A Blog Around The Clock

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Andrea Novicki from the Duke CIT blog to answer a few questions.

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-5b96ba9472d146126310382702da7e9f-Andrea Nowicki pic.JPGHi, thank you so much for asking. I’m currently employed at Duke University in the Center for Instructional Technology as an academic technology consultant for the sciences – I work with faculty who teach science or math, to help them figure out how to effectively and efficiently help students learn, using technology. My work is a satisfying combination of science, education and technology. Scientifically, I began as a marine biologist as an undergraduate and in early grad school; still, marine biology feels like my natural home. I became inspired by a summer course to study neural systems and behavior, because investigating changes in behavior at the level of changes in molecules in single, identified neurons was both exciting and satisfying. After a couple of postdocs and a tenure track faculty position, I stepped away from research and teaching and I went sailing, driven by a restless sense of adventure. I’m now back in academia, working with smart, interesting people.

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

I have been involved with some great projects; if there is a theme, it is change, both in my research projects and in my career. I’ve investigated the neural pathways that mediate color change in squid and octopus and I participated in research cruises identifying midwater ocean animals. On land I worked with insects, monitoring and altering activity in single neurons that correlate with behavior change, and predicting and then, satisfyingly, finding a neuron with particular characteristics.

I (and many other people) began to question the traditional lecture way that science was taught and early on, I began using computers and technology to help students learn biology.

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

My goals? Do I have to be realistic? I’d like to contribute to making science accessible; I’d like for everyone to recognize the beautiful complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world at all scales, and find joy of figuring out for themselves how things work.

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

I’m excited about the increased openness and social nature of science. In my grad school days, the model was that successful scientists kept to themselves until they published, and then only in reputable, peer-reviewed journals; anything else was considered frivolous and distracting. Now, because of the web, science is now more public and more accessible (accessible both technologically and in presentation style). I’m a huge fan of Jean-Claude Bradley’s open notebook science approach, ever since I heard him speak at the first science blogging conference. This project (and many others) make the process of science more open. Passionate blogs by students and post docs as well as people who run their own labs show what science is really like – it’s done by caring people with feelings and emotions, not just some distant, always-right white-coated professor. This openness about the process, as well as the explanations of results made accessible (like at researchblogging.org) have the potential to illustrate the appeal of science to everyone.

I’d like to see people use some of the new visualization tools to explore publically available data sets to make new discoveries, just because they are curious, regardless of their final degrees or institutional affiliation.

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

I lurk on numerous blogs, and I love scienceblogs, it’s a great way to keep up on how science is changing, and visit my favorite topics. I’m very fortunate, in that monitoring how people use technology to communicate science (for science education) is part of my job. I follow people on Twitter and find it a useful way to find new ideas and resources, and contribute occasionally. Although I do have an account on Facebook, I rarely look at it.

I do contribute to a blog, but it’s more about technology in education than about science, and is part of my job. As a confirmed introvert, I find blogging difficult. I am, by nature, a lurker. I’m in awe of people who can toss off a post without thinking it over and over and over.

In other words, all of this online activity is necessary for my work; I do not contribute enough, but I benefit tremendously.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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?

Every session I attended was thought-provoking! Stacy Baker’s students stole the show again; my notes have many observations about their attitudes towards technology. I also welcomed the sessions by librarians – their ability to find information, and think about how it is organized will continue to be invaluable.

I observed that the conference had many people attending who were not exactly science bloggers (people like me, for example), which showed how many options there are for people to participate in science online in some way, even if they are not, strictly speaking, science bloggers.

There’s still something wonderful about meeting someone for the first time after you’ve already read their writing – it’s like you can peek into their brain. When you meet a blogger (or any writer), your first impression has already been formed and modified and added to, and their physical appearance is irrelevant. It’s an almost utopian ideal – people are judged by the quality of their thoughts, not what they look like.

At one session, during a discussion of Google Earth and GIS, Cameron Neylon thought aloud about using visualizations as a way of distributing data, which is something I had been thinking about, as a way of making science, and raw data, more accessible. He, of course, said it more elegantly and I will be thinking about this for some time. How can good visualizations be used as a way of distributing data, in a way that does not immediately shape a conclusion but allows for exploration?

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’m sure I’ll see you before then, and I expect you’ll join our event again next January.