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Showing posts from June, 2015

Churchill Fellowship: Science policy and public engagement in Washington DC

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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)…

Why scientists use social media

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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 …

Churchill Fellowship: Engagement at Yale

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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.

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 d…

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

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Research funding comes from a few, fairly limited places. With 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 thro…

Online engagement and learning in practice at Harvard and MIT

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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.


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 lo…

Churchill Fellowship Science Online: Visiting MIT and BABY LOBSTERS

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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

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 th…