Science Online 2012: First Impressions of an Unconference

20120120-151254.jpgHere are some pictures from Day One of Science Online 2012. This is billed as an unconference–a place where the agenda is crowd sourced, and most of the sessions are moderated discussions rather than traditional talks. The idea is that at most scientific conferences, the best conversations do not occur in the formal sessions, but rather in the hallways and over dinner. The unconference format seeks to involve all participants in the discussions and to bring these helpful, collaborative conversations out of the hallways and into the actual conference sessions. Three of us are here from Promega, all of us first-time attendees. As a newbie, I was glad to find some other first timers over breakfast. I met post-docs, grad students, policy makers, journalists and librarians, almost all of them involved in blogging or active on twitter, and all here because they are passionate about science communication and scientific literacy.

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The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. There is a refreshing openness and sense of shared purpose. This is the annual gathering of a strong online community, and it is clear that the attendees relish the opportunity to meet in person and put faces and names to the people they already know only by twitter names online. This is an opportunity to meet virtual friends in the flesh. I have never been at conference with such a vibrant sense of anticipation, and such a palpable community feeling.

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The conference opened with a keynote address by National Geographic explorer and conservationist Mireya Mayor, who gave an engaging account of her career path and experiences–from cheerleader to fearless explorer. One interesting thing about this conference is that in addition to participating in the sessions audience members are constantly tweeting nuggets of information and quotes during the live sessions. Popular quotes from Mireya’s lecture included this comment on the reputation of sharks.

If someone came into my house wearing only Speedos, I would probably attack them too.

Later sessions on Day One covered topics such as tips and software for organizing and retrieving information, data visualization, use of humor in science writing, and networking for scientists. The sessions have been great, but I get the feeling that the best thing about this conference is the opportunity to meet in person those we have already formed connections with online, the opportunity to shake hands, enjoy face-to-face conversation, or to exchange a hug.

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

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