Did you know that in Dutch, usually “ph” spelling is an “f”? For example, the Dutch word for “alphabet” is “alfabet.”
Every October, artists all over the world take on a challenge: make a piece of art (usually within a certain theme, using a specific media, and using a prompt list) every day for one month.
While I would not call myself an artist (though, art and science do have things in common), I took up a hobby I’d started a few months back: brushlettering or handlettering. One letter a day. And of course, I picked a science theme.
We all know Wikipedia. It’s almost impossible not to.
For me, from a quick look-up of some fact to prove your point in an argument with friends, to double-checking a chemical structure for schoolwork, or to translate an obscure plant name I can’t think of the English name for; I’ve used Wikipedia consistently for well over a decade.
I’ve always known that Wikipedia was an online encyclopedia than anyone could edit. But I’d never even considered making an edit myself. Until one day in April, I received an email from 500 Women Scientists with the opportunity to attend a 6-week wiki-editing course. I’d already been working from home for a few weeks, with a considerably lower workload than usual, and – to be honest – not quite sure what to do with myself. So, I jumped on the opportunity to learn how to use the skills I already have — hey, I’m a scientist, I’ve been researching and writing and fact-checking for years! — to make Wikipedia a more inclusive place.
500 Women Scientists Wikipedia
About 10 women scientists gathered twice a week to learn how to edit Wikipedia with one main goal: putting more women on Wikipedia. I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that of all the biographies on Wikipedia, only ~18% are about women. That percentage is ~16% if we only look at academic biographies, and it drops down to ~6.5% for female engineers, my own field.
One potential reason for this is that a lot of Wikipedia editors are men. And – likely due to implicit bias – they write and edit articles about… other men. Even if the academic world is becoming more inclusive, this isn’t necessarily reflected on the online encyclopedia that everyone uses.
And that’s a problem. Middle or high schoolers looking to learn more about notable figures in a field of interest and don’t find anyone who looks like them or comes from a similar background, might be turned off from pursuing studies in that field. So that’s where 500 Women Scientists Wikipedia comes in. By increasing representation of women in the academic biography category of Wikipedia, either by improving existing articles or writing new ones (for example through the Women in Red Wikiproject, which aims to write articles for “redlinked” women), we could improve representation and therefore make Wikipedia a better and more inclusive resource.
That all sounds good, but how?
Okay, so I knew I wanted to make Wikipedia more inclusive and I knew why, but that didn’t really help me with the “why.” Again, the fact that anyone can edit, doesn’t make me feel comfortable doing so right away! Luckily, the WikiEducators (if that’s the term, the course was organized by WikiEducation, and everything related to Wikipedia seems to have “Wiki” in it!), walked us through the core policies of Wikipedia, the do’s and don’t, and helped us through our first article edits.
Here is a list of things that stuck (but you can find all that is relevant to editing Wikipedia, on – you guessed it! – Wikipedia):
- Statements on Wikipedia must be verifiable, which does not mean they are necessarily true. It just means there’s a sourceable body of work to back up the statement. This feels counterintuitive (shouldn’t we be writing “the truth”?) but it ensures there are reliable sources for everything on Wikipedia.
- Wikipedia is not a place for opinion; articles should reflect a neutral point of view. I did like that this meant according to consensus, as opposed to the journalistic rule of equal time. For example, if 90% of climate researchers are in agreement that climate change is real, that viewpoint should be reflected for 90% of the article.
- To have a biography on Wikipedia, a person must be notable. They have to meet criteria with regards to their academic achievements, prizes won, and impact to merit a presence on the online encyclopedia. In an academic culture where men are typically still more valued than women, this can be another factor for why there are so few biographies about women on Wikipedia.
- The definition of Wikipedia as an “online encyclopedia” is incredibly broad, and apparently it’s easier to define what Wikipedia is not.
- You can contribute to Wikipedia in several different ways, whether it’s writing new content, taking care of layout, correcting spelling and grammar, or making Wikipedia more aesthetically pleasing (just to name a few).
