and exchanging points of view. But they also make it very easy to find out everything about you—including things you may not want others to know. This book asks three simple questions: Who’s watching, and why? Where is the line between public and private? How can you keep your secrets to yourself?
Eyes and Spieslooks at the way information and data is collected and used by individuals, governments, companies, and organizations. Each chapter covers one aspect of the subject, from data collection to computer surveillance and personal privacy. Arguments for both increased security and increased privacy are offered, encouraging readers to think critically about the issues. “Creepy Line” sidebars highlight controversial real-life scenarios, often involving youth. “Action Alert” entries explain how to find out more about the implications of surveillance and data mining. Other topics include how students are tracked at school, cyberbullying, and online safety.
It’s not too late! The natural world can still be healed.
Rewilding is an important environmental movement to restore habitats to their natural state. By reintroducing native plant species, we also protect the wildlife that depends on them for food. In this comprehensive look at rewilding, the authors present examples from around the world where endangered animals have been returned to their natural habitats. From pandas and peregrine falcons to jaguars and wolves, the stories of these animals testify to the fact that with good management, the extinction of species can be avoided. This book also relates how cities have begun to create new habitats for animals and plants everywhere from tiny rooftop gardens to huge parks on disused land. This timely book filled with striking photos is for anyone who cares about nature and the environment.
Hold your nose!
Yes, garbage is disgusting, but it’s also fascinating. Piles of garbage dating back to prehistory reveal how people lived, what they ate, and how they prepared their food. But garbage is also a problem. From leaving it in ancient caves to dumping it at the very edge of space, people have always had the challenge of what to do with it. And now that challenge has reached epic proportions as the world runs out of places to throw garbage away.
What a Waste! delves into the weird and fascinating world of garbage, covering topics like water pollution, modern “throwaway” culture, landfills, human waste, and recycling. The highly visual treatment with lots of sidebars and humorous illustrations makes this an engaging, kid-friendly introduction to an important issue.
Readers will find answers to questions like: Why is there so much garbage? What are the different kinds of garbage? Are some worse than others?, and Is there still time to clean up the mess? Fortunately, the answer is yes—and this book looks at the efforts being made around the world to do so.
Here is the shortlist for the 2017 award for general audience science book written by a Canadian. The winner will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during Science Literacy Week in September, 2018
How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Edward Struzik
For two months in the spring of 2016, the world watched as wildfire ravaged the Canadian town of Fort McMurray. Firefighters named the fire “the Beast.” It acted like a mythical animal, alive with destructive energy, and they hoped never to see anything like it again. Yet it’s not a stretch to imagine we will all soon live in a world in which fires like the Beast are commonplace. A glance at international headlines shows a remarkable increase in higher temperatures, stronger winds, and drier lands– a trifecta for igniting wildfires like we’ve rarely seen before.
This change is particularly noticeable in the northern forests of the United States and Canada. These forests require fire to maintain healthy ecosystems, but as the human population grows, and as changes in climate, animal and insect species, and disease cause further destabilization, wildfires have turned into a potentially uncontrollable threat to human lives and livelihoods.
Our understanding of the role fire plays in healthy forests has come a long way in the past century. Despite this, we are not prepared to deal with an escalation of fire during periods of intense drought and shorter winters, earlier springs, potentially more lightning strikes and hotter summers. There is too much fuel on the ground, too many people and assets to protect, and no plan in place to deal with these challenges.
In Firestorm, journalist Edward Struzik visits scorched earth from Alaska to Maine, and introduces the scientists, firefighters, and resource managers making the case for a radically different approach to managing wildfire in the 21st century. Wildfires can no longer be treated as avoidable events because the risk and dangers are becoming too great and costly. Struzik weaves a heart-pumping narrative of science, economics, politics, and human determination and points to the ways that we, and the wilder inhabitants of the forests around our cities and towns, might yet flourish in an age of growing megafires.
The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World
by David R. Boyd
An important and timely recipe for hope for humans and all forms of life
Palila v Hawaii. New Zealand’s Te Urewera Act. Sierra Club v Disney. These legal phrases hardly sound like the makings of a revolution, but beyond the headlines portending environmental catastrophes, a movement of immense import has been building — in courtrooms, legislatures, and communities across the globe. Cultures and laws are transforming to provide a powerful new approach to protecting the planet and the species with whom we share it.
Lawyers from California to New York are fighting to gain legal rights for chimpanzees and killer whales, and lawmakers are ending the era of keeping these intelligent animals in captivity. In Hawaii and India, judges have recognized that endangered species — from birds to lions — have the legal right to exist. Around the world, more and more laws are being passed recognizing that ecosystems — rivers, forests, mountains, and more — have legally enforceable rights. And if nature has rights, then humans have responsibilities.
