If you are lucky, you’ll find a couple of other attendees have landed at about the same time, so you meet them at the baggage claim (fortunately, Terminal 1 is under renovation so everyone had to land at the same over-crowded Terminal 2), and share a shuttle or cab into town.
Twenty minutes later, your taxi pulls up at the Doubletree/Brownstone hotel. As you and your fellow passengers exit the car and start gathering your luggage, this tall, skinny, bespectacled, excitable creature runs out of the hotel, waiving his arms, and starts hugging everyone. Oh, that must be Bora! So, you get a hug. And naturally, the next thing you do is take your iPhone out again and tweet: “#scio12 has officially started: #IhuggedBora!”
And so the adventure begins… (most of the images in this post are thumbnails – click to see them larger)
The Close-contact communityUNC. The following four years, we convened at the wonderfully scienc-ey Sigma Xi. This year we moved to McKimmon Center at NCSU. We keep moving to bigger spaces, but our community keeps getting larger, so the density remains high. Thus, wherever we met, we were always tightly close together, rubbing shoulders with each other. There are hugs (not just with me, but among others).
This is me, getting a hug from the NCSU chancellor – photo by Tim Skellet:
There are handshakes:is some (though controversial) research showing that hugging and close contact increase mutual trust, thus strengthening the community. Close proximity to friends, by increasing oxytocin levels, may help people get bolder, perhaps speak up at conferences, which is a good thing at unconferences like ours.
But there is a flip-side to this coin. Strengthening of bonds within an in-group weakens the bonds to people outside of it. If you are all hugged-out at #scio12, are you then suspicious of perfectly nice passers-by on the streets of Raleigh as you are walking to a restaurant? Are you going to tip your waitress less because she is not a part of the in-group? Are you more unpleasant when replying to emails, tweets or blog comments by people who are not at the conference? We certainly do not want that side-effect to happen!feedback, generally not, but at least initially some may feel that way until they realize how welcome they are by everyone else. Those are some hard questions we want to ask (and I asked a few times on Twitter after the conference), because we do not want anyone to feel left out – at the conference physically, or watching from afar online.
The introvert reaction to #IhuggedBorarepeat offenders veterans. This had a potential of changing the atmosphere of the conference, so we did our best to prepare the new people, as well as to recruit the veterans to actively welcome new people to the community. Blog posts by Pascale, Zuska, Janet and me, as well as asking the question on Twitter, we hope, helped new people prepare better for what they will be experiencing. The “SXSW of science”, “SciFoo, but democratic”, The Bonnaroo of the Blogosphere, or “Burning Man for scientists” – those are some comparisons made with ScienceOnline over the years (and see for yourself), so we wanted to make sure that new attendees understood this well in advance.
But not everyone is ready for such a close-contact and furiously-paced event. Some people are introverted. Others are shy. Some may be both introverted and shy. Some may be suffering from the impostor syndrome at the beginning, not knowing if they fully belong to this community. Some are not active on Twitter (or not on Twitter at all – 64 did not enter a Twitter account into their registration form, and most of them I could not find there with searching either) and thus may not know the rest of the community well yet.Dunbar be damned) and that is OK. the ethos of our meeting, but this is the BlogTogether spirit that was the original inspiration to the conference – that being in the same space as others, with hugging or handshakes or just eye contact, helps us know more about each other and affects our online relationships. But I want to try something different next year. I have no idea how and when #IhuggedBora tradition started (a couple of years ago), and it is fun, and I like it, and many others like it. But there should be a way for non-hugged people to feel just as welcome. Perhaps a second hashtag?
Someone on Twitter suggested high-fiving. But then I remembered when I first arrived in the USA I was unfamiliar with the gesture. I worked at a horse farm, working with young horses in the mornings and teaching riding school in the afternoons. There were a couple of big, burly guys working at the barn, feeding horses and such. They would come down the aisle of the barn, raise their hands and say “Hi, five” and I would step to the side and do this:
I had no idea I was supposed to come toward them and that our palms were supposed to meet! Obviously, a cultural difference…
Perhaps this Web-savvy community has seen the “Like” button enough times to understand the “thumbs-up” gesture (despite the thumbs-up gesture being considered rude in some cultures)?
We have a year to think about this, and welcome all of your feedback, but we will definitely ponder a number of ideas on how to make the event more comfortable for people who are new, shy, introvert, or just plain exhausted and overstimulated.
We may also try to do some veteran-n00b pairings ahead of time, essentially providing each new attendee (or at least the students, or people who indicate at registration they would like this) with a “go to” person for questions and help, perhaps starting the conference with an event designed to get the pairs to meet each other for a few minutes. A broader, speed-meeting rotation (like speed-dating events) to get people to break the ice and talk to someone new, may also be considered.
