Tomorrow I’m heading to Raleigh, NC for the ScienceOnline conference – or “unconference,” I should say. I’ve never been to anything like this before and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I also don’t really fit neatly into any of the categories that describe most of the people attending: while I am a research scientist, I am also the PR person for my center. I am not a science blogger per se – this blog here certainly isn’t about science – but I do maintain the center’s blog and solicit and edit science posts for the center’s blog.
I also don’t know very many people who are attending personally. While the explosions of joy over the impending meeting over on Twitter (see #scio12) are cute [e.g. "OMG I'm so excited to see you all again"], it’s actually pretty intimidating. I’m kind of shy, really, and I also hate feeling left out. A cocktail or two should help, but I hope that the community will generally be welcoming. A couple of years ago, I went to a very specialized conference where most of the attendees knew each other, and it was very cliquey – I hardly talked to anyone the whole time. I’ve never gone to that conference since, and I don’t plan to ever again. I hope it’s not like that.
Also, I don’t really know what to expect from the “unconference” format. Will sessions be dominated by the loudest and most confident people there? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? The idea that the most interesting talks happen in the hallways is true to some extent, but what if you are the kind of person who prefers to listen and absorb information, and is too shy to speak up or approach strangers?
My primary reason for attending ScienceOnline is that I am very interested in properly communicating science to the public, and I believe that more scientists need to do a better job of communicating. I do my best, but I am sure I can do better. More importantly, I am hoping to learn ways that I can teach a workshop or a class on science communication here at my center for faculty, students, and postdocs. I’ve tried to find materials online but while there are several good books, websites, and basic advice about communicating science, I can’t find anything about how to teach it.
Well, whatever happens, I have found several interesting sessions that I plan to attend, and I hope to learn some useful things. Perhaps I’ll even blog about it.