This past weekend I attended Science Online 2011—the "un-conference" conference of writers, bloggers, journalists, artists, programmers, and anyone else who uses the internet as a tool for science communication—that gathers to discuss the impact and potential of this new medium in advancing science. There are a few posts I'm preparing that address specific topics from the conference, but first I wanted to mention a very personal experience I had which has completely changed my perspective on the science blogging community, and where my place is in that community.
I was a first-time attendee of Science Online, or as represented in the overwhelming Twitter feed, #scio11, so this was a brand-new experience for me, one which I wasn't sure what to expect from. Being a relatively new blogger (this is my first "real" blog, started in August of 2009), I had not met most of the attendees before, and only really started using Twitter as a medium of communication for the last six months. Going into the conference, I expected to be an outsider. What I experienced, however, was completely different.
In the couple of days leading up to the conference, I found myself in a situation that was probably going to prevent me from attending Science Online. Completely distraught and left with no immediate solution to my problem, I messaged Bora Zivkovic, the organizer of the event, to tell him I would not be able to attend. He suggested I tweet my situation with the #scio11 hashtag, and see if the community could help. I must admit—I wasn't too keen on being so open about my personal life, and being so new to this community, didn't foresee a solution coming from there. But I did it anyway. Boy, was I wrong!
Within seconds, attendees began responding to me—offering potential solutions, or taking individual actions to ensure that I would be able to attend the conference. To say the least, I was completely overwhelmed. When Bora said this community of science writers and communicators was a "family", he really meant it. Help was offered from people I had never met or even talked to online, but the fact that I was "one of the family" and needed help, was enough of a reason for complete strangers to step in and come to my aid. Had it not been for the generosity of the science blogging community, I would have missed the conference—which turned out to be one of the most enlightening and inspiring events I have ever attended.
Being in the field I am (psychology), I'm used to being the one who takes care of others and steps forward to defend those in need. This time, I was the one in need. It took a leap of faith for me to trust in the community and be open about my personal situation, but they came forward with the nurturing and sensitivity of a real family. I am honored to be included in this community of individuals who not only share a love for science and communicating it to the public, but see all members of the community as a relevant and necessary part of the whole.
In a time where there has been much tension, competition, and discord among the various science blogging sites, it was truly impressive to see people from various networks and disciplines come forward to offer assistance in my time of need. There was no snubbing or discrimination based on where I blogged or what field I was in—I was treated as an important and equal member of the family. This type of altruism—coming together as one community rather than separate competing networks—gives me even more hope for the future of science communication.
As we look ahead in our individual quests, I am optimistic for a time when collaboration becomes more of the standard rather than the exception, and we look to each other as peers we can learn from and assist from time to time, as we all strive for the same goal—to bring science to the public in any and all ways possible. We may all share different visions on how we should best reach that goal and by what means, but we all agree on the importance of it—and that drives the passion in all of us to continue down this path.
So finally, with complete sincerity, I want to say "Thank you" to everyone who stepped in, offered words of support, and really made me feel like a part of the science blogging community this past weekend. Special thanks go to Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, who went out of their way to make sure I had whatever I needed in order to be able to attend the conference. In the last five days, not only have I gained numerous friends and colleagues, but my eyes have been opened to see the potential this family has for action when everyone comes together for a common goal. And that makes me truly happy.
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