Popularising science – a word from the experts

By Guest Author 15/12/2010 1


By Professor Lloyd Davis

The University of Otago established the Centre for Science Communication in 2008 and with it New Zealand’s first dedicated degree in science communication: the Master of Science Communication (MSciComm).

Lloyd Davis
Lloyd Davis

The MSciComm comes in three distinct flavours — and while many are familiar with the Science and Natural History Filmmaking endorsement, the degree can also be taken with two other types of endorsement:

Creative Nonfiction Writing: In this stream, students discover how to communicate science and factual material more effectively with the written word in a course that is taught by award-winning writers. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, well, in this course you have no excuses: you have to write one and you get mentored as you do it.

During this unique two-year course, students get a Master of Science Communication (MSciComm) in Creative Nonfiction Writing and do the following:

• Produce a book.

• Learn how to craft stories – the key skill for effective communication and writing.

• Develop critiquing abilities so as to understand from the audience’s perspective what works and what does not.

• Learn writing techniques.

• Develop an understanding of how to make communication more engaging.

If you have a passion to write (and let’s face it, for many writers it is something you simply must do, like breathing), then the Centre for Science Communication is passionate about helping you.

Popularizing Science: In this stream, students learn how to best communicate science using online digital media as well as the design of displays and exhibitions from small-scale through to large-scale (the latter is taught in association with the Otago Museum).

A MSciComm project...
A MSciComm project...

Students come out of this two-year course with a Master of Science Communication (MSciComm) in Popularising Science and do the following:

• Produce an original example of science communication – ranging from audio and digital media to museum exhibits.

• Explore the interface between science and society by researching public attitudes to new technologies, science and medicine.

• Learn how to craft stories – the key skill for effective communication.

• Develop an understanding of what makes written and graphical communication effective from the audience’s perspective.

• Learn how to communicate effectively in the digital realm.

• Develop an understanding of the elements of design that make communication engaging.

• Develop confidence in the presentation and debate of scientific issues.

Students in all streams produce a thesis that is made up of a creative component (their book, website, exhibition, film or whatever) and an academic component. The latter involves thoroughly researching the background and theory behind some aspect of science communication relevant to the creative work.

We live in a world dominated by science and technology, but a world in which people are increasingly isolated from it. Science is increasingly complex and specialised, yet, if we are to understand the changes we see in the world’s environment and be part of the drive for a more sustainable future, science must speak in a language that is understandable and compelling. That comprehension can only come from better communication of science.

Some of the work of the MSciComm students is showcased here.

The next round of applications for the MSciComm in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Popularising Science close 15 January 2011. More information can be found at www.sciencecommunication.info or by emailing sciencecommunication@otago.ac.nz.


One Response to “Popularising science – a word from the experts”

  • While the science communication programme sounds fantastic, there are probably many people, academics included, who can’t make that sort of time commitment. It’s a pity there isn’t a block course option for the writing courses so that academics and others with full time jobs couldn’t improve their writing through a short and intense course.