Archive for the 'Science Blogging Conference' category

#scio13 aftermath: some thoughts about the impostor syndrome.

I didn't end up going to the Impostor Syndrome session at ScienceOnline 2013. I told myself this was because it would be more professionally useful to attend Life in the venn - What happens when you're forced to wear many hats? since I have recently added a hat of my own (Director of my university's Center for Ethics). But, if I'm honest with myself, it's because I felt like too much of an impostor to contribute much of anything -- even useful tweets -- to the impostor syndrome session.

I have felt like an impostor since at least high school, and maybe before that.

I have known, since at least my second year of college, that the impostor syndrome was a real phenomenon. It was even the topic of my term paper in Psych 101. But knowing that the syndrome was a real thing, and that it involved a mismatch between one's actual accomplishments and how accomplished one felt on the inside, didn't make me feel like less of a fraud.

It probably goes without saying that I had a flare-up of the impostor syndrome in my first Ph.D. program. I had another flare-up in my second Ph.D. program (although I was maybe a little better at hiding my self-doubt). Going on the academic job market in philosophy made me feel like perhaps the biggest fraud of all … until I went up for tenure.

The frustrating thing about the impostor syndrome is that it makes it utterly impossible to tell whether your successes reflect any merit, or whether they are pure luck.

Whether the potential others see in you is real, and could somehow be converted to something of value (if only you manage not to blow it), or whether your only actual skill is talking a good game.

Whether piping up to share what feel like insights is reasonable, or whether you are just wasting people's time.

I worry that what it might take to overcome my own impostor syndrome is an actual flight from reality. I know too many smart, accomplished people in my field who have not met with the recognition or success they deserve to believe we're working within a pure meritocracy -- which means it's unreasonable for me to take my own success as a clear indicator of merit. I also know that past performance is not a guarantee of future returns -- which means that even if I have done praiseworthy things in the past, I could blow it at any moment going forward.

And I also worry that maybe I don't really have impostor syndrome, in which case, the reasonable conclusion, given how I feel a lot of the time, is that I actually am a fraud.

So, yeah, it's one of those topics that feels very relevant, but is perhaps relevant enough that I'm not really in a good position to benefit from a discussion of it.

How's that for a paradox?

* * * * *

Tweets from the Impostor Syndrome session have been Storified here.

3 responses so far

#scio13 aftermath: synecdoche.

It seems inevitable that I come back from ScienceOnline conferences with an odd glow of enthusiasm which my colleagues want me to explain to them. What is this weird conference? Why does it attract such an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers? Are the conference-goers split off into their disciplinary tribes to focus just on the topic and initiative that are squarely in their wheelhouses?

With 10,000 words I'm not sure I could come close to explaining it. But as David Quammen pointed out when he spoke to us in a CONVERGE session, sometimes focusing on a piece of the experience, a part of the whole, can convey something more.

I had the pleasure of sitting right across the aisle from Jason Goldman on our short flight from Raleigh-Durham to Charlotte on Sunday, and he mentioned that he had captured a tiny bit of video that he was showing to folks to explain what ScienceOnline was like to them. He gave me permission to share that video here:

Science Online, Gangnam style

As a bit of background, Carin Bondar had launched a plan to create a music video to capture some sense of what it was like to be at ScienceOnline 2013. (She made one at ScienceOnline 2012 that was a big hit, so people were pretty enthusiastic to help.) This year's effort sought (among other things) masses of conference attendees delivering something recognizable as "Gangnam Style" choreography. If you don't know what that is, let me introduce you to pop phenomenon PSY:

PSY "Gagnam Style"

The mission: get an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers to dance like PSY.

Our sensei: John Rennie, esteemed former editor in chief of Scientific American, adjunct instructor in New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, science writer, editor, and blogger.

John's resume does not, as far as I can tell, include a stint as a dance instructor on a cruise ship or on land. However, when given the challenge of mastering some key choreography and of teaching it to a bunch of people (most of whom are not experienced dancers) on the spot, he attacked that challenge so earnestly that we were all committed.

