Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Career paths for PhD graduates

There's a lot of discussion about the career paths open to Irish PhD graduates - with some commentators arguing that there isn't actually much of a "path" available at all with people being forced into negative feedback loops of short term PostDoc contracts.

That's why this report that's just been released on PhDs going into business and industry is particularly interesting. It's been put together by the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ACSTI) - and some of their headline recommendations seem to make a lot of sense...
  • Structured PhD programmes should embody the “Inverted T” shaped model whereby they develop PhD students’ understanding of the discipline as well as in-depth knowledge of research approaches, techniques and methods which are critical to the value of PhDs for enterprise.
  • A user-friendly, centralised system should be developed to allow employers or potential employers to access information on the number of PhD students in the pipeline and the broad theme of the research
  • Ireland should develop an Enterprise PhD programme building on the model of the DanishIndustrial PhD programme whereby an employee earns a PhD based on research relevant to their company.
These suggestions - if implemented - wouldn't change much for people who have a PhD already, but for those who are about to embark on the rollercoaster that is postgraduate research they might just make the whole thing that little bit more worthwhile...

What do you think? E-mail me or comment to let me know...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Climategate, Hopenhagen and the Meedja

With the "Hopenhagen" climate change summit in full swing, and our own Minister John Gormley now in Copenhagen, I've found it really interesting to go through some of the leaked "Climategate" e-mails on-line.

They make pretty compelling reading if you're into that kind of thing, and there's a really strong editorial in SciDev.Net about the "Lessons about science from 'Climategate'" by David Dickson (Director of SciDev.Net). He argues that:

"The hacked emails of climate researchers offer an opportunity to show how science is really done — instead of a rearguard defence of scientific 'objectivity'."
... and he says ...
"The media, too, must improve its understanding and description of science. It often demands a black-and-white picture of scientific evidence, rather than a more nuanced description based on the social nature of scientific inquiry. This undervalues the true robustness of the scientific process and undermines the strength of political decisions based on conclusions emerging from it."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Online science talks

It was great to film the Science Week 2009 lecture series for Discover Science & Engineering (DSE) this year - here's a trailer for them, and have a look at the DSE YouTube channel for the full length videos...

...and here's a summary about them too...
Science Week Lecture Series 2009
To celebrate Science Week 2009 Discover Science & Engineering (DSE), in association with the Science Gallery, brought together a group of lectures. They included Damini Kumar, European Ambassador for Creativity and Innovation, Donagh O'Mahony from the Tyndall National Institute discussing the logistics of space exploration, Dr. Cian O Mathúna, a CLARITY Principal Investigator, talked about the world of sensors and finally a talk on behalf of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) from UCD students on Energy the challenges and opportunities.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tweeting about the Space Shuttle and ISS

Amazing to see the space shuttle, the International Space Station, the moon and Jupiter all at once over Dublin today (Wednesday, 25 November 2009).

It was such a spectacular sight that as soon as I got back into the (warm) office I went on Twitter to see how other people were reacting - and it was equally amazing to see immediately what people in Strasbourg and London thought of the whole thing too. One person had even posted a photo they'd just taken (see above from "barnybug").

With people in the US only getting ready to view it, it was nice for Europe to be ahead of the game in space science for once!

It'd be really interesting as a visualisation to see a mash up of the tweets combined with geographic location of the people who were tweeting - maybe layered onto Google Earth. It'd be a bit like the "green wave" of Spring travelling across Europe, only you'd see a "space wave" of people tweeting as they saw the ISS and shuttle from across the globe.

Although some people were tweeting about seeing the ISS, the most surprising thing to me was how few people were actually doing it - I would've thought that this kind of event was perfect for tweeting. Plus when you search Twitter for "ISS" it's mostly people who've spelt the word "is" wrong that come up. There's a lesson for us all in there somewhere.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Space science in Irish schools

I'm just back from the launch of the ESA / Discover Science & Engineering "European Space Education Resource Office" in Ireland by Minister Conor Lenihan. It was familiar territory for the minister seeing as he was once a student in the school himself - and he did confess to having done a few unorthodox "flame thrower" experiments with the bunsen burner gas in the labs as a student! It was a really interesting event and there was even a snazzy scale model of the Herschel Space Observatory on show.

