May 2013

Reflections on the Panel during Creating Connections Conference…

A few days ago I happened to attend a conference at UBC, titled Creating Connections 2013. The conference lasted for two days and was organized  by Prof. Elizabeth Croft and her team. Elizabeth is an NSERC Research Chair on Women in Science Engineering and Technology for BC and Yukon region and she is certainly one of the brightest and most successful professors at UBC. The conference organizers aimed at promoting women in STEM fields through bringing positive role models, discussing careers in science, issues of dual career families, etc. I was a little bit sick, so I couldn’t attend the second day of the conference and maybe my reflection was not entirely objective because of that. However, I attended the first day when a panel of four people talked about the power of communication in science… This panel was interesting, but I was a little disappointed in it. It of course didn’t help having president Toope open the conference by telling us that we do not teach science well in Canada (supported by evidence that his two daughters dropped out of science recently). I think while we are not doing a perfect job, I can see huge positive changes in how science is taught here at UBC. I know a large number of outstanding science profs many of whom were AT THE CONFERENCE.

Moreover, while one of my favourite science journalists was on it (Bob MacDonald from Quirks and Quarks on CBC), I just noticed that out of four science communicators on the panel two women had Ph.D.s while the guys had no science education whatsoever… The other male on the panel was supposed to illustrate that if you have some education in drama and you speak well, you can appear as if you know science or you can become a local expert in the Planetarium and do science programming. I know a person who was involved with the Planetarium for years and who not only had a Ph.D. but who also was a very successful science educator. I wonder why we do not hire these people?

Bob MacDonald is very successful in his role on CBC radio, but I wonder if the panel showed us what it means to communicate science successfully to the general public and if it raised some issues on do you need to know what you are communicating about in order to be a successful communicator? I also wonder if we could find scientists even here from UBC who are very successful at communicating science to the general public (Jaymie Mathews comes to mind right away…). So somehow this panel left me uneasy… Maybe it was mislabeled… or maybe I was sick… I just kept thinking – what if we had two very attractive males with Ph.D. in science and two women who have no science education but who work in science communication? How would we have felt then?

On a positive note, I have heard that Roberta Bondar the following day did an amazing presentation and that the rest of the events were very successful. I hope it was and I am grateful we have these events.

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