We wanted to learn the steps. We believed we could figure them out, not just because we wanted to, but because John found a way to communicate them to us despite the fact that our entusiasm was much bigger that our talent. And by golly, we had an awesome time being part of the simultaneous transfer of skills and enthusiasm.

What happened that evening with a dance routine is not unrelated to what happens during the whole rest of the conference with our knowledge, our tools, our questions, our ideas for communication, for pedagogy, for outreach, for better ways of doing science, for better ways of sharing our world.

That's not the whole of the ScienceOnline experience, but it's an essential part of it, and it's just as infectious as a pop song.

One response so far

Dispatch from #scio13: Tweet me maybe?

So, last night at ScienceOnline there was an Open Mic Night, masterfully MC'd by Jacquelyn Gill and David Schiffman. There was a lot of talent on display, but also initial issues with the sound at the venue. (Scott Huler and Brian Malow were the committed empiricists who figured the issue out ... it turned out something was plugged into the wrong hole. (Insert gratuitous punchline here.)) The evening culminated with a inspiring dance lesson from John Rennie, who is without a doubt the science journalist you want to teach you how to dance.

Anyway, as conveyed on the Twitters, I made the (almost surely ill-advised) decision to get up and sing at Open Mic Night. While I am pleased (and relieved) to report that I didn't end up in the Shatner zone in the chorus, a sound engineering issue meant that I lost half of my first verse. So, here are the lyrics to my song about social media, set to a possibly recognizable tune. (If you don't mind, imagine me singing it in tune.)

I threw a post on my wall,
Only been blogging since Fall,
Your "like" pleased me most of all,
And now you're in my feed

I'd trade my soul for a link,
I'd kill to hear what you think,
I'd even write you with ink
'Cause now you're who I read

FriendFeed was slogging,
Tumblrs were reblogging,
G+ hangouts, I'm no quitter,
Mention me on Twitter, baby?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

My comment got voted down,
Emoticon was a frown 🙁
You took my logic to town,
But still, you're in my feed

I didn't give up the ghost,
Redeemed myself the next post,
Got linklove, I shouldn't boast,
But it's what I need.

Bora Z retweeted,
Ed Yong said to read it,
SiteMeter ebb and flowing,
Holy crap I'm linked on BoingBoing!

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that
My stats were so, so bad

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that

So tweet me, maybe?

6 responses so far

#scio12 traces in real life: sketch notes from my department meeting.

One of the highlights of ScienceOnline 2012 for me was getting to meet Perrin Ireland, a graphic facilitator who specializes in science communication, and to see her in action. Before the conference, Perrin had emailed to ask if she could "live scribe" the citizen science session Amy Freitag and I would be co-moderating, creating a visual record of the content of our discussion with markers on foam core boards as the session unfolded.

Of course, we accepted the offer, because how could we not? (Stills of Perrin's work from our session and others can be seen in this post.)

Perrin also offered a Science Scribe 2.0 Workshop (which I missed, because one can only be so many places in a time), in which she taught participants how to create these visual records ("sketch notes") and then turned them loose to practice these skills in other conference sessions. Here's a slideshow with examples of their work.

Michele Arduengo participated in this workshop and gave a vivid (and illustrated) account of it on her blog. This was enough to embolden me, the Tuesday after the conference, to take sketch notes of our start-of-the-semester department meeting.

They are not nearly as visually arresting as the sketch notes that Perrin's apprentices created at ScienceOnline. However, I did observe that being alert to how I could make my notes (of pretty mundane academic and administrative stuff) more visual seems to have gotten me to pay more attention to the meeting as it was happening -- to look for unifying themes or recurring motifs, for example. And, it left me with a set of notes that, more than a week later, makes the big issues and small details easy to remember ... which means that, potentially, my notes will actually be useful in a few months, too.

2 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: You call this living?