Making the first edit
The first edit was scary!
What if I made a mistake? What if I undid someone else’s edit and step on their toes? What if I did something that was inherently anti-Wikipedian?
Wikipedia’s mantra is “Be Bold” – make the change! The beauty of a massively open, crowd-sourced, and peer-reviewed platform is that almost everyone there is willing to help. It’s not seen as a faux-pas to make mistakes, and if you do, someone else will come along and fix it. Accidentally left in a typo? Someone will fix it. Mistakenly got a fact not quite right? Someone will fix it. Change someone’s important edits without noticing? They can come back and undo your change. And Wikipedia keeps track of all the changes in the “history” tab, making the whole editing process transparent and traceable.
Working on the second article was considerably easier. Sure, there are still some really tricky things, like adding images or editing boxes, but overall making edits on Wikipedia is really easy!
“So fix it”
Another Wikipedia Mantra is “So fix it”: if you see something wrong, make it better.
If you see a lack of representation, write a new article. Make existing articles better (I was surprised to learn about how some articles in the outer corners of Wikipedia are not great). Increasing representation is not just about getting more women biographies on Wikipedia. Black, Indigenous and People of Color academics are more underrepresented on Wikipedia than they are in academia (thanks to the #editWikipedia4BlackLives effort on June 10th and ongoing efforts from the people involved, that will hopefully change), and Pride month brings LBGTQA+ themed “editathons” (sessions where groups of people edit pages together). Wikipedia is a group effort, and together we can all make Wikipedia better: more representative, more inclusive, and more equitable. I myself plan to edit or write one article a week! 💪
Find out more:
Learn more about WikiEducation, or get started on editing yourself with these open-source resources: https://outreachdashboard.wmflabs.org/training/editing-wikipedia
Read about another 500 Women Scientist member’s experience: https://blogs.agu.org/geoedtrek/2020/07/13/every-edit-counts/
We can’t hold public gatherings anymore. So conferences and meetings are moving to virtual, which is… interesting?
Last month, I attended Science Talk 2020 (#SciTalk20), an annual conference about everything that’s science communication that’s usually held in Portland, OR. Not this year. This year is was on the internet.
I’ve never been – it’s passed on my radar the past few years, especially because Portland isn’t that far, but the combination of no longer being a student (so no student attendance fees) and the time/effort/cost of travelling (let’s face it, sometimes I’m just lazy), meant I never made the trip down.
This year however, there was no trip required, and I knew I’d probably have the time to attend (two afternoons), so why not? I love the scicomm community on Twitter and this could be a new way to connect.
You can read a blog post from one of the organizers on how the event went, but here are some of my thoughts as an attendee.
Conferencing at your own pace
I like attending conferences, but sometimes I’m just so tired at the end of the day from always being on. I enjoyed going to the #AAAS2020* meeting partially because I could just go home straight after. Sure, part of conferences – and I might argue perhaps one of the most important parts – is networking, those coffee breaks and meet-ups in bars and connecting over drinks, but attending a conference from your lazy desk chair has some perks:
- You can get up and grab a coffee or go to the bathroom whenever you want without feeling like you’re bothering the speaker by getting up.
- You can shamelessly doodle, knit, cross-stitch, … whatever type of “mindless” activity you like without feeling self-conscious. I particularly like this, because even during the most interesting of talks, I have the tendency to fall asleep, and doing something with my hands helps me stay awake.
- You don’t have to dress up. Well, attend a conference in your PJs. Super comfy. You don’t even need to pack!
- The catering is as amazing as you make it!
One of my favorite things of the conference was the chat room, similar to the chat in a live-streamed YouTube video: constantly running in the background. It was pretty amazing to talk (mostly about the ongoing session but sure, there were also jokes) without bothering the speaker, at another conference, whispering in the back row would be frowned upon.
The chat room gave attendees the opportunity to network and provide resources directly. A lot of questions came up live, discussions got started, etc. It was like having a live tweet feed but a bit faster. In addition to the live-streamed speaker sessions, coffee breaks (with a chat open) gave people to opportunity to connect, discuss, and joke around.