Obviously, we are obsessed with details. Not just because it frees you up to focus on the proceedings, but because not paying attention to detail can actively hinder and spoil the experience for some people.
Unsurprisingly for the host state that is a hotbed of science and technology, North Carolina was represented by 119 people (plus four locals who snuck in for a single session without registering, but that is OK). There were 56 attendees from New York, 34 from California, 21 from Massachussets, 15 from Washington D.C., 14 from Maryland, 13 from Virginia, 12 from Illinois, and 10 from Wisconsin. There were also representatives from Pennsylvania (9), Washington State (8), Minnesota (7), Florida and Colorado (6 each), Arizona, Indiana, Montana and Connecticut (5 each), Ohio and Texas (4 each), Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Utah (2 each), and one person each from Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont.Nadja Popovich and I spoke Serbian to each other at the conference, as we were both born in Belgrade (which also continues the tradition of having someone from Serbia every year)… before the conference, was a strong theme during the event itself, and the conversation, continues, well after the meeting ended.
Race, ethnicity and culture, together with geography and gender, are important aspects of diversity. According to the feedback we are getting, sessions on Broadening the Participation of Underrepresented Populations in Online Science Communication and Communities and Science writing in and for developing nations were incredibly well received. Again, there is, quite a lot of post-conference discussion of it. There is a lot of enthusiasm now not just for expanding next year’s program to include more sessions on this topic (see the wiki page with Program suggestions for 2013, already buzzing with activity), and not just to get an even more diverse group to attend next year, but also to do as much as possible throughout the year to start and test a variety of strategies for promoting science in as broad communities around the world as possible.
The diversity of people attending ScienceOnline, in terms of geography, gender, race, ethnicity or culture, means that everyone brought something different to the meeting – different background, history and culture, different angles and goals and needs. While here, they cross-fertilized their ideas, told their stories and learned from others. This also means that people have gone home to all those distant places and are now sharing what they learned, teaching, influencing their colleagues, neighbors and students, thus enlarging this community even more.
On the wearing of many hats
According to our registration form report, ScienceOnline2012 had 243 bloggers (high time to defenestrate the notion that this is a ‘bloggers conference’ when half the people don’t blog), 153 journalists, 151 scientists, 115 educators, 71 students, 43 enterpreneurs, 34 Web developers and 46 who identified as ‘other’. That total is almost 900, so on average everyone (457 people checked in at the registration desk) checked two boxes.just due to it being a rare event bringing together people who do different things in science, e.g,. researchers, teachers, journalists, bloggers, web developers, publishers, public information officers, librarians, artists, historians, students, etc. but because almost everyone at the meeting is currently (or has experiences in the past of being) in multiple roles. Not because people here wear different hats, but because everyone wears many hats.
I am all of that, for sure. But if you forced me to identify myself with just a single word, I would easily choose this one: “scientist”. Just because I haven’t messed around a lab for a decade does not mysteriously make me a non-scientist. ‘Once a scientist always a scientist’, because being a scientist is not a profession but a worldview. I cannot quit being a scientist now. Not to mention that I still have research collaborations that occasionally lead to publication. Which is why I tend to take the scientists’ side in various scientists vs. journalists debates.amazing new hashtag – #IamScience. Inspired by unlikely career trajectory of Mireya Mayor, our keynote speaker, Kevin Zelnio finally let it all out – an incredible and courageous story of his life and how he got into science, and into and out of a research career. Hundreds of tweets, and dozens of blog posts are being now assembled on a Tumblr blog, while Allie Wilkinson started a photo-Tumblr with pictures of scientists – This Is What A Scientist Looks Like – and Mindy Weisberger put together a video:
here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
It seems that #scio12 attendees are not the only ones with unusual and circuitous career trajectories in and out of science. Perhaps the “usual” path is the most unusual of all. There is a lesson in this somewhere….
Move aside, C.P.Snow, we bridged dozens of culturesgames…possibilities are endless.
We’ve always had sessions on art and video, but this year we really upped the ante. There was a whole slew of workshops on art, photography, data visualization, making maps, making videos, etc, and many sessions discussed the relationship between science and various areas of art, photography and music.Art Contest. Their submissions were projected on a screen in the Cafe room and were given prizes in the end. Videographers, likewise, sent in their work ahead of time and their videos were projected during the Film Festival, again with prizes.
Maggie Pingolt, Russ Creech and Brian Crawford took most of the “official” photos at the conference, but others did their share as well. Probably the most popular was the #youhavebeenframed series – many of the people in those photos now use the images as their new Twitter avatars.scio12 or scienceonline2012 or YouTube videos tagged with scio12, you will see that many participants used the conference to practice their skills – some with amazing results.
