Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reflections after Science Online 2010 (#Scio10)

I'm writing this while on the plane, flying back from a fantastic weekend in North Carolina. Before I can even begin reflecting on the past few days, I have to thank NESCent again for their generous travel grant which allowed me to go to Science Online in the first place. Without their funding, I'd have spent the weekend laying out on a beach instead of freezing my butt off with over 200 amazing people who, thought diverse in many ways, all have one thing in common: a passion for science communication. Sure, the beach would have been a lot warmer and more relaxing, but going to Science Online 2010 is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. Besides, the beach will be there when I get back.

Continue reading!

It was truly a treat to be able to attend this year's unconference. Firstly, I got to meet the likes of Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, Brian Switek, Dr. M., John Logsdon, Miriam Goldstein (or should I link to her here?), Jason Robertshaw, Scicurious, Kevin Zelnio, the whole of Southern Fried Science and so many other bloggers and science journalists (not that I'm making a distinction!!!) that I have long admired (that list is small - I've been flying for 12 hours. I'm too frickin' tired to list everyone). It was so wonderful to finally put faces to the names and personalities that I read every day!

As for the conference itself, it has given me a lot to think about. I'm not exactly sure how to explain the thoughts rolling around in my head, but I feel like I ought to try, for the first thing I really got out of SciO 10 was that I need to put more of myself into my blog. This blog has my tone of voice and my passion, but not myself. I'm not sure my readers really feel like they know me, and I think you should. I don't write under a pseudonym because I'm proud of my writing and my opinions, so why do I hold back and keep you from experiencing more of me? I shouldn't. So I'm going to work on that.

What else did I walk away with? Mostly, uncertainty. I love this blog. I love to write, and I love to share my passion for science, but I feel like I'm still searching for my niche. Where, in the whole wide world of the world wide web, does Observations of a Nerd fit in? What is the real point of this blog? What makes it unique and important?

This is something I struggle with as a scientist, too. My interests are eclectic, and my dissertation proposal reflects that. Unfortunately, that means it doesn't fit into an easy funding category, and I have to struggle to show that I have the skills and knowledge to straddle so many fields.

I feel like defining myself boxes me in. It closes doors that I haven't even gotten to peek through yet. What if what I really love and desire is lying behind some door that my definition closes off? In my career, I'm not easily willing to do that, and I've decided that's OK. I've got the time, energy, and resources to figure things out the hard way.

The problem is, staying amorphous and undefined leaves me standing in the hallway. I feel like Observations of a Nerd is an outsider, without a sense of place. It sounds so high school when I say it like this, but I just don't feel like Observations fits in. It's not entirely an ocean blog, or a biology blog, or a neuroscience blog, or a grad-student blog. Sometimes I feel like it's not even entirely a science blog!

I've always doing my own thing, and ended up outside the mainstream because of it. That was fine with me in high school, and it's fine with me as a scientist, but it just doesn't work for me as a blogger. The whole point of blogging is to connect with others, to reach out and share something and bring people together, even if never realized they had something in common. If Observations of a Nerd is stuck on the edges, it's not achieving my goals. It's not connecting people. I want this blog to be a part of a greater community, an important voice in a larger group. Instead, I feel like it ends up sitting in the cafeteria by itself playing with its food because it didn't know who to sit with, while all the other blogs are giggling with their friends. Ok, the high school metaphor is getting a little thin, but I think you get what I mean.

This blog is not living up to its potential, and it's my fault.

The problem is, I don't know how to solve the problem. What is this blog's purpose, it's identity?

I feel like Observations of a Nerd needs something like a mission statement. I'm hoping that you can help.

What do you get out of this blog? Why do you read it? What draws you back, and what would draw you even more? What stands out? More importantly, what would you like to see? Are there some kinds of posts you prefer (research-oriented, fun with science, etc)? What should stay, and what should go? What's missing? What needs to be improved, what needs to change? Or am I just really over thinking things, and this is all in my head?

Please comment and talk about your opinions of this blog, it's strengths, weaknesses, and whatever else you like. I am really looking for feedback here!


Jason R said...

It was nice meeting you too. Still digesting everything I gained from attending and hope to soon regurgitate some of the contents for inspection.

