Honours Specialisation in Science Communication

The Honours Specialisation in Science Communication is a unique opportunity to investigate how an aspect of science that you are passionate about has been communicated in the public arena, might be communicated better, or is affected by such things as government policy and community opinion.

If there is a communication or policy angle on your chosen science discipline that you think might make a good honours project, talk to the science commmunication Honours Convenor about the possibility of taking honours in science communication or jointly in science communication and another discipline.

Research topics

There is a lot of flexibility in the research topics that can be pursued in science communication honours projects. Examples of projects could be:

  • a content analysis of how a science topic has been reported in the news (or in movies, or on blogs, or in high school textbooks, etc), with a view to understanding the effect this might have on public attitudes to the topic.
  • the development, testing and evaluation of a tool for communicating science, for example a creative approach to science teaching, a short film designed to engage people with some aspect of science, a science centre exhibit, etc.
  • a survey of public attitudes towards some aspect of science, for example reasons why people are attracted to scientific careers, or whether they trust scientists, or what they think about a controversial new scientific development, and what influences their opinions.
  • a study of the kinds of forces that influence public debates about science, for example an examination of the links between government policy, industry pressures, community demands, and scientists' public image on climate change debates.
  • an investigation into how scientists disseminate their ideas and communicate with each other, with politicians, with interested publics, with stakeholders, and so on.
  • an examination of the communication needs of specific groups of people who use scientific information in their daily lives or their work.

The kinds of projects that are possible are limited only by your imagination and your interests. The very best projects come from original ideas, initiated by enthusiastic people who are interested in some aspect of science and in how it is communicated.

Past science communication honours students have looked at:

To help you think about project ideas, have a look at the kinds of science communication research projects currently underway at CPAS. If any of these research areas spark your interest, have a chat to the Honours Convenor. You can also browse projects by theme, and contact theme convenors for more information.

Requirements

The Science Communication Honours program requires students to complete three items for assessment:

  • 15,000-20,000 word thesis on original research topic (worth 75% of final grade)
  • 20 minute research proposal and 30-45 minute presentation on thesis topic (which combine to form 12.5% of your final grade)
  • coursework, equivalent to one 6 unit course (worth 12.5% of final grade).

Students should seek the advice of the Honours Convenor before choosing the coursework option.

Scholarships and prizes

There are numerous scholarships that students applying for an honours program can compete for. A full list of scholarships is available on the ANU website. Students planning to enrol in honours in science communication can apply for the ANU Honours Year Scholarships. Students planning to enrol in a joint honours program with both science communication and another discipline may be eligible to compete for honours scholarships offered to students in the other discipline, but should consult with the discipline's honours convenor to be sure.

Students who excel in Science Communication Honours may be eligible to win prizes, including the Science Communication Undergraduate Research Prize, the Chris Bryant and Mike Gore Prize for Science Outreach, the University Medal and the Tillyard Prize, the oldest and most prestigious prize offered to undergraduates. Honours student Rebecca Randall won the Tillyard Prize in 2012, for her honours research into how young Australians communicate about ill health on Facebook, as well as her community work, and in 2015 Jennifer Colley won the first University Medal to be awarded for science communication.

How to apply

The formal requirement of entry to Science Communication Honours is the same as for entry to most science honours programs at the ANU (download the Science Honours Handbook for details). Broadly speaking, ANU students will need to have earned a distinction average or higher across 36 units of second or third year courses relevant to the proposed honours topic. Students from other universities will have to demonstrate the equivalent achievement.

We do not require students to have completed a Science Communication Major to enter honours, but strongly recommend that students take some research-oriented undergraduate courses in science communication to maximise the chances of succeeding in Science Communication Honours. Consult the Honours Convenor for suggestions of the best courses to take. The completion of a Science Communication Major or Minor will put you in the best position to gain First Class Honours in this discipline.

There are four steps in applying for the honours program in science communication:

  1. Talk to the Honours Convenor about your eligibility for the program and potential topics. She will give you provisional approval to apply for Honours if your academic history and topic ideas are suitable.
  2. Spend some time scoping potential topics. You can come up with your own or chat to the Honours Convenor about project opportunities currently offered by CPAS staff.
  3. Discuss your ideas with a potential supervisor. The Honours Convenor can help you decide who the most appropriate person is to supervise your project. You need to gain that person's approval too, before you can submit your Honours application.
  4. Complete the honours application by following the procedure published on the College website.

Career prospects

Honours in science communication is the ideal cap to a bachelor’s degree for students interested in pursuing science communication research. Honours is strongly recommended as a requirement for commencing a PhD and/or an academic career in science communication. Students will also benefit from an honours year if they are interested in research-based careers in policy, for example working for the public service to produce evidence-based policy, or working within the community sector to lobby for evidence-based change. Honours can also be a wonderful opportunity for students to gain expertise in a very specific area of science communication, to enhance job prospects where such expertise is required.

Updated:  23 June 2017/Responsible Officer:  CPAS web officer/Page Contact:  CPAS webmaster