Tag Archives: 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

Science attitude kicks in by 10 years old

There’s a lot of talk these days about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in the field of education. It seems that every country that has produced materials about innovation, economic well being, etc.  in English and I’m guessing all the other countries too (I just can’t read their materia]s) want more children/young people studying STEM subjects.

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

I was particularly struck by the fact that attitudes are positive but, by age 10, researchers are already observing that children are concluding ‘it’s not for me’.

Here’s a little more about the ASPIRES project,

The ASPIRES research team, led by Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s, is tracking children’s science and career aspirations over five years, from ages 10 to 14. To date they have surveyed over 9000 primary school children and carried out more than 170 interviews of parents and children. After the age of 10 or 11 children’s attitudes towards science often start to decline, suggesting that there is a critical period in which schools and parents can do much to educate the next generation of the options available to them. [emphasis mine]

As for the report ‘Ten Science Facts and Fictions’, you may be in for a surprise if you’re expecting a standard academic study. It’s very colourful and illustrated with cartoons; each fact/fiction has its own page and only one; it summarizes and aggregates other research; and the whole report is 16 pp.  It’s easy reading and the reference notes mean you can follow up and read the research studies yourself.

On a note related to the conclusions made the ASPIRES researchers, I came across a Jan. 27, 2012 news item on Medical Xpress about a US study where researchers attempted an intervention designed to encourage more teens to study science,

In a different intervention study aimed at changing teen behavior in math and science, researchers did not target the students themselves but rather their parents. The goal was to increase students’ interest in taking courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). “We focus on the potential role of parents in motivating their teens to take more STEM courses, because we feel that they have been an untapped resource,” says Judith Harackiewicz of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. [emphasis mine]

The participants consisted of 188 U.S. high school students and their parents from the longitudinal Wisconsin Study of Families and Work. Harackiewicz and her colleague Janet Hyde found that a relatively simple intervention aimed at parents – two brochures mailed to parents and a website that all highlight the usefulness of STEM courses – led their children to take on average nearly one semester more of science and mathematics in the last two years of high school, compared with the control group. “Our indirect intervention,” funded by the National Science Foundation, “changed the way that parents interacted with their teens, leading to a significant and important change in their teens’ course-taking behavior,” Harackiewicz says.

Given Dr. David Kent’s panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (David’s interview about the panel is in my Oct. 24, 2011 posting) where he noted we have too many science graduates and not enough jobs, I’m wondering if we’re going to see a Canadian effort to encourage more study in STEM subjects. It wouldn’t surprise me; I have seen policy disconnects before. For example, there’s a big effort to get more children and teens to study science while graduate students from the universities have difficulty finding employment because the policy didn’t take the end result (the sector [e.g. universities] that needed people [science professors] when the policy was instituted had already started to shrink and 10 years later no one needs these graduates) into account.

Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, speaks at 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

When the 3rd Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) opens tomorrow (Nov. 16, 2011), attendees will find a large number of sessions focussed on innovation. In fact, the keynote panel is titled, Big Picture Perspective on Science & Innovation Policy, and features three speakers all of whom are academics including Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb. The other two speakers are Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chief Scientist & Chariman of the Board, Fonds de recherche du Québec and R. Peter MacKinnon, President, University of Saskatchewan
& member of the STIC [Science and Technology Innovation Council] State of the Nation Working Group. Here’s a description of the panel topic from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

With continuing uncertainty about the global economy and with persistent public policy challenges that respect no borders, science and innovation policy is of increasing importance for governments and organizations across Canada and around the world.  How do leaders from various perspectives view the “big picture”?  What are the key challenges and opportunities in the decade ahead and how can science, technology and innovation help to address them?  How can states [nations] improve the performance of their science, technology and innovation systems to ensure better health outcomes, a safe and secure environment, and sustainable prosperity for their citizens?  How are macro-decisions on the state of science and innovation policy being made, and what foundations can support efficient national innovation systems?

Given that the world of academe is not known for its innovation, I always find it a bit odd to see these panels peopled by academics, especially when the speakers’ biographies don’t feature much in the way of innovative accomplishments.

I was a little curious to find out why an Australian (Ian Chubb) was included in this panel and on the ‘science culture’ panel. I did try to interview Chubb but he is making an extensive tour of Europe, Canada, and the US and did not have time to answer my questions. Luckily, I was able to find some information in a June 15, 2011 article by Lucinda Schmidt for the Sydney Morning Herald,

He began his third career, as chief scientist, on May 23 [2011].

”I’ve always loved science,” says the 67-year-old who grew up on the rural fringe of Melbourne, where there were plenty of opportunities for a curious boy to poke about in ant nests and wonder what made the stars twinkle.

He worked part time in a lab while completing his undergraduate degree then headed overseas for almost a decade, including six years at Oxford University doing his PhD.

