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.
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!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010