Reflection, absorption and science leadership

I was lucky enough to be invited to the NSW Regional Science Hubs Leadership Forum that took place in Sydney a few weeks ago. I got to meet some passionate, talented science engagers from around the state, and join them under the tutelage of leadership guru Arthur ‘Don’t Call Me A Guru’ Rindfleisch.

Meeting like-minded folk is not only great, it can be a relief! And it is always a privilege to receive professional training, given that the vast majority of people aren’t so lucky. But something else struck me over the twelve or so hours I spent with the NSW Regional Science Hubs Leadership group: the value of reflection.

By reflection I mean being afforded the time and space to stop for a moment and take a look around. To turn around to see where you’ve been coming from and to look into the horizon and discover what’s out there. Or to just stare. This is one of the gifts of education, higher education in particular, and one of the less acknowledged adverse affects of undermining it.

‘Busy’ seems to have replaced ‘good’ as the du jour answer to the question, “How are you?” People work long hours. They care for children, shop, plan holidays, meet friends and family and contribute to community organisations. This is generally seen as desirable and normal. Contrary to this trend, I tend to loaf quite a lot. I’m not trying to be radical, I just enjoy loafing. But I don’t enjoy feeling guilty about it, and this can be tricky given how damn busy everyone else is. So one of the reasons why I enjoyed this Forum is that it presented an opportunity to pause and reflect.

In this case, we were reflecting on science leadership. And an important message from the facilitator Arthur Reindfleisch is that leadership is not possible without reflection. Somewhere, at some point, a leader needs to be able to step back and sum things up. This reflection must be internal as well as external, because you will make a much better leader if you make an effort to understand yourself – and some of the ways you may be unintentionally sabotaging yourself – at least a bit.

A little self-reflection is of course very different to the superficial self-absorption that aims to preserve image and status. The self-reflection we spoke of at the Leadership Forum was designed to enable us to be better leaders and, to a large extent, enable other people. I have tried my hardest to absorb these lessons, from both Arthur and the good people in the room, just as I’m trying now to reflect a little of that back to you.

So what does science leadership mean to me? I still don’t really know, but I do know that Science at the Local, the modest community event in the Blue Mountains I helped put on, was the product of a fairly lengthy period of reflection. I worked on this project because it reflects my hopes and beliefs. Science education is important. The world revealed by science is amazing, and in terms of discovery, informal is always better than formal, with the absurd never far from the surface.

Another motivating factor for me in getting involved in community outreach projects like Science at the Local is that whatever you’re doing, you’re not just doing it for yourself. In fact, you may also unwittingly be serving as inspiration for someone else! By being reflective, caring about science education, or being absurd, you’re telling others who suspect it but aren’t quite sure, that these things are ok too.

About the author
Hamish Clarke works as a scientist, is the convener of the newly established Blue Mountains Science Hub and one of the founders of Science at the Local. The inaugural event at Springwood Sports Club attracted more than 90 people who came to discover scientific answers to the question: Should I have that extra slice of cake?