Tweet tweet tweet

Last week, I suddenly found myself in a situation where I had 12k followers on twitter.

Before you think I had some sudden explosion of followers – okay, that would be awesome, but who are we kidding, I’m currently followed by 179 wonderful people* of which hopefully a minimal number is a bot, – I should be clearer. For a week, I was tweeting for the rocur** @iamscicomm.

Well, let’s just say I was slightly overwhelmed. Suddenly, I had a potential readership of really a lot. I actually made it to over 30 responses and likes on some of my tweets, and yes, I am totally bragging but I was quite proud of myself!

The week started with me photoshopping the scientiacristina (in charge of curating the twitter account) beaker into my profile picture.

iamscicomm
I should probably point out that I have next to zero photoshop skills.

Then I had to come up with a plan… What should I tweet about? The goal of @iamscicomm is to talk about the interesting things involved in #scicomm and initiate discussions around communicating science. As in whatever I do (blogging, personal tweeting, etc), I just went for whatever I find interesting. My very elaborate plan (written on the back of a research paper I was reading on the train) was as following: scoping out my temporary audience (what are their reasons for being involved in #scicomm?), sneaking in some D’Arcy Thompson, talking about humour in #scicomm***, finding a niche/audience and how to combine it with a day job.

The most interesting discussions were on humour and the day-job-combo questions. I wanted to wrap up the week, exactly a week later, by briefly summarising my thoughts on these topics, that might or might not have changed after the public twitter discussion.

Topic #1 **** : humour in science communication 

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Pretty much everybody went with “Yay,” with a few people who had some nuances.

So in my opinion (and somewhat backed up by the #scicomm community), the reasons to add some humour to science communication is that it helps grabs people’s attention, makes the scientist more relatable and more memorable, and it helps dispel the idea that “science is boring” (even though, let’s be honest, sometimes it is).

On the other hand, some people might be of opinion that science is a serious matter, and adding some humour might be a distraction. It can lead to misinformation if the message is oversimplified or changed too much. It can increase the problem of elitism if too many inside jokes are used. Finally, it can make the speaker seem unprofessional.

Anyway, the end conclusion seemed to be that you should not try to be funny just for the sake of being funny. Or to show off. If you would like to add some jokes, make sure they are appropriate for the situation and audience. And the speaker, for that matter. If you’re unfunny, better not start making jokes. It will not end well.

 

Topic #2: combining #scicomm with a research job, how do people do it and do they get acknowledged for it?

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Basically, I was wondering about recognition of doing things like science communication and public engagement. It’s quite common for people, especially people early in their career, to do most of this in their “own” time, as an aside to their – already probably quite demanding – research job. Practically everybody I’ve asked about this in person has said the same: lab first, #scicomm on the side. There are many stories about people either dropping #scicomm because they had no time, or leaving research to focus on #scicomm permanently.

But, in my opinion, #scicomm is not some kind of weird hobby! It is an integral part of science and research. I don’t think everybody should be going out to schools or participating in demonstrations on open days, but I don’t think you should be punished for doing so either.

There are many reasons for doing #scicomm. For one, most researchers are publicly funded so it is only correct for them to communicate their research to those that are paying for it. Indeed, for some funding agencies, science communication and public engagement are becoming a requirement. It is also a way to ensure that people that have to make important policy decisions have the best information available. It could be because you want to inspire the next generation of scientists.

In my opinion, it can hardly be a bad thing. It raises the profile of everyone and everything involved: your university, your research topic, science in general, and yourself. So for the people that enjoy spending some of their time on communicating science and engaging people, I feel that it should be properly recognised.

There are some ways this is happening. Both my school as my university have a prize for public engagement *****, which acknowledges peoples efforts and comes with some prize money to fund future endeavours. But this is after the time has been put in. Can there be a way to recognise that it’s not time lost?

After bringing this up in the twittersphere, the solutions are simple: we either need longer days, a time turner, the ability to clone ourselves or to build robot helpers to do some of the work. All very realistic solutions, obviously.

 

So those were my conclusions after a – frankly quite crazy – week. I’d like to thank @iamscicomm for the amazing opportunity. Now, back to work!

Now, back to work!

 


* Oooh, it’s 186 now!

** Rotation Curation, also #RotationCuration or #rocur because hashtags are #thabomb, is the concept of rotating the spokesperson on a broad-scoped social media account.

*** Yes, I am #hashtagging every #scicomm mention. Deal with it.

**** Felt like fitting a more original (read: hipster) use of the hash in there…

***** which is how I got my name mentioned by Stephen Fry and this was such a life-determining event that I take absolutely every chance I can to bring it up again.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Part III: Basilisks

For my third Fantastic Beasts issue, I wanted to focus on another beast from a city I – albeit briefly – lived in: the basilisk.

In the meantime, the movie has been released, and I also couldn’t come up with anything more to say about the basilisk than I already have, here and here.