So should all conferences go virtual?
Nah, of course not. There are aspects to in-person conferences that would be very difficult to implement virtually, such as networking events, (some) interactive workshops, and exhibition halls. But live-streaming can definitely make conferences more interactive, and accessible. Rethinking how conferences are organized can potentially increase their impact: can some conferences completely or partially be held online to reach more people? Do we really always have to travel halfway across the world for a meeting?
The organizers of #SciTalk20 showed that moving a meeting online in a matter of weeks is possible, with great speakers, wonderful attendees, and a disco party to end with.
Report on the session “Friends of the Science Pod: Broadcasting, outreach and professional networking” at the 2020 meeting of the Americal Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS2020)
There’s no way around it: podcasting is the-new-thing. And for science communicators, podcasting sounds like a perfect way to participate in science communication, with the potential to reach audiences across borders and disciplines. During the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Christopher Lynn (Department of Anthropology, University of Alabama), Dr. Sarah Myhre (Executive Director of the Rowan Institute Seattle; 500 Women Scientists), and Dr. Jo Weaver (Department of International Studies, University of Oregon) gathered together to talk about public scholarship, advancing your scientific career on the sound waves, and the ins and outs of podcasting. For science.
Public Scholarship: science is political
Dr. Sarah Myhre, cohost of “Warm Regards” – a podcast about the warming planet, started off the discussion by introducing the concept of being a public scholar. A researcher is embedded in society, and it is therefore impossible to be apolitical. Following the path paved by women of color, Sarah urged us to participate in public scholarship, rather than science communication.
While science communication is by no means unimportant – it brings science closer to communities by making researchers more personable, teaches academics to use clear language and stay clear of jargon, while conveying accurate information from a position of scientific authority – it has some limitations. For one, it lacks a thorough analysis of power. Science communication, in some forms, can be too much of a one-way street.
With public scholarship, however, being in conversation with the community is a central pillar. It takes into account that talking in public spaces makes the untrue assumption that anyone can engage, without taking into account that there is a higher barrier for people from marginalized communities. There are different ways to achieve public scholarship, such as organizing and hosting events, podcasting, writing Op-Eds, and moderating panels.
When creating media – such as a podcast or an OpEd – one should expect a deeply inequitable landscape and be actively countering the harm around you.
Sarah closed off her part of the session with an exercise for the audience: one person was to tell a story while the other actively listened but without showing any form of expression or acknowledgment. It was very uncanny not to receive any body language cues. Very useful though, for in a podcast, the audience is not there to provide direct feedback!
There are several reasons to start a podcast, even in the sea of the already so many existing ones! Dr. Christopher Lynn, who co-hosts a podcast on human biological variation in evolutionary, social, historical, and environmental context called “Sausage of Science,” started his talk by pointing out that “the world doesn’t need anything more than what it already has but they might like it anyway?”
A first valid reason to start a podcast is to propagate good science. But you might also want to promote yourself and gain recognition that can help enhance and advance your career. For grants, podcasting might count as a broader impact. Furthermore, through podcasting, you will build useful, transferable skills. Chris jokes: “Take the scientific approach: do everything once and then hire someone to do the things you don’t like.”
Dr. Jo Weaver, who hosts “Speaking of Race” – a podcast on racial science, chose the topic of her podcast after realizing that racial science was not really being taught anywhere. When they started their podcast, they brainstormed topics while asking the question: What do we think listeners want to hear? – and the rest followed. With 12 topics, the first mini-series was planned out. Because planning is crucial to maintain continuity throughout a podcast series.
Jo went into some podcasting production details, including making the choice between doing an interview – or content-based podcast. Interviews require less preparation but are considerably harder to edit afterwards. Content-based podcasts are the opposite: there is more preparation required but once you follow a script, there is less editing work to do. And going for a hybrid basically requires a full production team.
