Science & Tell —Wyverns at Large
Wyvern, Dr Simon Torok (1986), has recently been investigating our near future of flying cars, instant transport, invisibility, living underwater and living forever with his 19th book on popular science, Imagining the Future, (co-authored with Paul Holper). But how did he become such a prolific author in the niche of science communications?
After completing his Ph.D in climate science in the 1990s, Simon was buoyed by the interest in his area of research. “Everyone seemed to want to hear more about this topic, I realised I loved writing and talking about science—more than doing the actual research.” After a year spent touring around Australia with Questacon’s Science Circus, Simon was hooked on a career as a science communicator.
In a twenty-year career Simon has worked across a number of roles, including as Communication Manager for CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere in Melbourne, Climate Change Communicator at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England, and as Editor of CSIRO’s children’s science magazines in Canberra.
More recently Simon has co-founded with his co-author and mentor, Paul Hopler—Scientell—a science communication and marketing business specialising in planning and implementing communication strategies for scientific, environmental and technical agencies. Scientell’s tagline is “Science—in other words”, because, as Simon explains, “our work is about distilling or summarising technical information into words for non-scientific audiences—policy-makers, young people, specific groups such as tourists—and putting those words out there.”
And with his 19th popular science book recently realised, Simon has a pretty good track record of getting words out there. Together with Paul Hopler, the two have been published by ABC Books, CSIRO Publishing, Oxford University Press, and Pan Macmillan—several of which have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Hungarian.
We recently caught up with Simon to ask him how he carved out such a successful career in communicating science to the broader public …
Best career advice?
In the early 1990s, a colleague advised me to never say no to a public speaking opportunity, and to do something every day that pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Both are scary, but lead to great opportunities.
Your biggest career influence?
The host of Einstein a Go Go, Dr Andi, welcomed me to the 3RRR science show, and she introduced me to the Questacon science circus, which included a graduate diploma in science communication that set me up for my first job in this field. And when I was a student I met CSIRO communicator Paul Holper, who provided advice on how to break into a science communication career – he then invited me to join him in writing books (our 19th book together will be published in early 2017), and is now my business partner in Scientell. Also, being at Queen’s influenced me by showing that using humour and a certain amount of chutzpah can help in many ways.
Most exciting project?
A colleague in Sweden invited me to manage a project called Welcome to the Anthropocene, a website and short film explaining how the human impact on the environment can be seen on a geological scale. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, used the film to open the Rio+20 conference in Brazil, which taught me to think big.
A memory of Queen’s?
If you can remember Queen’s, you weren’t really there.
More info. on Scientell can be found here: http://scientell.com.au/