So I’ll just leave you with this comic:

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#LazyBloggingForBeginners

EduTourism

Last week, I was in New York City.

For the most part, I was on holiday.
*cue 3-line rant about how amazing it was*
I can’t stress enough how amazing it was – obviously; New York is awesome – and how much delicious food we had – lobster sandwiches and NY pizza and (no-Turkey-for-me) Thanksgiving dinner – and how sad I am about being back in the real world.
*end rant*

But alongside the fun and leisure, I also volunteered for a science education event organised by RockEdu, Rockefeller University’s educational outreach office.

Apparently, it was surprising that I would give up half a day of my holiday to volunteer at an outreach event. But to me, it was an interesting experience, an opportunity to try out my outreaching enthusiasm in a different context, make some useful connections and most of all, a whole lot of fun! After this experience, I’d really like to pitch a new idea: EduTourism (#EduTourism, spread the word, folks): volunteering in educational programmes while on holiday. It gives a new perspective on outreach, it gives you a good excuse to visit another academic institution, and it is a perfect way to interact with locals! Also, it makes you feel that your trip was more than just a – albeit entertaining – waste of money.

What I especially liked about the RockEdu lab, was how organised everything is. Instead of the usual format of a science education team, i.e. a bunch of volunteering PhD students and PostDocs who want a break from their research and the occasional coordinating staff member, RockEdu has a team of 5 or 6 people permanently working in outreach. They write grants, create activities, set up mentoring programmes, coordinate summer projects, etcetera etcetera. Moreover, they have a lab space that is exclusively and specifically used for science education. Instead of activities carried out in some corner between labs or in an improvised table-based laboratory missing crucial equipment or sockets, these benches are meant for education! Classes can come in – for free – and participate in a science experiment tailored for their age and level.

So I spent part of the day helping a group of 16ish-year-old AP bio students through a GFP purification process, something I myself knew about but had never actually carried out. Using blue flashlights and yellow goggles, the whole process could be followed closely, which was pretty neat. We learned about proteins, fluorescence, jellyfish, what doing a Phd is all about. We ran a gel and looked at some GFP-expressing worms as an example of an in vivo application. I thought it all was pretty cool and the students also seemed to have enjoyed themselves (while learning something, of course).

Overall, I’m really glad I took the time to participate in EduTourism, and totally hope that this will become an actual thing.

 

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C. elegans with GFP. Image from @RockEdu (twitter)

 

Dundonian chicken

A few days ago, the Dundonian police made an unusual arrest: a chicken. She had been terrorising East Marketgate’s traffic by performing her own version of a very well-known chicken related joke [I’m not sure anyone knows the actual punch line though]. This caused major distractions to passing drivers and what I presume was a “viewing traffic jam”. [Google translate tells me “rubbernecking” is the correct translation of the work “kijkfile”, but I don’t quite believe it; I basically mean cars slowing down because their drivers want to look at the spectacle, resulting in congestion.]

The police arrested the chicken in their very own headless chicken manner. Twitter tells me this was hilarious to watch and possibly led to more VTJ. The chicken is still in custody, for all I know, until someone claims her back. The police promise to be taking very good care of her – maybe so she would provide them with omelette ingredients – and has placed a lost-and-found post on facebook.

#OnlyInDundee

For me, the best part of this story is that I found out thanks to my friend, who lives on the other side of the channel and read the story this morning in Metro during her daily commute. This Dundonian chicken has reached international news.

A tale of four giraffes

I have a sweet spot for giraffes. I’d like to say this is because they remind me of myself. Tall. Graceful. Beautifully spotted. Elegant. Content with strolling around all day slowely and chewing leaves. Have scary but awesome looking neck fights.

I’m taller than average, granted, but other than that I am not graceful, if I have spots they’re definitely not beautiful, elegance has never been used to describe me (clumsy however…), I tend to walk quickly and need a bit more nourishment than just leaves, and whoever even dares to get close to my neck will probably get a face-elbow in reply.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t find giraffes interesting, and I was quite excited to read that a giraffe-related discovery had been made recently.

There is more than one kind of giraffe.

There are four.

For years, well since 1758, it was assumed that there was one species of giraffes, grouping together nine sub-species. These nine are all relatively similar looking, except for some differences in their spot size and patterns. However, researchers have discovered that there are actually four genetically distinct species. They do not mate with each other in the wild, which was an unexpected finding because giraffes migrate over vast areas and they are able to interbreed in captivity.

You might not find this particularly intriguing, but I can’t help but thinking that it’s a “fun fact” to know that two giraffes, looking very similar, can actually be as different from each other as a brown bear to a polar bear.

Also, it’s like seeing evolution in action. Giraffes are a relatively young species so we are seeing the emergence of different species happen in real time.