As I mentioned on the Twitters, when, upon my return from ScienceOnline 2012, my family members hit me with the question, "What did you get me?" they were thrilled that the answer included science-y watercolors by Michele Banks (who, by the way, has a show ongoing).

Science watercolors by Michele Banks

My favorite is this cute phage, not least because it prompted a conversation between the Free-Ride offspring.

Phage watercolor by Michele Banks

Dr. Free-Ride: Isn't this cool?

Younger offspring: It looks like a bug with a balloon on its butt.

Elder offspring: No, it's a phage.

Younger offspring: What's a phage?

Elder offspring: It's a virus that eats bacteria.

Younger offspring: Aren't viruses and bacteria the same thing? Don't they both make you sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, viruses and bacteria both fit in the category of "germs".

Younger offspring: Don't they both make you sick? Isn't bacteria the same level of bad as viruses? And why would a virus eat a bacteria? Wouldn't that make the virus sick?

Dr. Free-Ride: There are some bacteria that are totally benign that are probably living in your intestine right now, without which you would have a hard time getting all the vitamins you need, for example. So, there are some bacteria that actually do good work for you.

Younger offspring: Oh.

Dr. Free-Ride: But there are definitely other bacteria that can make you sick.

Elder offspring: Like E. coli for bladder infections.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah.

Younger offspring: TMI.*

Dr. Free-Ride: To be fair, some of the bacteria that are in you, doing fine without making your life miserable, are E. coli. It's particular strains of E. coli that can make you sick.

Younger offspring: Isn't it bacterium?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, bacterium is the singular, bacteria is the plural. So ... what's the difference between a bacterium and a virus?

Elder offspring: A virus isn't really living. The only thing that it does that is similar to living things is reproduce, and it doesn't do that by itself -- it needs a bacterium to reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Say more about that. Is it like a photocopier, which reproduces but needs someone to push the button?

Younger offspring: Wait, if bacteria can help viruses reproduce, isn't that another way for bacteria to hurt us?

Elder offspring: It's not like the bacteria are doing it by choice!

Dr. Free-Ride: They are sort of being commandeered by the viruses, aren't they?

Elder offspring: Yeah. The viruses just attach on and then insert their genetic material.

Dr. Free-Ride: And say, "Hey, bacterium ..."

Elder offspring: "... do THIS instead of your normal life functions!"

Dr. Free-Ride: So, instead of your normal life functions, make more of the stuff that I've shot into you, which is basically virus-stuff?

Elder offspring: Yeah. And then when the bacterium gets too full of viruses? It goes BOOM! and all the viruses go find new homes.

Dr. Free-Ride: It explodes like an overheated spaghetti squash.**

Younger offspring: That wasn't really needed.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, you know, sometimes it's good to have a mental image. OK, back to your claims that viruses aren't alive. Strictly speaking, we humans need other stuff in our environment to conduct our life functions. I'm always curious about how we decide where to draw the line between what counts as being a living thing and what doesn't. And I'll bet there are probably some people who think that viruses ought to be on the "living" side of the line rather than the "non-living" side. What's the justification for keeping viruses out of the club?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by themselves.

Dr. Free-Ride: Whereas you can? Didn't you recently have a conversation with an organelle that pointed out your shortcomings in this area?

Elder offspring: They can't produce energy by way of mitochondria or whatnot.

Dr. Free-Ride: Ohhh, so because we have mitochondria, we can lord it over the viruses? You think having mitochondria is a requirement for being alive?

Elder offspring: No, you just need to produce energy from something to be alive. Just reproducing yourself isn't enough. I'm pretty sure viruses don't get energy, they just reproduce.

Dr. Free-Ride: Wouldn't that suggest that they're even more advanced than us "living things" in that they don't need energy? I mean, they don't have to stop to eat. They're very nose to the grindstone, achieving the task at hand of making more of them.

Younger offspring: Except that viruses don't have noses.

Dr. Free-Ride: Think of how much more you could get done if you didn't have to stop to eat.

