Category Archives: SO’11

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Holly Bik

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Holly Bik (blog, Twitter):

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?

Geographically I’m based at the University of New Hampshire, but mentally I’m always in the city – I love the urban lifestyle because it makes me happy, and ironically I’m now living in the rural land of North Face clothing and Crocs. I’m one of those scientist bloggers, currently working as a postdoc with sights on academia. My background is nematode taxonomy and molecular phylogenetics, but now I’m turning into a computational biologist because of the way my field is moving. I hear myself talk about servers and CPUs nowadays, and I think “Who IS this person?!”

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

I’m born and bred American, but after graduating high school I moved to London to complete my Bachelor’s degree and then Ph.D. I did my doctoral research at the Natural History Museum, London – the NHM is such a fantastic institution, and it was there that I really got hooked on science communication. I often participated in “Nature Live” meet-a-scientist events run for the general public (inevitably I would be talking about nematode worms and someone would ask me a question about Finding Nemo). One of the highlights of my career so far was participating in a 6-week scientific research cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in 2009.

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

Research! I absolutely love the field I’m in – ‘eukaryotic metagenetics’ – we’re using cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies (datasets containing millions of sequences) to look at species ‘barcodes’ and study microscopic eukaryote communities in marine sediments. I thought that my schedule would calm down after I finished my Ph.D., but now I’m ten times as busy as a postdoc (they don’t tell you this in grad school). Instead of working on one, focused project with a finite end goal, as a postdoc I am now spread across four or five projects, writing grants, travelling to meet collaborators, and in constant demand from students. And then trying to fit in some science communication on the side. I wish I was a vampire so I didn’t need to sleep.

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

I’m really passionate about dispelling the stereotype of the old and stuffy scientist, and I think that reaching out to a younger, tech-savvy generation is a very powerful approach for mustering up excitement towards science. Our 21st century lives are built on scientific knowledge. Yet technology is now so commonplace that it is easy to forget about the hunter-gatherer human species living on the savannah a few short Millennia ago. Science is testament to the awesomeness of human brainpower – everyone can be a scientist, because everyone has the innate cognitive ability to think logically. Society gives us the perception that science and math are so hard, but they really aren’t – scientists are trained to do their job, just like anyone else. I think practicing law and being a plumber are hard, but that’s because I was never trained to do either.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging is something I do outside the lab, on my own time, because I think it is vitally important to communicate why and how we scientists do research. I could just as easily sit in my Ivory Tower and only talk to other scientists (and on the academic track, focusing only on your research is often necessary and encouraged). As for integrating online activity…I’m still pretty new to this, so sometimes I find that the barrage of information is just too much; you almost get sucked into this desperate urge to keep up – blog more, tweet more, blog first, tweet first. As I’m getting used to the online science community, I’m taking the attitude that more infrequent, but quality, posts leave me the most satisfied and don’t interfere too much with my Postdoc responsibilities. I’ve really enjoyed joining the online science community, and everyone I speak to is always so supportive.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I first discovered science blogs a few years ago when I googled “hot scientist shoes” – Dr. Isis’s blog came up as one of the top hits (try it!) and I remember bookmarking the site immediately and being stunned that actual scientists maintain blogs. From then on I only read a couple blogs very intermittently – then I met Dr. M at the Deep-sea Symposium in Iceland last year, was amalgamated into the DSN crew, and the rest became history. I discovered the concept of blog networks at the conference, so I’m having fun exploring them all and learning about the different bloggers.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

The microbrew beers! (I’m a marine scientist, I had to say that…) The diverse program of topics was really great, and the passionate, interactive discussions in some sessions were fabulous. For me, the best aspect was being immersed in this whole other world–science journalism and media–that I’m keenly interested in yet separated from because of my day job as a researcher.

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, or to your science reading and writing?

