Introducing me and my mission

Hello World! My name’s Elizabeth Connor. I'm a 'science communicator' by profession. I spend my time translating the incomprehensible murmerings of scientists into language and concepts we can all understand.

My background is in physics – I studied at Victoria University in Wellington before going to London to do a Masters in ‘Science Communication’ at Imperial College.

When I was fourteen I came to the conclusion that science and the arts had been unnecessarily wrenched apart. I loved both subjects and made it my mission to bring them back together again. I didn’t have a clue how to do it but have been trying my best ever since.

On leaving school I was faced with an agonizing choice between fine art, creative writing and science. I had always imagined myself as an artist but chose physics in the end. I wanted to discover the underlying laws and patterns beneath the beauty I saw in nature and physics seemed like a nice gritty thing to study! It was. I found it challenging and illuminating but frustrating too. I knew something wasn’t right when I burst out of an electronics lab shouting “No more numbers!” I was felt suffocated by the sterile language and lack of human context. I wanted to describe the things we were studying with metaphors and gesticulations.

My chance came when I was given a summer job writing web-articles for the MacDiarmid Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, a collaborative science research institute. I spent the summer travelling around the country, visiting labs, interviewing researchers and writing articles. My job was to describe their research for a general audience. I felt liberated. I found I had a knack for discovering scientists’ inspiration and expressing their work in terms of images and metaphors.

It was my quantum physics lecturer and former director of the MacDiarmid Institute, Prof Sir Paul Callaghan that gave me the job and encouraged me to pursue science communication. I had no idea it existed as a career choice before that. Paul’s example as a passionate communicator and visionary has been an inspiration to me ever since.

I now work as a freelance science communicator in my beloved hometown, Wellington. My clients include the MacDiarmid Institute, Canterbury University and 'Viclink', a branch of Victoria University that helps staff and students commercialise their research.

This year a very exciting thing happened. I was awarded the ‘Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize’, a new award devised by the government to help raise the profile of science in NZ. As my career has unfolded it seems to be wending its way from science towards the arts. The prize has given me the incredible opportunity to complete that journey and to fulfill my mission of uniting the two. I believe that science holds secrets which could transform the culture and economy of our country and the world. But, it needs the human touch of the arts to make the connection with real people and real needs. I hope to use the Prime Minister’s prize to help develop a culture of cross-sector collaboration in New Zealand.

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