The aim of the European Space Education Resource Office is to use student's interest in space as a way to encourage them to study science in school - and to pursue science careers too. Talking to the students in Belvedere College themselves afterwards, it was very interesting to hear that the science message was being heard and that they knew they needed to do at least one science subject to get into many third level university courses.

Science in Schools
It's been a busy couple of days when it comes science education in Ireland - with the Science in Schools event yesterday in Engineers Ireland being really interesting too. And the lively discussion afterwards showed that there's no lack of passion in the whole area of science education. A couple of the "take home" messages from the discussion that struck me were:

(a) we need to coordinate the science activities that are directed at schools so that students and teachers aren't overwhelmed every September


(b) we should focus energy on the basics of scientific literacy and content knowledge among both students and teachers

What do you think of these suggestions? Are you involved with science education? E-mail me at diarmaid.mac@agtel.ie or comment on this post to let me know...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Big changes due in BBC science

BBC science programming has always been impressive and there'll be big changes next year with these staff changes reported in Broadcast today - it'll be interesting to see how this effects the commissioned programming especially on BBC 3...

BBC head of science John Lynch is to step down at the end of this year, and will leave the BBC altogether in 2010 after delivering a major landmark series about the history of science.

Horizon editor Andrew Cohen will take over Lynch’s role and is looking to beef up BBC3 science in particular.

Lynch, who has headed the science unit for nearly a decade, has yet to decide his next move, but is likely to mix “passion projects” for television with writing books and other roles that “bring media and science to a better mutual understanding”.

He will remain with the BBC into the spring to executive produce the 6 x 60-minute BBC2 series Science Story.

“It looks at the great questions we’ve always asked - Who are we? Where do we come from? What’s out there? - and our changing attempts to answer them,” he said.

The series will air later in 2010 as part of the BBC’s ‘Year of Science’ and was ordered by science and natural history commissioner Kim Shillinglaw. Aiden Lafferty is the executive producer.

About his departure, Lynch added: “I feel like I have achieved a hell of a lot, but there comes a time when you have to say, ‘Ok, I’ve done my stint’. I feel that this is the right time for me to hand over the reins of a revitalised unit. Andrew has a clear, strategic vision for its future.”

Lynch’s tenure spanned the launch of CGI science formats such as Walking With Dinosaurs and the revival of the Tomorrow’s World-style science magazine show with Bang Goes The Theory.

Cohen has edited Horizon since 2005 and is credited with making the science strand more “relevant” to a mainstream audience and forging closer links between the BBC and the UK science community.

He told Broadcast he wants the unit’s output for BBC3 to match its provision for the other BBC channels, and to bring medicine “back to the main channels”. He also wants more physics and cosmology.

During 14 years in the science unit, Cohen has worked across Tomorrow’s World and blue chip landmarks such as Brain Story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Upcoming science tv and new media festival

I'm looking forward to heading over to London on a red eye flight early on Monday morning (2 November 2009) to be on the jury for this year's EuroPAWS science tv & new media festival. The panel discussions look particularly interesting, and here's some background info on the event:
The Environment in European TV and New Media Festival 2009
2 November, 2009
The Institute of Physics, 76 Portland Place, London W1

Screenings of TV Documentaries and Drama from across Europe, with panel led discussions geared to a teenage audience, but open to all.

Programmes are featured in the following categories:

Environmental science and technology in:

  • TV Documentaries and Drama
  • TV General Programming (i.e. magazines, politics shows, natural world etc) - an item in context or a complete programme
  • New Media Productions (including WEB, iPOD, Promotional Video etc)
The follow up Awards Ceremony will be happening soon too:
The Environment in TV and New Media Awards Evening 2009
On the theme:


Monday 23 November
at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Savoy Place, London WC2

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Minister puts emphasis on "promoting science"

I'm just back from an SFI event announcing funding for "early career researchers" - it's great to see postdocs getting support so that they can start putting together their own independent research groups.

