ScienceOnline2010 Interview – Jennifer Williams

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Jennifer Williams to answer a few questions.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

Hi Bora, thanks for including me in the ScienceOnline2010 interviews. I am jazzed to hear that plans for 2011 are already in full swing! I definitely want to attend again next year (it will be my 4th year) so I’ll keep the date reserved. Attending is pretty easy for me since I live in the North Carolina Triad. I work & blog for the online company OpenHelix. My PhD and post-doc were in yeast disease research, but for about the last 10 years I have worked virtually either curating for bioscience databases, or creating tutorials on them for OpenHelix.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

To paraphrase Blanch Du Bois, in my career “I have always relied on the encouragement of colleagues” – and it has led me to wonderful jobs that have allowed me to move with my husband’s career, to be both a mother and a scientist, and to accomplish many other professional and personal goals.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Of course my job takes up large amounts of time and it is one that I am passionate about – teaching researchers how to efficiently and effectively use the public databases and other bioscience resources that are freely available online. We just got a paper published on sources (many free) for informal learning in bioinformatics, entitled “OpenHelix: bioinformatics education outside of a different box”. I am passionate about education outside of work as well, and volunteer some of my efforts to the Early College at Guilford College, and try to give career talks whenever and wherever I am invited to do so. As a goal I’d like to be able to promote alternative careers in science, such as those I’ve been involved with.

My main focus and experience is with online work for stay-at-home parents. However I really enjoy learning about any ‘oddball’ ways to be a scientist. Being a tenure-track professor at a research institution just isn’t the best way for everyone to be a scientist: not only aren’t there enough jobs, but it just ISN’T in everyone’s temperament or life-style goals. And science is SUCH a COOL thing to do! I truly believe there is some version of a science career that is absolutely perfect for just about anyone even half way considering it – it is just a matter of finding the perfectly fitting ‘oddball science career’ (Hey, could that be the beginnings of a title for a session? Hmm I wonder…)

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

That’s easy – learning to be better at it! I really related to your interview with Andrea Novicki when she said “As a confirmed introvert, I find blogging difficult.”! I blog as part of my job at OpenHelix & my blog partners, Mary & Trey, are great! They allow me to contribute tips, and other posts when I get the bug, but they are absolute pros at it (Mary has been chosen for inclusion in The Open Laboratory 2008) & I am learning from them. I (of course) also learn new stuff every year at the ScienceOnline conference & I think I may be sowing the seeds of interest (with Mary’s help) in my offspring.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I ended up getting value from every ScienceOnline event that I attended last year, from the Friday night Gala at the RTP headquarters thru the “Connections with mathematics and programming through modeling” session Sunday morning. The thing that I find so remarkable about the conference is how often I refer to it in casual conversations, even 7 months later – there were SO many topics and conversations that were noteworthy both scientifically, and just for life in general. And it is not just last year’s sessions. I’ve been attending for the last 3 years now and I’m still growing & learning based on some of my conversations in years past. I am very much looking forward to ScienceOnline2011!

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.

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