The Association for Science and Discovery Centres

The Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) is the national charity that brings together the UK’s major informal science learning organisations to play a strategic role in people’s engagement with many areas of science including space, engineering, and the environment. ASDC works with organisations such as The Natural Research Council (NERC) and the UK Space Agency to create national STEM programmes for science centres and museums to deliver for children and adults to discover, question and explore scientific discoveries.

By supporting Green Careers Week, ASDC is highlighting the wide range of careers available in science communication, science engagement, outreach and sustainability management within science centres and museums.

Our World From Space

Our World From Space is a two-year national STEM programme exploring the relevance of UK space science for the future health and sustainability of our home planet, funded by UK Space Agency in partnership with Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation. The programme engages and inspires audiences with UK Earth observation science, innovation and skills.

How to become an environmental scientist

All environmental scientists share a common goal: to better understand the Earth and its systems, and to identify the impact that humans have upon it.

Whether you want to study volcanoes, find out how global warming is affecting the polar landscape or discover life deep beneath the waves, there are plenty of different options when it comes to choosing a career in environmental science.

UK Climate Hub

This website has been created by the Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) with funding from the Scottish Government. As the major UK network for engaging families and the public with science out of school, ASDC created this climate hub to bring together resources, activities, events and carbon cutting initiatives to share knowledge and expertise to help protect our climate

Sustainability in science and discovery centres

Kirsty Shakespeare

International Education for Sustainable Development Manager, Trust for Sustainable Living

TSL is an education charity which runs a indoor rainforest visitor and education centre  in Berkshire called The Living Rainforest, which is home to 850+ tropical rainforest species.  Our vision is ‘A world where everyone is educated and empowered to achieve a sustainable future’.

We welcome 25,000 students a year to The Living Rainforest on curriculum linked tours, including our popular ‘ Sustainable Futures’ tour which is celebrating its 20th birthday this year! We also work with teachers and students in over 80 countries with our International ESD Program through competitions and online education summits and events to explore local and global sustainability challenges and topics.

What do you do?

I work to develop and deliver education programmes, opportunities and resources for students and teachers internationally and in the UK, to help them engage with, explore and discuss local and global sustainability challenges through different media- online debates, podcasts, writing and video competitions, online and physical education summits and though events and activities at our visitor centre.

What sort of training do you need to do your job?

I did a BSc in Zoology and a MSc in Ecology Evolution and Conservation and had always had a particular interest in exotic species, particularly those in tropical rainforests. Rainforests are our most biological diverse ecosystems and unfortunately one of the most threatened by unsustainable practices, both locally and globally, so my interest in sustainability stemmed from wanting to know more about those pressures. Sustainability is a constantly changing and updating field, so I try to keep myself as up to date as possible on the latest sustainability issues and solutions by reading reports by groups like the IUCN, UNEP, UNESCO, IPCC etc. I don’t have any formal teaching qualifications, but I did have quite a lot of voluntary experience working with students and young people before starting in education 10 years ago, so the teaching side of my role has been developed with experience. I have done training with Compass Education, an NGO working to connect educators with systems thinking in relation to sustainability, which gives some really great education tools to help students explore, investigate and analyse challenging sustainability topics. I also took part in the ASDC’s Emerging Leaders Programme in 2021 which focused on developing skills and attributes for inclusive leadership for the future of Science Centres as valuable and open community assets, which was really useful and a lot of fun.

What are the key skills required to do your job?

In an education role strong communication skills are extremely important. Our visitor centre welcomes people from age 3 to 80+ on formal education visits or as a fun day out and our online international sustainability education programme works with students and teachers in 80 countries. Being able to adapt your communication style to suit your audience and engage them in sometimes quite complex topics so they are understandable and relatable to the individual is a key skill. Organisation – I organise a series of online education events for students such as our International Student Debates which often has 100 + participants from 30+ countries as well as guest speakers and judges. There is months of preparation and planning that go into each event and I am usually organising several events and projects at the same time, so being able to plan and organise my own time and that of everyone participating to make sure the event is successful is vital. Being positive – I think a lot of the mainstream news people hear about sustainability is negative, so being able to discuss sustainability action in a positive manner is really important. Children particular are very concerned about the state of the planet, but are unsure what they can do, so promoting to them that it’s not too late, no action is too small, you don’t need to be sustainable in everything but try where you can, you aren’t too young to have an impact or too old to change habits etc, so that they feel empowered to do what they can, rather than overwhelmed at not being able to do everything or feeling like there’s no point in trying. Flexibility – No matter how much you plan and organise, when working with students, animals, the public and technology things are bound to go wrong! So being flexible and adaptable to changing situations, preferably with a sense of humour, is a bonus!

