Science Communication Conference 2011: brief personal highlights

The Science Communication Conference 2011 took place on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. It was the first conference specifically on science communication that I have attended, even though I have been involved in science communication through the British Science Festival for many years. I was very fortunate to be awarded a bursary to attend, and I’m very grateful to the organisers for this.

My aim in attending was to get some new ideas from people whose profession is science communication, as well as making some new contacts, and hopefully passing on some of the experience and ideas that I have acquired over a number of years.

I’ll be writing at greater length and in more detail about some of the sessions that I attended, but I wanted to give a brief overview of the conference while it is still fresh in my mind!

The highlight of the first morning of the conference was the excellent talk by Tim Radford, freelance journalist who worked for the Guardian newspaper for 32 years. Tim raised a number of interesting points, including the importance of talking to people when researching a story. He also expressed concern about the possible consequences of the disapperance of print media, in that if people read newspapers online, they don’t get exposed to different views and interpretations that are visible at newsstands. One meorable quote, which I tweeted a response to, was that nobody had been able to explain solid state physics to him!

After a coffee break, there was a speed networking session. This involved going to various ‘stations’ in the room for about 7 minutes at a time, and networking with the other people who were there. This was actually very useful, and I ended up talking to several of the people I met in that way later in the conference.

In the afternoon there were parallel sessions. I attended sessions on ‘Evaluation: facing the tricky questions’, and ‘Diversifying your audience’. Both were useful and interesting; the issue of audience diversification is of continual concern to science festival organisers, and led me to think more about this.

The day ended with a ‘Networking drinks reception’, which was excellent, and I had several useful discussions including one with the organisers of a science festival in the Czech Republic to be held later this year.

The second day had three highlights for me. An excellent parallel session on ‘Science podcasting: moving beyond the usual suspects’ led me to think about how I could use podcasts both in teaching and in science communication. Following this, a plenary session on ‘The future of public engagement’ featuring Professors Robert Winston and Kathy Sykes raised a number of interesting points, but it was a privilege to hear what they had to say, and to hear them answering questions from the audience. Finally, very close to my own interests was a parallel session on ‘Social media and public engagement’ which introduced three social media applications (microblogging, blogging and social bookmarking), and which I will be writing on separately for the report on the conference.

It was an excellent conference which has given me lots of ideas for the future, which I will be discussing in detail in future posts. Once again I am very grateful to the organisers for the award of a bursary which enabled me to attend.

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