Advancing your career through podcasting
Jo continued by telling us her journey to getting her podcasting efforts more recognized at her institution. It is the general feeling that “If you’re on the tenure track, you need to be publishing.” From the university’s side, podcasting is not really considered a form of scholarship, so there’s no incentive to support it. It is one of those activities that institutions like to “brag” about when it’s successful, but not incentivize from the start.
However, there are several ways to get a podcast count towards an academic record. There are two main options:
- Turning content into a more traditional format, including an editing volume, theoretical (methodology) or research articles, “popular” academic writing.
- Convincing your institution that podcasting is a useful medium that counts as a teaching and research tool.
Towards the second point, podcasts can be “peer-reviewed,” not only through their popularity rating but also by getting peers to review scripts or write letters of endorsement. To get your university to pay attention, it is helpful to find a supportive admin, lobby your institution as a group, and/or negotiate upfront in your contract.
The importance of having a brand
The session ended with Chris talking about networking and branding. He pointed out that he, as a tenured, white male, had an easy time doing things without fear and repercussion. Nevertheless, putting your research out in the public is a worthwhile endeavor.
He paralleled his experience as a podcaster and a blogger. Through writing a lot (for a blog), you get a lot better at writing. Keep in mind that it is very likely that there will be more people reading your blog – or listening to your podcast – than reading your journal article! Blogs and podcasts allow you to build a platform. If you ever go to an editor to write a book, coming with a built-in audience will strengthen your case.
From a practical point of view, Chris advised us to think like a journalist: follow leads, use “strings” to create a narrative appeal, make sure you have an attention grabber (a “hook”) and know that both quality and quantity are important. High production quality, such as editing and sound for a podcast, will ensure that your audience sticks with you. And by putting out a high quantity of content, people will be more aware of you.
So – should you start a podcast?
That’s up to you! In any case, the session was informative, relaying tons of practical tips on how to be effective at podcasting – and thought-provoking – bringing up interesting discussions around public scholarship and non-traditional forms of publication. I would highly recommend to go listen to some podcasts, and see if you can find your niche!
Report on the session “Building Community for Inclusive Public Engagement with Science” at the 2020 meeting of the Americal Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS2020)
Many researchers and institutions participate in public engagement, including organizing public outreach activities and science communication events to help bridge the gap between science and the community. Unfortunately, too often parts of the community are not reached. Only people who are already interested in science come to a public talk, school outreach activities reach schools in more privileged areas, and the needs of communities are not taken into account when developing engagement projects.
During the session on “Building Community for Inclusive Public Engagement with Science,” held on Thursday, February 13, 2020, during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting, this exact topic was addressed. The session was moderated by Sunshine Menezes (Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, Kingston, RI), who introduced the speakers and outlined the scope of the panel: how we can be more intentional, reciprocal and reflexive in working towards more inclusive science communication. Those three words summarize the key traits of science communication:
- Intentionality: Are we actively thinking about who the target audience is and whether their identities and histories are being represented?
- Reciprocity: Are we learning from each other? Are the conversations based on what people bring rather than what they lack?
- Reflexivity: Are we evaluating our science communication strategies?
All three points came back in some form in three talks during the session.
Supporting Culture and Identity – Carrie Tzou
The first speaker, Carrie Tzou (University of Washington, Bothell, WA) spoke about supporting culture and identity in science education with equity-focused engagement. What educators should remember is that “when people enter into the practices of science and engineering, they do not leave their cultural worldviews at the door. Instruction that fails to recognize this reality can adversely affect engagement in science” [NRC, 2012, p. 284].
Learning is essentially cultural: what a person learns and how they learn depends on the community they are from. As a Western society, we often forget that for people of different cultures to learn our science, they also have to learn our culture!
Carrie Tzou outlined some strategies for learning that can be implemented to ensure that culture and identity are supported during learning. These include self-documentation, partnerships, and self-assessment. As an example of self-documentation, she told us about a project where students were given prompts, such as “how does your family use water?” to go take pictures in their daily life. This approach connects family and community to learning while broadening the definition of “what counts as science.”