In The Rights of Nature, noted environmental lawyer David Boyd tells this remarkable story, which is, at its heart, one of humans as a species finally growing up. Read this book and your world view will be altered forever.
Penguin Random House
The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.
Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.
Meredith Wadman’s masterful account recovers not only the science of this urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs, and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who “owns” research cells and the profits made from biological inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.
With another frightening virus imperiling pregnant women on the rise today, no medical story could have more human drama, impact, or urgency today than The Vaccine Race.
Jurassic Park meets The Sixth Extinctionin Rise of the Necrofauna, a provocative look at de-extinction from acclaimed documentarist and science writer Britt Wray.
What happens when you try to recreate a woolly mammoth—fascinating science, or conservation catastrophe?
In Rise of the Necrofauna, Wray takes us deep into the minds and labs of some of the world’s most progressive thinkers to find out. She introduces us to renowned futurists like Stewart Brand and scientists like George Church, who are harnessing the powers of CRISPR gene editing in the hopes of “reviving” extinct passenger pigeons, woolly mammoths, and heath hens. She speaks with Nikita Zimov, who together with his eclectic father Sergey, is creating Siberia’s Pleistocene Park—a daring attempt to rebuild the mammoth’s ancient ecosystem in order to save earth from climate disaster. Through interviews with these and other thought leaders, Wray reveals the many incredible opportunities for research and conservation made possible by this emerging new field.
But we also hear from more cautionary voices, like those of researcher and award-winning author Beth Shapiro (How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth) and environmental philosopher Thomas van Dooren. Writing with passion and perspective, Wray delves into the larger questions that come with this incredible new science, reminding us that de-extinction could bring just as many dangers as it does possibilities. What happens, for example, when we bring an “unextinct” creature back into the wild? How can we care for these strange animals and ensure their comfort and safety—not to mention our own? And what does de-extinction mean for those species that are currently endangered? Is it really ethical to bring back an extinct passenger pigeon, for example, when countless other birds today will face the same fate?
By unpacking the many biological, technological, ethical, environmental, and legal questions raised by this fascinating new field, Wray offers a captivating look at the best and worst of resurrection science.
By: Andre Picard
Douglas & McIntyre
Respected health reporter André Picard tackles the nation’s most pressing public health topics.
Health issues have long occupied top headlines in Canadian media, and no journalist has written on public health with more authority or for as many years as André Picard. Matters of Life and Deathcollects Picard's most compelling columns, covering a broad range of topics including Canada's right-to-die law, the true risks of the Zika virus, the financial challenges of a publicly funded health system, appalling health conditions in First Nations communities, the legalization of marijuana, the social and economic impacts of mental illness, and the healthcare challenges facing transgender people.
The topic of health touches on the heart of society, intersecting with many aspects of private and public life—human rights, aging, political debate, economics and death. With his reporting, Picard demonstrates the connection between physical health and the health of society as a whole, provides the facts to help readers make knowledgeable health choices, and acts as a devoted advocate for those whose circumstances bar them from receiving the care they need.
Providing an antidote to widespread fear-mongering and misinformation, Matters of Life and Deathis essential reading for anyone with an investment in public health topics—in other words, everyone.
by Tim Lougheed, President SWCC
For those of us who were writing about science before the Internet was a thing, the discord sown by social media is nothing less than mind boggling. What was once a trade in ideas and arguments has been supplanted by a whirlwind of images, which give rise to their own sets of ideas and arguments quite independently of any coherent process. This orgy of oversharing regularly generates spats unworthy of a kindergarten sandbox, making a mockery of technology that has suddenly enabled upward of half the planet’s population to exchange billions of messages with one another. And yet this same embarrassing medium can likewise redeem itself with rich intellectual exchanges, linking hearts and minds from all walks of life in ways that we could scarcely have imagined a generation ago.
This conundrum is more than annoying, it has practical consequences. By way of example, consider a dust-up generated by the venerable journal Science, which on the ominous Ides of March published an opinion piece by a University of Toronto doctoral student — Meghan Wright of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering — who saw fit to critique the social media musings of another University of Toronto doctoral student — Samantha Yammine of the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. Wright bluntly argued that Yammine’s online efforts to represent women in science linger too much on personal detail and consequently detract from the important task of trying to create a level playing field for both genders in the scientific community.
That critique may have merit, but in this case it lost a great deal of credibility by assigning the serious mission of reforming the institutional culture of research to the chaotic information wonderland that is social media. Wright chastises female scientists for Instagram posts of “pretty selfies, fun videos, and microscope images captioned with accessible language and cute emojis.” Apparently exempt from such criticism is Wright’s own Twitter feed that, in addition to detailed updates of her own scientific progress and regular highlights of women’s success in research, includes the prize-winning Millennium Falcon-shaped gingerbread house at her lab’s Christmas party and a bevy of selfies taken after a make-up session.