The comments by Minister Conor Lenihan were really interesting too - especially his emphasis on the importance of promoting science to "parents, citizens and taxpayers". He really put it up to all the people who'd just been awarded funding that they had to go out and "campaign" for science to encourage young people to study it - and for taxpayers to fund it.

Frank Gannon also made some very interesting points - and elaborated on his recent blog entry about the thought-provoking parallels between Irish science and Irish soccer.

For the background on today's announcement, here's an extract from the official press release:

“It is vital that we have in Ireland the mechanism to keep and attract to Ireland highly skilled, early-stage career researchers,” Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Mr Conor Lenihan T.D., said today (Tuesday, October 20th, 2009) as he announced Government funding of €7.9million under a new Science Foundation Ireland initiative that will help 15 highly-talented researchers at an early stage in their profession to progress towards a fully independent academic research career.

Announcing the first SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) awards, Minister Lenihan said “These 15 outstanding individuals are among the brightest working in Irish laboratories today, and SIRG provides them with the necessary support to enable the transition from team member to independent and accomplished innovator in their respective fields. It will also allow them to recruit 15 postgraduate students”.


The 15 award recipients are based in the following seven Higher Education Institutions:

Tyndall National Institute, Cork (4 awards); Trinity College Dublin (4 awards); NUI Galway (3 awards); Dublin Institute of Technology (1 award); University College Cork (1 award); University College Dublin (1 award); and Waterford Institute of Technology (1 award).

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Looking for Science in Society FP7 partners?

I really enjoyed the Science in Society FP7 brokerage event in Dublin yesterday (October 7, 2009) and it was great to hear the Irish success stories from previous calls.

Here at Agtel, we're delighted that media groups like ourselves feature so prominently among the types of organisations that are recommended for projects. We've a very strong track record in pan-European science communication and eLearning and we're very interested in teaming up with other partners and working on a project together.

If you're working on a proposal for the Science in Society FP7 work programme why not get in touch? The best way to contact me is by e-mail at diarmaid.mac@agtel.ie

And by way of background information here are some notes from my short presentation yesterday...

  • European Space Agency DVDs – Four-part series of educational science DVDs

  • Discover Science & Engineering –Awareness-raising media initiatives & Filming

  • Your Science Your Say –With Dublin City University, looking at ethical issues of nanotechnology

  • Plus audio-visual projects for the European Parliament, European Commission etc...

  • Science Communication
  • eLearning
  • TV programmes
  • Digital / Web
  • Video
  • Films

  • 1.0-1 Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Actions
  • 2.2.1-1 Teacher training on inquiry based teaching methods on a large scale in Europe
  • 2.2.2-1 Reinforcing links between science education and S&T careers in the private sector through reinforcing the partnership industry/education
  • 3.0.3-1 Science and the Arts: an experimental approach

  • eLearning with international video case studies

  • Teacher training and reaching parents with motivational video content

  • Career showcasing using filmed scenes and engaging stories

  • Interactive video narratives that unfold in real time in real places

If you're interested in having a chat about any of these ideas and/or your own projects just e-mail me at diarmaid.mac@agtel.ie...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Let's all go to Australia!

It's raining in Dublin this morning and so every Irish person's thoughts are naturally turning to emigrating to Australia... And the good news is there's a science communication conference you can go to there too - granted it's in December but still... at least the sun will be shining!

The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) will hold its 17th annual conference December 1-4, 2009, at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. The most interesting thing for me about this conference is that they'll have plenty of discussion with some of the key protagonists behind the controversial documentary "The Link – Uncovering our Earliest Ancestor". Here's the preview from the website:


Just announced for the 2009 Congress in Melbourne, delegates will meet the team behind this year's blockbuster, The Link – Uncovering our Earliest Ancestor. When the world was first introduced to IDA the fossil this past May the headlines screamed "extraordinary find is missing link in human evolution."

Following the news conference was the book, the website, the television program and then – controversially – the scientific paper. No documentary in history had such pre-launch publicity, and the phenomenal ratings on History Channel, BBC and ZDF reflected that impact. Nor has any documentary so blatantly preempted the accepted system of peer review in such science journals as Nature.

