Sunday, 28 June 2015

Churchill Fellowship: Science policy and public engagement in Washington DC

Washington DC was a VERY HOT whirlwind of interesting conversations. new experiences and lots of lessons in American history. I think the time I spent in DC is going to spawn a number of blog posts focused on different topics but for now, here's what I got up to and my thoughts from DC. I've included a summary of my take home messages at the bottom of the post.

First stop was the American Association of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's (ASBMB) 'Hill Day'. This is where a group of scientists from the association meet with with their representatives, Senators and Congressmen to discuss their science and issues in funding.

Benjamin Corb and the policy team at ASBMB do an excellent job of training the scientists in what to expect from their meetings with Senators and Congressmen, how to structure their short discussions and get the most out of them.

It was fascinating to see the interaction between scientists and their representatives(and see the Capitol in action)! Policy engagement is incredibly important to ensure that the bills and recommendations that are made help the investigation of science in a responsible way. Ben even managed to give me a quick tour of the Capitol in between meetings. I managed to snap a quick picture with Churchill too.

When the busy day had ended all the participants gathered for some wind-down drinks. The discussions about their day showed how much they had learned from the experience. They were all enthusiastic about their time on the hill and keen to keep connected in with policy and their representatives about science.

The Library of Congress Building
I also got to spend some time in the ASBMB offices. It's quite possibly the friendliest office in the world. I had some great discussions about their plans for public engagement training for scientists, and their thoughts on the use of social media by scientists and by them as an organisation. ASBMB have been extremely proactive in supporting and encouraging scientists to engage with new audiences and the use of online tools. During my PhD I was invited to blog for them at the annual Experimental Biology Conference about the conference and science being presented.

During the week I met the deputy head of Social Media at NASA, Jason Townsend and Sarah DeWitt who is a Communications Officer at NASA. I had fantastic discussions with both of them about the approach NASA has to engagement on social media and the training programmes they have. It was incredible to spend time with both of them, and share some similar frustrations and thoughts too.

The Lincoln Memorial at night
Many science communicators and writers are based in DC and I met a number of familiar and new faces at the DC science tweet-up. This informal gathering was a nice break to the more office-based settings I had been in during the day. There were some great chats about social media but also about general thoughts about working in the States in DC, interactions with government, politics and what happened the day the @nih_bear came to visit.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit organisation focused on science advocacy,  had some fantastic examples of engagement beyond an audience of scientists online. They've worked with partner organisations focused on particular drives and themes to get their messages out online. Great use of hashtags. I've written a little about them in my previous blog post.

The Monument (the DC by moonlight 'trolly tour' is a great way of seeing the sights in the summer when it is really hot!)

As I spent the weekend in DC I got the opportunity to explore many of the museums and famous landmarks. I know fairly little about American history and so this trip was a real learning experience. I didn't appreciate just how big the monuments are and, of course, it was great to see the White House. DC is easy to get around using the metro system.

The Smithsonian museums in DC are incredible (and free!). I spent over half a day in the Air and Space Museum and still didn't see everything. I love a planetarium and this one didn't disappoint. The show on 'Dark Matter' narrated by Neil De Grasse Tyson left you with a clear message ringing in your ears, "there are still many great discoveries to come, we just have to keep exploring".

American Dinosaurs at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

The museum is also home to a replica of the Hubble, the Wright Brothers' plane and many other important and significant artefacts from the human and space exploration. It's amazing to think that the first flight was only just over 100 years ago.. and the technology we have now has exceeded what we could even dream of (I'm actually writing this sat in an airport lounge so it makes it even more real to me at this moment in time)!

The Air and Space museum has a volunteer programme too. I find this approach interesting as a community building initiative and wondered what incentives (if any) people get - or if this programme relies on people being passionate about the subject.

My week in DC was crammed full of more meetings and discussions than I have mentioned in this post, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and their Public Engagement team.  It would be silly to try and cover all the conversations so I will cover my biggest realisations from when I was in DC below. Some common themes started emerging over the week and a half I spent in DC.

