The conference is over and I’m en route to LA again. Turns out that I’m on the same plane as the guy who played Mini Me in the Austin Powers movies, and yeah, he’s pretty darn small in person. Anyway, the last two days of the conference were even better than the first two. On Saturday and Sunday, the true meaning of the “unconference” style became clear — in most sessions, leaders introduced themselves and simply posed some questions to start a discussion, then acted as facilitators more than presenters. It was a really egalitarian way of doing things, almost unnecessarily fair given how much more experienced many of the leaders were than the other participants. But, unwarranted fairness aside, some excellent discussions resulted!
On Saturday, I went to a session on using blogs as a tool to develop your writing (and, potentially, to begin writing a book), which was led by many of the authors from Friday’s “Books and Beer” happy hour. My favorite idea from this session was that a blog can be a sort of “writing laboratory” for trying new content, styles, formats, etc. Then, in another session, we had a great discussion about technology and the wilderness — e.g., how much technology is appropriate to introduce into the “wilderness” experience? Can technology enhance our connection with nature rather than diminish it? Some good arguments and examples were given on both sides. Then, Joanne Manaster and “science comedian” Brian Malow led a session on communicating science using humor. I think this was one of the best sessions of the weekend; humor is so seldom used in science communication, and a sense of humor is an attribute that I think the public often believes that we scientists lack.
Later in the day, Melody Dye and Allie Wilkinson led a cool session on using photography to communicate about science and the environment. Obviously, I had some ideas to contribute to this one People were very keen to learn how to create better pictures of their work and how to collaborate with photographers who already have the skills to do so. Then, a very well-structured session on how to write science blog posts, from choosing content to writing style, to marketing your posts, etc. And finally, Carin Bondar and Joanne Manaster ran the first ScienceOnline film festival, with 10 entries (including my final “video blog” assignment from Jeff Morales and Colin Bates’s Science Filmmaking workshop in October).
Saturday’s banquet was a lot of fun, with an inspiring keynote presentation by Meg Lowman, a rainforest canopy biologist and champion for public outreach in science. Meg (aka. “Canopy Meg”) is currently serving as the Director of the new Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (opening in early 2012) and a professor at NC State University. Brian Malow followed with a great performance that had us in stitches. This bit really killed I was honored that the “video blog” that I created with Kelvin Gorospe and Annie Schmidt in Bodega Bay was voted the runner-up in the film festival! I got an inflatable Brotosaurus, which honestly looked a lot more like Brachiosaurus than anything else. The winning video really deserved it: a funny, fascinating short about how a photocopier works (see it here). And the 2nd runner-up was the great “Large Hadron Rap” by alpinekat.
Sunday’s sessions were good, too… although most of the conference-goers seemed a bit groggier than they had before the previous night’s festivities. There was a very interesting session on alternative careers in science (i.e., those off the tenure track). One of the upshots: You still need a Ph.D., even for the so-called “alternative,” non-academic careers in science. In a session about engaging undergraduates in science communication, we heard about some interesting models for getting students involved Then, in the last session before lunch, we heard a very interesting discussion of e-books and how they’re likely to change the way we present science in books (in a good way, I think!). We saw some really cool examples of e-books and “app books” that integrated prose, animations, and active links to additional web media. Finally, after lunch I attended a discussion on marketing yourself in science, and how to create and maintain your “brand.” This is something I know I need to do better, especially given my only partially-overlapping photography, video, and science endeavors!
For what it’s worth: there were FIVE sessions in five different meeting rooms going at any one time, so what I described above is a mere 20% of the total content of the meeting! There really was a tremendous amount of quality discussion happening, on a huge range of topics. If you’re following this blog because you’re interested in communicating science (especially on the web), I highly recommend attending a future meeting!