PhD scholarship: The reflexive scientist

  • PhD scholarship: The reflexive scientist

History and purpose
This scholarship forms part of the broader work of the Te Pūnaha Matatini Complexity, Risk and Uncertainty research theme (to replace the Complex Data Analytics theme in 2017) and will be located in Victoria University’s Science in Society group, which is led by Rebecca Priestley and Rhian Salmon.

Te Punaha Matatini investigators (who include some of New Zealand’s top scientist communicators), along with many other scientists, invest significant time and resources in science communication and public engagement activities but with limited efforts or opportunities to evaluate, peer-review, and subsequently improve, these activities. While most research in this area focuses on the communication’s target audiences (or ‘publics’) and mechanisms for engagement, an exciting and emerging literature within public engagement with science (PES) is beginning to focus on scientists.

This project builds on a recent paper by Salmon et al (The reflexive scientist: an approach to transforming public engagement, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2015), which proposes that new mechanisms are required for reflexive analysis of science communication activities by scientists. These mechanisms involve unpacking and articulating the communication objectives (and assumptions) of individual science communication practitioners and their organisations, as well as the political and cultural context in which they operate.

This mixed methods research project has three parallel strands: theoretical, practical, and reflexive, and will contribute towards building a new theoretical model for public engagement by scientists. Using Te Pūnaha Matatini as a case study, this will involve unpacking assumptions related to engagement activities, clear articulation of appropriate and measureable objectives, and development of integrated qualitative and quantitative methods for evaluation, which are both formative and summative.

The project is likely to involve engaging practising scientists in interviews, focus groups and reflexive journaling; research into relevant theoretical frameworks; development of evaluation instruments; creation of a “taxonomy of outreach” in New Zealand; and use of data analytics to identify networks and measure the propagation of outreach efforts; as well as development and evaluation of a new engagement activity (as a form of action research).

In addition to learning from the evaluation data itself, our goal is to see if this project leads to a more sophisticated approach (by both individuals and organisations) to science communication, and how the attitudes, objectives and practices of those involved change through the experience of being involved in this project. The collective outcomes of the research will inform how science communication is funded, supported and evaluated, and will make a substantial contribution to international literature in public engagement with science.

A first class or high second class Honours or Master’s degree in a relevant discipline and:

– a demonstrated interest in/understanding of science, science communication, or public engagement with science

– experience with mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) research

– high levels of motivation and the ability to work and communicate with a wide range of individuals with multiple disciplinary backgrounds

– cultural competency in tikanga Māori or cultural awareness of other indigenous cultures would be an advantage.

Number of awards offered

Total value
Tuition fees (for a domestic or international student) and a stipend of $27,000 per annum.

Tenure of award
Three years.

Closing date for applications
Applications will be open until 28 February 2017 (unless filled prior).

How to apply:
Applicants should complete the Victoria University of Wellington PhD Admission and Scholarship application online and clearly indicate they wish to apply for Te Punaha Matatini: The reflexive scientist scholarship.

Please address any queries to Rebecca Priestley at

What conditions are attached to acceptance of this Award?
Applicants must have the entry requirements for a PhD in the Faculty of Science and be accepted as a PhD student in the Faculty of Science.

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