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Banff Science Communications

The gorgeous mountainside campus of the Banff Centre played host to the Banff Science Communications residency program each summer between 2006 and 2015. For two weeks, twenty select participants from Canada, the U.S., and the rest of the world trained in an intensive curriculum of individual and group projects that sharpened their science communications abilities in all media. Some of the participants were scientists who came to learn how to explain their research better to the general public or funding agencies. Some already worked as information officers for universities or government agencies and wanted to improve skills central to their jobs. Some did it for the sheer fun. But many of the participants over the years called the program “transformative” and went on to greater success at engaging communities with science. 

The Banff Science Communications program was created by Jay Ingram, the author and legendary broadcaster who was the long-time host of the Discovery Channel’s science show Daily Planet and CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, and Mary Anne Moser, the president and co-founder of Beakerhead, Calgary’s giant public celebration of science, engineering, and the arts. Some of the other faculty over the years included:

  • Nancy Baron, director of science outreach for COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and the author of Escape from the Ivory Tower, a guide to science communications for scientists
  • Henry Kowalski, celebrated documentary maker and producer for Discovery Channel who was also chief news editor for CTV News
  • Rob Davidson, broadcasting veteran with more than 30 years of experience on both sides of the camera and microphone who is also one of the people behind the car appreciation site
  • Christie Nicholson, the freelance science journalist, co-founder of the lead-generating platform Publet, and a guest lecturer at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
  • Thomas Hayden, widely published science journalist and author, co-editor of The Science Writers’ Handbook, and teacher of environmental journalism at Stanford University
  • Maggie Koerth-Baker, who is currently the senior science editor of FiveThirtyEight, and previously the science editor of Boing Boing and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine.
  • Rose Eveleth, journalist, producer and designer who is the enterprising genius behind the Flash Forward podcast, among many other works.

I was proud to join their number in 2011. Although the program officially ended its association with the Banff Centre in 2014, it continues at a variety of venues under the auspices of Beakerhead, and I join those workshops as faculty whenever I can.