  • Without proper resource, planning, training and knowledge connecting with new audiences via social media and building a community is difficult. 
  • Everyone wants to engage (rather than disseminate) more but time and resource is an issue
  • A common comment is that social media isn't always the answer and it it isn't an easy solution but sometimes it can be an extremely useful tool 
  • Many researchers discuss how useful social media has been for their own networking but there is little discussion of its use for public engagement 
  • Rather than trying to build your own empire online, think clearly about what your goals are. Does it make sense to work with others that have already built an audience?

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Why scientists use social media

Over the past few weeks, as part of my Churchill Fellowship, I've been speaking to scientists across the US and Canada about their motivations for using social media. It has been interesting to hear what motivated them to start and their motivations to continue. 

The reasons scientists made the first step in setting up social media accounts for professional use have included being 'told to get online/start a Twitter account' by research funders or their institutions; to voice general frustrations and/or connect with others outside of their immediate research lab; because they heard it was 'a good thing to do' from others or they wanted to connect with the public about their work. For many, it is of course a combination of those reasons.

Very few started out with an aim or vision of what they wanted to achieve. Their navigation of the networks and their choice of network was determined by what they were told to do (e.g. 'get on Twitter') or by word of mouth from other colleagues (e.g. 'You should use Twitter, it's great). Examples of why that was a good thing to do have included the opportunity for them to connect directly with the media, promote their own work, connect with policy fellows, interact with students, patient groups and other researchers. Their navigation of the network and the content they decided to post was on a trial and error basis. They tried what they thought was interesting and see if anyone responded.

No-one I have spoken to so far started engaging after a training event nor did they have any training before starting their social media accounts. Although this may be a sign of timing. The majority of people I have interviewed have been using social media for a number of years already - so before training sessions were available.

My own experience was that I started using Twitter after reading a book (Ben Goldacre, Bad Science) and realised that there was a community that existed online that shared my interest of evidence based decision making and thinking. That opened many doors for me to develop new ideas and connections in an area that interested me. I entered into that community and there was an immediate positive feedback - I gained insights, comments, entertainment and information that made my job easier and better so I continued to engage. It also increased my personal satisfaction in my PhD role.

An important step in the initial take-up of social media is the ability to find a 'role model' or entry into a familiar community (e.g. #phdchat) where the 'account' can then begin to contribute and add their perspective or content.  This first step can determine whether or not people find value from the network. Many people reported opening a Twitter account and then not knowing what to do with it, ignoring it for a few weeks/months and then slowly going back to it after finding a community that interested them or a person that they were interested in following.

These first interactions can determine within what community the account sits on the network and this obviously tends to be one that is familiar to the person/group running the account. Once in this network, the feedback needs to be positive and useful and this is key to whether the account continues and grows. If the person enters into this community and they find it supportive and helpful then they continue to engage online and use social media where they can. The examples of positive outcomes are similar to those listed above (the reasons others encouraged that person to begin a social media presence, e.g. new collaborations, support, advice).

From there, this first community can open up a network beyond the initial one, through shared conversations and interests, and leads to conversations and interaction with new connections. This again has led to the formation of new scientific collaborations, informal support, scientific advice and discussion of topical issues.

The amount of time that scientists spend on social networks isn't pre determined. They log on when they have a spare moment, in evenings or weekends and sometimes if they know a particular event is taking place at a certain time (for example a live-stream or a Twitter event). This approach, although overlapping with their day-to-day schedule happens on on 'if I can', 'if I think something is really important' basis. It's occurs around what is easiest for the scientist and what is timing works with their schedule.

The growth of scientist-led accounts has been mostly organic and driven by the individuals behind them because they think it is of benefit for them. They drive their own communication for their benefit. Also and this isn't a secondary point, they find it fun and entertaining.