”It was there that I realised I could probably cut the mustard [as a neuroscientist],” says Chubb, who returned to Australia in 1978 to lecture at Flinders University in South Australia.

After working as a neuroscientist for a number of years, Chubb changed career direction,

His second career included stints as deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, chair of the federal government’s Higher Education Council, vice-chancellor of Flinders University for six years, then vice-chancellor of ANU for the past decade.

Chubb earned a reputation as a fearless but politically pragmatic advocate for tertiary education.

It would appear this second career will stand him in good stead as Australia’s chief scientist,

As chief scientist, Chubb’s political skills and forceful advocacy will be invaluable. His predecessor, the US physicist Penny Sackett, resigned halfway through her five-year term reportedly because of lack of government interest in her role.

Hopefully, Chubb will reach past the platitudes and give some insight into how he sees the role of a chief scientist and the political acumen necessary to make the position meaningful.

As I noted earlier, Chubb will also be speaking on the ‘science culture’ panel (along with Denise Amyot who was interviewed in my Nov. 15, 2011 posting here). He will be speaking about the ‘Inspiring Australia‘ initiative. The webpage for the initiative is a little disappointing in that it consists mostly of strategy documents, listings for two programmes which have the appearance of having predated this initiative (Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and National Science Week Grants), and information about two Expert Working Groups ( Science and the media and Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement). The initiative itself is barely one year old.

I wish the organizers, speakers, and attendees an excellent conference.

Science culture panel and Denise Amyot at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

The 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) starts tomorrow, Nov. 16, 2011 and runs until Nov. 18, 2011. Denise Amyot, speaker on the 2011 CSPC Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives panel and President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, has very kindly given me an interview.

Here’s a little bit about Denise Amyot first (from the bio on the 2011 CSPC conference website),

Denise Amyot is currently, President and CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation whose mandate is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout the country. The Corporation and its three museums – the Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum – tell the stories of Canadian ingenuity and achievement in science and technology.

She has worked both in National Headquarters and in regions in several federal departments including central agencies, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, National Defense, Natural Resources Canada, and Canadian Heritage. In her former three roles as Assistant Deputy Minister, she was respectively responsible for leading and managing leadership development programs and developing policies for employees and executives throughout the public Service of Canada, the corporate management services, as well as public affairs and ministerial services. She has worked extensively in policy and line operations in the context of programs and service delivery, in social, economic, and cultural areas. She also worked for few years with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Ms Amyot is the former President of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Vice-President of the Head of Federal Agencies Steering Committee, and member of the Board of Governors at the Ottawa University and at the Algonquin College. She is the former President of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada and former President of the Communications Community Office.

Ms Amyot has obtained a Master’s degree in Education and three Bachelor degrees in Biology, in Arts and in Education.

Now, here are the questions and answers:

The panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) features you from the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC); Lesley Lewis, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia and is being moderated by Tracey Ross, ED for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. Could you describe the difference between a museum of science and technology and a science centre?

Science museums are distinctive from science centres as they are the steward of a collection that provides an historical perspective on a specific cross-section of society. Science museums use artifacts from their collection to interpret science and technology within society and help visitor acquire a deeper understanding on its developmental and evolutionary nature. Like science centres, science museums also engage visitors on various aspect of current science and offer experiential, hands on activities.

Could you give a little history of the CSTMC and explain why there are three museums?

The CSTMC was created 21 years ago to govern the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The Canada Agriculture Museum joined the corporation in 1997. Previous to 1990 all national museums were managed through a single corporation which posed challenges considering the diversity of audience, needs and mandates of these institutions.

The three museums share a common vision of engaging all Canadians in appreciating their scientific and technological heritage, and awaken them to our country’s potential of creativity and innovation to solve today’s challenges and propel us in the 21st century.

How do you view science culture in Canada and how would you describe it in relation to the international scene?

There has never been a time in history when science and technology have had greater impact on the lives of our citizens or have been more important to our economic competitiveness, prosperity and societal well being. I understand science culture as the degree in which Canadians understand the basic of science, are able to make daily decisions informed by a basic understanding of science and use of scientific method (inquiry). Science culture is an important vector of economic prosperity. Science culture also informs the degree in which science is considered as a desirable field of study for youth (STEM) leading to fulfilling careers.

Sustaining a strong and vibrant science culture is essential to Canada’s long term economic, environmental and social success in a global world. The world is looking at Canada to develop an economic and societal model that will smartly develop new and innovative ways of sustaining the exploitation of its natural resources while creating an inclusive society that will harness the talent, creativity and potential of every citizen. In the last ten years, jobs in science and technology have seen the largest growth.

Last year an initiative from the CSTMC for an online science network/hub was announced. Can you talk a little about the initiative and what happened to it?