To your points: I blog for myself. I made this realization early last year and have slowly been changing things around to reflect that fact. But (I hope) there is an audience out there too and I can't help but have them in mind when writing. To have a better handle on your blogs purpose, try creating reader profiles of this imagined/idealized readership. By defining who you think should be or could be reading your blog, you can get a better idea of what your blog is really about. The technique is describe here: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/09/26/how-to-create-reader-profilespersonas-to-inspire-and-inform-your-blogging/

I'd also like to see more Hawai'i adventures where you write about the ecosystem you are now living in. I liked when you did that for your Florida treks. And I am not likely to get out to the islands anytime soon, so maybe I can just live vicariously through your descriptions.

Kira said...

Hey Christie,

I feel like your post is somewhat contradictory. You want to show more of *yourself*, who admittedly is a collection of cool, crazy, somewhat disparate elements. But you also want to fit in and find your place and define yourself in a specific way on the interwebs.

I agree with the above commenter- you need to blog for yourself. Right now, blogging is your hobby, grad school/research is your job. You don't owe the greater community anything, you should write about what you want, when you want. And some people will like reading it.

Take it from a salty, almost done grad student: As you move from fresh-faced newbie to PhD to whatever you end up doing, YOU will evolve. And so will your blog. Let it- imho, that's the best solutions to your two concerns. :)

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hey, Christie. It was so much fun to meet you. Sorry we didn't get a chance to talk more.

I can entirely sympathize with not knowing what kind of blog you have. Trust me. It was a bit of a pain for me for a while, but it's getting to the point where it simply attracts people who aren't that concerned about categories. If you're trying to build bridges, that's not a bad position to be in. I've made some interesting introductions.

So as far as advice goes, I'd say concentrate on the putting more you in the blog part. That is what makes your blog unique, and that's what's going to make people find it attractive.

Tony Wildish said...

Hi Christie,

I sympathise with you for asking where your blog is going, I'm still trying to figure out that for myself with my own blog.

I subscribed to your blog primarily because I find it both entertaining and educational. It helps that you write largely about stuff that interests me, but which is not my professional field, so being entertained while I learn something is great.

I think you already express a lot of your own character in your blog. I wouldn't change it too much, too quickly, if I were you.

DeLene said...

Hi Christie: We barely had a chance to talk at the conference, but Allie introduced us briefly. I don't understand why you feel you need to sharpen your focus to just oceans or just biology or just anything? In my case, I blog purely for my own amusement. I will post things that are outside of ecology/environment/evolution (the things I say I blog about) if I feel like it. I don't think you need to feel so boxed in. Diversity in subject matter is a good thing! Just my two cents... - DeLene

clothesmoth said...

The good thing about blogging is that anyone can find you whenever you write about something they are interested in. By being uncategorized you can theoretically reach more people than by being tidied into a niche. I agree it can feel lonely being free to change into whoever you want to be. But somewhere out there must be the other butterflies fluttering from topic to topic enjoying being able to choose what they play with and move on when they're bored. Show your personal colors but keep on fluttering. I love your range of writings.

Penguin collector: still keep the wounded... said...

You are real as you are. A free spirit. There is no box for that.

Keep true to yourself. Blog what matters to you or sparks your interest.

You walk your own path, to a different drummer, again and again and again... Bless you for that.

You share your soul and what greater gift is there to share.

You said "I love my life." You infect the world with your love of life.

That you question shows your depth and breadth.

I Love You for always and Forever ... Mom

Mason Posner said...

It is interesting to read your doubts about your blog, since I have been very impressed with how you seem to have attracted an audience to what I think is one of the better science blogs that I read. I began reading you in September of 2008 when, faced with an impending grant renewal application, started my own science blog. Not only did I think that your writing style was engaging, and your topics interesting, I thought you developed a persona that encouraged me to keep reading. It sure did not bother me that you did not fit into a specific category. You just seemed excited about science.

While my personal blogging has fallen off the face of the Earth over the past year, I am now teaching a second class of graduating undergrad biology majors how to write about science through blogging. When I send them out to find blogs that they like, yours consistently comes up. And now that I hope to get more involved with the personal networking that comes with science blogging, I am looking forward to keeping up with your blog (and school in Hawaii, how cool).

So I would urge you to keep up the good work. And I am interested in your comments about putting more of yourself in your blog. I don't think I do much of that myself, but have been thinking about how I could.