This organic growth in the #scicomm area is why I think (especially on Twitter) we have many overlapping audiences of accounts in the scientist or scientific communications-led content. These conversations are taking place between people that are in areas around the globe, have many different roles but share very similar interests. This is extremely powerful network and is why those that can get value from the networks are vocal and supportive of their time spent on social media.  I'm interested in finding out more about how this network works together and it's growth and development.

The question I am interested in is how to engage beyond that group that is already involved within science and science communication. From conversations I've noticed how those those that have a particular plan or goal online can navigate beyond these familiar audiences into other groups that are of benefit to do this. Quite often they report using key leaders within those communities to gain entry and interactions but they do this in a conversational way that benefits that new community and isn't in a 'We are telling you what the best thing to do is' - they encourage debate and discussion around a familiar topic that links the two communities. One example of this approach is the Union of Concerned Scientists who hosted Twitter chats in collaboration with the Mom's Rising network to discuss issues around sugar in processed food. The other key step here is the use of a hashtag that is relatable and can move across networks to continue conversations elsewhere. This fosters a new community around a new topic of interest, creating new connections and reaches beyond the initial community.

To utilise social media networks to their full potential I think this targeted approach prevents a large opportunity for research-led engagement. However, it takes an increased amount of time and development than the organic approach and requires time built within job plans and projects. Also, the employment of people with the right skill set and knowledge to perform these tasks. This approach means the engager needs to determine the communities needs, rather than just their own. What is the most useful network for the community? How does that network work? What language does that community use? How do form connections within it? When are they online? All of this takes a level of skill, learning and time to invest into that community.

This second model I think provides a huge opportunity for online engagement with science. It can foster real two-way conversations about science with new audiences. This cannot be measured with 'exposures' or 'impressions' but with knowledge of long term outcomes and the quality of conversations.

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Churchill Fellowship: Engagement at Yale

For the second part of my Churchill Fellowship I took the train from Boston to New Haven, the home of Yale University. I caught up with scientists in the Geology and Geophysics group, visited the amazing Peabody Museum (definitely one of my new favourite museums - more below) and met up with science writer and blogger Carl Zimmer.

I was extremely grateful to Carl for giving up some time to meet with me. I think it is important to speak with communicators as well as scientists as they are experts in knowing both how science works and also how to engage the public about science.

We spoke about how the low barrier to entry on social media (no cost, no paperwork) makes it easy for scientists to put themselves out there online. But, how they choose to use social media platforms is up to them.

The Yale Graduate building
For Carl, he said the use of social media by scientists is interesting as you can see what really excites them about the work they are doing. Scientists share when they are happy with their work and discuss at length elements of their work that would not be covered in press releases. Giving you an access to their daily lives that you otherwise would not see.

He also uses it as a filter mechanism - keeping up with everything in science is impossible and so Twitter can help filter quickly through lots of information and pick out the most interesting papers and stories.

One downside is trying to find a balance between being switched on and concentrating on other work, it's too easy to be online all the time.

We also spent some time thinking about the future. Podcasts and video have created new and eager audiences for science through the use of smartphones (I will be exploring this in more depth a little later on the trip). There's been a decline in quality blog comments and discussion tends to happen away from the original article and commentator. Is there a way of pulling that discussion back together and what would be the benefits? Establishing quality interactions online has always been a difficult thing to do.

As I was in Yale over the weekend I had plenty of time to explore. A friend from my PhD Sean McMahon, who is now a post-doctoral researcher in Geology and Geophysics at Yale,  gave me a fantastic tour of the university and surrounding area. Like many universities Yale is also home to a number of museums and has significant collections in art and science.

Sean in the Yale Library
There are lots of interesting details on the Yale buildings if you look close enough

Yale is home to the Peabody Museum of Natural History which has a fantastic fossil and dinosaur collection. Painted on the walls is a pretty famous mural too, 'The age of reptiles'

Dinosaur collections at the Peabody Museum

What I loved the most about the museum was the incredible dioramas. The are created to make it appear  as though you are looking out on a natural habitat. They used a curved background and were were created by the artists Perry Wilson and Frances Lee Jaques along with the Peabody's Chief Preparator Ralf C. Morrill. The backgrounds matched perfectly with the foreground. Can you tell in the picture below where the foreground ends and the background starts?

