Rebecca Priestley

Story by Isabel Herstell

Faculty of Science, 2017

Anthologising Antarctic Science

Dr Rebecca Priestley is a senior lecturer in Science in Society here at Victoria. As well as writing books, magazine articles, and academic journal articles, she teaches Science Communication, Creative Science Writing and History of Science.

The bustling, air-conditioned, environment of her Kelburn office is in big contrast with the conditions she faced during her two excursions to Antarctica in 2011 and 2014.

Dispatches From Continent Seven

In 2016, Priestley’s Dispatches From Continent Seven, an anthology of Antarctic science writing, was published by Awa Press.

The book is a riveting chronicle of everything from the earliest explorers, to whom Antarctica existed only as an “idea”, to today’s scientists studying Antarctic paleoclimate, atmospheric chemistry, marine biology, and invasive species.

Priestley approached Antarctica New Zealand with her idea for the book, and in 2011 got the chance to visit Antarctica. Her idea gained traction from there.

Priestley believes that the voices and perspectives of the scientists in her anthology are an important part of the story of Antarctica.

The collection of writing is incredibly diverse with book excerpts, blog entries, and even poetry – it is a true celebration of the intimate connection of science and creativity.

Dispatches From Continent Seven

A Virtual field trip to Antarctica

In 2014, Priestley returned to Antarctica, this time to film a series of lectures on the ice.

Having previously tried this ‘on-site’ method of teaching in the Wellington region for her online Science in Society courses, Priestley had the idea of using this “virtual field trip” approach further afield.

With the support of Antarctica New Zealand, she and her colleague Cliff Atkins, senior lecturer in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, travelled to Antarctica to film a series of lectures on Antarctic history and geology.

A mini-MOOC (massive open online course) pilot of the course ran in 2015 to Lifelong Learning students, then in 2016 the course was offered as a Victoria University stage three course.

This generated a great response from the students involved and will run in 2017 both as an edX MOOC, which will make the course accessible to students around the world, and to stage three students at Victoria.

‘Antarctica: From Geology to Human History’, launches in April 2017.

Science Communication

Priestley attributes her attraction to both the History of Science and Science Communication to her “love of story.”

As an undergraduate at Victoria, Priestley studied Geology and Physical Geography, but then moved into Science Communication and History of Science specifically because she “was interested in knowing more about a wider range of sciences”.

To Priestley, “science is a creative pursuit driven by curiosity, a search for a better understanding of the world around us, or a problem that needs solving”.

Given the environmental challenges facing our planet, the need for effectively communicated science is more important than ever.

Communicating the history of scientific discovery in Antarctica in such a compelling anthology, will not only entertain but will educate the reader about the changing conditions of a continent on the brink of irreversible environmental damage.

Faculty of Science

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