ScienceOnline’09: Interview with Eva Amsen

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Eva Amsen, a participant at the 2007 and 2009 meetings, to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific) background?
Hello readers of Bora’s blog! I’m Eva, nice to meet you. I finished a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Toronto in December, and before that I studied Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in Amsterdam.
EvaAmsen pic.jpg
What is your Real Life job?
That depends… At the time I’m typing out these answers, I still have a few days left at my job at an undergraduate biology program, where I created/developed/ran a new website and did some other education support tasks. But by the time this goes live, I probably won’t be there anymore, and depending on when Bora posts this, I might even be traveling. Traveling’s not a job, though, although I do tend to plan my trips as meticulously as if I was a travel agent. But I am also doing some part-time freelance writing, so I guess that is my only consistent Real Life job at the moment. I’m also currently in the process of searching for a new full-time job. I would like to find a job in which I can coordinate communication between scientists, rather than a job doing research itself.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I’m fascinated by the huge shift from offline to online communication in research that happened in the 1990s. The very first people to communicate online *were* scientists: the first internet connection was between research groups! I’m of the very narrowly defined generation who got their first e-mail address as they entered university: e-mail already existed in academia, but high school students weren’t using it yet. At the time, not all journal articles were online yet, but by the time I graduated, I only *rarely* needed to physically visit a library. The web has made searching the literature so much more simple than it was before. But now, it seems to have come to a point where the web is making things *more* complicated. Should you blog? If so, who should blog? Do you publish your data online or not? Are people blurring personal lives with professional lives, and is that inevitable or do we need to separate the two again? Why are some people completely obsessed with all that has the suffix 2.0, while others just want to sit back and quietly read a paper? These are the things that I like to think about, and why I fly out to events like ScienceOnline.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
Well, that depends which “work” we’re talking about. It has always been entirely separate from my work in research – blogging was just a hobby. It still is. I blog because I like doing it, and meanwhile ended up with three science blogs. (Expression Patterns, Easternblot and Musicians and Scientists)
For the job I just finished, I implemented a content management system that lets the staff update the website in a really simple way, very much *like* a blog, although we don’t allow comments on the news posts because moderation would be too much a of a time commitment. We have talked about ways to use Twitter in the classroom, but I haven’t used that in an education setting myself. For freelance writing, my blog has been crucial. I don’t think I’ve ever had a paid writing job that wasn’t directly or indirectly related to my blogging. I tend to not explicitly recommend blogging as a career move unless someone says they want a career in science writing.
As for FriendFeed and Facebook, I am very skeptical about their use in a work setting. Once you start to mix your work network with your private network, things get confusing and messy. But as I said, I’d like to find a job where I can think more about how scientists interact online, and what is *best* for them, so my opinion shouldn’t matter so much. I’m more interested in the *facts* – are researchers getting more or less work done when they use a particular service? Are they better for it, and how do you define “better”? There are a lot of factors involved in this, and I think the scientific community is starting to wonder these things more and more. I can talk about this for hours, and sometimes blog about it, so lets just move on…(related blog posts: Scientists and Web 2.0 and From the Vault – The FriendFeed Attitude).
What are some of the similarities and differences between ScienceOnline and the conference you organized in Toronto?
SciBarCamp, which I organized twice in Toronto, is based on the BarCamp/SciFoo model, where participants create the schedule on the opening night. Since we had a lot of guests who were very interested in new, web-based ways to communicate science, we did have some topics (and participants!) that also came by at ScienceOnline. But we’ve also had broader sessions, about using science to save the environment, or science in poetry, or demonstrations of Mars Rovers or hydraulic music instruments. Whatever the participants want to talk about on the first day, that ends up on the program.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Bye! And I hope to see *you* at the next SciBarCamp!
See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.


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