Tag Archives: Chief Scientist

how to engage people in science

How to engage people in science

Featured image: Dr Alan Finkel AO at Science meets Parliament 2017 with Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community & Outreach Manager for Google Australia 

Dr Finkel spoke about how to engage people with science at the 18th Science meets Parliament event in Canberra today. One of his key messages was to develop your elevator pitch.

“Identify the key idea and write it up as a 100-word media release, then try it out on a politician.”

The need to develop simple, clear pitches to engage people with science was echoed by Buzzfeed political reporter and panellist Alice Workman, who gave the example of the viral ‘big chicken’ video on twitter as exemplifying the ‘simple, no BS’ idea that can rapidly get picked up in media. The video, released yesterday, was retweeted 35,000 times.

While science research often cannot be distilled into one thought bubble, like any news story, science stories need a simple pitch that everyone can understand, Workman told the group of 200 scientists gathered for the two-day event.

“I think the bigger problem is trying not to use complicated words, but also to whittle stories down to their basics. Journalists are under the pump, and journalism is a business.”

Four key tools to engage people in science

Engaging an audience beyond clickbait requires a deep understanding of your audience, access to influential people and being prepared, said Dr Finkel, who listed attitude, ambassadors, access and ammunition as four key tools for science advocacy.

He emphasised having an open attitude to engage people with science.

“You can’t assume your audience knows the facts. You can always assume they have the capacity to learn.”

He also said that it was important for science to have ambassadors, and that his office was in ‘early consideration’ of a program that mirrored internships such as the volunteer internship program which allows students and professionals to learn from US congress – and which funds them for up to one year to learn about the political process there.

“Could we create the same process for Australia? It takes a person of integrity and awareness to be an ambassador. We need to create the same qualities in ambassadors for science,” said Finkel.

Access to politicians is tempered by a difference in timescales at which science and politics operate, he said.

“Research timeframes are long; the window to operate in politics is short. How then can we hit the window where the evidence and the opportunities align? This event is one. Another is the Commonwealth Science council for which the PM is chair. This allows politicians and researchers to identify areas of shared opportunity in areas such as expanding the economy and navigating risks.”

Before approaching politicians, or others you need to engage, Finkel advocated preparing your pitch as ammunition for the encounter, as well as consulting widely, gaining supporters and identifying paths to funding.

Science meets Parliament is held over two days in Canberra and includes a televised National Press Club address, and a day at Parliament House, where delegates meet privately with parliamentarians.

Heather Catchpole

science graduates

Science graduates high risk or high reward?

The employment prospects of science graduates are called into question by a report published by the Grattan Institute.

Studying science will get you a job – just not the job you might expect.

Industry and high placed academics have decried the results of a report declaring science to be a ‘high risk’ degree.

Such results fail to represent career prospects for those working outside of traditional science roles, say a cohort of Australia’s leading science experts.

Last week the respected Grattan Institute think tank’s Mapping Higher Education report warned that science was a ‘high risk’ study choice and that many recent science and information technology graduates are failing to find full-time work.

It’s not wrong, but it is near-sighted, say university and industry experts.

The report, released last week, concludes that a bachelor science degree is “high risk for finding a job” with “poor employment outcomes”, warning 51% of science graduates looking for full-time work in 2015 had found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points lower than the national average.

There has been a 20-year decline in participation in science at college.

But thinking of science as a one-track path to the lab fails to take into account the broader benefits of a science degree, says Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt.

Professor Les Field, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Australia and Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, says STEM-based education gives students a “versatile, flexible, problem-solving, technology-literate grounding, which is what you need for life and employment in the modern world”.

Science graduates have higher rates of employment

The Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM workforce, shows that over the medium term, people with STEM qualifications have higher rates of employment than graduates from other disciplines, Field points out.

“A survey of 466 employers across various sectors [STEM Skills in the workforce: What do employers want? March, 2015] have also shown that many employers expect to employ many more STEM graduates over the next five to 10 years, and around a quarter are already struggling to recruit people with appropriate STEM qualifications,” says Field.

“There is some mismatch between employer requirements of STEM graduates and the skills and experience with which they are coming out of universities. We should advocate that more industry placements and internships form a stronger part of university education.”

“Not a lot of opportunities”

Zara Barger, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) admits that she is “a little worried” about her prospects. “In Australia it seems as though there is not a lot of opportunities. As part of my degree I have to do two 6-month internships and I think that will give me insight and connections.”

Alecia Newton, a UTS Bachelor of Science student, agrees. “I’m a little bit concerned. I’m planning on getting some experience by volunteering so fingers crossed that will get me a job. But science is a good starting ground – it will give me good knowledge and if it doesn’t work out I will do a Masters in high school teaching,” she says.

Grattan report “surprising”

“It’s surprising to see the Grattan Institute’s claims that are contrary to other reports both here and overseas,” says Jackie Randles, state manager for Inspiring Australia, the Federal Government’s national strategy for engaging communities in STEM.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not yet considered crucial today and likely to involve STEM,” says Randles.

“Closer to home, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy with business joining government and academics in calls to redress a worrying skills gap.”

Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, says graduates with a “good science degree and a balanced portfolio of skills, knowledge and abilities will continue to have good employment prospects but not necessarily as academic researchers.

“The STEM disciplines, including art and design provide very good training for the world of work but degrees should not be regarded as vocational training. A good background in STEM disciplines opens up many opportunities in careers that may not necessarily be regarded as STEM careers.”

Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at UNSW and former Dean of Science agrees that the longer term prospects for science graduates are excellent.

“With slightly more people studying science, obviously slightly fewer people will get jobs at once. Science still provides opportunities – all doors remain open to science graduates.”

Heather Catchpole

Engineering solution

Engineering solutions

From a purely engineering perspective, all real world problems are solvable. Nobody would choose to be a design engineer unless they deeply believed in their own ability to solve problems through creativity and a deliberate methodology – identify the problem, analyse it, build a prototype, test it, iterate, deliver the solution.

In the real world, of course, the challenges are much more difficult. Social, political and economic considerations prevail, often ruling out the elegant solutions that an engineering approach would suggest.

Let me give you an example: climate change. The problem is clear: global temperatures are rising, ice sheets are melting and oceans are acidifying. The analysis is clear: human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels for energy, are leading to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and are driving the problem. The imperative is clear: cut emissions – and do it quickly.

The pure engineering solution would involve massive installations of solar and wind, backed up by natural gas turbines, hydrogen storage, pumped hydro storage and battery storage to handle the intermittency, and investment in new hydroelectric and nuclear electricity generation.


“The challenge for engineers when it comes to these large-scale, socially complex issues is to work closely with colleagues across the humanities and social sciences to build solutions that communities can and will take forward.”


Once the existing electricity supply is decarbonised, the amount of low emissions electricity generated would be doubled or tripled so that liquid fossil fuels for transport and natural gas for heating could be rapidly replaced by low emissions electricity.

If only human affairs were so straightforward!

The challenge for engineers when it comes to these large-scale, socially complex issues is to work closely with colleagues across the humanities and social sciences to build solutions that communities can and will take forward.

But not all challenges are as wicked as climate change. The engineering method delivers handsomely in the corporate world, most often in collaboration with marketing, psychology and customer support systems. Smartphones, automobiles, improved building technologies and advanced materials are just some of the myriad examples.

The engineering method is also very applicable to organisational management. The evidence based, non-ideological problem solving approach of engineering can serve leaders from the shop floor to the corporate board.

When it comes to politics, in some countries (such as Germany) engineers are highly valued. But in Australia, they’re far less visible. I don’t know why that is so, but perhaps we need to be teaching charisma as a graduate attribute in Australian engineering faculties.

At the very least, we should be making crystal clear to our engineering students their opportunity to contribute to society outside of their profession.

Dr Alan Finkel AO

Australia’s Chief Scientist

Read next: Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech on Innovation in Australian life sciences.

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Science meets parliament

Science meets Parliament

Featured image above: In his  National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.

Finkel’s speech was the National Press Club address for Science meets Parliament 2016. This two-day event brings together scientists looking for better ways to communicate their research to policy makers.

Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.

With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meets Parliament program covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.

The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.

It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.

At last year’s event, Professor Ian Chubb AC, former Chief Scientist, spoke about the pace of progress over the past 25 years and how science will be a cornerstone for future prosperity.

This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.

Click here to see some of the speeches presented at last year’s event, such as The Messy Nature of the Policymaking Process, Who is Inspiring Australia? and Getting your Science out of the Lab.

– Elise Roberts

new Chief Scientist

Dr Alan Finkel will be Australia’s new Chief Scientist

Featured photo: Greg Ford/Monash University

New Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel will take over the role once the sitting Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, finishes his five-year stint in the job on 31 December this year.

Finkel was most recently Chancellor of Monash University, a post he has held since 2008. He is also the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

New Chief Scientist Finkel is an outspoken advocate for science awareness and popularisation. He is a patron of the Australian Science Media Centre and has helped launch popular science magazine, Cosmos.

He is also an advocate for nuclear power, arguing that “nuclear electricity should be considered as a zero-emissions contributor to the energy mix” in Australia.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) President, Professor Andrew Holmes, welcomes the expected appointment of Finkel to the new Chief Scientist role.

“The Academy is looking forward to the government’s announcement, but Finkel would be an excellent choice for this position. I’m confident he would speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government,” he says.

“The AAS and ATSE have never been closer; we have worked together well on important issues facing Australia’s research community, including our recent partnership on the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.”

Holmes also thanked outgoing Chief Scientist for his strong leadership for science in Australia, including establishing ACOLA as a trusted source of expert, interdisciplinary advice to the Commonwealth Science Council.

“Since his appointment, Chubb has been a tireless advocate of the fundamental importance of science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills as the key to the country’s future prosperity, and a driving force behind the identification of strategic research priorities for the nation,” says Holmes.

This article was first published on The Conversation on 26 October 2015. Read the original article here.

Expert reactions:

Karen Taylor is Founder and Business Director of Refraction Media

“Finkel is an energetic advocate for STEM across all levels of society, from schools and the general public to corporate leaders. We’re excited and optimistic about the fresh approach science and innovation is enjoying.” 

Professor Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne

“This is truly the most fantastic news. Finkel is an extraordinary leader. He has proven himself in personal scientific research. He has succeeded in business in competitive fields. It is difficult to think of anyone who would do this important job with greater distinction.”

Dr Ross Smith is President of Science & Technology Australia

“Finkel has a profound understanding of the place of science in a flourishing modern economy, as a scientist, entrepreneur and science publisher of real note. We look forward to working closely with Finkel, as we jointly pursue better links between STEM and industry.”