By expanding what constitutes “science” – who does science, what counts as science, and in what contexts – personal identities and culture are supported in learning. Everyone can identify as a scientist and achieve scientific discoveries. As a final point, seeing science as part of justice movements offers new possibilities to understand the relationship between science, equity, and justice.
Seeing Yourself in the Data – Monica Ramirez
Monica Ramirez (University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ) showed us some participatory research projects she had worked on: co-created environmental health citizen science. She worked with “promatoras” – professionals with a similar cultural background as the person you’re trying to reach, helping to bridge the gap between “ivory tower researchers” and the community. In order to develop a successful citizen science project, she had the following tips:
- People want to participate if there is a community need, not just for the “advancement of knowledge.” Let the research question stem from the community, as solving a community-identified problem will contribute highly to the motivation of participants.
- Build meaningful relationships, by implementing personal support structures and peer education models (cfr. promatoras).
- Consider that participants might have limited time and/or access to technology, and incorporate this in the study design.
Equity Oriented Practice in Pre- and Early Career SciComm Professionals – Rabiah Mayas
Finally, Rabiah Mayas from the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI, Chicago, IL) gave a museum-perspective to creating inclusive scicomm. At the MSI, there is a training program for STEM graduate students who want to get into science communication.
The program structure is inspired by traditional teaching education: initial academic preparation, supported practical experience in the classroom, and finally a lead educator position. In the scicomm space, this looks like training in best practices and K-12 teaching, as well as improvisation exercises. Participants are then allowed to try out their newly learned skills in the museum, allowing space to fail – because you only get good by failing!
While the world of STEM and scicomm is looking more and more diverse, we still have a long way to go. By building comfort around the language of inclusivity, creating spaces where it’s safe to have these “uncomfortable” discussions, stay aware of our personal identity while pursuing science, we can move towards more inclusivity and diversity. The three speakers of the session have definitely shown it can be done.
Informal Science’s toolkit for science engagement professionals: https://www.informalscience.org/broadening-perspectives
Perspective article on a critical approach to science communication: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2020.00002/full
Engaging diverse citizen scientists: https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2018AGUFMNH43B1036B/abstract
Report on the session “Make ’em Laugh: Science Comedy to Ignite Curiosity and Increase Self-confidence” organized by the Marie Curie Alumni Association at the 2020 meeting of the Americal Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS2020)
Science is the pursuit of knowledge. But what is the point of research if this knowledge is not communicated to others? Comedy is one way to connect people, and it could be the key to bridge the science community with a society that is often susceptible to fake news and clickbait.
At the annual meeting of AAAS, which took place from February 13–16, 2020 in Seattle, we organized a workshop to learn how to make people laugh with, and sometimes at, science. The session was organized by Valentina Ferro (Vice-Chair of the MCAA) and Valerie Bentivegna (Chair of the MCAA Communication Workgroup) and was facilitated by Adam Ruben (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC) and Matthew Murtha (MCAA).
Here are some of the take-home messages.
Comedy — the “rules”
Comedy, like many forms of entertainment, has some formulas that are guaranteed to work. Okay, I’m lying here. But there are some general rules that seem to help when working on a joke.
One format is “the list of three.” Lists of three are quite common in storytelling, and in comedy, this can be by surprising the audience on the third item with a twist. Let’s take the example from The Dick Van Dyke Show:
“Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?”
A cup of coffee is an ordinary thing to offer someone, and so is a donut. But it’s the third element that takes the audience by surprise and makes them laugh. The element of surprise is the other big part of comedy: keep the audience on their feet.
On the other hand, being too formulaic or too predictive can work against you. It might be better to just be silly, remember to have fun, and break the rules if they don’t work for you!
Bring comedy into your “boring” science presentations
I’m not saying science presentations are always boring, but let’s be honest, often they are. Bringing in some comedy into your science can be a way to lighten things up, but you might want to be careful when you’re early in your career. A close-to-pension, established, tenured scientist with nothing to prove can easily add humor into their talks without sounding unprofessional, but, as an early career scientist, you don’t want the humor to undermine your scientific message.
