The last month has been busy, including a whirlwind of workshops at various universities in the U.K. and a hop across the pond to the Science Online conference, so it is only now that I’ve managed to carve out some time to write a belated blog post.
This was my first experience of Science Online (#Scio14), which was held in Raleigh, North Carolina last month. The three day “non-conference” style meeting is a good mixture of bloggers, researchers and people working in in publishing who come together to discuss science communication, public engagement and a variety of related online issues. Surprisingly, there are not many conferences that attract this audience and cover these types of topics (with the exception of the excellent SpotOn London), despite the increasing demands on scientists to share their research and engage outside of the ivory towers.
When I was still doing research, I attended several academic conferences in the USA and Europe. Most of these followed a similar format: speakers delivered short talks which were organised into relevant sessions interspersed with poster sessions throughout the day. In contrast, the non-conference format at #Scio14 consisted of plenary (Converge) lectures and parallel discussion style sessions. It was these discussion sessions that really interested me: instead of one person speaking from a lectern, several people contributed to a conversation, bringing a variety of different experiences and opinions to the discussion (including some heated debate at times). Each session was led by the person (or persons) who had suggested the session in advance of the conference and they often sketched out a skeleton agenda to prevent the discussion veering off on any tangents. The result was a fruitful discussion between experts and beginners alike.
Describing all of the sessions I attended goes beyond the scope of this post, but I’ve cherry picked two that I found particularly insightful: the #ScioLang session and the #ScioTools session. The #ScioLang session, led by Ivan Gonzalez (@GonzalezIvanF) who writes the blog ScienceSalsa, focussed on non-English science communication and started by pointing out that although English is the main language for communicating science, only 6% of the global population are native speakers. This raised questions about outreach and the language barrier: are we losing an opportunity to engage more of the world in science? This issue is not limited to written communication, but also arises at conferences that are mostly English speaking and on social media, where comments with an innocent or comical intention can be interpreted as inappropriate. The session revealed a number of active online science communities in other languages, including www.cienciapr.org for Spanish speaking scientists, which has 7,000 members from more than 100 disciplines. The #ScioLang topic is vast, so there was not enough time to discuss everything in the one hour session, however it provided a fascinating insight into the issues faced by non-native English speaking scientists and what we can do to facilitate the communication process.
The #ScioTools session, run by Eleanor Spicer Rice (@VerdantEleanor), was of particular interest to me because some of our workshops for researchers and universities in the U.K. focus on this area. The discussion centered around a number of digital tools that can be used for tracking time (Toggl, RescueTime), notetaking (Evernote), social media management (Tweetdeck, SocialBro, Hootsuite) and collaboration tools (Figshare, Trello), among others. Although there wasn’t much time to explore any of these in depth during the discussion, this type of session was perfect for collating knowledge and recommendations on effective platforms. As a result, I came away with a list of tools: some that I already use frequently, some that were new to me and others that I decided to give a second chance. The majority of tools discussed are either free or operate using the freemium model (a basic version for free and a more feature rich version for paying customers), so you can try them out first to see if you like them before parting with any cash. #ScioTools are becoming increasingly popular and they are only going to be used more in the future due to rapid generation of data, the need for data storage and sharing, growing collaborations and a demand for more analytics. I’m looking forward to more sessions like this!
I’m still going through my notes from #Scio14 and am already looking forward to #Scio15 which will be held in Atlanta from 18th-21st February next year. I hope to attend more non-conferences in the future and would encourage more organisers to experiment with this style of event!