The man who masterminded the deal, CEO of Atlantic Productions and producer of the documentary Anthony Geffen, as well as the key scientists and broadcasters, will appear in Melbourne. The team will take delegates through all stages of the production, executed over two years under a tight blanket of secrecy, and will confront the critics who questioned whether the whole process was an incredible coup or incredible hype.

Well worth the trip I think! Especially if it keeps raining here in Dublin...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nature launches online-only journal

The Nature publishing team have just announced that they're making the leap into the world of online-only "Nature-branded" journals.

It'll be interesting to see how this news is received in the science world - especially with the talk of an "article processing charge" being one route to publication, and Creative Commons licensing being an option as well.

There is also some talk of "including interactive browsing and enhanced metadata" for readers, but I wonder if the interface will be as ambitious as Elsevier's recent "Article of the Future" initiative?

Nature Communications will be accepting submissions from October 2009 and the journal goes live online in April 2010. In the meantime, here are some of the most interesting points from the Nature press release:

Announcing Nature Communications — a multidisciplinary, online-only journal with an open-access option

  • Nature Communications will publish high-quality peer-reviewed research across the biological, chemical and physical sciences, and will be the first online-only Nature-branded journal.
  • “As a born-digital publication, Nature Communications will provide readers and authors with the benefits of enhanced web technologies alongside a rapid, yet rigorous, peer-review process.” says Sarah Greaves, Publisher of Nature Communications. “Nature Communications will offer authors high visibility for their papers on the nature.com platform, access to a broad readership and efficient peer review with fast publication. For readers, the journal will offer functionality including interactive browsing and enhanced metadata to enable sorting by keywords.”
  • To ensure Nature Communications responds to changes in journal publishing, authors will be able to publish their work either via the traditional subscription route, or as open access through payment of an article processing charge (APC).
  • Authors who choose the open-access option will be able to license their work under a Creative Commons license, including the option to allow derivative works. Authors who do not choose the open-access option will still enjoy all of the benefits of NPG’s self-archiving policy and manuscript deposition service.
  • The journal will begin accepting submissions in October 2009, with the first issue published online in April 2010. More detail, including pricing, will be available ahead of launch. Institutional subscriptions will be priced to reflect the uptake of the APC — demonstrating NPG’s continuing commitments to author service alongside flexible publishing models and quality customer service.
  • The Nature Communications editorial team will be based in NPG’s London office, and editorial enquiries should be sent to: natcomms@nature.com.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Videos get physical

I'm delighted to see that the team at physicsworld.com have made physics videos central to their impressive new website. First in the series is one with CERN boss Rolf-Dieter Heuer (pictured above).

Here's what they say about this initiative themselves (and I should mention that I've written for Physics World in the past and I'm a member of the Institute of Physics too - but that's not really a conflict of interest!):

The Institute of Physics Publishing has today relaunched physicsworld.com. Already established as the most popular news-based physics website in the world, the site now provides video content and webinars. The first video interview is with CERN’s director general Rolf-Dieter Heuer, who reveals that he will push for the linear collider – the next big experiment in particle physics after the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – to be built at the Geneva lab. Click here to view the full interview http://physicsworld.com/cws/channel/multimedia ..

Although a design for the machine has not been finalized by the international particle-physics community, Heuer is keen to bring the collider to CERN. "I would be a bad director-general if I did not push for CERN at least bidding for the next global project," Heuer told physicsworld.com. "CERN is a fantastic place. [It] has proven that it can host such a project and therefore I think CERN should do it."

In the interview Heuer has also confirmed a mid-November switch-on date for the LHC, which should see the first collisions this year after months of extensive repair works following the electrical fault that occurred just nine days after the first protons were sent round the collider in September 2008.

The video interview with Heuer - as well as an interview with CERN’s head of communications James Gillies, and vox-pop interviews with seven CERN insiders - can be viewed on physicsworld.com at http://physicsworld.com/cws/channel/multimedia .. Apart from a sleek new look and the use of video content, the relaunched site also hosts a webinar channel, which will contain lectures from the world’s leading scientists and science writers, with the inaugural lecture from Graham Farmelo, author of an acclaimed new biography on Paul Dirac, due to be aired next month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Join the beauty science revolution!