However, there are some tools from stand-up comedy that can help with your science talk:
- A microphone is not a wand. Don’t wave it around like you expect a Patronus to come out of it. Microphones work best when they are held an inch from your mouth, and you can help anchor it by placing your thumb on your chin or directly putting the mic on your chin. On a microphone note: use it! Don’t think the back of the room can hear you if you “project your voice,” not to mention that there might be some hard of hearing people that rely on you speaking through the microphone.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. You can be nervous to speak in front of a room full of people, but you should not be nervous about forgetting what you’re going to say.
- Communicate and connect with your audience. A good way to do this is by going into a talk with the motivation that you have something fascinating to tell, not because you have to.
- Use your slides wisely. Mostly images, bullet points for the rest. There are plenty of online resources to help you create amazingly effective (or effectively amazing) slides, find one that works for you!
- Constantly be thinking about what the room is thinking. Don’t be the last person to know something odd happening in the room. If something falls, or your projection is cutting out, or anything else is happening that the audience can’t help but miss, don’t ignore it.
So how can you put some humor in your science talk without overdoing it? Use the element of surprise: an unexpected funny photo or meme could get you some laughs without distracting from your data.
One final point
The best advice anyone can ever give is to be likable. Be authentic and relatable. And if you do want to go into comedy, just do it. Often. Go to open mics and try out your stuff. You will bomb sometimes, but it’s by failing that you’ll get better!
Want the learn more about #ScienceComedy? Depending on where you live, there are plenty of opportunities to work on your stand-up skills or just learn how to implement comedy into your science! Some examples are:
- Bright Club: stand-up comedy for academics. It started in London but has local chapters all over the UK, including Dundee (where I started) and even in Belgium!
- Kasha Patel runs DC Science Comedy
- Kyle Marian does a bunch of smart comedy shows and training in New York City
- And well, selfless self-promotion, there’s Geeky Comedy Seattle!
This post was originally published on the Marie Curie Alumni Association Medium Page.
No, this is not an epic battle. It’s a question that has been bugging me for the past week or two:
What is the difference between a geek and a nerd?
According to Big Think: ‘the words “nerd” and “geek” are often used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. They actually don’t: geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. … nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field.’
But then, “Harry Potter Nerd” sounds a lot better than “Harry Potter Geek,” and I’d like to know which one I am!
And then there was a website claiming that geeks are “socially adapted” nerds. Which I don’t really like as an explanation so I’m ignoring it.
So I asked my friends, and I asked twitter, and I was none the wiser. It seemed that about 50% of the people I know adhere to the description from Big Think above: nerds are the more “academic” of the two. The other half of my friends claim it’s exactly the opposite! Tech geeks, all of them!
A fellow nerd comedian (self-described) said that he uses them interchangeably, “Mainly because that’s how I was described in grade school. Nerd. Geek didn’t show up for me until college.”
Another interpretation was given by David Ashlin on Twitter: “Going by the, admittedly apocryphal, etymology that GEEK=General Electrical Engineering Knowledge, I always differentiated it by theoretical vs practical, as in nerds know things while geeks know how to do things.” What a nerd.
Another source used twitter data to differentiate the two, and created a graph with words commonly associated with “geeky” and “nerdy.” Apparently technology and comic books follow under the geek name while science pursuits, books, and education are more for nerds.
He summarizes: In broad strokes, it seems to me that geeky words are more about stuff (e.g., “#stuff”), while nerdy words are more about ideas (e.g., “hypothesis”). Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas. Of course, geeks can collect ideas and nerds play with stuff, too. Plus, they aren’t two distinct personalities as much as different aspects of personality. Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking.
I still don’t really know the answer. I consider myself both, depending on the situation but don’t ask me what exactly the differentiating situations are…
What do you think? What is the difference between a geek and a nerd? Share your view in the comments or on the original post on twitter.