Science is Vital – AGM and the next steps

Most of you will remember the Science is Vital campaign and the extraordinary result it achieved in only a few weeks. As most of you also know, work didn’t stop there, and the campaign focusing on Science careers also gathered a lot of support and attention.

Science is Vital is now an organization and it will have it’s first AGM this Thursday, 13th September 2012. Part of the main points to be discussed will be how the campaign can insure that the science budget will not be at risk in the next Spending Review. The pressure to cut funding across the board is there, as we all know. So it seems more important than never to keep the case for Science very much on the agenda.

Importantly, Vince Cable seems to agree:

[from Research Professional News, by Laura Hood, 11 Sept 2012]

This is a good sign, clearly, but we should not get complacent and must prepare to defend the science funding in UK as a major point of future growth and development.

 

The Business Secretary also defined the Government’s strategic areas for the future of Industry in UK:

Vince Cable’s vision for the future of British industry includes industrial strategies for sectors including non-health life sciences such as agriculture, the business secretary announced today. According to Fergus Harradence, deputy director of innovation policy at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the government is keen to boost the R&D performance of the farming and food industries, which lags behind that of other sectors.

Speaking at Imperial College London, Cable said he seeks to establish long-term partnerships between government and specific parts of UK industry. But while many expected a full strategy document to be revealed, he indicated only that a large number of smaller, sector-specific plans will be produced over the coming year.

The three broad areas to be targeted by the government for strategies are advanced manufacturing, knowledge-intensive services, and industries important for international trade such as energy and information technology.

Higher education forms a crucial part of the knowledge-intensive services sector, and a strategy for education exports will be developed by the spring.

Plans will also be developed for the automotive, nuclear, renewables, and oil and gas industries and for the information economy, the last of which will be based around the Tech City initiative run by the Technology Strategy Board. [...]

“Ground-breaking technologies are often too risky or resource-intensive for individual companies to nurture on their own, so government has an important role to play in accelerating the journey from pure academic research to its commercial applications,” said Cable. [...]

Explaining the thinking behind his broader vision, Cable said his plan was to follow countries such as the US, which have used long-term planning to shape their economies.

Cable also announced that in October the TSB will launch competitions on energy-efficient computing, and energy harvesting for autonomous sensing, each worth around £1m.

[from Research Professional News by Laura Hood, 11 Sept 2012]

 

 

Posted in Blog, Science policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Looking beyond the obvious career path: Part II – talking about the road less travelled

As I mentioned in a previous post, current career perspectives for postdoctoral researchers  are, to put it mildly, difficult. An academic career will be possible for only about 3.5% of current postdocs, so being able to understand the alternatives is increasingly important.

The Life Science Post-doc Committee at Imperial College organised the 2nd Life Science Post-doc Symposium last Thursday, focusing precisely on what other options are available for highly skilled, extremely well qualified and science driven people, ie, the postdocs.

Symposium Poster

The morning session had a mix of scientific talks from current postdocs in the Department of Life Sciences – Mark Woodbridge, Mathilde Gendrin and Chris Wilson – and presentations on three alternative career paths: biotech industry, government based research and consultancy.

Mark Woolbridge talking about his research at Imperial College

Many myths persist regarding research in industry and Mike Whelan, Head of R&D at iQur, clearly explained why they are nothing but myths! His personal experience and knowledge of the biotech industry, particularly where small companies are concerned, shone a new light into industry careers paths.

What Mike REALLY learned working in the biotech industry

More importantly, his description of the many roles and jobs associated with biotech companies clearly opened new avenues of possible careers for postdocs. How many of us had no idea that our skills could be used in Clinical Trial Management roles, or as IP managers or even that our knowledge can be essential to deal with regulatory issues associated with biotech products?

Career options in biotech

An eye opener, as well as a very interesting and engaging talk.

Research within government departments is probably not an option that comes to mind of most postdocs when considering research careers beyond academia. It was therefore very useful to hear from Tim Atkins from the DSTL on such options and the interesting and new challenges faced by researchers in his department.

