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[Newsletter - September 2021] Virtual Annual Conference, Lucky Career Accidents

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

September 13, 2021

Save the Date for our Virtual ASPAC Conference 2021! The Hongkong Science Museum is hosting our virtual annual conference this year with the theme "New Horizons Revealed After a Crisis: Where do we go from here?". The dates are November 23 and 24. We will be announcing submissions to presentations under 5 topics: "Museum Challenges Under the Pandemic", "Negotiating with New Technologies", "New Partnerships", "Responses to Global Issues" and "New Audiences". We encourage you to think about your take on these topics and the creative way you can present it in 10-15 minutes. You will be hearing from us soon on the deadlines for submission.

A Note about Kate and Song Choon from Maribel I know Kate and I also know Song Choon. In the times that I have interacted with them, I always come out wanting to grow up to be like them.:) They are so inspiring, so unadorned with the blings and clangs of being boss but with the bang and umph of genuine leadership. That is why it is such a treat to have Kate as our guest editor for this month's newsletter talking about the accidents that led her to Questacon as she also brings in Song Choon's journey into Science Center Singapore. We hope this will also spark you to think about your own story that led you to where you are and share it with us.


ASPAC-onnections: Questacon and Science Centre Singapore By Kate Driver I am sitting in my garden on the first day of spring here in Canberra, Australia. It is a typical crystal clear and sunny day, with a bright blue sky. It is not yet warm enough to take off the jacket, but warm enough to soak into your back and remind you to enjoy a moment of respite away from Zoom meetings, emails and relentless streams of new jobs on our “to do” list. I am a very avid gardener and I am excited to see the first buds and flowers starting to break through after a very cold winter this year. My garden backs onto a bushland reserve and there is the distinctly Australian sound of a kookaburra laughing in a nearby gumtree. Our Science Centre, Questacon is currently closed as our city goes through its second major lockdown of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Over half of our country’s population is now in lockdown as Australia comes to terms with our third wave of a Pandemic that we knew was theoretically possible, but still shocked many of us when it happened. We are one of the lucky Science Centres – we are part of the National Government. Our staff are working from home on reopening projects, or are redeploying across the Australian Government working in departments that provide welfare support payments, business and industry advice, our own parent department’s crisis response team and our local government’s department of health contact tracing team. We learned a lot last year, and when this latest lockdown came, our entire front of house workforce of science literate, customer service trained staff were ready to move into these critical roles to support the national effort within 24-48 hours. I am proud of our team, and proud of how far we’ve come since the world turned upside down in March 2020. The path that led us here is similar to our colleague Science Centres across the APSAC network. The stories have a common thread, but very different contexts and characters. When I was asked to write a piece for the ASPAC newsletter and introduce a colleague from our network, it made me think about paths, stories and plans. We all have them. Strategic Plans, Business Plans, Pandemic Plans, Life Plans. But “The Plan” and the way it works out are often very different in their nuance. I have found, talking with colleagues across our sector that this story resonates for our own careers too.


The Accidental Journey of Dr. Lee Song Choon I would like to introduce you to Dr Lee Song Choon – his signature block is a myriad of interesting titles - Director, Events and Engagement; Director, KidsSTOP; Director, Amgen Biotech Experience Singapore and a member of the Executive Council, Asia-Pacific Network of Science & Technology Centres. Song Choon and I met during the ASPAC Emerging Leaders forum last year. Like me, Song Choon works for a Science Centre that is part of the National Government. Like me, Song Choon loves working in a field where each day is different. He is excited by working with smart, passionate people who want to do good in the world. Like me, he loves the universal language that passionate science communicators display in their dedication, enthusiasm and creativity. He cares about a bright future for young people. Unlike me, Song Choon is a very good runner, and loves all sport. We have both accidentally stumbled into a leadership career in Science Centres, and much like the global Pandemic we are now responding to in our own contexts, we both knew that a career in senior leadership was theoretically possible, but were a little surprised to find ourselves here in that moment.

My chat with Song Choon made me wonder, how many of us have arrived here by a happy accident? How many plans did we all have that are now dusty relics of our history, with lofty ideals that really didn’t fit real life in the real world. I would hazard a guess, that there is more than one accidental leader amongst us. And being a naturally curious person, it made me wonder if we talk enough about the accidental career – not the 5 year plan you set out in a job interview (by the way, how is that five year plan from 2016 working out for you?).


Back to my "accident" I have five tertiary qualifications – not one of them is in pure science. They are all in law, business, social science and (randomly) Speech and Drama. I was a child of Questacon. I grew up going there during my school holidays, and really enjoyed those days out. I loved to learn, and have always been curious, but those visits never really entered my consciousness that they were about a possible future career. When the time to choose subjects in high school came, it was a more binary process - I gravitated to the passionate teachers – the ones who loved that I loved learning. It just so happened that they were not in science. Looking back, that was sad, because I would have gone to the sciences if it felt like those teachers loved it as much as my History and English teachers loved their areas. Instead, we learnt science by going through the motions – we took dictation of notes, and filled in pre-set worksheets. I think that is why, several decades later I am the co-founder of a philanthropic organisation (my other day job) that takes passionate science teachers into the real world classroom with students. It’s hard not to get excited when you have a blue and pink haired geologist taking you to look at some of the oldest rocks in our country to tell you about how stromatolites are relevant to exploring Mars. Sure beats a worksheet! But that’s another story.


Back to Song Choon.. Song Choon’s career path was a little more traditional for our sector, but no less accidental. He grew up in Singapore and then went to the UK to study. He was in genetics, and was actively pursuing a career in cancer research. As he came to terms with the challenges of never-ending funding cycle applications which frustrated the very nature of his long-term research focus, he realised that his passion laid in telling the story of the science, and stepping out from behind the lab bench. Song Choon was strongly influenced by the UK sci-comm scene – he really enjoyed science festivals and the public discourse around science. When an opportunity to return to Singapore to work at the Research Institute came, So

ng Choon returned home to continue his research work. Then two years later, there was an opening at the Science Centre Singapore and Song Choon knew that this was the next step in his career, so he stepped out of the lab into a whole other career. This really came to life for him when he attended his first ASPAC conference in 2012, and he saw that passionate science communicators spoke a common language – after that, his new accidental path was truly set. Almost a decade later, as Song Choon oversees his parts of the reopening of the Science Centre Singapore, with the Untame Festival opening in October, he is optimistic about the future role for science communication in his country. The unexpected COVID Pandemic has presented opportunities to bring science into the public consciousness in Singapore, Australia and the rest of the world like never before. This (less happy) accident, has placed science in more daily discussions, more media, and more minds. Now the challenge is move from this moment, and take advantage of the next.


Back to So here I am, wondering about “The Plan”. We need plans to guide us, to give us some structure and a general sense of where we are going. But I also wonder if the plan is focused on the right things. Process, structure and KPIs are important. But so are the skills, creative freedom and imagination to see the opportunities that those moments in time that the happy (or not so happy) accidents present.

So I issue a provocation to the ASPAC Network - If we are open to seeing where the road takes us, keeping one eye out for that moment where the path might diverge when we least expect it, opening up wholly new possibilities by happy accident, then I think our sector will be well placed to embrace the uncertainty, and tap into the creative skills we have to imagine a different future.

Has your accidental career led you here too?


The ASPAC newsletter is created by different host members who take turns in writing about their institution and also another member. For comments/questions regarding the newsletter and its content, please email Yuko Okayama:

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