Dioramas at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale

The museum was of particular interest to me as a hub for engagement. It's interesting to see how university museums work with researchers to engage with with public audiences. As museums have a year-round offering and infrastructure to connect with the public it can mean there's a ready audience for researchers to interact with. Researchers can add value to the museum too as they can discuss the relevance of the collections. The Peabody museums' collections, (there's 13 million objects), are used for research purposes.

The Geology building, apparently built to represent a mine
I even stepped back into the lab to 'help' Sean (actually, some genuine help in using a bit of equipment in the lab that I had used (once) during my PhD. 
I spoke to researchers about how they have worked with the museum for engagement events and outreach schools events. These activities have all been be face-to face, rather than digital, and have included drives such as the Bioblitz that has run in the past and frequent 'meet the researcher' type events and public talks. It was good to see the two organisations running closely together to benefit each other. Many university institutions have museums and collections but they do exist as separate entities with different management, not all museums and researchers have a such a close relationship.

The other positive thing I noted from those I spoke with at Yale was that the museum is linked to research right through research grant applications, where appropriate. This approach solidifies the partnership between them and provides some funding benefit in return for the museum which is important for its sustainability.

The Peabody museum does have a significant social media output with a Twitter account, YouTube channel (with a great video on the creation of the dioramas) and a Facebook page.

More of the Yale Campus

Meeting with the communications team and social media lead, Jim Shelton and Mark Stricker,  at Yale was really informative. They spoke about how the digital landscape has shifted the way news communications is carried out. Now quite often they find the Yale News website as being the news source online, rather then the previous model where their role was to distribute news via press releases and a journalist writing about the press release would become the news source. Universities are increasingly becoming their own 'News Hubs'. This gives some increased flexibility in how they approach news too.

They specifically target some news to social media using video and images. This approach means that a wider spread of research-led news is distributed by the university across different platforms than the press release model could ever manage.

They also host informal 'brown-bag' lunches to share best practice between those using social media which I think is a great way of stimulating discussion and sharing knowledge. Importantly, this can also help prevent duplication of efforts within the university.

The use of social media isn't imposed on everyone, but those that wish to use it can be supported in getting the most out of it. Like many other institutions there is no social media 'policy' and this approach removes barriers to engaging online. They also have some best practice advice for those that wish to get online.

While in New Haven I also managed to sample some of the local 'delicacies', pizza - it was great. I also attended a public talk delivered by Sir Roger Penrose on 'before the beginning and beyond eternity' to a packed-out audience. The talk was great, and the best presentation using an overhead projector I have ever seen.

Sir Roger Penrose at Yale

The students of Yale have their own science engagement initiatives. There's an active science magazine (although sadly I didn't get to meet up with anyone from this group) and the 'science diplomats'. I met with Dr Kenneth Buck who talked me through the activities of this group, mostly arranging face-to-face interactions with public audiences through talks. This group plays an important role in passing on expertise about engaging with a public audience to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers at Yale as before each talk they provide hands on training for each of the presenters. They aren't doing much online engagement yet but would like to expand in this area, so watch this space.

The Yale art gallery is fantastic and had a great exhibit on the favourite equations of mathemeticians and physics, Concinnitas. The museum has some great non-science art too, but this particular exhibit seemed the most relevent to include on the blog. I'm not sure I have a favourite equation of my own!

Finally, during my time in New Haven I went to visit the new medical school Qunnipiaic University. A former pharmacology colleague, Dr Douglas McHugh is part of the teaching faculty at the institution. 

It's a fantastic medical training facility with a great use of technology. The course has also put some learning materials on YouTube for use by students. They were surprised to learn (without any promotion) that these have been shared and picked up around the globe - showing that if you put something online that people are looking for, they will find it! Now something that wasn't originally created as a promotional tool or engagement activity is generating lots of interest. I suppose that it is a reminder that sometimes in the online environment you can't tell what is going to do well and reach a global audience and what isn't. 