Oh boy, if I typed down everything here I’d have carpal tunnel by the end. I learned some tricks journalists use to get scientists to loosen up (“ask them about a personal item in their office…”). I guess I never really thought about it before, but science is all about the story; I knew this beforehand, but hearing it repeated over and over at ScienceOnline really brought it to the front of my mind. Now whenever I sit down to write something (whether scientific manuscript or blog post), I always ask myself “What is the plot?” and write a succinct summary sentence to use as a guide. I am also more focused on my own writing process – playing with literary devices to improve my style and really suck in readers.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope you I’ll see you again next year.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Holly Tucker

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today we chat with Holly Tucker.

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?

I guess like many of us connected to Science Online, I wear many hats. It depends on what time of the day it is, and what I’m feeling most passionate about. As my day job, I’m on the faculty at Vanderbilt University where I hold appointments in the Center for Medicine, Health and Society and the Department of French & Italian. (How’s that for multiple hats already!) My research and writing focus on the early history of medicine.

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

I started my academic life in French Studies, particularly seventeenth-century French history and culture—most appreciated by science types as the era of “scientific revolution.” I did my grad work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has one of the top programs in the History of Science. This was before interdisciplinary studies were de rigueur (sorry, had to sneak some French in), so my dissertation focused on early literature. But I knew that I would include the History of Science, if not in my dissertation proper, then in my career trajectory. So I also took courses in the History of Science, which were among the highlights of my graduate work.

Once at Vanderbilt, I made a risky move. I chucked the dissertation and more or less reinvented myself—and this, on a tenure track. My first book was on the history of embryology and childbirth before epigenesis…in France. It all worked out apparently; I was tenured about six years ago.

Since then, I’ve been making a series of bold moves–at least for an academic. I decided that I wanted to stop writing for the same ten people–and research and write with an eye to a broader audience. Since then, and in addition to specialist articles in my field, I’ve written freelance for publications such as The New Scientist, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Christian Science Monitor. My most recent book, Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution, is just out with W.W. Norton and getting great reviews (whew!). Now that you know some of the backstory, you can see why reviews like this one in The Economist mean a lot to me.

Actually, I wish more academics would make it part of their scholarly work to reach out effectively to a broader public. Which leads me to the next question…

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

As a humanist and more particularly someone who works in history, I’m indebted to the journalists and researchers who are committed to communicating science in ways that don’t require a hyper-specialized Ph.D. in a given field. I count on the best journalists and researchers–some of whom I have gotten to know thanks to Science Online–to guide me on which “breakthroughs” are really significant and which studies are all about smoke and mirrors. I also depend on them to translate the scientific research in ways that make it accessible without assuming their readers are simple minded.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

“Serious academics” are not supposed to waste their time with such “plebeian” things as social media and blogging. Or so the conventional wisdom dictates (for now). But when I made the decision to explore the larger dimensions of my research, I learned quickly that it would be impossible to do so without integrating online work into the equation.

When I posted my first tweet two and a half years ago, I felt horribly vulnerable and awkward. The same when I started my history blog, Wonders & Marvels. In fact, I did not use my real name for a long time (hence @history_geek) and did everything I could to conceal my identity. I still use @history_geek because it captures my interests perfectly, but my name and affiliations can now be found in a simple mouse click.

As the years have gone by, I have come to see blogging and social media as one big, wonderful classroom. It’s a place where researchers can share the results of their work, along with behind-the-scenes tidbits. This puts a human face to what we do. And it’s exactly what we must do at a time when entire programs in the humanities are being shut down and when funding in the sciences is getting more and more scarce.

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, or to your science reading and writing?

The panel with Tom Levenson and Dr. Isis covered a lot of ground and made some points that I agree absolutely with. First, for those of us working in academe, online engagement will never be a substitute for heavy-hitting research, publication and grants. If you have a strong tenure case going in, your community engagement may be viewed as value-added—at best, it might be counted as part of your service or teaching dossier. At worst and especially if you do not have a strong tenure case, your community engagement will be construed as a distraction and perhaps even as the reason behind lack of success.