Do you offer work experience, or have volunteers to help anyone interested in working in this field find out what it’s like to work in a science and discovery centre?

We have work experience placements, voluntary roles and internships available across several departments, including working with our plant or animal teams, education team right through to marketing and communications.  As a small team our interns and volunteers are able to gain hands on experience in roles which are really meaningful to supporting our centre and education work. To find out more about our work or volunteering opportunities visit our websites  Home – Trust for Sustainable Living and  Visit the Living Rainforest

Dr Hermione Cockburn

Scientific Director, Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth is Edinburgh’s science centre with a charitable mission to empower people with understanding and empathy for the Earth. As the Scientific Director, a major part of my job is overseeing the content of our exhibition and our learning and engagement programmes. Becoming more sustainable in how we operate is a major focus of our organisational strategy and I play a role in that, but my job is focused on trying to deliver the best science engagement we can and ensuring we are delivering the right content and programmes to achieve our vision: to be the generation that creates a positive future for us and the planet.

What sort of training do you need to do your job?

My job requires two main things: firstly, a good understanding of Earth and environmental science which I developed while studying geography at university, then doing a PhD in geomorphology, and then working in various universities and research institutes. Secondly, insight into how different groups of people respond to, and can benefit from, science learning and I built up a good sense of that after I decided to leave research and work full time as a science communicator. Prior to getting the job at Dynamic Earth, for about 10 years, I presented science on radio and television, taught science for the Open University, worked in schools and science festivals, and wrote about science for different publications – I learnt lots of ways to interpret science and bring it alive and make it meaningful to people and that is really what I do now. My advice to anyone interested in working in science engagement is to get a grounding in the science and then find any and every opportunity to share your knowledge and passion for it!  

What are the key skills required to do your job?

Well, this might sound obvious but good communication skills are probably the most important! I spend a lot of my time talking to people – whether it’s to staff, visitors, teachers, learners, funders, or project partners. I’m also always writing a lot of things like exhibition content, funding applications, articles and reports. Understanding the target audience is the golden rule of all engagement and that really means listening to people and working out what is relevant to them. Like all science centres, there’s always a lot going on at Dynamic Earth, so being able to manage lots of different projects and responsibilities concurrently is a good skill to have too!

Do you offer work experience, or have volunteers to help anyone interested in working in this field find out what it’s like to work in a science and discovery centre?

We support placements for school pupils, students and young people who can spend anything from one day or up to 3 months with us in different teams. In the Learning and Engagement Team we often have someone in with us – they might be on a formal MSc project placement or be spending a bit of time shadowing and observing. For some project-specific volunteering opportunities we help people develop public engagement skills. My team and I also take part in careers events sharing insights into what it’s like working in a science centre – there are such a mix of opportunities. I wish we could do more – we usually get more requests that we can accommodate – but don’t let that put you off getting in touch if you are interested! 

Interview with Dr Roger Baker, Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager

Science Oxford

Science Oxford’s education and engagement programmes have been developed to inspire young people about STEM. We show that science can be cool, can lead to an amazing career and can change lives. Annually we reach over 20,000 pupils in primary and secondary schools, support 250 teachers through CPD training and inspire 10,000 people through our public engagement programme.

We run the Science Oxford Centre in Headington – the UK’s first indoor-outdoor hands-on education centre for early years and primary-aged children. It is open to schools during the week and every Saturday for families to enjoy.

What do you do?

I am the Outdoor Education and Ecology Manager here at Science Oxford, so I combine coordinating our life science activities with managing the 15 acres of woodlands, grasslands and ponds to maximise their ecological and educational potential.