Finally, it can give society the boost it needs to protect giraffes. Now that they are different species, three of them can be added to the list of highly endangered species. Which is awful, of course, but can provide the awareness we need to get the numbers back up. We need more of these majestic giraffes in the world. Not more weird tall people who clumsily stumble around in giraffe onesies. (Not me, at all.)

 

Read more about the four giraffe species in the original publication:  http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)30787-4

 

www.hdfinewallpapers.com
#SoMajestic

 

 

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Part II: Dragons

Now that I read (obviously, within 12 hours) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I felt is was time to continue my endeavour of fantastic beast post series.

So without much further ado, we’re here to talk about dragons.

Dragons are amazing and so are wyverns and drakes for that matter,because who doesn’t marvel at the thought of giant fire-breathing, flying lizards existing; and are the subject of many fantasy stories and fairy tails. Just to mention a few (it won’t be a few): the dragon Smaug that Tolkien envisioned in The Hobbit (and got surprisingly little screen time in the three movies), the four dragons that the Triwizard Tournamant champions battled in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Donkey’s fiery  girlfriend in Shrek, the topic of Lady Brent’s studies in Marie Brennan’s books, the telepathic Saphira (let’s forget there was ever a movie), Dani’s dragons (hopefully we’ll see more of them soon), and – of course there are many more – the dragon of Dundee.

Which is who I wanted to focus on in the first place.

Walking through the the city centre, it is hard to miss the Dragon statue perched on the main shopping road. Of course I have posed there for my very own “Mother of Dragon” photo (though I don’t really look blond or fierce enough), and it is quite common to see children climbing on it. But why is it there? All the other statues of Dundee (or at least the big ones, there are a few subtle hidden ones like the monkey and the squirrel that might be just random) are linked to Dundee itself; there is a Lemmings statue because the game was developed in Dundee, there are several statues of comic figures reminiscing the Journalism J of the three Js of Dundee, but what is the meaning of the Dragon?

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Dundee Dragon (designed by Alistair Smart, photo from http://hotelwomb.yuku.com/topic/6040/Paeleolithic-Scotland#.V6sUgD4rKX0)

I’m sure if I had lived through them, I would have now missed the days where I would have to go roaming in the archives of an old library to unravel the origin of the statue and the legends of Dundee Dragon. But it was a much easier task in the days of internet and google, the answer was just a click away. How anticlimactic.

As far as I understand, the story – the tale of Dundee Dragon and the Nine Maidens of Pitempten – was transcribed by Jervise, who lived in the nineteenth century. Though the story must be much older.

Because it obviously happened long, long ago, as these stories often do.

In that time, there lived a farmer in Pitempan (google does not give me an indication whether this place is real). He had nine pretty daughters, as one would have in those days. One day, the farmer was very thirsty, he probably had just woken from a night of ales with his mates in Pitempan Pub. The well, or his favourite well – because in those days one could be picky about the source of water – was in a marsh nearby the house. His youngest daughter, the fairest of all nine, though they were all so fair that had all one the Miss Pitempan title at some point in time, loved her father dearly and wished to aid him in quenching his thirst and ran to the well to fetch water. It was already noonish, so all the water had been used to do the washing and therefore new water was to be fetched. But the girl took too long to return and the father grew more restless. The eldest daughter took it upon her to check on her sister and fetch the water for her father. When she did not return either, the next sister took the trip to the well and so on (there are nine in total, the story is quite repetitive) until only the middle sister was left. She assured her father that she would return soon, and followed the path her eight other sisters had taken into the woods. When she reached the well she was faced with a terrible sight! Among the bulrushes, her sisters lay mangled at the feet of a horrific dragon. She let out a cry in horror and tried to run away, but her head was chopped off immediately. Her cries had however attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Pitempan; amongst these townies was her bae, Martin, who was very noble and brave. He took up his sword, challenged the dragon and a long battle ensued. It is said the battle carried on from Pitempan to Balkello, whatever that means, but that eventually Martin succeeded in slaying the dragon. He was however overcome with grief, and his tears cause the spring in Pitempan, that was henceforth named the Nine Maiden Well, to be 0.01% more salty than fresh water springs should be. Multiple sculptured stones where erected to commemorate the tragic event: St Martin’s Stane at Balecco and the sculptured stone at Strathmartin. A carved Pict symbol marks the spot where the dragon was slain and Bishop David de Berham dedicated a church to St Martin – oh, did I mention this caused Martin to be sainted – in 1249.The farmer/father was never heard of again, legend says he tried to shed tears he did not have (you know, dehydrated from the night before) and shrivelled up and died (his body was never found). Finally, the city of Dundee wished to remember the tragic death of the dragon by erecting a statue in the centre of town, centuries later. *

Tempted at Pitempton,
Draigled at Baldragon,
Stricken at Strathmartin,
And kill’d at Martin’s Stane.

*Note, I may have made some of this up.