Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.
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 background? Any scientific education?
Like a lot of us in the Carolinas, I'm a transplanted Northerner. I grew up in the great state of Rhode Island, spent some time in Vermont, and then went back to RI where I got my B.S. in marine biology at URI. I worked in an environmental testing lab for a bit after graduation, then had an internship with the Rhode Island state Marine Fisheries Division before budget cuts sent me south for grad school. I joined up with the Rulifson lab at East Carolina University, where I finished off my M.S. in Biology and am now working on a PhD in Coastal Resource Management. Basically I never grew out of my childhood shark phase and my main research interest is interactions between marine apex predators and fisheries.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I've had the good luck to have a little experience in all three angles of fisheries research. I got an inside view of fisheries management in Rhode Island that gave me perspective on how difficult a job that can be. I've been on the academic side of it through grad school, and our lab works extensively with commercial fishermen, so I get to talk to them and get their side of the story as well. So that's been pretty valuable.
My Master's work was on the feeding habits of spiny dogfish overwintering off of North Carolina, which allowed me to experiment with a non-lethal method of collecting shark gut contents and get into a little predator-prey theory. I've also been involved in some other dogfish projects using acoustic telemetry, which has let me do some of the cool stuff I used to be amazed by on the Discovery Channel growing up. Currently I'm putting together a project using a combination of fishery surveys and acoustic tracking to identify shark nurseries within the North Carolina sounds.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Right now securing time, gear, and funding for that shark nursery project is keeping me busy (and up at night). I'm still in the middle of taking classes for the PhD program as well, which takes up a lot of free time. I'm on track to begin some pilot studies in the field this summer, so if anyone wants some (unpaid) experience working with sharks in lovely North Carolina...
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
This is probably the really obvious answer that everyone gives, but outreach is a great benefit of your research out there online. I've had people I've never met at conferences come up and ask me about things they saw on the blog, which is still a really surreal experience every time it happens. It's also put me in this community of scientists and general science fans that I would have never even been aware of otherwise. In some ways it's made it easier to set up new projects, because there's this record of things I've done that's out there way before any of it gets published. But overall I'd say the people you make connections with is probably the most valuable aspect of communicating science online.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Ya Like Dags? was what got me into this, and I use Twitter basically as a complement to the blog. I do have a Facebook page, but I use that more for personal stuff so there's really not much there. I've only really scratched the surface with Google+; I have a page on there but I really only post links to new posts on the blog. I really haven't found the need to sit on G+ and check out posts the way I do sometimes on Twitter. One thing Twitter has affected is the quantity (and maybe quality) of posts on the blog: where I used to have posts made up of just links on the blog, now I can just instantly make people aware of things I stumble across that are neat on Twitter. So the overall number of posts have gone down, but the posts are all actual content now (no offense to bloggers who put out a lot of link posts). Overall I think it's been a net positive, and at some points I'm pretty sure the Twitter feed gets more attention than the blog.
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?
Deep Sea News and Pharyngula were probably my gateway drugs into science blogs, and of course Southern Friend Science followed very quickly after them. By seeing what other blogs those would link to, I was able to see just how big this community is and discover new blogs to read. I started out just leaving some comments on DSN and SFS, and then I did some guest posts for my friend Matt on his Marine Music blog, which lead to me actually meeting Kevin and Andrew in real life and starting my own. So marine blogs figure pretty heavily into the "science blogs" list of bookmarks. Obviously I have to shout-out the other blogs on the Southern Fried network, and I think we've done a good job getting a lot of quality content on there. Christie always has some really insightful posts (now at Science Sushi) and SeaMonster has a really cool mix of science and general ocean interest that I really think helps show scientists as "real people." Tetrapod Zoology is always a fun read because you can tell Darren has a blast writing his posts, which makes reading about a subject as potentially bland as taxonomy really enjoyable. Some non-science ocean blogs I really enjoy include The Dented Bucket, which captures the more artistic side of commercial fishing really well, and some of the blogs about shark ecotourism (Underwater Thrills and Da Shark in particular). I met some pretty awesome people who write outside of my discipline at Science Online, though PsySociety stands out both for having some great writing about psychology and for being able to hang with the ocean bloggers.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Honestly, ScienceOnline 2012 was probably the most well-run conference I've ever been to. The venue was great, lots of opportunities for good conversation, and the only free lunch I've ever seen at a conference. ScienceOnline was so smooth that it actually made me mad at other conferences I go to regularly for the way they're run. I think the way SciO really facilitates conversation, both through the "unconference" format and having plenty of places to sit and chat, is probably the best reason to go. And it doesn't shy away from the tough conversations either. With all conferences the networking is really the best reason to go, and SciO acknowledges that and does a great job making it the main focus. I really wouldn't change a thing, and I'm excited for next year's already.
Thank you for the interview. Hope to see you next year!