The next stop on my trip is Washington DC! 

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Crowdfunding Research: Could it bring scientists and the public closer together?

Research funding comes from a few, fairly limited placesWith the increase in crowdfunding platforms  online  there's an opportunity to bolster funding from traditional routes with additional cash direct from the public pocket. What this new funding route might bring about, rather unintentionally, is increased understanding and trust between the public and scientists as it brings them closer together through this new, more direct, funding model. In the long-term it could also contribute to the personalisation of science and the democratisation of scientific research.  

Traditionally, researchers have received research funding by applying for competitive grants that are overseen by governments, charitable bodies and/or private investors. Although these grants are distributed by the research bodies and funders, other than private investment a significant portion of the money comes from the public's pocket, either through donations or taxes.

These funds are then distributed through the grant system. Researchers apply to a grant and a panel of expert reviewers decides who gets what. This decision is made in private but the projects that are funded are shared with the public. The competitive model has its problems but overall it has proven to be a success, in theory ensuring that the best research gets funded and that the research environment is continually challenged to be better. But, as I mentioned earlier funding pots are getting smaller and there isn't enough funding to go around the excellent research both in the US and the UK

There's a social responsibility for researchers to share the work that they are doing with  the public who are funding much of the research through their taxes. Researchers also have to report to the grant funders, their own institutions and often their own supervisors. It's a big task. This method also contributes to dehumanising the process of 'science' and also the 'public' creating an unintentional divide between us and them. The 'public' don't see this method of funding dissemination and the scientists don't see who and where the money is really coming from. Many efforts go into bridging this gap as the benefits of having the perceived two camps coming together mean that better research is conducted.

Removing the 'middle man' allows the public to directly interact with the researcher and for the researcher to see who is funding their work. Although there is no barrier (other than time) preventing these interactions the dynamic of crowdfunded research is different. Rather than investment from an institution, funder or large organisation the researcher receives a personal cheque, from someone  who wants to support the project and know more about the project. They have personally invested in it and the researcher sees that investment. is just one site specialising in supporting researchers in crowdfunding research projects.

This week I spoke to Marissa McMahan, a PhD candidate at Northeastern University about her experience of using to crowdfund a portion of her research on black seabass in the Gulf of Maine. Before using she didn't (and still doesn't) use more traditional social media channels to talk about her work. She had done outreach with school groups but she, like many others, wondered about the value of sharing work via social media platforms - is it just self promotion? Is anyone really interested in what I am doing? Why bother?

Her project was fully funded within 35 days by a public audience, some funders she knew, others she didn't. She realised that her direct funders had a genuine interest in the work she was carrying out (on Black Seabass movement in the Gulf of Maine). 

To encourage people to donate to her research she realised that her communication needed to be clear and understandable to a wide audience. She also offered 'incentives' which are commonplace in crowdfunding projects, where if you pledge a certain funding level you receive extra benefits. She chose to offer increased information about the project and photos from her field trips as she worked on the boat. She spoke to me enthusiastically about how she uses like her own, personal, social network to connect with her donors.

She shares updates on the research but also letting them know what she is doing, for example stuffing 1500 envelopes for a large survey. A survey that has actually stemmed from her interaction with her public donors. Not only was she telling them information they also contacted her about things they had noticed and recorded in the local area - from when certain fish had been caught but also from fishermen letting her know what the fish they had been catching had been eating. It's bringing a whole new social aspect to her work. 

She sees the correspondence not as a chore, but as an integral part of her work. Even getting excited about sharing her work with the public audience. 

Local publicity about the project has also helped her connect with a wider audience at public meetings and forums. 

Her perspective on her own work and her perceptions on working with the public have changed completely, " Scientists aren't an exclusive club, They should feel responsibility to interact in a timely manner with the public about their work" 

But the experience of speaking directly to funders made her realise the importance and value of bringing the public into research that is taking place. It hadn't occurred to me before then that this method of funding you are achieving a level of engagement with the public that can be difficult to achieve via traditional routes.

