My first guest blog, “Being BOLD and Taking Responsibility” at the LFIA’s Adelaide forum

I recently attended an Adelaide based forum on “Building Nutrition”, held by the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA). It was fascinating to say the least. Afterwards I was contacted and asked if I was interested in writing a guest blog on the forum experience – and of course said “Yes!”

Here’s how it starts…

“There are times when you hear about real people taking small steady steps toward achieving their goals and making changes. You listen with a sense of satisfaction, the changes might not be huge but at least they’re happening. This is how most change comes about, “green” or not.

Then there are times when this slowness of pace gets to you a little… You begin to hanker for some mountainous shift in the ways things work, some outrageous plan or project or people just getting on with things – regardless of apparent restrictions. For me, these are the moments that make all the small steps and the consistent effort worthwhile. And it doesn’t have to be something I’m personally involved in, I’ll accept inspiration from anywhere!

This is where the latest Adelaide Forum from the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) comes into the story…”

Follow the link to read more on the LFIA website: https://living-future.org.au/blog/

 

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Keeping Data Personal: Big scopes, little people

Every now and again I wonder about whether big data can still be personal. This generally occurs after I get a pop-up on my computer or an up-date on my phone which asks if they can track and use my background data.

But it does get me thinking – I hear a lot about us being in the era of “big data”, with mass data collection all around. Some of this is used to categorise us according to our likes and shopping desires. Some is used to actually better the systems and interfaces we work with.

But I know from my own data collection experiences how easy it is (once everyone’s answers are turned into numbers and categories), to lose sight of what those answers really mean in context to each person, and in turn what this means for your research.

But there are people out there making huge efforts to keep our interfaces, data collection and communications not just individual but personal too. I only recently watched a TED Talk by Aaron Koblin from 2011 called, “Visualizing ourselves… with crowd-sourced data”.

Aaron spoke about a number of very cool projects which he’s been a part of over the years:

  • In one project he mapped the flight patterns of North America as a time-lapse revealing the patterns of day/night, altitudes and flight types. It looks like skeins of thread weaving the US together.
  • Another project called the “Bicycle built for 2,000” involved getting a couple of thousand people to each contribute a recording of themselves singing less than 1 second of a tune – without telling them why. It was then put together as the “Bicycle Built for 2” song online . Hearing all these people contribute to such a large project, singing high, low, really well, or terribly is incredible! Yes, in the end they do sound like a slightly out of tune pionola but it is so touching and funny and real.

Another project Aaron was involved in is The Johnny Cash Project, where a clip of his last studio song recording “Ain’t No Grave” was put online and transformed into global art. People were given a single image (from a series of old Johnny Cash footage) and a custom online drawing tool so they could draw their version of that image. All these thousands of drawings were then put together as the music video for Johnny Cash’s song. As each one of these drawings flicker by when you watch the clip, you get such a personal sense of what Johnny Cash and his songs meant for people.

Aaron Koblin ended his talk with saying how, “the interface can be a powerful narrative device” which he believes we can use to help us all, “maintain the humanity of data collected”.

I really appreciated his whole perspective about making the process of data collection, analysis and display be something that we craft and meld to work for us, rather then blindly persisting with our slightly-difficult-to-interact-with and not-always-intuitive-to-use programs, interfaces and visualisations.

He made me feel quite hopeful. And much more determined to spend the extra time and effort with my research to find clear and creative ways to communicate the findings and keep a better sense of the people behind the data.

Award Nomination?!

It turns out that not only does WordPress make blogging pretty simple, but also that the WordPress blogging community are pretty damn supportive.

Amazingly enough people are reading, liking and even following a science communication blog – THIS science communication blog to be exact.

Thanks Jonny from sci.casual  and The Biology Yak for nominating me!

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The rules attached to this award are that you have to:

  • Show the award on your blog
  • Thank the person that nominated you
  • Share 7 different facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 blogs of your choice
  • Link your nominees and let them know of your nomination

So here a little about about me:

  1. I do “real” science too. I have a Bachelor of Sustainable Environments, an Honours degree in Environmental Science and am currently working through a PhD in Environmental Science… can you see a trend?
  2. My current research is all about urban food production (urban agriculture). I’m actually about to launch the Edible Gardens project (more on this soon) where people can sign up to collect data on their own gardens! The project will investigate both the social value and the productive capability of urban food gardens.
  3. “Quiero aprender Espanol” – I want to learn spanish. Or several languages, that would be cool too. Duolingo has been helping.
  4. I love art and at various times can be found painting, drawing, embroidering, sewing, planting things in patterns and collecting (artistic) junk.
  5. I was a complete daydreamer, reader and tree climber as a kid…. not a lot has really changed – I just tend to pack waaaay more into my days.
  6. I want to help change the world. For this I blame my parents, who always told me that I could and would… funny how it seemed like such a simple easy idea as a kid!
  7. Living on Mars would be incredible. But I also know I would miss some pretty important things – like feeling wind, and rain, and being able to go outside when ever I want without having to put on a big ole’ spacesuit.