The point is not that two serious and accomplished academics have populated their social media accounts with some fluff. For better or worse, social media has evolved to accommodate contributions that include brain-dead trivia as well as our deepest musings on life’s purpose. In this way it is a faithful mirror of our everyday existence, which is shot through with the dreary tedium of life however much we like to think of ourselves as being on a grand quest to somewhere. And what anyone with access to the Web can now learn is that scientists are no different in this regard — we hail their march to the truth, or at least the little bit of light they shine in the darkness, but their most candid social media side reveals them to put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
Nor should that have come as any surprise to the editors at Science who have spent the past week insisting that they did not intend for Wright to engage in an ad hominem attack on Yammine. Those editors may not have been around on March 2, 2012, when the magazine devoted its high profile editorial page to actor Alan Alda, who was announcing his desire to transform the way in scientists communicate with the public by founding the Centre for Communicating Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“The intention, of course, is not to turn scientists into actors but to allow them to be more authentically themselves in public interactions,” he wrote, noting that this goal emerged from the enlightening experience of interviewing scientists for his PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. “Having to talk with someone who was truly trying to understand caused an actual human interaction to take place in these interviews. There was more warmth, and the real person behind the scientist in the white lab coat could emerge. Suddenly, both young people and adults could see that scientists were like them, with a natural way of speaking and even a sense of humor.”
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada was created and is sustained by people who have come to the same realization as Alda: science is an all too human enterprise, conducted by people who display every glorious facet of what it means to be human, from brilliant talent to disappointing shortcomings, from admirable virtues to shocking vices, from inspiring triumphs to devastating failures. A journal such as Science may want to showcase only the most somber business of its subject matter and set aside these pesky human qualities, but social media has no such agenda, nor does it seemingly have any agenda at all. By allowing what may have been Wright’s well intentioned attempt to raise the tone of science outreach on social media to descend into a poorly framed series of complaints, these editorial gatekeepers not only revealed a poor understanding of social media and its impact on the research community, they did serious damage to their own role in facilitating communication between that community and the wider society that they serve. It would behove them to revisit Alan Alda’s revelation, lest their own ambitious efforts to reach out to society achieve the same confused and questionable status as social media.
by Ashley EM Miller
Often when we think about science outreach and engaging new audiences, we envision presenting facts eloquently and hoping, with bated breath, that readers will take something away.
That works for audiences already interested in science. But what about those who aren't invested in the field? Information alone may not be enough.
Art can be a way to engage the public with science through the the simple fact that novelty sparks curiosity. Artists in the emerging field of sci-art utilize science concepts, methods, principles and information within their practice. Their art, along with the work of science illustrators, can facilitate a deeper emotional connection to science, particularly in those who don’t regularly pay attention or feel welcome.
However, using artwork in science communication is not as simple as inserting a picture into a body of text and referencing the artist in MLA style.
For those coming from the sciences, citing your sources, as laborious as that may be, is a given. While that is fine for incorporating information, that isn’t always adequate for artwork. In the art world, artists know how to ask other artists to use their work. If a scientist or science communicator does not have an “in” with the art community, they may not know where to find legal information about using art.
Anyone interested in using artwork in their science communication practice, should attend the upcoming SWCC conference’s professional development session "On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". The panel discussion will be moderated by Theresa Liao of Curiosity Collider and Sarah Louadi of Voirelia, both of whom are intimately familiar with combining art and science in their respective organizations. Sarah and Theresa will lead a much-needed conversation about the benefits and best practices of partnerships between artists and science communicators.
The session boasts a well-rounded panel. Attendees will gain insights on aspects of the art world with panelists Kate Campbell, a science illustrator, and Steven J. Barnes, a psychologist and artist. Legal and ethical considerations will be provided by Lawrence Chan, an intellectual property lawyer, and April Britski, the National Executive Director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). For those unfamiliar, CARFAC is a federal organization that acts as a voice for visual artists in Canada and outlines minimum fee guidelines among other things.
Science communicators and bloggers will certainly benefit from the session, particularly early-career freelancers. When working independently, there are no organizational policies and procedures in place for you to follow. It means that you have to check everything yourself, and this session will give you a crash course of what to look for in artist collaborations, what to ask and how to ask it. Even researchers will benefit from the discussion, by learning about the opportunities for working with science illustrators and about what to expect.
