Thoughts on Science Online 2012

Just as Sarah said in her previous post, she and I attended an un-conference called Science Online 2012. It was a collection of science bloggers, writers, editors, artists, librarians, educators, students etc. in addition to scientists all together chatting it up about science. The whole idea of this conference is to get people discussing and talking about best practices in dealing with science and how it is communicated online. This was my first time at the conference and I was curious as to what all of the fuss was about. There was so much chatter on twitter before the conference about just how excited people were, and now after completing my first Science Online conference I can see why. Here is a (non-overlapping with Sarah’s) list about some of the coolest things that I took away from the conference this past week.

All conferences should list your twitter ID on your name tag.

1. The Keynote lecture- The Vain Girl’s Survival Guide to Science and the Media- by Mireya Mayor

Okay, it’s time to be honest, I was not expecting to get much out of the keynote lecture. She seemed too perfect to be real, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, a Fulbright Scholar, a PhD in Anthropology, and she’s been on National Geographic! Come on she must be snooty or stuck up or something right? WRONG!! Her keynote lecture was great, she highlighted her path to where she is today and she was amazingly honest with some of the struggles that she encountered on the way. She was very down to earth about her work and all of her accomplishments. Also she has the most beautiful pictures from Madagascar and Africa. She was an exciting speaker who went into detail about her travel and journeys. I was also super impressed by the fact that she has 4 daughters and her first one was born while in grad school when she still had field work to do! In conclusion I was really glad that I listened to her lecture, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the conference for me.

2. Blogging with undergraduates

It’s no secret that I really enjoy teaching and I’ve been pretty happy with my TA experiences at UNC as a grad student. Some classes that I’ve taught are really structured and just require someone to lead tutorial or lab, but others (like Bio 471 Evolutionary Mechanisms) have given me the freedom to structure my recitation however I want. With that in mind I went to a discussion session  called “Blogging in the Undergraduate Classroom” led by Jason Goldman and John Hawks who have both taught classes with a blogging component to them. It was really cool because many of the audience members had experience working blogging into their syllabi for a variety of different classes. They highlighted lots of reasons how blogging in the classroom can be beneficial. It gets students thinking about who their audience is and how they are going to reach them. It can give quieter or underrepresented kids in the class a voice. It also acts a a final concrete project for the class that students can show to their friends and parents. There are some issues to think about when blogging in the classroom (privacy, technical issues, grading, etc.) but overall it seems to be really positive. I definitely think that I will try to incorporate some sort of blogging into whatever class that I get to teach next.

3. Understanding audiences

This session was all about finding and understanding the audience that you are writing for. Because Sarah and I are very new to blogging I was interested in learning more about who my audience is/should be and who other people write for. This session was led by Kevin Zelnio (of Deep Sea News and EvoEcoLab blogging fame) and Emily Finke. There were a lot of people here at this session. In fact it was sitting/standing room only. Some of the main points were to think about where you came from and how you could target your writing/outreach to an audience that you are familiar with. Other thoughts highlighted thinking about your hobbies and how you could work that into your message. In this session I didn’t say anything, but I really took in all that was being said. As I said earlier, this blog is fairly new and to be honest I’m still struggling with who my audience is (other than you Mom, I know you’ll read everything I write!). In general this session was a good thinking exercise for me and I have a lot of work to do to try and effectively reach my audience (once I figure out who that is).

So those are probably the three biggest things that I took away from the conference, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. I loved talking to all kinds of different people with different jobs and from all over the country (and world). Everyone was excited about science communication and it was great to talk with other enthusiasts. I really enjoyed tweeting during the conference because I felt it added another layer to the discussions. Also I feel kind of lucky as a local (the conference was only 40 minutes away) because many of the resources and great people are right here in my area. I’m glad I went to the conference, I had a great time and I can’t wait to go back next year!

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