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ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Kari Wouk

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I talk to Kari Wouk, Senior Manager of Presentations and Partnerships at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I live in Durham, NC and work at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh, NC. Philosophically, I believe that educating the public on science, and specifically the natural sciences, is the best way to make our world a better place. Educated people make the right decisions, whether to not kill a snake in their yard, or to go to school to become the next groundbreaking scientific researcher.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

After college, I traveled and worked day-to-day jobs, finally settling in the non-profit world. Working in the Museum has been my first “career” job. I have worked on many interesting projects. I was an AmeriCorps VISTA with Habitat for Humanity International and coordinated a initiative called Youth United, where youth fundraise and build a Habitat home. I worked for a computational science education non-profit and was the volunteer coordinator for a free clinic.

Most recently, I’ve worked with educational events at the Museum. I coordinate about 12 educational events per year – the largest, BugFest, gets 35,000 visitors. Right now, concurrent with BugFest planning, I am working with a team to plan the 24-Hour Opening for the Museum’s new wing, the Nature Research Center (NRC).

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

The Museum’s regularly-scheduled events are still happening, in addition to the 24-Hour Opening, where we expect 80,000 visitors over the 24 hours. Most of my time and passion are devoted to these two projects! Additionally, I am working with many outside partners to leverage their expertise to reach a broader audience. Many researchers find that working with the Museum, and the Museum’s excellence in education, helps them achieve their goals of broader impact. These projects are fun and sort of like a puzzle – I get to figure out where their project will fit best with the Museum’s many different programs and then I bring everyone together to brainstorm and make an action plan.

One goal is to continue the Museum’s excellent educational events and to add more with the opening of the NRC. The NRC’s focus is research and is tackling topics (microbiology, genetics, astronomy, technology) that the current Museum does not, which is very exciting and full of possibilities!

I am also striving to refine the process of partnering with outside organizations so that Museum staff is not taxed and the end product is of superior quality. Also, I would like to have science communication training so that researchers can, effectively, communicate directly with the public.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I would love for scientists to be able to communicate directly with the public without boring them or being too technical. When done effectively, the scientist’s passion is communicated and the audience gets excited and inspired. As important as science communicators are, there is nothing like talking one-on-one with the person doing the research.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Uh oh! Blogging does not figure into my work, unless I’m doing research for interesting topics to add to an event. I use Twitter and Facebook (well, our webmaster does) to advertise our events. I definitely feel that Facebook is a positive but not really a necessity. However, for the Museum as a whole, I DO feel that Facebook is a necessity. I’m still unsure about Twitter. Sorry!

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I truly wish I had the time to read ALL the science blogs! You sent out that list recently and I read a couple and want to read them all, but then that’s all I would do! I am not very familiar with any of them.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

I really enjoyed meeting all the participants last year. I am so new to this field of “science online” and am just feeling my way around. Next year, I would like to see more offerings targeted to educators and researchers. Hopefully, the Museum can help with this for 2012.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I discovered the world of science blogging at the Conference. This is a fun and useful reference for all aspects of my job. It’s such an interesting world of communication that I had never exploited before.

Thank you so much for doing this, and I hope to see you soon down at the Museum (as well as at ScienceOnline2012 in January.






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