What sort of training do you need to do your job?

This is a tricky one as I have training specific to my job title, only part of which is directly relevant to a role in sustainability in our centre. I have a Masters and PhD in environmental sciences, training in woodland/conservation management and also worked as a qualified secondary school teacher before joining Science Oxford! However, as a small team we all pitch in across the centre so I would say that no specific training is required beyond a background in science communication, and an interest in environmental science.

What are the key skills required to do your job?

The best part of my education role is being able to help inform the scientists of the future, so I think acting as a good role model and exemplifying good practice is essential, not just ‘do as I say, not as I do’. It is therefore important to be able to engage with young people and find creative ways to get them on board and make what you are saying relevant. Being passionate is part of that, but also being aware of some of the potential barriers, particularly the climate anxiety that has built in recent years. In my ecological management role, I am having to keep up to date with the data and try to ‘predict the future’ so that the actions I take can safeguard our site for the next generation. This is particularly the case when dealing with slow growing long lived species such as trees! I probably won’t be around to see the results of a lot of my work, but I hope that I am choosing the right species and locations to plant so that the site will still have some trees in 50 years’ time! A willingness to work outdoors in all weathers also helps!

Do you offer work experience, or have volunteers to help anyone interested in working in this field find out what it’s like to work in a science and discovery centre?

We have a secondary school team here at Science Oxford that runs regular STEM experience weeks, usually in the holidays. We also run monthly and larger seasonal conservation volunteer sessions aimed at adults and families respectively. In addition to this we provide teacher CPD and host trainee teachers in the Science Oxford Centre. Get in touch for more details on these opportunities. Link to find out more about your organisation: www.scienceoxford.com

John Challen, Head of Eco Centre

Centre for Alternative Technology

“My role at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is Head of Eco Centre, heading up the site’s Estates and Engagement teams and helping to lead on the site’s development.”

CAT is an educational charity dedicated to researching and communicating positive solutions for environmental change.

What sort of training do you need to do your job?

Prior to working at CAT, I worked in the museum sector, firstly as a curator and then moving on into development and site operations. Over the course of this I‘ve been able to take advantage of training opportunities provided by organisations such as the Museum Association, ASDC as well as short courses provided by the local chamber of commerce. These supported the in work experience I gained with training in core management skills, particularly around managing and leading teams and developing ideas.

Health and safety management is also a key facet of operating visitor attractions. It’s essential to ensure operations are legally complaint and safe for all but it’s also useful to see it as a means of helping turn bright ideas into deliverable reality. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) courses are a great introduction to the field.

Sustainability is of course at the heart of CAT’s mission and since working for the charity I’ve been able to take advantage of the training available through its masters and short course programme. These have been incredibly useful in helping me shaping the sustainability of our own site operations.

What are the key skills required to do your job?

Having a working knowledge of all the roles required to allow a site like CAT to function is vital in managing and developing a site. So effective listening and understand is part of the vital skill set required to synthesise the plans needed to deliver organisational goal and to lead and motivate teams to deliver them. Effective writing and verbal communication skills are the obvious partner set as are genuine interpersonal skills.

Running a site like CAT means you can often have to switch priorities through the day so good organisational and time management skills are also key. IT is a useful aid in this. My team are still relatively new to the use of Microsoft Teams for example, but we are finding lots of useful ways to use it to juggle tasks and information more efficiently between ourselves. This is particularly so with blended onsite-offsite working having become part of the new norm.

Our organisations thrive on ideas and imagination and at some point, that means putting numbers together. Learning how to produce and manage budgets is key and something to learn to enjoy (honest!) especially when you remind yourself its  allowing you to help make a new idea a reality.  

Do you offer work experience, or have volunteers to help anyone interested in working in this field find out what it’s like to work in a science and discovery centre?

CAT runs a residential volunteer programme focused on its gardens and woodland team. Volunteers live on site for a 6 month stay with food and accommodation provided. Details of the programme are available on our website. We hope in the future to be able to expand this and provide opportunities within our engagement team. We do provide opportunities for work experience as well when possible.

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