Perrin Ireland led a workshop on Sketch-notes on the very first morning, after which she and her brand-new trainees drew cartoon notes of all the sessions they subsequently attended – this was a huge hit!still coming out, but listen to Nadja Popovich’s official ones here. Finally, several videos were made at the venue, some still in production, some embedded into this post, others easily found on YouTube.
And then….oh my! Some attendees decided to make art permanent, on their own bodies! They went to Dogstar Tattoo Company for a Science Ink tour. After hearing Carl Zimmer talk about the history of tattooing, and having his book signed, several participants got their own tattoos (less courageous of us got temporary tattoos, provided to everyone at registration).
From the Raleigh News & Observer: Rebecca Guenard, center, and Russ Creech, left, watch as Christie Wilcox, who is getting her PHd at the University of Hawaii, gets a lionfish tattoo from Kathryn Moore at Dogstar Tattoo Company in Durham Friday, January 20, 2012. Wilcox is one of the attendees in the ScienceOnline2012 conference in Raleigh.
Heck, even sports snuck in somehow – we all got an introduction to the wonderful world of curling.
To boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before…push and pull strategies for reaching new audiences. We are pretty happy with what we can do – and the quality of work – at science-dedicated venues, be it the science section of NYTimes, or pop-sci magazines, or specialized science radio shows, or blogs, podcasts and websites. People working at such venues tend to be good at what they do and they tend to be… at ScienceOnline! diagram by Ed Yong demonstrates – the good scientists and good journalists talk to each other about bad scientists and bad journalists who are conspicuously absent. But those bad scientists and journalists have to be reached or replaced. How? They work in mass media we cannot penetrate, addressing audiences we cannot reach. How do we also get there and reach those same vast audiences with well-done science stories?
It’s hard, but it can be done. There were more than several people at the meeting who do it, daily or occasionally. They have great success and their new audiences appreciate them. The resistance mostly comes from our own ranks!government that prohibits scientists from talking to the media. It takes some courage to go ahead and do it anyway. The problem is not the audience, but one’s bosses and colleagues. People who do this anyway are at ScienceOnline. But how do we reach people who are too afraid to do this – they are too afraid to come to ScienceOnline as well!
Other science communicators push the envelope by doing something else – publishing in unlikely venues or trying to reach new audiences by going where those audiences are.
You may go where the cheerleading fans are, then serve them science. The audiences love it, the traditional science communicators accuse you of sexism.served science. The target audience loves it. The traditional science communicators accuse you of sexism. served science. The audiences love it, but since the traditional communicators do not grok that culture, they may not think you are good enough. Seriously?
You start pushing hard science and skepticism at the super-popular website infamous for its richness of dangerous medical quackery and ridiculous New Age pseudoscience. The audience laps it up. The traditional science communicators are skeptical.an unusual background, unusual career, unusual “looks” for a scientist, more balls and ovaries than the remaining 456 people in the room for the Keynote lecture, go where most guys have no courage to go, face certain death five times, discover a new species, still do your own lab science, are a role-model for balancing career with life as a parent, but since you are on TV, with your own show, this must mean that you are a bad scientist or no scientist at all, right? It does not matter that TV is the hardest medium to penetrate, and the hardest medium to get science done right (it is a very male, ego-driven culture, full of people who “know what works on TV” and thus will not listen), and that we are all saying that someone’s gotta do it because everyone watches TV – that’s where the real “mass” audience is. But when someone does, and does it well, we are all up in arms? We invited Mireya to do the keynote specifically to break those biases among ourselves. It seems it worked. And everyone who got to chat with her during the remainder of the meeting has a new appreciation for her as a person with passion, for her science, for her work as a science communicator, for her groundedness and level-headedness, sense of humor and overall humanity. She’ll be back next year, as one of us, doing something fun, TBD. isn’t that what the Web is good for?
We keep saying that we should divert attention of people who are browsing the Web looking for celebrity gossip, or politics, or attractive human forms, to cool science stories instead. Let’s do even more of that! And support those of us who are trying.
Your feedbackdo it now (we’ll later have a separate feedback form for people who attended virtually).
We read your responses very carefully every year, many times throughout the year, and try to address the issues you identify, or incorporate your ideas. Your feedback is extremely valuable to us so we can always try to make the conference better than the previous year.Zuska wrote about in public. And Janet’s banquet story was a perfect book-end to it as well. There were only three strongly negative responses, including one by a person who did not attend the Keynote or talk to Mireya in person, carefully protecting one’s a priori biases from potential challenge.