Elder offspring: But then I'd miss all the prettiful flavors.***

Dr. Free-Ride: For that matter, think of how many more of you there could be running around if you displayed the virus' seriousness of purpose about making more of you.

Elder offspring: Ewwww. No.

Dr. Free-Ride: No, not in one of those bizarre animal kingdom kind of reproduction methods. We're talking about you harnessing bacteria to multiply your genetic material.

Elder offspring: Yeah ... still no. One of me is enough.

Younger offspring: Yes it is.

Glaring ensued. As it does.
*Let the record reflect that the younger Free-Ride offspring was objecting to the general information that bladders can be infected, not objecting to an overshare of personal information (and indeed, it was general, not personal, information the elder Free-Ride offspring was sharing here).

**We did this accidentally not too long ago. It blew the door of the microwave oven open in spectacular fashion. It was still pretty tasty, and no one was hurt.

***In case you were wondering, this is a discussion that happened at the dinner table during dinner.

2 responses so far

Tuesday Sprog Blogging: #scio12 storytelling and critters not imagined by my offspring.

So, Friday was busy here. Spring semester classes started on Wednesday, people want add codes to add my courses, students are making sure they know where everything is in the online section of my "Ethics in Science" course -- the usual. But, I was also dealing with a larger than usual portion of ScienceOnline in my bloodstream* (as in the past it's been about a week earlier in the calendar than it was this year).

Anyway. As usual, the Free-Ride offspring met my return to Casa Free-Ride and normal life (such as it is) with a barrage of questions about the conference. What did you see? What did you do? What did you learn? Who was there? What did you bring us? (More on that last question in the next Sprog Blogging installment.)

Among other things, I told the sprogs about the storytelling event at the Friday banquet, organized by The Monti. The sprogs dig a good story; it's probably part of what got them interested in science. And, I decided they might enjoy listening to the podcast of two of the stories that we heard at the banquet, Ben Lillie's and Bug Girl's.

I'll admit, I recognized that maybe Bug Girl's story was on the edge of age-appropriate for my offspring (currently 10.5 and 12.5 years of age). However, they have always had a healthy interest in entomology and in parasites of various sorts. So, I threw caution to the wind.

In the process, I discovered that even though my offspring are well aware that humans approaching adulthood grow hair in a number of places that are not the head -- and even though they each have more than theoretical knowledge of the habits of Pediculus humanus capitis (thank you, afterschool program!) -- neither one of my worldly children had ever imagined that there might exist a critter that would regard a not-on-the-head tract of follicles as a hospitable environment. Indeed, the looks of sheer horror on their faces when they learned that there is such a thing as "pubic lice" was worth the price of conference registration.

Ours is a universe of wonders. Some of those wonders are exotic (and maybe gross) enough that they are hard to anticipate, until some intrepid explorer brings back reports of them, changing our sense of where we are and what we might encounter -- and, of how squicked out we might be in that encounter.

I did mention to the Free-Ride offspring that I told one of the stories at the banquet. The younger Free-Ride offspring especially has been trying to get me to disclose details of the story I told. My answer has been, "When the podcast of it goes up, I'll let you listen to it."

I expect that after the sprogs listen to my story, there may be a discussion on which I'll report here. Stay tuned.

*Also, as it turns out, in my hair shafts -- not at all faded from ScienceOnline violet to almost normal beginning of the semester brown. One hopes my students won't infer from my current hair color that I'm cooler than I actually am.

One response so far

Looking ahead to #scio12: the nature of the unconference.

One of the things that makes ScienceOnline different from lots of other academic or professional conferences is that it is structured as an "unconference". So ... what exactly does that mean?

For one thing, it challenges the standard model of the expert at a podium at the front of the room, dispensing finished knowledge to the audience. The assumption is that the "audience" is really a group of interested participants who are bringing plenty of expertise to the table, and that they will be working together with the session moderator to figure new things out.