There are still lots of questions and debate to be had around the process of crowdfunding research. How can the public be sure they are funding quality research and that scientists don't over-promise what they will achieve with the funds they get?

For me, meeting with Marissa offered a completely new perspective on how funding via this route isn't just about the monetary value. The process can really increase engagement in a way that brings the public into the research process and can make the research, and the researcher, better.

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Online engagement and learning in practice at Harvard and MIT

For the  next part of my journey I visited the beautiful Harvard campus. I met with a number of scientists that use social media and a number of social media managers.
Harvard is really easy to get to on the T line and is a beautiful campus to explore. The graduations had taken place the day before. There were lots of tents and food-trucks set up around the campus and a really vibrant atmosphere. It helped that the sun came out too!

Here's a video round-up of my visit - no hair in my face this time!

Between meetings I took a quick tour of the Harvard Museum of Natural History which has some incredible collections.

My favourite exhibit in the museum is the glass flower collection, which I stumbled upon by accident. I thought these were persevered flowers but they they were all made from glass for the teaching of botany.

Yep, not a real flower...

Cabinets of glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
The museum is really active on Facebook and they host a number of interesting talks and events throughout the year. All the staff were really helpful and knew a lot about the collections. I didn't have long to spend in the museum but it was great to chat with those that I met.

Other than the glass flowers I loved their displays of beetles and insects. So beautiful.

So shiny! Beetles at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

There was also an exhibition on cockroaches and their importance and 'life in a rotting log'.  It's great to see the creepy crawlies getting some well deserved attention.

I met with a number of academic staff at Harvard and spoke to them about their online engagement. I also learnt about Harvard's online courses which are a diverse set of free online courses taught by Harvard staff available for everyone to access.

Many of the courses also support their own Facebook, Twitter and social media pages. These exist not to promote the course but to engage with the students. The pages create their own communities between students and academic staff. The visibility of the questions and discussion stimulates more input in a way that one-to-one conversations via email never could.

I headed back to MIT later in the day and I met with Stephanie Hatch Leishman, Social Media Strategist at MIT, in her fantastically decorated office (she made the icons herself -AMAZING).

We spoke for quite a while about how MIT as in institution approaches social media engagement. I discovered MIT connect , a fantastic example of how a diverse organisation can bring together it's online engagement and output.

There's also #askMIT an outreach initiative led by MIT's engineering school that encourages and promotes online science engagement through video, Facebook and Twitter. Ask the researchers a question and they will answer. This kind of idea isn't new, but I haven't seen an example of it being led at an institutional level before. Formal Social media chats tend to last for a set period of time (1 hr or so) and then vanish so it's great to see a project that keeps building and continues over time.

These are a few perspectives and views from those that I have met so far that I thought were interesting to share:
  • No Professor or research group lead (or PhD student..) should be managing a group social media output. Write it into a grant and employ someone to do this - it's a full time job to do it properly and get the most from it.
  • Freedom online is important to make mistakes, learn and develop new areas
  • MOOCs can create their own social media networks with public audiences and become an engagement platform 
  • Exploit the support networks you can find on social media to help you in your career 

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Churchill Fellowship Science Online: Visiting MIT and BABY LOBSTERS

I packed my bags and headed to Boston this week for the first part of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to investigate how scientists are using social media to connect with the public.

Here's a round-up of the first part of my trip

There were stunning views from the flight all the way to Boston.
Hotel accommodation in Boston is super-expensive so I tried out Airbnb for the first time. It was really easy to find an Airbnb place located half-way between Harvard and MIT in Cambridge despite the lack of affordable hotels in this area. The apartment is lovely and my hosts were great. I'm definitely going to be using Airbnb more. I was pretty exhausted after the flight and so having a nice place to relax and rest was just what I needed.

Cambridge is a great area full of coffee shops and leafy streets. I got to know the area well on foot. It's easy to navigate and feels like around every corner is a lovely coffee shop, perfect for a cup-of tea and a think about the conversations that have been taking place.