When many of us think about consultancy, we probably think of multinational companies and don’t really understand what a life science postdoc could do in such conglomerates. Kath Everard shared her experience at the Department of Health, given a renewed view of how transferable our skills can be.

Taking on the fact that in order to succeed in any career path, there are core transferable skills required, the symposium included hands-on workshops: how to tailor your CV for a non-academic job and how to communicate your science effectively.

In the Science Communication workshop, we had Lucia de la Riva Pérez introduce some “do’s and don’ts” when talking to children:

Stephen Curry‘s talk on blogging as a researcher reminded me why I started this blog – and what I MUST do to keep it going and hopefully interesting!

Pros and Cons of Blogging if you are a researcher

Simon Levey then talked us through the main points you must consider when talking to the media:

Why do we REALLY talk about our research with journalists

We then asked the participants to prepare an exercise: explain your research to a friend with no scientific background in the pub. Me, Lucia, Simon and Stephen played the role of “non-science pub mates”, taking it to some extremes occasionally, in order to highlight how hard it is for scientists to loose the jargon and remember what “common language” actually means. Although our seemingly silly questions made us all laugh – “healing crystals for cats?”, “patho-what?” and “you build houses with beer?!” where amongst the favourites – we all realised the common pitfalls we fall into when trying to talk about the very intricate, speciallised subjects we work on.

Ending the day, a discussion on taking road less travelled, starting with first person experiences from several guests: Tim Atkins, from DSTL; Athene Donald, an successful academic and Fellow of the Royal Society; Georgina Ferry, a science writer; Julia Heathcote, a fulfilled science teacher;  Jesus Rogel-Salazar, a former city worker that returned to academia and Mike Whelan, a biotech researcher for 25 years.

As well as hearing the many different ways you can be successful in different careers, there was opportunity to probe and discuss difficulties attached to these different careers – as well as the potential benefits.

The main “take-home” message: think about what you want to do, prepare yourself, understand the job market and take a chance. It’s not easy and not all options suit everyone but there are enough options to explore that you DO have a choice.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blog, SciComm, Science Careers | Leave a comment

Open access and copyright

So, as most of you will know, the Elsevier boycott seems to have had a very positive outcome: no more Research Works Act (RWA) . This is now old news, of course, but many others have discussed and talked about this in the blogsphere so I didn’t feel the need to add much.

However, as Stephen Curry said, this is not the end of the issue – as possibly Elsevier might have hoped. The debate on Open Access is just really getting started, with the whole RWA fiasco actually igniting it and making it reach a much wider audience than the usual small number of long-time strong defenders. And that, for me, is the even more important outcome of the boycott and the discussion surrounding it.

Current reviews in the UK can have a huge impact in this discussion: open access policy by RCUK after the Finch report and copyright law consultation. Again, much is being discussed around the RCUK proposals so I won’t focus on these today.

My main and quick point tonight is to bring your attention to the copyright law proposed changes and the ongoing consultation period that the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is carrying out on a range of measures to make the law reflect modern day technology. Same of these have a particular relevance to academics and the open access debate.  However, many of the recommendations are being opposed by the publishing and entertainment industries, and it is therefore important that the voice of academics is heard.

Some key changes being discussed that could impact academics are:

  • Allow non-commercial researchers to text and data mine material they have lawful access to (e.g. the web / subscribed to journal databases etc)
  • Allow digital archiving of copyrighted material
  • Extend research copying (“fair dealing”) to sound and film, and allow librarians to make copies on behalf of researchers
  • Widen the existing copyright exception for quotation to allow information, analysis, argument or comment
  • Facilitate mass digitisation of post 1870 in-copyright materials, including works whose copyright owner cannot be found (“orphan works”.)
  • Update the existing copyright exceptions for educational establishments and teaching
  • Make sure that none of these amendments, or existing exceptions in copyright law are “over-ridden” and negated by contracts entered into by individuals or university libraries

Unfortunately, the consultation period ends on March 21st, but small, focused comments should still be possible. If you do want to contribute, a submission should be done via email to copyrightconsultation@ipo.gov.uk

Open Rights Group, a UK non-profit organisation dedicated to defending people’s rights in the digital era, has a brief guide to the issues being discussed as well as a full list of consultation questions to be address that might help guide any possible submissions.