The next trick is to nominate 15 other blogs for this award. I think I follow at least 15 blogs… ah well here are my favourites:

Emily, Stephanie, Anna and guests (@wildlifesnpits) If you’re interested in seeing some amazing wildlife photos, in addition to reading great posts on conservation, communication and new research then this is a blog for you.

Yanhao and Harvey (@thenexusscience) – just reading their About page made me laugh. They write about some very cool and complicated (made not complicated) topics.

Heather (@heatherstuffnthings) – besides having a brilliant post about how you (yes you) can better keep up to date with science communication research, she also writes about public understanding and the impacts of public perception.

Dr Kirsty MacLeod (@kjmacleod) – She has a photo of herself with a Meerkat on her head (Do I really need to convince you anymore?). Read all about her fieldwork, research travels, publications and (@realscientists) connections.

Matt Shipman (@sciencecommunicationbreakdown) – Matt writes both about the science of science communication, and the practice of science communication. I greatly appreciate the distinction.

Meandering Matt (@bordersandbackpacks) – thanks Matt for letting me vicariously travel through your posts! Brilliant photos, stories and reviews.

The South African Young Academy of Science (@SAYASblog) – They have a collective page for the most recent posts from winners of their 2016 contest to find the best PhD bloggers in South Africa. Read away!

Natalie (@butwhy) – I love the idea of questioning everything. “Why?” is the simplest and most powerful question out there. (Don’t worry Natalie I know you’ve already been nominated for this!)

Matteo (@matteofarinella) – Here is a wonderful comic journal with some of the best illustrations. I wish all science infographics could look like these amazing images.

So thanks to everyone who follows/reads/occasionally likes this blog – it is a wonderful feeling to try to contribute to a topic and know that someone is listening.

Cheers! – Georgia the Urban Ag. Scientist

P.S Both my grandmothers in the featured image thank you too.

A WISE Event: All the Career Possibilities

One brisk Monday night, a large roomful of women gathered in the silver mirrored SAHMRI building to hear from three amazing women / successful scientists who have trodden a wide range of career pathways and ended up in jobs very different to those they first imagined.

The first speaker was Dr Kate Gridley, now a Research Coordinator in the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Check out Dr Gridley’s homepage at – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kate.Gridley

Dr Gridley started with showing us the difference between her assumed career path once she had finished studying, to the path she actually took – winding in and out of different positions.

The jump from hands on PhD research, to a more administerial position required a serious effort in translation. Mostly, the translation of all the skills Dr Gridley had honed during her PhD to be shown as applicable and valuable skills for non-research work. She spoke of learning to, “sell myself as an asset…” and, “remaining open to any options”.

Dr Gridley finished with asking us, the audience, to think more about our future career and to practice selling ourselves and our skills as transferable to any position.

Next we heard from Dr Kristin Alford, currently the Director of the Science Creativity Education (Sci. C. Ed.) Studio and part of the University of South Australia. The Sci.C.Ed. Studio is set to open in 2018 and will have a mixture of permanent and seasonal exhibits. To learn more about Sci.C.Ed check out their information page –  http://www.unisa.edu.au/science-creativity-education/

Dr Alford started off by comparing her current descriptive title of “A Futurist” with her incredibly technical PhD in Engineering Processes in QLD. The story of her career described incredible leaps from one position and field to the next, assisted by favourable impressions made on past colleagues, bosses and mentors. Dr Alford leapt into the field of science communication by becoming an advocate, communicator and educator for new nano-technology. She has also, until recently, been the licensee for TEDX Adelaide.

Dr Alford’s parting words were to never underestimate the value of your peers and that we should try to take every opportunity that comes our way, because… “how hard could it be?”

The final speaker for the night was Dr Ixchel Brennan, now a partner of Corporate Engagement and Development for UniSA Ventures at the University of South Australia. Follow the link to read her home page – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Ixchel.Brennan

She too began her education and career under very different circumstances. Dr Brennan completed a PhD in appetite and gut function and finished with the full success of many papers published, many conferences presented at, and plenty of career options. But although there were strong expectations for her to continue into an academic career, she felt this wasn’t for her.

Dr Brennan emphasised the importance of learning how to package your skills for varying contexts and careers. She spoke of the need to be able to effectively communicate your differentiated skill set, and that a PhD is so much more than just your research focus. It is also an intense crash course in all project management, communication and creative problem solving skills, so don’t sell yourself short.