For financial reasons, we have taken a step back in this project and have decided to postpone activities for the time being. Inspiring Australia has put a similar idea forward earlier this year and with significantly more resources than those we had put forward. We are watching this closely, to see how they will go about this and what sort of engagement they will garner.

I see the need for a more active national dialogue on science beyond sharing information about research, or explaining how it will benefit us. We need an open and respectful two-way dialogue between the experts and the citizens, the converted and the agnostics, a dialogue that spans the nation and involves universities, schools, science centres and museums, governments, businesses, community groups, and individuals. To change our collective thinking about science, more efforts will need to be directed to this dialogue. But most importantly, it will require stronger collaborations and coordination between institutions nation-wide. Using emerging digital technologies and social media applications seem to be the way of the future and we remain committed to playing a role in this area.

I assume you’ll be talking about the initiative to benchmark science culture in order to measure future progress. Could you share a little bit about your talk (how do you go about benchmarking science culture; has anyone done it before; how long will it take; does it require government funding; and, if so, how much?) that could serve both as a preview and as some information for those of us who won’t be able to attend?

There is strong agreement that having a strong and vibrant science culture is fundamental to the future of our country. For years we have been in discussion, inconclusively, on how best to go about this. We have seen numerous initiatives. Many pilot projects. I believe that best policies are evidence-based and informed by compelling performance indicators. There is still a bit of work needed in the science community to identify broadly supported indicators that could best reflect the vitality of our science culture in Canada.

Canada’s science culture is shaped by the interplay of various public, private and non-profit players delivering a range of activities and tools designed to enhance understanding and interest, among Canadians of all ages, in science. There are hundreds of different formal and informal science education and awareness and awareness building programs in this country and we hardly can map out their contribution to the vitality of science culture in our country. We need to collect output and outcome indicators to start benchmarking our progress and devise an effective national strategy. For example we need to measure beyond literacy levels or number of graduates in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] to include such things as science coverage and audience in the media, public opinion on science and scientists and many other indicators used in other countries.

I’ve noticed that most of the discussion about innovation is centered on the notion of business; do you think that culture has a place at that table?

YES! Actually the concept of science culture reflects the fact that part of our general culture there has to be a strong dose of science. And creativity, innovation, risk taking, entrepreneurship. The business sector fully understands the crucial nature of a strong science culture as a driver to our country’s competitiveness.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

As members of the science community, it is our responsibility to ensure that Canadians recognize not only the great achievements of our scientists, but that they see how science-based evidence inform our everyday lives.

I believe that the same curiosity and joy of discovery experienced by young Canadians visiting our science museums and science centres can be shared by all Canadians. I believe that this can then be turned into an active commitment to make Canada a country where scientific discovery and innovation shape our identity as Canadians, and contribute to the health of our economy and to the vibrancy of our nation. Creative thinking and a spirit of entrepreneurship are at the heart of innovation. Creative thinking does not require a lot of raw material but is underpinned by a strong science culture. We need to foster and support that value.

Thank you Mme. Amyot for sharing your insights and enthusiasm about science culture and offering this preview of the 2011 CSPC ‘Science Culture’ panel in the midst of your busy schedule.

I am very grateful to you and Mike Harcourt, Tim Meyer, and David Kent for taking the time to answer my questions about your work and about your talks for the 2011 CSPC panels where you will be appearing over the next few days.

Building Stronger Communities through Innovation panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

The 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) scheduled for Nov. 16 – 18 in Ottawa, Ontario is featuring a couple of talks on innovation. Mike Harcourt, former Premier of BC, former Mayor and Councillor for the City of Vancouver, and a speaker on the Building Stronger Communities through Innovation panel, has very kindly answered a few questions about his work and the panel discussion.

First, here’s more about Mike Harcourt from his biography,

As former premier of British Columbia, Mayor of Vancouver and City Councilor,

Mike Harcourt helped British Columbia earn its reputation as one of the most livable, accessible and inclusive places in the world.  His focus on conservation and sustainable development – and his resolve to contribute to the transformation of cities and communities around the world – has played a significant role in promoting quality of life for those in Canada and abroad.

After stepping down from politics, he was appointed by the Prime Minister to serve as a member of the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy, where he served on the Executive Committee and Chaired the Urban Sustainability Program.  He was a federally appointed B.C. Treaty Commissioner and was Chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee for Cities and Communities and co-chaired the National Advisory Committee on the UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006.

Mike Harcourt is Chair of University of British Columbia’s Regional Sustainability Council for sustainability initiatives, and is at the new (CIRS) Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability as well as Associate Director of the Centre for Sustainability Continuing Studies at U.B.C.  In addition to acting as Chairman of Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow (QUEST) www.questcanada.org, he chairs the Canadian Electricity Association’s Sustainable Electricity Program Advisory Panel. He is a member of City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team. He also was part of an advisory group that helped Whistler put together its Natural Step based on sustainable cities strategy.  He is the lead faculty in United Way’s Public Policy Institute.