I've been to the rare academic conference with "workshop" sessions that achieve real engagement of, and participation from, nearly everyone in the room. At ScienceOnline, those levels of engagement and participation are not rare at all.

Some unconferences are so participant-driven that the program doesn't even exist until the conference goers convene. Folks use whiteboards or paper to describe a session they want to happen (whether they have the expertise to lead it or are looking for other participants who could share that expertise), and ideas, people, spaces, and blocks of time are negotiated on the spot to build a program.

For those of us in disciplines where conference presentations usually flow from finished papers submitted a year in advance, this process can feel a little destabilizing. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

The other unconference in which I've participated (She's Geeky) has used this process. Along with it, the conference organizers provide reminders:

"Be prepared to be surprised!"

"Whoever comes is the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. When it's over, it's over."

In other words, part of the point of having an unconference is to cultivate serendipity, to foster connections of ideas and people that can happen organically but that might not happen with too much rigid planning. Working this way has its risks. There may be only a handful of people interested in what you want to talk about, and what people have to say may fit in a non-standard time interval. But the risks are part of the deal to unlock the rewards.

There was another reminder, whose placard I managed not to photograph, of "The Law of Two Feet" -- basically, that each participant should take responsibility for being where she wanted or needed to be, even if that meant leaving one group midway through or joining another already in progress, and that other participants should respect each individual's decisions rather than expecting a captive audience. This strikes me as the right attitude to take to cope with a session which turns out to be not what you expected or wanted to be a part of, rather than complaining later, "That's an hour of my life I'll never get back."

If you look at the ScienceOnline 2012 conference program as it's shaping up, you'll see that this is not a conference generating sessions on the spot each morning. Rather, there are multiple sessions in each time slot, each with a title, one or more moderators, and a description of the topics to be discussed. In other words, this is a relatively organized unconference.

My sense, though, is that even though the advanced planning that goes into the sessions seems to pull against the "un"-ness of the conference, it actually makes possible a lot more participant-steering of sessions to address things the people coming to the sessions want to talk about -- burning questions they have, experiences or expertise they want to share, resources, applications, connections to other things they care about, what have you. One way this can happen is via session wiki pages. For example, I'm helping lead two sessions, one (with Amy Freitag) on "Citizens, experts, and science", the other (with Christie Wilcox) on "Blogging Science While Female". Those wiki pages are just calling out for ideas, questions, or useful links. (Your ideas, questions, or useful links! What are you waiting for?)

Indeed, this is not simply a matter of shaping an hour-long discussion at the conference, but of jumping into a conversation now. It's not a conversation that has to end when the next session starts -- or when the conference itself is over. Nor is is a conversation that's restricted to the people who are physically in the room. You can be part of the conversation even without setting foot in North Carolina.

And this brings me to another way ScienceOnline strikes me as interestingly different from other conferences I've attended. At many of these conferences, sessions spill over to interesting discussions over drinks or meals. That happens at ScienceOnline, too -- but unlike discussions at other conferences that recede into memory when you get home, the conversations at ScienceOnline have a better than even chance of being tweeted, liveblogged, or otherwise captured and signal-boosted, making it possible for us (and you, and anyone else who want) to come back to them and push them further until we (not our feeble memories) decide we're done with them.

6 responses so far

Packing for #scio12: plumbing the inky depths.

A bunch of ScienceOnline 2012 attendees will be spending the Friday afternoon of the conference on The ScienceOnline2012 Science of Ink Tour, graciously hosted by the Dogstar Tattoo Company and featuring a lecture by Carl Zimmer on the science of tattoos

Some of the participants in this tour will also be coming back with brand new ink, which means they will want to pack accordingly.

1. Your copy of Science Ink for autographing. There are likely to be copies of the book available for purchase on the tour, but lots of you inked-up scientists already have one. Sure, maybe Carl Zimmer will have a chance to inscribe your book for you. The real action, though, is going to be finding conference-goers whose tattoos are featured in Science Ink and getting them to sign the the pictures of their tattoos.

