The Australian | 5 December 2012
By Jill Rowbotham
EVERYONE from the chief scientist down is racking their brains about how to talk kids into studying science and maths. And there is growing recognition that talking – or at least, communication – is where the answer lies.
Doing its bit to render scientists articulate and sensitive to the desperate need for plain speaking, or even inspiring writing, Cosmos magazine set up an internship program in 2005 and has just farewelled its 60th graduate.
“Our work is about the critical link between science education and communication,” chief executive and co-founder Kylie Ahern says.
Recruits range from PhDs to journalism graduates, are generally between 20 and 25 years old and 80 per cent are women. Only half the applications received are accepted and the program – created and managed by Cosmos editor Wilson da Silva – is booked out for next year.
“From day one we have them working on news, online,” Ms Ahern says. “All the editorial team spend some time training the interns; it’s part of the ethos of working here, contributing to training the next generation of scientists.”
Cosmos was co-founded and bankrolled by Monash University chancellor Alan Finkel. It has a circulation of about 22,000 and the website draws about 350,000 unique visitors a month.
“We prefer to have people with a science background or at the minimum an interest in science,” Ms Ahern says. “We’ve had a few PhD students who have decided a research career is not for them or want to work in science communications.”
Lucie Bradley, 24, a PhD candidate in organic chemistry at the University of Melbourne, who has just finished a stint, fits that category.
“I had been thinking about what I wanted to do when I finished my PhD and as much as I really love science, I also have a more creative side to my personality,” she says.
When she saw an online ad for the Cosmos program she was keen.
“Although my scientific record is quite good, I didn’t have much in the way of writing,” she said.
She loved the experience of interviewing, writing, fact checking, editing and proof-reading.
Less than halfway through her doctoral studies, she has no definite plan after their conclusion, but is still convinced merging her interests in sciences and humanities would be ideal.
Cosmos is targeting younger generations and their mentors. It produces education material that goes into 70 per cent of Australian high schools and career guides for undergraduates and postgraduates.
“Getting more kids studying science and more people taking science careers is not just about influencing kids but getting the message out to parents and teachers,” Ms Ahern says.
“There are very few careers where you wouldn’t benefit from having a basic scientific knowledge.”