The second take-home point of the panel was one that I heard between the lines, actually. There was a justifiable fear among attendees that their senior colleagues don’t “get it.” And the majority of senior colleagues probably don’t (not yet). However, for those of us in the Science Online community who are working from a position of relative security, we have a responsibility to be as open and intentional about our online work as possible—so we can help create a safe space for this type of work for everyone. I’m going up for promotion from Associate to Full as we speak. I wasn’t going to mention my blog and other online work in my materials. Science Online changed that.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I really am wondering if Richard Grant, Jenny Rohn and I weren’t separated at birth. Their blog Lablit is now part of my required reading. It’s a website for anyone who writes about or is just intrigued by the fiction of science. What is there not to love?

And while it’s not a blog per se, I also learned about Skeptically Speaking at Scio11. Desiree Schell told me that she likes to imagine her show as the science nursery for Terry Gross’ Fresh Air. Now that I am a devoted listener, I understand why. And seriously, who can resist an entire show on Semen Science?

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

Change nothing, nada, rien. Ok, one thing: I think there should be a cool science t-shirt beauty pageant. If I were a judge at Scio11, I’d have to say Maryn McKenna gets the crown with the Staphylococcus aureus cartoon guys. The runner up: the guy who was wearing the human-walrus shirt during the history of science panel (remind me who you were!). But walrus man had an unfair advantage; I work on chimeras in history, after all.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Taylor Dobbs

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

We are starting the series with Taylor Dobbs.

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?

I am an undergrad journalism student at Northeastern University. I have very little science background, but I’m fascinated by the way technology can influence the dynamics of society. Cell phones, the internet, and – more recently – Twitter and smartphones – have dramatically changed the way society works. I’m interested in following how these types of changes progress and unfold in the future.

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

My career trajectory is only up from here. I have literally never been paid for any journalism or science that I’ve done. The most recent interesting development: I’m trying to sell my first story. I’m hoping to be able to pay for a haircut soon, so the sooner the better. I’ve been mostly working on class assignments, but I’ve stumbled across an interesting story about health care fraud. Mostly, I’m covering the unfolding WikiLeaks story at my blog The World Exposed.

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

Most of my time goes into school and The World Exposed. My passion is really in what I’m doing online with my blog and as web editor for my school’s newspaper. My goals: get paid. As much as I love journalism, I’m in this to make money and support myself. I’m hoping that the work I’m doing at The World Exposed and with the school paper will help build my resume to the point where someone will pay me to do this stuff.

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

The web has the amazing power to make science interesting to everyday people. As someone who isn’t as passionate about science as many of those at Science Online, I admit (with some shame – I know this stuff is important) that I have a lot of trouble reading about science. With interactive models, infographics, videos, and conversational technologies (such as twitter and blog comments, to name some basic ones), the web has the power to make science much more accessible. A great example is Hans Rosling’s 5-minute video on the last 200 years of the socioeconomic history of the world. If someone asked me to read an essay about that, I would… not. But the video was interesting and amazingly cool to watch, and I learned along the way. That is the power of the web:

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

If there was no net activity in what I do, I wouldn’t have been at Science Online. My primary focus right now is a blog, and twitter is a close second. The two go hand-in-hand. It started off with my just tweeting heavily about WikiLeaks. From there, I realized I could assemble some of the best things I’m reading online into a themed narrative on my blog. I still tweet about it, but I also blog. There’s no point in doing anything with your career online without going in head first. People love the internet because it’s a conversation, so that’s what I use it for. I ask questions, go back and forth with people about their thoughts, and it ultimately becomes a gain for all parties.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I discovered science blogs through my dad, who now blogs for Wired but had been in a few places before that. I visit his blog and Jonah Lehrer’s the most. There are no blogs I follow religiously, but if I see that people are all a-twitter about any given post, I give it a look.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

The best aspect for me was being in a group of people with the experience and know-how of veterans in the journalism world but the enthusiasm of a startup. I loved being able to converse with people who said anything other than “You’re going into journalism? In this economy? I hear underwater basket-weaving majors are making more money these days. You’re screwed.” More than that, there was no feeling of competition. It was a collaborative effort to make everyone at the conference better at what they do, and I really think it worked.