Harcourt’s exemplary career as Lawyer, Community Activist, and Politician has been honoured, with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service and the Canadian Urban Institute’s Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award.  He was awarded the U.B.C. Alumni Achievement Award of Distinction for contributions to British Columbia,  Canada  and the global community  in November 2008.

U.B.C. Law Deans Advisory Council – 2010. Honorary Fellowship – The College of Fellows-Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.  In 2011 – Peter Lougheed Award in Public Policy.

In 1993 Al Gore applauded Premier Harcourt, for permanently preserving the jointly shared ecosystem of the Tatshenshini River and Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park in Northwest British Columbia.

He is the author of: A Measure of Defiance and co-author of Plan B: one Man’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph and co-author of City Making in Paradise.

Mike Harcourt is a Speaker and  Advisor  internationally on sustainable cities.

Here are the the answers that Mike Harcourt kindly took the time out of a very busy schedule to give,

  • I am a little curious as to how you ended up at a science policy conference. Have you had a particular interest in science or was this dictated by other forces and what would those forces be?

I’m at the conference (CSPC) as Chair of QUEST(Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow – QUESTcanada.org).  Plus I Chair the Canadian Electricity Association’s Sustainable Electricity Advisory Panel.  Innovation and technology are key to both organizations’ initiatives.

  • Can you offer a preview of what you, in particular, will be discussing at the Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation talk?

Most Canadians (95%) live in or around our 120 big and medium-sized communities, in the inner city, suburbs or rural areas just outside these cities so if we’re serious about having sustainable, competitive, Greenhouse-gas-reducing cities,we’ll need much greater emphasis on innovation, energy and technology applied to solving unsustainable patterns of urban planning and development.

  • Do you have any comments about the recent report on the Review of Federal Support to R&D, which was released with the title, Innovation in Canada: A Call to Action?

No comment on the recent Review of Federal Support to R&D Report.

  • As the former Premier of BC, what role to do you see for developing innovation and innovative communities at the provincial level?

 As Premier I saw an important role for provincial governments – good quality K-12,and post secondary education, R&D and commercialization initiatives,trade development.

  • As a former Mayor of Vancouver, what role to do you see for developing innovation and innovative communities at the municipal level?

 As Mayor I facilitated an economic development policy with a focus on innovation, trade development, proper zoning and taxation policies to encourage technology and related research, consulting and support enterprises.

Mike Harcourt, thank you very much for providing this preview of your talk on the panel and insight into how provinces and cities can encourage innovation.

Reaching out with big science panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

Today’s 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) interview is with Dr. Tim Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communication for TRIUMF who will be one of the presenters on the Reaching out with big science panel. Here’s a little more about Tim (from Tim Meyer’s profile page on the TRIUMF website),

Dr. Timothy Meyer came to TRIUMF from the U.S. National Academies in Washington, D.C.. At the National Academies, Meyer was a senior program officer at the Board on Physics and Astronomy. He received a Notable Achievement Award from the [US] NRC’s Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences in 2003 and a Distinguished Service Award from the National Academies in 2004. Meyer joined the NRC staff in 2002 after earning his Ph.D. in experimental particle physics from Stanford University. His doctoral thesis concerned the time evolution of the B meson in the BaBar experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. His work also focused on radiation monitoring and protection of silicon-based particle detectors. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Physicists, Canadian Science Writers Association, American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Materials Research Society, and Phi Beta Kappa.

Here’s a little more on the Reaching out with big science panel. From the CSPC agenda page,

The public often learns of developments in science in the media distilled from press offices at peer-reviewed journals or universities. In a few cases, research institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and CERN have also developed a reputation for being seen as authoritative sources of science news and information for the public. In recent years, the Canadian research landscape has grown to feature a number of ‘big science’ facilities. These institutions, such as TRIUMF, Ocean Networks Canada, the Canadian Light Source, SNOLab and the Perimeter Institute, conduct research at the forefront of science – often at the convergence of science disciplines and with a scope and scale that is larger than traditional research institutions in government or the academy. In addition to research, all of these laboratories also engage in a number of forms of public engagement and outreach, ranging from media relations to classroom education. In a media landscape where science reporting is becoming increasingly fractured, what role do Canada’s big science facilities have in being sources of science news, information and education?

Here is the interview that Tim kindly gave during a period when he has been traveling extensively on behalf of TRIUMF,

  • For those who are not familiar with TRIUMF could you please give a brief description of it and an explanation of how it fits into the Canadian science landscape?