Posted in Blog, Science policy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Looking beyond the obvious career path: Part I – Science Journalism

Last year, another Science is Vital campaign went underway, this time focusing on a problem facing many PhD and postdocs: science careers. A summary of the final report can be found here.
Importantly, the campaign and the report highlight many of the problems facing postdoctoral researchers and the increasingly small number of opportunities in academia. In fact, as reported by the Royal Society, only about 3.5% will actually be able to establish such a career.

Only 0.45% of those that complete a PhD will have an academic career at Professorial level

Considering the current situation, which many estimate to get even more complicated, as the number of PhD students increases, it is important for post-docs to contemplate and investigate alternative careers. The Post-doc Committee in the Life Science Department at Imperial College has started organising a series of informal discussions focusing on precisely these topics.

Science Lives logo

Last Thursday, we invited Dr Claire Ainsworth, a freelance science journalist, to share her experience with post-docs in the department. Claire briefly explained her path to her current career, from an internship at New Scientist, her role as a Biology features editor at Nature news and the decision to move into freelance work. Sharing details on stories she wrote for New Scientist that took her to Kenya provided a personal touch to the session. Her heart-felt confession that writing is hard and sometimes even painful – and that she sometimes hates it! – allowed everyone to understand that, as with any other career choice, it’s not always easy and you have difficult moments everywhere.

Her insight into the challenges and diffilcuties aspiring science journalists face was clearly appreciated. As with other science-related careers, it is not easy and, in the UK at least, it is very competitive. One main advice: be pro-active, go and find the stories! Importantly, before actually applying for a job or trying to get any of your ideas or stories commissioned by any media (mainstream or specialised) try to get your work out there, in different outlets, from university newspapers to local radios. Most of all, find what you like to write and talk about, and do it.

Claire is also a science media trainer for SciConnect, helping scientists to better communicate their research, particularly to a non-specialist audience. This is a ‘hat’ she says is also quite rewarding. Her experience as a science journalist is, this way, shared and used by other scientists.

Both careers complement each other and expand the many skills she acquired during her PhD. They are two of many different ways post-docs can pursue a science oriented career without following the default path of Undergrad – PhD – post-doc (x n) – fellowship – lectureship – professorship. That only works for 0.45%. And those numbers won’t change. Thinking about what you want to do and why and plan for it as early as possible is essential not only for success but also for a satisfactory career, whichever that might be.

Posted in SciComm, Science, Science Careers | Leave a comment

On publishing research

Much has been said recently about the Research Works Act so I won’t go into too much detail again. For me, the trigger was Stephen’s post on his refusal to review a paper published by Elsevier. After that, I started avidly reading other’s take on the issue namely, Tim Gower’s “call to arms” and Cameron Neylon’s views on the subject. I recommend all of these and related links, if you are interested in understanding the backdrop of the current discussions. I don’t aim to thoroughly analyse the discussion and all different arguments, just give you my own personal impression.

Wide access to research results, particularly when derived from publicly-funded work, is something I have supported for a long time, even before having anything close to a research career. Back in early 2001, even before finding a PhD position, I was told about an online petition that asked scientists to pledge to stop publishing in journals that would not make them freely accessible to all and eagerly signed it as well. This petition later led to the creation of a new publishing model, the Public Library of Science, now becoming a main player in science publishing, with several respectable journals. After 10 years working in research, I now know how naive I was in that pledge. Even so, 6 years ago, the most important paper of my PhD was published in PLoS Biology – a risky move back then, for a recent postdoc aiming to have an academic career. Both decisions have stood the test of time and I continue to support any iniatives that will take research and science to a more open and wide access world. So it was I joined Tim’s boycott.