2. Ointment to apply to your new tattoo. A new tattoo needs a thin layer of ointment twice a day. While some prefer a concoction called "Tattoo Goo" that is reputed to smell like hippies, my tattoo artist recommends Aquaphor, which you may be able to find in a 0.35-ounce tube that is conveniently sized for travel.

3. Antibacterial liquid soap. New tattoos also need to be washed twice a day (before you apply the ointment), preferably with a liquid soap that contains an antibacterial agent like Triclosan. (The store brand at most national drugstore chains will have such an option.) Bringing a conference-sized supply in a 1-ounce travel container will probably get you through.

Not pictured: Artwork to show your tattoo artist. When you're getting inked, a picture is worth a thousand words. Print that puppy out, full-sized if at all possible.

Not pictured: Cash for your tattoo. Most tattoo parlors are cash-only. If you want the body art, be sure to bring the legal tender.

4. A clean washcloth. Even if you're sticking to the temporary tattoos at the conference, hygiene matters. Always apply them with a clean washcloth, and try not to use brackish water.

8 responses so far

Packing for #scio12: sharing space with others.

ScienceOnline 2012 is the biggest instantiation yet of a conference that started small(er) in January 2007. There will be lots of opportunities to have interesting conversations and build connections. There will also be lots of opportunities to get on each other's nerves.

If you're sharing a room with another conference-goer at one of the conference hotels, here are a few items that might foster peaceful coexistence.

1. Snore-reducing nasal strips. To snore is human. To be able to minimize your audible snoring when you're sharing a room with someone else who wants to sleep is ... maybe not divine, exactly, but surely considerate.

2. Ear plugs. Some of us sleep like stones, but some of us know that we may have a hard time sleeping well, especially in a strange hotel room, if there are random sounds nearby. Pre-emptively blocking those random sounds with ear plugs may be the right call. (Depending on the level of amplification, ear plugs may also be useful at open mic night.)

3. OTC analgesic. It's nice to be able to manage your own headache, and to have enough to offer if your roommate has developed a headache, too. (In the event of ethanol intake, which can lead to headaches the next morning, roommates might also remind each other to drink plenty of water before going to bed.)

Of course, for a significant portion of the conference you will be sharing space with many more people than you'd want to cram into a hotel room. And, given that this is a conference all about science on the Web, lots of those people are going to be wielding electronic devices whose batteries are being depleted.

Which means that you may contribute to the tranquility of the room by bringing one of these:

Pictured is a mini surge protector, more compact than a full-blown power strip, which lets you plug three devices into one existing outlet.

As a bonus, this one also accommodates a couple of USB devices that might be in need of a recharge.

2 responses so far

Packing for #scio12: what are you drinking?

In your packing for ScienceOnline 2012, you'll want to keep in mind that the human body is some fairly substantial percentage water. Which means you've got to drink.

What is doesn't mean, however, it that you need to leave a pile of paper cups and plastic bottles in your wake.

1. Water bottle. Talking about science on the Web can be a thirst-inducing business, so staying hydrated is a good call. Doing so in a way that avoids the environmental impacts of bottled water is an even better call.

2. Travel mug. Nestled between the various conference sessions, there will be opportunities to get a caffeine fix. If you bring your own mug, you avoid putting paper or styrofoam cups into the waste stream -- and you may have an easier time distinguishing your cup of joe from everyone else's.

3. Hip flask. If you're going to be transporting small quantities of potent potables from one hotel room party to another, this is the traditional vessel in which to do so. On the other hand, you might use one of these as your water bottle to give the appearance of #DrunkSci while keeping your wits about you.

Pro-tip: Bringing too many specialized vessels can eat up a lot of room in your luggage (and where does it end -- cocktail shakers? Erlenmeyer flasks?). A travel mug can handle hot and cold beverages (including water). However, if it's full, you probably need to have it in hand unless it has a very secure top.

10 responses so far

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