TRIUMF IS CANADA’S NATIONAL LABORATORY FOR PARTICLE AND NUCLEAR PHYSICS.  IT IS OWNED AND OPERATED BY A CONSORTIUM OF 17 CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES FROM COAST TO COAST.  TRIUMF WAS FORMED MORE THAN 40 YEARS AGO TO POOL RESOURCES AND TALENTS FOR RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE THAT WAS TOO COMPLEX AND EXPENSIVE TO MAINTAIN BY A SINGLE UNIVERSITY.

THE TRIUMF TEAM INCLUDES ABOUT 350 STAFF ON 12 ACRES IN VANCOUVER ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE UBC CAMPUS. TRIUMF OPERATES 5 DIFFERENT ACCELERATORS INCLUDING THE WORLD’S LARGEST CYCLOTRON.

TRIUMF IS UNIQUE IN CANADA AND ONE OF THE TOP THREE LABORATORIES IN THE WORLD FOR CAPABILITIES TO RESEARCH AND DEVELOP ISOTOPES FOR SCIENCE AND MEDICINE.

TRIUMF IS ONE MEMBER OF A FAMILY OF NATIONAL LABORATORIES IN CANADA INCLUDING THE CANADIAN LIGHT SOURCE [represented on the panel], SNOLAB, PERIMETER INSTITUTE [represented on the panel], AND THE CANADIAN NEUTRON BEAM CENTRE.

  • I’ve read the description for this panel and wonder how this fits into a science policy conference. Is there going to be some link made between public engagement and public policy?

ABSOLUTELY. THIS PANEL SESSION SHOWS UP FOR TWO REASONS.  FIRST, PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IS PART OF THE OBLIGATION OF PUBLICY-FUNDED RESEARCH ACTIVITIES.  EITHER TO SHARE THE BENEFITS OF THE RESEARCH OR SHARE THE INSPIRATION THAT COMES FROM DISCOVERY… OR ANY OTHER NUMBER OF REASONS.  SO IN THE CONTEXT OF SCIENCE POLICY, THIS PANEL WILL DISCUSS HOW THE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT AND “SHARING” FROM LARGE SCIENCE FACILITIES MIGHT DIFFER FROM THAT OF INIDIVUAL RESEARCHERS—OR EVEN WHETHER LARGE SCIENCE FACILITIES HAVE A LARGER OBLIGATION.

SECOND, LARGE SCIENCE FACILITIES PRESENT A CHALLENGE FOR TRADITIONAL SCIENCE POLICY BECAUSE THEY REPRESENT LARGE UP-FRONT CAPITAL COMMITMENTS WITH SIGNIFICANT ONGOING OPERATING COSTS.  WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBLE APPROACH FOR MANAGING A PORTFOLIO OF THESE LABORATORIES?  IN THIS PANEL DISCUSSION, WE WILL BE LOOKING AT THE SOME OF UNIQUE FEATURES OF NATIONAL SCIENCE FACILITIES THAT MAKE THEM INVALUABLE AS WELL AS OUTLINE SOME ROUTES FOR IMPROVING THEIR STEWARDSHIP.  SO THIS PANEL DISCUSSION WILL ENGAGE THE ENGAGERS IN AN ENGAGING CONVERSATION!

  • Could you briefly discuss some of the public outreach and engagement initiatives taken by TRIUMF?

TRIUMF’S STRATEGIC PLANNING AND COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE (SPCO) OVERSEES PUBLIC RELATIONS, CONFERENCE SERVICES, PUBLICATIONS, AND EDUCATION AND OUTREACH ACTIVITIES AT THE LAB.  FOR INSTANCE, TRIUMF CO-SPONSORS A MONTHLY LECTURE SERIES FOR HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS ON BREAKING-NEWS TOPICS IN PHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN THE VANCOUVER METRO AREA.  TRIUMF ALSO SELECTS 2-3 OF THE TOP BC AREA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS AND WARDS THEM A SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP AT THE LAB ALONGSIDE THE WORLD’S BEST SCIENTISTS.  TRIUMF ACTIVELY PARTICIPATES IN CONVERSATIONS TO ENGAGE THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF SCIENCE.  DURING THE FIRST MONTH AFTER THE FUKUSHIMA CRISIS, TRIUMF PROVIDED INVALUABLE COUNSEL TO GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND THE MEDIA ABOUT WHAT WAS ACTUALLY GOING ON.  ELSEWHERE, TRIUMF HAS PROVIDED EXPERTS TO SCREENINGS OF SCIENCE-RELATED FILMS PART OF THE VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.  WE ALSO USE TWITTER TO CALL ATTENTION TO IMPORTANT SCIENCE DEVELOPMENTS AND WE ARE DEVELOPING A LIBRARY OF ENTERTAINING “BEHIND THE SCENES” VIDEOS ON OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL ABOUT RESEARCH AT TRIUMF.  TRIUMF HAS BEEN AN OPINION AND TECHNOLOGY LEADER IN CANADA’S DISCUSSION ABOUT THE MEDICAL-ISOTOPE CRISIS, ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT ON POLICY TOPICS SHAPED BY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY.