Her final advice was to, “Resist the option of knowing what your dream job is”, as she had seen others do – because you never know what jobs will come along, or even what jobs will exist in the future.

From her own experiences, Dr Brennan told us some of the lessons she had learnt along the way:

  • Seek a mentor not form an academic position (they will give you a different perspective).
  • You do not always need to say “Yes” and your job doesn’t define who you are.
  • Be willing to work with people and in roles that push you outside your comfort zone. This is where you learn the most about yourself – what you’re good at and what you could improve.
  • Have confidence in your skills and your contribution.
  • Say “Thank you” and say it often.
  • Emotion does not equal weakness.
  • and finally, that “Authenticity will always shine through”.

It was a wonderful WISE event and I was so glad I attended. It was a relief to hear that these undeniably successful women had been through so many changes, upsets, choices and career transitions. I can’t speak for the other women who attended, but I for one am feeling much more hopeful and less stressed about where I might end up career-wise, after my PhD experience.


Thanks to all the event organisers, SAHMRI, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and Flinders University, and a particular thank you to the speakers – you were inspiring!

Fresh Science at the Pub

Last Wednesday night, I attended the FreshScience talks at the Lion Hotel in North Adelaide. I was there to hear from all the South Australian based young researchers who had just been through two days of media and public communications training, and were now going to give a casual but short talk on their research in a pub setting.

The night was hosted by Sarah Brooker – Managing Director of ‘Science in Public’ , “We believe that the media have an appetite for science”. The presenting researchers were kept on their toes and didn’t even know which order they were to speak in. To make the time limit extra obvious, each speaker with given a birthday sparkler. They were to introduce themselves, have the sparkler lit, and then had until the fire ran out to tell the audience all about their work.

They did brilliantly. Most of the young researchers didn’t even seem to need their full sparkler time. They told us the basics of their work, and then would look down, surprised that the sparkler was still going and so they could tell us more. Much of what they said after their first spiel was more about the impact and importance of their work – how it was going to help people of change things. Often it was the most interesting part!

After their talk, each speaker was asked several questions by both Sarah Brooker and the audience. For some of the speakers, the answers merely expanded on what they had already outlined for us. But for a few, the questions and answer time provided a much clearer picture of what their work was about.

The topics varied considerably. We heard about a fascinating array of research. There was everything from using thermal maps of Mars to find liquid water underground, to phyto-absorbtion and -restoration of mining sites using acacia, to the impacts of greater fish oil consumption in pregnant women to lower the likelihood of allergies in their children, to using system dynamics software to help solve complex social problems, a number on severe brain, spinal cord and body trauma reactions and potential treatments, and one talk on a new sensor, sensitive enough to monitor the health of embryos during IVF.

The young researchers had spent the day working with different media representatives, learning how to convey and discuss their work with the media and the public. This night of talks was presented to a mostly academic audience, who were very interested in the scientific details of how the research developed, what the findings were and then what the broader applications were.

It was a brilliant night and I am keen to attend again next year to hear about the work of the next successful wave of young researchers.

P.S The Lion Hotel did a great job of hosting Fresh Science – just watch out for those extra hot chicken wings!


If you would like to know more about the FreshScience competition, or about Science in Public, check out their website at, http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au

 

Feature Communicator: Alan Alda

This March Alan Alda was interviewed by Will Grant and Rob Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Alan is not a scientist, instead he is simply fascinated by talking to, and questioning all kinds of scientists.

Follow this link to listen to or read the whole interview transcript:
http://theconversation.com/alan-alda-on-the-art-of-science-communication-i-want-to-tell-you-a-story-55769

During this interview Alan talks about the power of curiosity – the drive to ask and find out “why?”, and yet he insists that curiosity combined with ignorance is even stronger!

During his life Alan has had the opportunity to interview many, many scientists. Some of these he did without a list of questions, but more as an informal curious conversation. He said that doing so brought out much more of the individual scientist’s personality than usually shown. And he spoke of wishing that scientists could get into that conversational tone all by themselves, without an interviewer to help them.

Alan is a vocal advocator for teaching communication skills to science students as a core part of their university education.

Alan also spoke of the need to not dumb down the science being communicated but to instead to focus on clarity and vividness. He defined being vivid as, “to show how it affects our daily lives, what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”

Some scientists may ask what good communicating their research to the public actually does for them. According to Alan, the scientists who undertook training at the Centre for Communicating Science found that working to refine their research message resulted in  them becoming much more focussed and clear about what they were doing and why.

This idea that re-working, re-explaining and re-focusing on the purpose and value of your science can actually lead to better science, is amazing. By attempting to communicate your message to a variety of people, journalists, community groups or organisations you are constantly re-afirming and checking how you describe and explain your work. This sort of reflection can be a powerful process for clearer, more vivid science.