The Stuart Chair in Science Communication was established with the intention of developing New Zealand’s first tertiary-based centre devoted to the communication of science. In 2008, the University of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication was opened in its own premises at 303a Great King Street, Dunedin. The Centre offers a brand new masters degree, a Master of Science Communication (MSciComm), that is available in three specializations: filmmaking, writing and popularizing science (the latter stream concentrates especially on online digital media and public exhibitions).
Key to the establishment and subsequent success of the centre has been the recruitment of a team of experts to run its various components. Prof Lloyd Spencer Davis, the Stuart Chair in Science Communication, in addition to being the centre’s director, oversees the writing programme. Prof Jean Fleming, (half time) teaches our Popularising Science paper (SCOM406) and takes key responsibility for the Thesis preparation paper (SCOM495). Multi award-winning filmmaker, Ross Johnston, coordinates the Filmmaking stream and Jenny Rock, who brings a focus on critical issues in science communication to the centre, along with research interests that span science and the arts coordinates the Popularising Stream. Other key appointments have included Robert Brown to teach camera techniques (described by David Attenborough as one of the top three wildlife cameramen in the world), Phil Davison to teach editing, Steve Ting as a Teaching Fellow, and Sue Harvey as the Centre Manager.
The Centre was successful in exceeding our projections and attracting an initial intake of 28 Masters students. Overnight, based on student numbers, we had become one of the largest postgraduate facilities in the world devoted to science communication. Subsequently numbers of students have increased to about 60 postgraduate students at any one time. In 2010, we had 24 students submit their Masters theses, making our MSciComm programme the third most popular (and productive) Masters programme at the University of Otago after the MSc and MA degree programmes.
Distinguished Communicator Lecture Series
One of the first initiatives of the Centre was the establishment of a prestigious public lecture series designed to exemplify the best in communication. The Centre was officially opened at the first of these lectures given by Professor Sir Paul Callaghan on 21 February to a packed St David Lecture Theatre. Other lectures were given by: Finlay MacDonald (columnist and ex-editor of the Listener), Nicky Hager (investigative journalist), Professor Mike Colombo (psychologist and winner of many university teaching accolades), Kim Hill (radio broadcaster), Robyn Williams (host of Australia’s number one podcast on science for the ABC), and Associate Professor Allan Blackman (chemist).
This lecture series has proved very popular. While we still maintain it for occasional lectures, the series has largely morphed into our new SCITELL initiative: talks about science that are recorded and placed online.
While the establishment of our degree programmes (MSciComm, PhD and PGDipNHFC) have taken priority, it is part of the long-term objectives of the Centre to offer short courses on aspects of factual communication for the public at large.
We began this in 2008 with a four-day introductory course on documentary filmmaking given by acclaimed documentary maker Sarita Seigel. The course was held in Wanaka in association with the Mount Aspiring College Foundation and attracted 16 participants. Feedback on the course was very positive.
Any planned short courses will be linked from here.