In discussions with colleagues and friends, a key point is how likely are we to actually stop submitting papers to Elsevier’s journals (rviewing and editing is possibly more easily acheivable). For early career scientists, this is even more complicated. Postdocs and PhD students will rarelly have the power to make that decision and even junior lectures will find it difficult to give up the idea of a high ranking journal for an open acess alternative. Even if they do, convincing collaborators could still prove complicated. So, how honest is this pledge?

In my case, I can only say that I will continue to do what I supported over 10 years ago and support wide access options. This means that, whenever possible and feasible, I will seak alternatives that will also guarantee the paper gets the recognition me and my co-authors think it deserves.

More importantly for me, initiatives like the boycott serve a more important and immediate purporse: get everyone talking. Not just discussing specific points, but, more importantly, get us discussing alternative ways to publish research, new models more in tune with the plethora of new technologies available today. And for that, the boycott has already been worth it, as showned by Elsevier’s open letter and comments, quickly followed by the replies and commens from researchers like Stephen. I am, therefore, glad I pledged my support.

What comes next is for all of us, the research community, the funders, the publishers and the policy makers, to discuss and develop.

Posted in Blog, Science | Leave a comment

And… we’re back!

First of all, an apology for the long silence in this blog. However, those paying attention to the site would have noticed other activities on the site over the course of 2011…

There was, of course, the main event, which did take up a lot of time and effort and was a main contributor for the silence in this blog – the publication of *the* paper:

The paper was published!

Apart from requiring a lot of work, that also got a lot of attention, as I mentioned before:

http://www.paulasalgado.org/in-the-media/uk-media

http://www.paulasalgado.org/in-the-media/world-media

http://www.paulasalgado.org/in-the-media/portuguese-media

But there was also some outreach work taking up my time:

http://www.paulasalgado.org/online

Most importantly, 2011 was a year of change. By mid-year, a change of job – a small change, just to the building next door, working with a new parasite: Clostridium difficile

The new bug I'm working on

This change also meant working within a more mixed-expertise team, with a big focus on microbiology and molecular biology. It has been an interesting challenge and a great learning opportunity to be immersed in a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding a particular pathogen.

Then, late in the year and just in time for Christmas, a bigger change: a new position as a lecturer, at Newcastle University. Which means I will be migrating North this year to take up new challenges and responsabilities.

So, 2012 will again be a year of change. The year of the Dragon will bring new adventures and, I’m sure, much to talk about. I’ll return regularly to write about it.  Hope you stay tuned to share them.

 

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Science is Vital – a personal look

A few weeks ago, several tweets alerted me to a speech Vince Cable was about to give at Queen’s College. The announced cuts that scientists in UK were to expect prompted several to comment. Importantly, it prompted Jenny Rohn to spring to action and “drag” us with her. In the end 35,000 were drag into this. I am proud to say I was one of the ones that also felt we had to at least make our voice heard.

One of the initial ideas prompted on a Facebook page set up within hours of the speech was a march/rally against the cuts. Having demonstrated many times as a student back in Portugal, I was skeptic about the effectiveness of a rally. Later ideas  of a petition, writing to our MPs and lobbying the Parliament, however, sounded, to me, like a more effective approach. It was clear from the starting discussions on twitter and facebook (this was, all in all, a social network campaign) that the focus would have to be on why Science should be spared in these cuts. And the emphasis on why it made economical sense to keep science investment was clear.

This is what made me believe this was a campaign with a difference – particularly when compared with the ones I took part as a student. There was a purpose, there were fact-based arguments, there was a plan (or rather one was shaped in quickly).

I did my small bit in spreading the word, using the contacts I might have to get more and more people to sign the petition and write to their MPs. At this point, I still believed those would be the key actions to get the government attention. The rally remained something I might give a miss, having marched so many times before with no success…

However, as the campaign grew and support spread, I changed my mind and decided this was one rally that might just be worth going to again. I almost backed down when I heard people were being told to bring their labcoats… I felt it would emphasise the stereotype and make it look like all we really cared about was our jobs…

But as I stood outside Westminster tube station as a rally steward (how did that happen?!), I have to admit groups of white coats streaming out of the station was an impressive sight indeed.