"On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". will take place at 3:15 pm on Saturday April 14th as part of the conference’s concurrent Professional Development sessions. Come and be inspired by how your science communication journey can benefit from art collaboration and learn about the ethical and legal aspects of compensating partners. Art and science operate in different cultures or referencing, attribution and payment. Understanding these differences through open dialogue can reduce conflicts and tension. In the end, we benefit the broader society by facilitating meaning engagement with science.
Ashley EM Miller is a writer, museum educator, and eternally curious creature. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her as @Dctr_Ash on Twitter and Instagram.
Registration for the conference is open until March 29. Check out the other great sessions on offer here:
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You’re flitting through social media, and you find a graphic dense with data but delightfully designed. It’s beautiful, it’s charming, and it gives you pause.
Infographics are powerful communication tools that suck you in and leave you wondering, “How did they do that?” and later thinking, “I want to do that.”
But, if you don’t have any experience creating images more complicated than a bar-graph, the thought of creating a compelling infographic can seem impossible. Or perhaps you have art skills, but don’t have the background in visual storytelling and design to pair your artistic eye with science information.
The keys to an excellent infographic are strategic messaging, functional images and engaging story-telling. Learn these skills, and become familiar with the appropriate tools, and you’re well on your way to creating infographics that make your science communication stand out.
The SWCC 2018 Conference Session “Infographics: Worth a Thousand Words” is a hands-on workshop on infographic design lead by Fuse Consulting’s Kate Broadly and Sonya Odsen. By the end of the session, participants will complete their first hard-copy draft of an infographic, and they'll be familiar with the digital tools best suited for their skills and experience.
Even if you don’t think you’ll incorporate infographics as a significant part of your science communication practice, the session will provide you with the language of design. You’ll be better able to communicate with any designers or illustrators you collaborate with in the future to help them convey your vision. Moreover, honing an eye for design can help you with other forms of visual communication: presentation slides, information posters or graphics for blogs and articles.
You don’t have to be an excellent artist to benefit from the workshop. Kate and Sonya will review the digital tools appropriate and functional for any ability. For those who aren’t comfortable drawing their graphics, the duo will point you to free options for icons and symbols you can incorporate into your work. They’ll also discuss software options for building the infographic. You’ll learn about beginner-level free drag and drop online tools, to intermediate workflows using Microsoft applications to more advanced options and software.
If that seems like a lot to consider, take heart! As a science communicator, you already have the skills necessary to draft an infographic. After all, the very first step to creating infographics is similar to crafting any science communication message: know your audience.
Through instruction and peer critique, you will be led through the stages of honing the content to a few key messages for your audience. You'll sift through the fascinating but irrelevant-to-your-audience noise in the research and filter your infographic's content into a cohesive and meaningful story.
The workshop on infographics will teach scientists and science communicators how to craft succinct messaging, create or locate graphics that add to the story rather than act as mere decoration, and how to use elements of design to create beautiful, informative and compelling images. The best part is that you can spend as much or as little time on infographics as you want.
“The medium itself can be so flexible in terms of how much you want to share, how you want to share it and how much time you want to put into it,” Sonya explained.
Fuse Consulting is a communications business based in Alberta, and the team is no stranger to sharing techniques and best practices for infographic design. Be sure to check out their blog Knowledge to Practice for tips and advice on creating infographics.
The session, on Friday, April 13th, will be an active, hands-on workshop - so come with your science and be ready to create! Kate and Sonya have planned some fun activities to get your creative juices flowing. “Infographics: Worth a Thousand Words” is going to be one fun session.
The Preliminary Program is up and early bird registration is now open for our 47th annual conference in downtown Vancouver with our host partner Simon Fraser University. It's time to grab your spot while you can and the rates are low because this is shaping up to be our most popular conference yet. We're offering unique space limited opportunities like the Beakerhead mini-course and a Snorkel Safari so it's no surprise that people are keen to come to Vancouver this year. Plus it's Vancouver in April.
A keynote on Oceans. A keynote on Cannabis. Breakout sessions that could give you that one tip that lets our career take off - Story Pitching to Editors and Producers, Alternative Careers in Science Communication. Breakout sessions to improve your skills and help you with the problems that come up in the job that you do have - Info graphics, Emerging Topics in SciComm Ethics, Frontiers in SciComm Policy and Practice. What is the best of the best? Come and check it out. Meet the panelists over lunch, in the hallways and at the Dine Around on Friday night.
We're sharing our first day at Science World in collaboration with our friends at STAN (Science and Technology Awareness Network) There will be tours to look behind the scenes and under the hood at TRIUMF, at Science World - and more. What better way to get to know each other? Perhaps a networking lounge? A Town Hall on Science Communications? A social evening with fun events like power point karaoke? Yes, we have those.
Did we mention it's Vancouver in April? Cherry Blossom Festival.
Find out more:
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
New dates TBD
P.O. Box 75 Station A