Every once in a while, something comes along in the area of science communication that makes me go "wow"... And this website called The Beauty Magnet "revealing the truth behind beauty, lifestyle, gadgets and even bedroom antics" is great.

It presents science in a way that could reach a really really wide audience - and the design is great too. Here's what it's creator Nell Byrne has to say about it:
"I want to let you know a little bit about a project website I have completed for a MSc in Science Communication called The Beauty Magnet.

Now before you fall asleep at the mention of science, it's not THAT kind of science.

This website is about uncovering the truth behind beauty, lifestyle, gadgets and even bedroom antics.

Whether it's what colour to wear on a date, what anti-wrinkle cream actually really works or how to add a little sunshine to your life on a rainy day in Ireland you will find it at the Beauty Magnet.

We want people to get involved with this project and to join a revolution against misleading cosmetics, false advertising and ultimately bad bedroom habits.

Have a happy life & get chatting with your fellow beauty magnets.

You can add us on Facebook or Twitter - totally hassle free and benefit from the chatting, the ranting and good old fashioned indulged."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Space in 3D (kind of)

ESA have just published their Bulletin magazine
on-line using a snazzy "page flip" interface

And interestingly they're using the impressive "3Dissue" software developed by an Irish company to do it.

Here's the blurb from ESA:
The August issue of the Bulletin introduces Europe's new astronauts, who are starting their training at the European Astronaut Centre this September.

Read the Bulletin and other publications online, with our new visualisation tool.

Read online:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Spinning Science on TV

It's been great working recently with Seán Duke of Science Spin magazine on some of his science slots on TV3's Ireland AM.

This is all part of our on-going work here at Agtel for the Irish Government initiative Discover Science & Engineering to get more science etc. broadcast on tv.

And Seán Duke's blog gives a good overview of the many science communication initiatives he's involved with!

Monday, September 07, 2009

iTunes for research papers

Thanks to Victor Keegan in the Technology Guardian for bringing attention to this great looking piece of software...

Mendeley is a "research management tool for desktop & web" that's free and network enabled. My favourite feature? The way you can keep tabs on what other people who do research in your area are reading - all anonymously, of course:

Explore research trends and statistics

Mendeley allows you to discover and aggregate anonymous statistics about research trends. You can view the most popular authors, papers, journals and tags in your academic discipline, and discover interesting statistics about your own research paper library. These include viewing the number of papers by specific authors, most frequently used tags, the number of articles in your library, the number of authors and the number of references cited by these papers. You can also view your top publication outlets by topic. These statistics allow you to have a good overview of what your research habits and priorities are at this time.

The Mendeley team were among the organisers of the Science Online London 2009 event recently. The programme looks really impressive - and hopefully some of the presentations will make their way online soon...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can science create jobs?

This video is a trailer for a BusinessWeek article that is all about the need for basic scientific research to be supported in order for jobs to be created.

I'm a big fan of BusinessWeek magazine and they often have great articles about the business of science and technology. This piece focusses on the US but with initiatives like the Irish Government's innovation taskforce ramping up, this is a must watch/read for everyone interested in the area here in Ireland...

But the big question is, can we speed up how science creates jobs?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

BBC science roadshow heads to Belfast

Great to see Ireland' s very own Liz Bonnin fronting the BBC's new flagship science show "Bang Goes The Theory." And they even covered some Irish research in the latest episode!

Plus their next roadshow hits Belfast from 13-15 August as part of the Belfast Maritime Festival. It includes:
  • Get hands-on with science in the Interactive Arena

  • Catch the live Bang Goes The Theory science shows

  • Experience Dr Yan's amazing street science

  • Ask experts your science questions

  • Discover what science centres in your local area offer

The programme's website is impressive too
- a good example of "360 degree commissioning" including mobile phone text alerts. It's just a pity that the iPlayer videos can't be watched outside the UK... oh well!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Using YouTube and Twitter for science communication

"Tell me what you think of my research" isn't something you hear scientific researchers say to the public very often, but the Your Science Your Say initiative is changing all that. Watch the Trailer below to find out more...