Having the chance to then go to Parliament and see democracy in action and tell our MPs why science is vital was an amazing opportunity. Ever since I moved to England and learned more and more about the ins and outs of British democracy and Parliament, I’ve admired the direct accountability MPs face here. And the lack of response from my MP to 3 emails and several tweets was seriously making me disappointed with it all… I had always praised the fact that constituents can always expect a reply from their MPs, even if it’s a negative response or a mere acknowledgement of being contacted.

Fortunately for my trust in British democracy, Mr. Greg Hands, Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham, did eventually reply. It did arrive a day after we were due in Parliament, but he did take the time to explain his position and I appreciated that.

Looking at the pictures of the Science is Vital team delivering the petition with almost 35,000 signatures to Downing Street really made me realise how much had been accomplished. Getting that many people to show support for science in 3 weeks is nothing but amazing and deserves continuous praise.

As I write this, some details of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are starting to be known. Science budgetwon’t suffer the massive cuts we all got to fear. It will be frozen for the next 4 years, which translates into a 10% reduction over that period. Importantly, it’s ring-fenced within the Business, Inovation and Skills department. Considering what was apparently on the table, it’s a victory for the campaign.

The cynic in me still thinks that speech was very well planned and served two purposes: getting scientists expectations low and getting scientists to react and have their voice heard. Many people are even more skeptic than me and believe there were never plans for 25% cuts in science – it was just a way to get us to accept the 10% we seem to now face. Even if that is the case, this campaign got scientists, engineers and science supporters to stand up and actively participate, defend science and get their voice heard. That is a victory in itself.

As for the CSR and the future of science, serious worries persist: big science facilities have not been protected, higher education faces huge cuts, not to mention immigration cap, tuition fees and cuts across many social support areas. So a small, slightly bitter taste victory. But a victory never the less.

Posted in Blog, Science | 5 Comments

#Solo10 – beyond science blogging?…

This Friday and Saturday saw a strangely mixed crowd descend on the British Library (BL). What could  bring scientists, journalists, politicians, teachers and marketing executives together under the same roof for two days? Well, basically, science. On-line.

I have to admit that when I signed up to be a part of that mixed crowd, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. After attending a few #ukscitweetup, I guess the first thing I expected was a similar event – on a very big scale, from a dozen people to over hundred. So I was counting on some interesting chats about what we all do on-line – from blogging to twitting and other virtual presences. But beyond the chit-chat at coffee breaks and in the pub after the end of “formal” sessions, I really wasn’t sure what would be available, particularly since I only had time to briefly look at the final programme.

I guess what I expected was to participate in interesting discussions on how we can raise the profile of science both on and off line, as well as get a flavour of what technologies and new developments are out there that can be useful in our Web2.0 interactions, as well as our research. Moreover, I was hoping to derive useful hints to improve my skills as I venture more and more into science communication.

As familiar faces poured into the Conference Centre at the BL, I was sure that the conversational side of the conference was going to be fun – and interesting. More so when I finally got to meet some familiar virtual names in the flesh. As for the more “serious” side of it, things were about to unravel in the main auditorium.

What a fantastic way to start such a conference: hearing Sir Martin Rees advocate open access publishing and on-line journals. Moreover, his views on how the universities need to reshape their teaching models, with the “students seating in full lectures rooms, with little interaction with lecturers now rendered useless” was inspiring. Definitely one of the highlights of #solo10. “There’s no such thing as free context” was a key sentence that resonated in my mind from the Q&A afterwards.

Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal at SOLO10 (from Mendeley.com)

The following discussion chaired by David Dobbs with Ed Yong, Alice Bell and Martin Robbins on the future of science journalism focused on how “traditional” science journalism needs to evolve into new environment and what added value can and should it include. Alice’s idea of moving science journalism “upstream” sounds  particularly interesting and, in my opinion, a road to explore for both journalists and bloggers. It might be a great way to make more and more people aware of how science is done and therefore enhance understanding.

... and chatting

Eating...

