Transit of Venus forum in review

By Elf Eldridge 08/06/2012

Having just returned from three days away at the Transit of Venus conference in beautiful Gisborne, I’ll just share my thoughts as a wrap up. Again I stress that these views are my own and I was unable to attend many of the sessions so they may be a little premature.

In three days of talks, discussions, presentation and networking the thing that struck me most, and that will stick with me for years to come, was the extra-ordinary hospitality and commitment of the Tolaga Bay community. Not only did the entire community open their hearts and school to us, but they shared something far greater: they reminded us what even a small group of people can achieve if they share a combined vision for their future.  I think perhaps, this was part of what Sir Paul Callaghan wanted the science community to see as part of the conference, to force us to confront the fact that to create a New Zealand with science at its heart, we can and must start from the ground up. Simply: it all depends on people.

We now have a clear challenge, for every scientist that wishes to see Sir Paul’s vision come to fruition. Each and every one of us must make an effort to talk to communities large and small. We cannot simply assert that science is the way forward, and expect people to nod their heads in agreement. We must invest the time necessary to grow relationships with our communities – we need their help to succeed in this endeavour. Many of us are already doing this, but not enough I fear.

The forum finished with the organisers challenging all attendees to respond by listing their gains from the forum, suggested objectives for the committee, and objectives for each person to follow up on. I’ll close by sharing mine.

Gained from the forum:

  • A renewed appreciation of what science (and scientists) can learn from communities and alternate value systems
  • Perhaps GDP is not the be all and end all of ways to compare countries!
  • That even the leaders of NZ science are not aware of what sorts of initiatives are bubbling away right under their noses
  • That online games like Pounamu can actively involve the public (or a small subset thereof!) AND become highly addictive!

Suggestions for committee:

  • Try and ensure that everyone is aware (and appreciates the value of finding out!) what is going on around them in the science community. This way we can learn from each other’s mistakes and progress more rapidly.
  • Why not encourage the local Royal Society branches to meet monthly with scientists (maybe even over dinner!) and feedback with how things are progressing?
  • Set a date each 6 months, where we can reconvene and report on our progress towards this future.

Actions for myself:

  • I’ll be visiting my local MPs (much to my initial distaste)
  • I’ll continue to visit local schools and communities to chat with them about their view on this whole ‘future science’ thing (oh yes and to keep myself, kids and teachers excited about science)
  • I’ll blog about exactly what we’re trying to accomplish with initiatives like Chiasma, Kaiarahi, MESA , Tell Us a Story, FutureinTech, Te Ropu Awhina and more…
  • and I’ll keep myself open to requests and discussions with the public about science.

And somewhere (maybe!) I’ll try and find the time to complete my PhD!

The Transit forum has brought us to the start line of this new future for New Zealand, but no further. It is up to us to run this race and, as fellow sciblogger Siouxsie Wiles noted today, to see a prosperous NZ, “We have no choice but to run it!”

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