I‘ve taken a day off, unbound the fetters that currently lock me to my computer, and gone to a conference.
I’ve also unplugged the academic tone-filter – I’m writing up my thesis, so everything I write has a profusion of sub-clauses, brackets, dependencies and semi-colons – and hoping this will come out like normal English. This is also why this blog has been quiet for a bit. Too many words!
However, it may just sound garbled. This is because I got up at five to catch a very early train and yet still arrived just as the big ush into the auditorium began, thereby missing that very vital first cup of coffee, essential to get me through an extended session in semi-darkness.
This is a very online conference. Almost all the conferees are carrying one, if not more, tools for communication. During the morning’s keynote, I was fascinated by the rise and fall of the barely audible sound of fingers hitting keypads and tiny switches clicking; an instantaneous index of interest in the speaker’s remarks. (Drat – I’ve just realised that’s a very poor sampling technique; not taking in the legions of i-padders, smart phoners and the (like me) rare souls who insist on scribbling on real paper. Damn – gravelled for lack of matter.)
So far, it’s the usual conference mix of ‘whoo, interesting’, ‘er, dull’, ‘I wanted to say that’ and ‘I wish I had the gumption to stand up and argue about that’. Sadly, comments on ‘the public’ are the biggest fillers of the latter category. The poor old public has been educated at, communicated at, engaged at, been wondered whether it’s capable of understanding … and we haven’t even reached tea on the first day. I’m sure the commenters don’t mean it but – and I’ve moaned about this before – there’s low awareness of research in public engagement in the wider scientific communities. In the community I’m currently conferring with, that would probably be my fault. Back to the need for a gumption insert.
Day 2. Is may be me but aren’t panel sessions just the most drear?
Today was a brave attempt at an unusual format. Second days of conferences often lack energy – depending on one’s sociability level either one hasn’t slept properly or has spent too long in the bar the night before – and conferees can need a boost. So the day was themed around workshops on ways to open up the science for a small foundation supporting research into a rare but tragic childhood condition – Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Having learned a little about the condition, we split into workshops to look at using social media (like Storify, to agglomerate twitter commentary), data visualisation, xxx and yyy. But unfortunately – for various technological and organising reasons – it didn’t quite happen. Pity – I liked the idea of focussing on a genuine problem and attempting to do some real science, albeit in a short time.
But I feel kind of refreshed, I got to listen to some interesting stuff and I have pages of notes, studded with asterisks for ‘find out more’. And I have a few new thoughts for the thesis, which could well be a relief for its eventual readers.