On the first day of the project I attended the International Public Science Events Conference in the Media Lab at MIT. It was a great conference with plenty of ideas for new science events and information about science festivals that run around the U.S. There was lots of discussion about how science engagement events could be an 'immersive experience', similar to the secret cinema type events and 'haunted house' style. These are fun ideas which can challenge how people think about and interact with science.

At the conference I also met a number of people that I haven't seen for a very long time, or people that I have spoken to online but never met.. and quite a few new faces too. I was feeling pretty jet lagged so it was quite full on for day one of the trip and after the conference I headed straight home to nap!

I missed day one of the conference as I was travelling but there's lots of the discussion captured online via #IPSEC2015

It was fantastic seeing inside some of the MIT buildings. I loved the displays and small exhibition they have downstairs in the media lab.

The iconic Stata Center building at MIT
On my second day in Boston I met with Ben Kotrc who's a postdoctoral researcher in the NASA astrobiology group at MIT. He splits his time 50/50 between research and outreach. We met in a great coffee and breakfast place close to MIT called Darwin's.

It was great to chat to him informally about how he manages outreach for a diverse research group located not only at MIT but around the US and how they have integrated social media into their outreach programme. You can see more about his work and the research group here.

Science is EVERYWHERE around MIT!

Ben kindly gave me a tour of some of the MIT spaces including the beautiful and extremely peaceful engineering library and this Sol Lewitt designed floor. He also introduced me to the underground tunnels of MIT which I loved, although without him guiding me I think I would have been stuck under MIT forever. The tunnels connect all the buildings via underground passageways and I loved how industrial they are.

It's always worthwhile getting some local knowledge when exploring a new place.

The engineering library at MIT
The Sol Lewitt designed floor at MIT

The tunnels at MIT
More MIT tunnels!

In the afternoon I travelled north of Boston to the Northeastern University Marine Science Centre (MSC) to meet Marissa, a PhD student who used online crowdfunding to fund part of her research project. I headed to 'Wonderland' on the T line (the T is easy to use and came in handy when the weather was too bad to walk). While waiting at the station I had a bit of time and walked along to Revere beach. I thought I would try recording some video.. I'm trying to experiment with different types of online communication as I go on this trip. As much as I love blogging and Twitter I want to make sure I take myself out of my comfort zone. The lesson I learnt while recording this was that filming in windy locations with long hair is tricky. I could't see my face in the screen as the sun was too bright!

The Marine Science Centre lab is located on the peninsula at East Point in Natant and is housed in old WW2 bunker and defence area (!!). This is a photo of the entrance - pretty cool!

I had a great chat and tour with Marissa about her experiences of using a site designed especially for the crowdfunding of research projects. I'm going to cover some extensive thoughts on this in a separate blog post. Marissa shared lots of thoughts with me, including some tips  for going about crowdfunding your work. For now, here's Marissa giving her view on her experience.

The lab is very cool. Marissa was very kind and gave me a tour of the facility and introduced me to this little dude, a 2 year old BABY LOBSTER, who is still so tiny. I also learnt that these blue lobsters are1 in a million.

In the afternoon I had time for a visit to the Museum of Science in Boston. It's a huge science centre, and is really impressive. Like most science centre's it's aimed at children and families but the exhibits here are really great even if you are there on your own.

It's home to the worlds largest indoor Van der Graaff generator. Unfortunately I was too late to see the electricity show so I just took a selfie. I have heard that the electricity show has been shared via their snapchat account. Snapchat appears to be the social media of choice for science centres and museums at the moment.

I had a great time in the Theater of Electricity and loved their interactive exhibition on Mathematics. 

I wish I had a bit more time to explore the museum! I got a little carried away/overexcited making some videos for vine (short, 6 second loops)

You can keep up with the Museum of Science online and I've heard they have a great snapchat account.

Next stop on my tour is Harvard where I will be looking at how universities manage social media output of their staff and researchers.

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.

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