ASTEN Fellowship Report

July 2011, Lisa Gormley, Manager Discovery Science and Technology Centre

I have been the manager of Discovery, a small, regional, not-for-profit science centre, in Bendigo for a year now, and it has been a very steep learning curve. I came to the position of manager with a varied career and education history that predominantly involved tourism, the management of volunteers and education/training. Suddenly I was learning how to run a science centre and manage staff, deal with school groups, run and develop lab workshops, birthday parties, sleepovers, functions, manage small (and not so small) grants, advertise and publicise our centre, managing exhibits and then researching and writing science shows and training staff in things, I myself have never done!

One year later I find myself and my management skills have developed beyond the “basics”. I feel comfortable, in the general everyday management and running of Discovery. Now I am ready to see how we can expand, develop and improve; how my staff can grow and how our programs can change.

What I wanted to achieve from the ASTEN fellowship was guided by my desire to enhance our outreach programs and science resources for schools and groups, I want to improve our options for groups and people who come to us. Can we have more in our holiday program? Can we host evening lectures and become a true hub for science? Can we run an after school science club? How can we use and develop our exhibits better? Are we doing things we shouldn’t be doing?

I am glad that I had my first management year complete when I utilised the ASTEN fellowship to visit Questacon and CSIRO Discovery, as I am now focused more on developing Discovery further, rather than just being able to keep it running. I would also have been completely overwhelmed due to the size and number of programs and staff, not to mention budget!

During my visit to Questacon and CSIRO Discovery Centre, I was able to discuss all manner of operations from exhibit design and development, outreach programs, early childhood programs, front of house management and visitor experience, science shows, ideas and concepts. This has been most beneficial as it has given me not only insights and ideas, but also made me realise what we can realistically achieve and what we already do really well. Being small does have its advantages and not being government based gives us a lot of freedom. We are a personable centre able to play with ideas and thoughts and explore new avenues and reinvigorate old ones.

One of the greatest things that came out of my trip to Canberra, and the fellowship overall, has been the contacts that have been made – all with people with similar goals and interests. Everyone has been wonderful and so keen to share ideas, provide advice and suggestions, and to offer support. We have the same goal and we are not competing with each other. In particular is the relationship we now have with Monash Science Centre, who’s Senior Education Officer was also a recipient of the fellowship. As a result of this we now have on display one of their dinosaur exhibits and are in touch regularly.

Admittedly I am only a micro second along my evolution as a Science Centre Manager; however, the ASTEN fellowship has given me the opportunity to get a glimpse of the way ahead, with all its twists and turns. I think managing a Science Centre is like life – it’s not the destination but the journey that is important. It doesn’t end but continues to evolve. With ideas and channels to explore, the skills and knowledge I am yet to develop, but with the contacts and networks I have come away with, Discovery will continue on its path of being an important science communication/education facility. Many thanks for the opportunity, one I could not have had without the fellowship.