  • I’m surprised by the failure to include social media as part of the new science communications landscape. Do you have any thoughts on that exclusion?

WHAT MAKES YOU THINK IT’S NOT INCLUDED? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE TALKS YET!  JUST TEASING.  WE WILL ALL CERTAINLY BE TALKING ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA AND WE’LL EVEN BE TWEETING AND BLOGGING LIVE FROM THE CONFERENCE.

  • Can you offer a preview of what you, in particular, will be discussing during the panel session?

WELL, I DON’T SPOIL EVERYTHING, BUT HERE’S WHAT I CAN SAY IN ADVANCE.  I WILL BE TALKING ABOUT THE SET OF MOTIVATIONS FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT FOR RESEARCH LABORATORIES.  NATIONAL SCIENCE FACILITIES ARE NOT THE BE-ALL, END-ALL FOR RESEARCH AND SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, BUT THEY PLAY A CLEAR, UNMISTAKABLE ROLE THAT IS INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT. I WILL DISTINGUISH THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A NATIONAL SCIENCE FACILITY FROM THOSE OF INDIVIDUAL RESEARCH EFFORTS.  I WILL ALSO DISCUSS HOW THE PUBLIC ROLE OF A LABORATORY IS EVOLVING IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT AS WELL AS THE VERY-MUCH-IN-DEMAND CONTEXT OF INNOVATION AND COMMERCIALIZATION.

  • Is there anything you would like to add?

(1) MANY FEEL THAT PUBLIC OUTREACH AND EDUCATION IS JUST A SELF-SERVING TRICK OF SCIENTISTS—IF MORE PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT SCIENCE, THEY’LL LIKE IT, AND THEN WANT TO SPEND MORE TAX DOLLARS ON IT.  THIS SIMPLISTIC LOGIC HAS ACTUALLY BEEN SHOWN TO BE FALSE.  THERE IS NO PROSELYTIZING GOING ON.  WE’RE NOT HERE TO MAKE YOU LIKE SCIENCE SO YOU LIKE US!  WHAT THIS IS ABOUT IS GIVING BACK TO KEY ELEMENTS OF THE PUBLIC AND ABOUT ADVANCING SOCIETY.

(2) THE CANADIAN SCIENCE POLICY CONFERNECE IS AN IMPORTANT STEP FORWARD FOR CANADA.  IT AIMS TO PROVIDE A FORUM FOR KEY ISSUES TO BE DISCUSSED AND EXAMINED.  THE KEY CHALLENGE IS TO DRIVE THE FIELD FORWARD BY RESOLVING SOME OF THESE ISSUES.  BETTER AND BETTER INFORMED HAND-WRINGING ABOUT THE STATE OF SCIENCE OR INNOVATION (I.E., JUST COMPLAINING) IN CANADA IS GOING TO GET OLD.  THE OPPORTUNITY OF THIS CONFERENCE, AND THE INTENTION OF THE ORGANIZERS, IS TO START TO GENERATE A NEW CONVERSATION.  WHAT ARE THE BASELINES EXPECTATIONS FOR SCIENCE?  WHAT RESULTS HAVE WE ACHIEVED WITH OUR RECENT INNOVATIVE PROGRAMS?   WHEN WE LOOK AT THESE QUESTIONS, WE START MOVING THE ENTIRE COUNTRY FORWARD.

Thank you, Tim. I’m very grateful you managed to squeeze this interview into your schedule. I imagine this will be a lively presentation given your comments.

Education and training of scientists panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

On the heels of my last posting which featured Science magazine’s 2011 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, it seems like a good idea to follow up with another science student-themed posting.

Dr. David Kent who will be moderating the Education and training panel at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Ottawa, Canada from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011 has enthusiastically granted me an interview. (My Oct. 19, 2011 posting featured a description of the 2011 CSPC conference and highlighted some of the events.)

First, here’s a little bit about David (from the 2011 CSPC conference website),

Dr. David Kent is a CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK. He currently sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars and created the website The Black Hole which provides information on and analysis of issues related to science trainees in Canada. Previously, Dr. Kent served as joint coordinator for the UBC branch of the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program (2004-07), an award winning national science outreach program. Dr. Kent grew up in St. John’s, NL, obtained a B.Sc. in Genetics and English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and completed his Ph.D. in blood stem cell biology at the University of British Columbia. He has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from the CIHR, NSERC, the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Lady Tata Memorial Trust. His current laboratory research focuses on normal blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers.