Produced by Ian Brunswick here at Agtel and Padraig Murphy at Dublin City University, Your Science Your Say is a very innovative way of communicating science... It makes great use of YouTube, Twitter, on-line comments and even an automatic video response booth to get discussion going on the ethics of nanotechnology.

Don't miss your chance to post a video response at the Science Gallery or from the comfort of your own home online at Your Science Your Say - and here's some more background on it...


Have your say about publicly funded research. In each video, one of four nanotechnology researchers talks about the methodologies and potential effects of their work. Then you leave a response, saying which project you think has the biggest potential benefit, and which poses the most risk.

Responses are compiled as part of an Environment Protection Agency project looking at public responses to the environmental/health risks and benefits nanotechnology.

Your responses, whether submitted in-person at the Science Gallery , on this site as a written comment, or as a video response on YouTube, will help inform the EPA as they guide policy and regulation. Your Science Your Say will be installed in Dublin’s Science Gallery from July 7.

PS If you look closely you might find my own video response on the site too!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Elsevier Announces the “Article of the Future”

I think this prototype "Article of the Future" from Elsevier is great. It's basically a web interface that succeeds in making plain vanilla printed science journal articles easy to read, interactive and engaging.

Some of the key features are clickable graphics, audio interviews with the scientists who wrote the paper and embedded videos. Plus it's incredibly easy and intuitive to dig through the references (making it easier than ever to see if you've been cited in the article yourself!).

It's only when you see the original PDFs of the articles that you realise quite what an achievment this prototype interface is - instead of having to print out every article, Elsevier and their imprint Cell Press have come up with a way of making them easy to read on-screen.

Here are some of the main points from the full press release which on AlpaGalileo.org...

The Article of the Future launches its first prototypes this week, revealing a new approach to presenting scientific research online. The key feature of the prototypes is a hierarchical presentation of text and figures so that readers can elect to drill down through the layers based on their current task in the scientific workflow and their level of expertise and interest. This organizational structure is a significant departure from the linear-based organization of a traditional print-based article in incorporating the core text and supplemental material within a single unified structure.

A second key feature of the prototypes is bulleted article highlights and a graphical abstract. This allows readers to quickly gain an understanding of the paper’s main ‘take home’ message and serves as a navigation mechanism to directly access specific sub-sections of the results and figures. The graphical abstract is intended to encourage browsing, promote interdisciplinary scholarship and help readers identify more quickly which papers are most relevant to their research interests.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Top 10 Tips for Science Communication

Here are the Top 10 Best Practice Tips from the recent Communicating Science conference at Engineers Ireland. It was a really interesting event with lots of thought provoking discussion - and these tips came out of a flurry of brainstorming activity.

Given the likely cutbacks in Irish science funding announced in the "Bord Snip Nua" report yesterday, it's more important than ever for all of us involved in science to pro-actively convince taxpayers and politicians that important research should continue to be funded.

And given the limited money available to promote science now it makes sense to follow these best practice tips to get value for money from all science communication activities...




1. Collaboration: Work with others. Look for
unexpected partnerships, for example, artists
and engineers.

2. Empowerment: Create opportunities for
teachers to excite students about science.

3. Enthusiasm: Be an enthusiastic advocate
for science in your community.

4. Planning: Be aware of other science
communication programmes and use the
resources and experience of others.

5. Context: Be aware that those who are least
interested in science often have great

6. Community Engagement: Start at
primary school level and get students, parents
and teachers to promote science. Encourage

7. Gender Awareness: Disarm taken-forgranted
social and gender biases that prevent
people from engaging in science and

8. Evaluate: Assess the behavioural change
you are achieving and make your evaluations

9. Technology: Use SMS, blogging,
webcasting and social networking sites, as well
as traditional methods, to promote science.
Make it interactive.

10. Change Behaviours: Select groups and
work with them to voluntarily change or
modify behaviour, e.g., get career guidance
teachers to motivate students to choose
science careers.

And there's also a good overview of the day's talks on Piaras Kelly's Public Relations in Ireland blog too.