Lunch time brought us back to the “social” side of things, exchanging experiences over delicious food. The chance to meet new people and hear about other experiences was always going to be a huge part of this conference – and even munching away on our “finger food”, we managed to have interesting chats.

The afternoon saw the crowd splitting into different rooms, with parallel sessions covering topics from Science education to citizen science. After hearing about three different accounts on data sharing, storing and access , it was time for a revisit to IAS2010. It brought back memories of one of the most fun and gruelling experiences I’ve ever had when doing science communication – and I loved it! A true pleasure to talk about it to an audience that seemed to appreciate its potential. And great to meet one of the participants on the other side of the screen – Julia Heathcote, a teacher in West London whose class took part in flooding the “Cancer Zone” with questions. Great chat afterwards  that sparkled some ideas that we might share with everyone soon…

As the day come to an end, a final panel discussion on science blogging. The raising profile of blogs as a key science communication tool that needs to be acknowledged by the institutions were scibloggers work was discussed, as well as the differences between blog networks. Interestingly, the issue of junior scientists blogging, its impact on their careers and how it is perceived by their colleagues proved to be the most participated part of the discussion. As Jenny Rohn said, “writing in [the] public [domain] is seen as time wasting more than any other hobby”. My personal experience is limited, but I would even extend this idea to most science communication forms. Unlike doing any sport, any arts and crafts hobbies or any other creative/physical activity that scientists might pursue in their free time, science communication is still seen mostly as time wasting… something that was also brought up in the second day, following on from Dr Evan Harris talk and the SciVote discussion.

Dr Harris argued that scientists need to also participate in policy change, not just “public engagement” as intervening at decision making points is key for may issues. Basically, he called for scientists to lobby for science – as the “other side” do it, so should we. The identity of this “other side” prompted a few jokes, but it was clear that he was referring to different “other sides”, depending when which subject in discussion: from homeopathy to animal research to GM organisms and stem cells. And as science funding is under threat of serious cuts, the time to take action seems so be upon us…*

Prior to this talk, I was delighted to hear Aleks Krotoski discuss the social implications of our virtual presences and how they can and are being studied, stressing that great power to probe these online interactions must come great responsibility that it mus be done ethically. “[The] technology was built to connect people with data, but it is actually connecting people with people and we shouldn’t take people out of the equation [when studying online phenomena]“

A moment of almost pure beauty come with the the first breakout session of the day and the wonderful talk from David McCandless. A feast for the eyes, delighting my very visual brain. Ideas for next time I need to present some data here

The afternoon brought us to the “unconference sessions”, hosted by participants that had proposed themes the previous day. I decided to attend the session that seemed to gravitate around data tools. I was deeply excited by Hyperwords – although having it installed for more than 2 days, must admit it has so far failed my expectations following the demo.

The second unconference session congregated 3 different approaches to open access/open publishing. Discussion soon gravitated towards impact factors and their weight in science careers nowdays. According to Theo Bloom, government and funding bodies use impact factors with both scientists and journals falling victims to it. Furthermore, people require “Nature” or “Science” label because they believe that is needed for their careers – which reminded me of Jenny Rohn’s recent blog posts and the discussion that followed.

A view of the audience at SOLO10

The day and the conference ended with what should have been an open discussion on the results of a RIN and University of Manchester e-Research Centre on adoptability of Web2.0 by scientists. Two of the poorest presentations I’ve seen in a long time prevented that and instead triggered a downpour of tweets (check tweets from 3:30 to 5pm) on presentation skills, powerpoint and kittengenocide. A wasted opportunity. If all was not lost in this session, we owe Richard Grant for a great final intervention – summing up what online tools need to bring to draw adopters: added value (and fun counts!) and allowing you to do something you must do, but in a easier way. And off to the pub we all went.

At the end of it all, I felt like I had a great time, met very interesting people and discussed science in some of its brother senses: a drive for curiosity and knowledge – and the will to share that with as many people as we can.

However, I am left with a serious reflection on the more serious outcomes any conference brings me to: what did I learn? How useful was it?