Here’s the description of the panel (Education and training of scientists) David will be moderating,

Over the past 15 years, there has been an enormous shift in the human resources performing scientific research. The training period has lengthened significantly and adjustments must be made to address the growing concerns of young scientists. Many individuals, who do not have permanent positions, share a unique set of experiences and challenges that need to be better addressed in order to avoid wasting the substantial resources invested in their education and training.

This panel aims to address two main themes:

  1. Are we producing too many biomedical research trainees?
  2. What careers will the large majority of highly specialized PhDs undertake and who should facilitate these transitions?

Presentations and discussion from Alan Bernstein (Founding Director of CIHR), Angela Crawley (Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars), Suzanne Fortier (President of NSERC), and Olga Stachova (COO, MITACS) will be introduced and moderated by David Kent (University of Cambridge and founder of http://scienceadvocacy.org, aka The Black Hole).

Here’s  the interview,

  • I’m intrigued by the description for this panel which asks a highly specific question (Are there too many biomedical research trainees?) and a much more general question (What careers will the majority of highly specialized PhD undertake and who should facilitate the transition?). Assuming that you proposed the panel, how did you arrive at these two questions in particular?

The first question definitely has its origins in Jeff Sharom’s piece in Hypothesis Journal (http://www.hypothesisjournal.com/pdfs/vol6num1/17.pdf) who queried whether we were producing too many biomedical trainees.  It is also a great way to capture a large issue under a simple title, but by no means would I consider it specific and I think just about anybody you ask would have the answer “it depends…” followed by discussions ranging from the demands of a knowledge-based economy to keeping young people out of the workforce for a few more years.

As for the second question, I see this one having a much more straightforward answer as it is really an attempt to assign responsibility to a sector of society to help deal with the problem – I’d like the panel and delegates to help steer future advocacy efforts to address the fundamental issues.

  • Given that you are currently working as a postdoc at the University of Cambridge, would you be asking these same questions on a UK panel and if not, why not?

The UK is a very different beast, but I think there is still overlap – in particular, the challenges facing those seeking an academic post and those debating whether or not to leave the academy.  The one thing that is very different in the UK – and I’m torn as to whether or not it’s a good thing or a bad thing – is that time-to-degree is substantially shorter with PhD programs lasting 3-4 years.  If you’re equipping people to go off into other careers, this is brilliant because they don’t get stuck in a very long PhD, but rather come out with the nuts and bolts of a PhD training.  However, this sort of system also tends to lead to what I would call “safe” projects that will yield results in the limited time frame and leave little room for exploring risky projects.  We talk about this in an old entry on the Black Hole called “The Rise of the Cookie-cutter PhD” (http://scienceadvocacy.org/Blog/2009/11/17/science-is-like-baking-the-rise-of-the-cookie-cutter-phd/)

  • Will you be acting as a moderator only or will you also speak to the questions? If you do speak to the questions, could you give a preview of your presentation?

I will introduce the panel and in doing so will try to set the stage for the audience – chart the change in demographics, highlight the issue of career stasis in academic labs, etc.  Much of my presentation will draw from entries on the Black Hole such as the Changing Human Resources in AcademiaSay no to the second Postdoc, and Professionals in High Demand.  Briefly, I’ll show statistics on the longer training times and summarize the unrest in academic labs.  In the moderation of the panel discussion, I’ll include some resources on how some universities have started to tackle the issues and some innovative programs that are helping young academics make choices sooner.

  • What do you hope will be the outcome(s) of having this panel at the 2011 CSPC?

For me, the biggest mission is awareness – I want policy makers, granting councils, and industry leaders to recognize the growth in highly trained scientists and the immense number of talented people that often finds themselves “stuck”.  These are people who have trained for nearly a decade and only a fraction of them can end up on the path they have been trained for (unlike doctors, lawyers, accounts)

A complete bonus would be to get some strategies for unsticking these people and some guidance on where to broach the issue.  We’ll see how it goes!

  • Is there anything you would like to add?

The only final thing I would suggest is for young scientists who have any sort of inclination toward or interest in science policy to get out there early – two or three days at a conference like the CSPC can be career changing or it could simply allow you to better understand the machinery that ends up impacting how you will be funded, how your trainees will be trained, and how research gets (or doesn’t get) incorporated into government policy.  Take off the blinders once in a while and try something new.

Thank you for taking the time to provide some insight into your topic and your presentation. I wish you and your panel the best of luck at the conference.

ETA Nov. 9, 2011: For Twitter purposes I decided to call this panel the ‘Kill all your darlings/science grads” panel. “Kill all your darlings” is a phrase I came across that describes what writers sometimes have to do when they edit a piece and must cut a wonderful sentence or phrase because it doesn’t fit. I gather that there is a problem (not only in Canada) with fitting science grads into the larger science enterprise.