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, or to your science reading and writing?

Everyone at the conference was doing their own thing and doing it well. Nobody showed up in a private jet or a Lamborghini (that I know of), but nobody showed up unhappy either. What I took away is that you really can get by doing what you’re passionate about. I always here people say “Do what you love and worry about the money later,” but with the exception of pro athletes some other professions, I never saw proof until Science Online.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.

Announcing Science Online NYC!

Our franchise is spreading! We are pleased to announce the beginning of a monthly New York City ScienceOnline event – Science Online NYC:

We’re delighted to be able to share some details of a new monthly event for anyone based in New York who’s interested in how science is carried out and communicated online.

Nature.com, in collaboration with co-organisers Jeanne Garbarino at Rockefeller University, John Timmer at Ars Technica and Joe Bonner from Rockefeller and SWINY, will be hosting a monthly discussion series consisting of a panel debate followed by audience Q&A and post-debate networking. We’d love you to come along!

The first SoNYC event will take place on Wednesday 20th April from 7pm at Rockefeller University (Caspary 1A/B – location 5 on this map), later adjourning to the Faculty and Students Club on-campus bar. The topic for discussion is:

Courting Controversy: how to successfully engage an online audience with complex or controversial topics.

Climate change. Nuclear safety. Vaccination. These are topics where scientific and medical experts are nearly unanimous when it comes to the basics. But the public has remained uncertain and sometimes hostile to the scientific understanding, in part because of the efforts of vocal and well organized groups that argue against the consensus position. In other cases, like the recent events in Japan, expert opinions have been drowned out by rumors and a rush to provide coverage.

Join us to discuss how science communicators can help ensure that accurate information rises above the noise, and the challenges faced by experts who attempt to reach the public directly. Our panel includes researchers who have engaged the press and the public about climate change, vaccines, and the perception of risk.

Ken Bromberg is the director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, and has made frequent appearances in the media to discuss vaccine safety.

David Ropeik is a former journalist who now lectures and consults on risk perception. In recent entries at his blog, On Risk, he has tackled vaccines and nuclear safety.

Gavin Schmidt is a climate researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a driving force behind the RealClimate blog. His public outreach efforts have included an appearance on the Letterman Show.

The aim is to make these meet-ups as interactive as possible; please bring your ideas, your experiences and your enthusiasm for a lively debate and chance to meet other like-minded NYC sci comm. folks. Once we’ve held the first event, we’ll be asking for your feedback and suggestions for the next one so that this becomes an regular, inclusive opportunity for the discussion of all things related to how science is carried out and communicated online.

You can find us online at the following places:
Twitter: @S_O_NYC, hashtag: #sonyc
Facebook: SoNYC page

Please let us know if you’re planning to come by signing up on Eventbrite as it helps to ensure we have the right sized room and enough for everyone to drink. Feel free to invite your colleagues and friends too. If you have any questions, do send Lou an email (l.woodley@nature.com).

Hope to see you in April!

ScienceOnline2011 videos are now all available online

One by one, Anton loaded the videos of the recorded ScienceOnline2011 sessions and now they are all up for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy – this is hours of good stuff!

And then start mentally preparing for ScienceOnline2012. Follow the #scio11 and #scio12 hashtags on Twitter, suggest ideas for Program sessions for the next year, and make sure you are on our mailing list so you don’t miss the registration.

ScienceOnline2011 (and ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07) reunion at AAAS meeting this Friday night!


If you have ever attended any of our ScienceOnline conference in the past, and you will be in Washington DC this week, probably to attend AAAS meeting, please join us for a little reunion on Friday at 9pm at La Tasca Tapas and Bar, 722 7th St. NW (click on the image above to see bigger):

#Scio11: Staten Island Academy Boys (#SITT Exclusive) – video