And this is were I think Solo10 wasn’t a complete success for me personally. I would have liked to have left with a few “take home” messages, some nuggets of knowledge I can use in my online science communication, some new tools to communicate and also to do research better, fully exploring the potential of the net. May be it was me, may be a missed a few key talks in the breakout sessions – but I think solo11 needs a huge improvement in this area. The programme needs to explore more, to reach out more. After all, science online isn’t all about blogging…

*Comment added after Vince Cable’s (in)famous speech

PS: a major highlight was seeing the ISS pass over the night sky for the first time, in the great company of Karen James. Thanks!

Disclosure: this is post is not intended to be in anyway an accurate account of SoLo10, just a personal view of this two day conference. For more details, visit the official website and check the #solo10 twitter feed, with links to many other blogs on the subject. For a round up, see here

Posted in Blog, SciComm | 2 Comments

Talkfest – my personal feedback

Last Thursday I went along to an event organized by Alice Bell and Beck Smith on Science and blogging. As I recently reshaped this site and restarted blogging, this time with a different set of aims and ideas, this seemed like the perfect event to get some tips and ideas.

Green cupcakes - never got a chance to figure out what they tasted like...

Interesting and exciting as it was to meet fellow twitters and bloggers, I left with a slight feeling of disappointment. Some great questions had been asked but the format and time constraints meant they were only discussed superficially and briefly. The “debate” somehow seemed to centre more on the personal experience of the panel and a few selected audience members than on a wider discussion and exchange of ideas. As much as I think it’s great to hear successful bloggers such as Ed Yong and Jon Butterworth or Dr Petra tell us why they blog, it might have been more interesting to discuss what this science oriented blogging community thinks about what the actual writing of a blog involves, as well as how to make them better and more effective.

Most of all, I felt we lacked a “take home” message. A few key ideas that the panel touched upon could be useful for further discussions and events. But without a summary round up of those ideas as the discussion moved on, trying to recollect them a few hours or days later is harder. And as so many of us got distracted by the Twitterfall, I think that’s not going to be an easy exercise – at least I’ve found it quite challenging. And that means the usefulness of Talkfest is diminished.

Don’t get me wrong – it was fun, interesting and entertaining. But I was hoping to get more from it. I’m sure future events that focus on specific points will happen and the so-called “science blogging community” will carry on discussing and we will get more and more creative and ambitious, as Shane suggested we should.

PS: for other detailed and insightful analysis of Talkfest, see posts from Shane McCraken, Jon Butterworth, Noodlemaz and Vivienne Raper.

Posted in Blog, SciComm | 8 Comments

A different kind of talk

Last Friday I accepted Alom Shaha challenge and I went to his school to give a talk.

Camden School For Girls

I have to admit I was dreading it a bit – after all, 17/18 year old students can be a tough audience…  And judging from the first comments “There’s no such thing as ‘biophysics’, it’s either physics or biology!”, I started preparing for a rough time.

But as I  got them to prepare some protein crystallization conditions and began talking, things got quieter and soon I had their attention.

Unlike what we are used to do in seminars and conference talks, they normally ask questions as the teacher speaks, interrupting. So that’s what I got as well, several raised arms, eager to ask the question that just popped in to their heads in that moment.  This gave my ‘talk’ a completely different momentum, much more like a conversation, a two way communication route, instead of the usual speech-like nature of our seminars.

Their questions showed not only curiosity but also that they were really thinking about what I was explaining, probing for more details. It turned out to be an interesting discussion, much beyond a strict “lecture”. By the end, I think I managed to convince them that  interdisciplinarity is key to science and research and that biophysics is a subject in its own right.

As much as I enjoyed talking about my work, for me the highlight was visiting the Science Fair. It was great to see how some students really used a scientific approach! Even if their chosen ‘research questions’ might seem trivial as “Does chewing gum help you concentrate” or “Which is the better air conditioner?”, the experiment design was well thought, with good controls set-up and a critical evaluation of the results.

Brilliant! Made me think that we might be OK when it comes to the next generation of scientists – they are already stepping forward!

Posted in Blog, SciComm, Structural Biology | 1 Comment