2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

It’s the third year for the Canadian Science Policy Conference. The first two were held in Toronto and Montréal, respectively. For a refreshing change of pace, they’re holding this year’s conference in Ottawa. (For anyone not familiar with Canadian geography, these locations are all relatively close to each other and this type of scheduling is the source of much grumbling from those of us in the ‘other’ provinces and the territories.)

You’ll be happy to know that the theme for the 2011 conference is: Building Bridges for the Future of Science Policy in Canada. Being held from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011, the conference features a keynote address from three speakers, Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Fonds de recherche du Québec; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia; and R. Peter MacKinnon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there is no information about what they might discuss although one imagines they will focus on the theme for the conference. (Note: One cannot always depend on one’s speakers to keep to the theme. I know this from bittersweet [it's funny afterwards] experience.)

I’m a little more interested in the talk which ushers in the first full day of the conference. Scheduled for 8:40 am on Thursday, November 17, 2011 the talk is titled, Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation. Here’s a preview from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

How do we build innovative communities? This is a central challenge for Canada in the 21st century since innovative communities form the foundation of a prosperous country. As more than a decade of research on industry clusters has shown, a robust innovation system can have a profoundly positive impact on local communities when it translates into high quality jobs, industrial growth, new enterprises, improved public infrastructure and services and a cleaner, healthier environment.

But building innovation into our communities takes the involvement of individuals and institutions across the spectrum of society. Universities, colleges, research hospitals, private companies, governments and non-profit agencies, along with the talented, creative people that work in these organizations, must be free to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.

Yet fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange between different organizations, with different interests and capacities can be challenging. Successful collaboration requires time, resources, communication, shared goals, commitment and risk-taking.

A panel of leading Canadian thinkers in inter-sectoral and inter-organizational collaboration will discuss how university and college researchers can work with local businesses to translate new knowledge into new creative products and beneficial services. They will look at the role of research hospitals in contributing to both the health and wealth of local communities. And they will discuss best practices in overcoming the institutional and cultural barriers to collaboration.

The speakers for this session are:

Gilles G. Patry, Ph.D, President and CEO,Canada Foundation for Innovation; Chad Gaffield,, Ph.D, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; Dr. Kevin Smith, President and CEO, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, St Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford; Fred Morley, Executive VP & Chief Economist, Greater Halifax Partnership; Fassi Kafyeke Director, Strategic Technology,Bombardier Aerospace; Hon. Mike Harcourt, Lawyer, Community Activist, and former BC Premier

Given that the report of the Review of Federal Support to R&D has just been released (my posting will be out later today), it would be nice if they mention the report and its likely impact on the science community. It’s probably too late but it would be fabulous if someone from the expert panel could be persuaded to give a talk.

I’m mentioning these two panels simply because I know a speaker on each. David Kent ( CIHR Postdoctoral, University of Cambridge) is moderating the Education and Training of Scientists panel. David is 1/2 of the blogging team for The Black Hole; Science in Canada Issues Affecting Science Trainees blog (Beth Swan is the other 1/2). You can find out more about the conference and David’s latest panel doings in his Oct. 18, 2011 posting. The other panelist is Tim Meyer (Head of Strategic Planning & Communications, TRIUMF) who’s on the Reaching out with Big Science panel. Are they going to talk about blogging and social media or are they going to focus primarily on mainstream media. Given that two of the other speakers are Penny Park (Science Media Centre of Canada) and Jay Ingram (until recently a host for the Daily Planet programme on the Discovery Channel and author), I’m guessing the focus will be mainstream media.

Note Oct. 20, 2011: A few minor grammatical changes made in a bid to make this piece readable. We’ll see how that works.

ETA Oct. 24, 2011: I can’t believe missed this panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) which features another person I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, Denise Amyot, President and Chief Executive Office of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC). In order to make up for my oversight I’m including a description here,

Culture is big: annually, some 290 million citizens actively participate in the exhibitions, programs, events and outreach initiatives organized by 2,400 science centres worldwide. Other types of institutions, radio, internet, and film build further on that reach. This session will examine three recent initiatives that seek to organize, define, and take strategic advantage of the work of hundreds of diverse science engagement and knowledge creation organisations nationally and internationally. Increasingly, strategic focus among this diverse set of content and communication partners is bringing new attention to science engagement for the benefit of national and global society.

This session will examine Inspiring Australia, an initiative of the Australian government to create regional networks of diverse engagement organizations and connect them effectively with the science knowledge creators in order to better execute science engagement in that country. We will also examine an initiative to benchmark “science culture” in order to better measure future progress . And finally we will examine a global initiative by science centres to use science engagement in a truly global context.

Well, the first initiative is clearly from Australia (perhaps this explains Ian Chubb’s role as one of the conference’s opening keynote speakers and as one of three speakers on this panel) and the third initiative is coming from the science centres (one of the panelists is from the Ontario Science Centre) so perhaps the second initiative is coming from the CSTMC?