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#ScioSoCal Panelist Karyn Traphagen: Science and Serendipity

Posted by Mary Canady October 21st, 2012 .
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Just when we started getting serious about a ScienceOnlineSoCal event, Karyn Traphagen, their Executive Director, contacted me out of the blue on the day I was going to reach out to her. The rest is, as they say, history, and Karyn flew out today to be a part of our panel Monday. I spent some time with her this afternoon and found that the serendipity that resulted in her joining us tomorrow is likely a theme in Karyn’s life, as she describes herself as a “boundary bridger.” Karyn’s journey through many scientific disciplines has prepared her for her role in shaping the non-profit ScienceOnline which seeks to empower scientists through connections, conversations, collaborations, and community (the 4 C’s).

A nice interview with Karyn can be found on the Double X Science blog and I urge you to read it to understand Karyn’s highly interdisciplinary background. Karyn described the three areas ScienceOnline is focused on:

  1. Events. ScienceOnline has its main event in North Carolina in January, and is branching out to have satellite events in the Bay Area, Seattle, Denver, Washington DC, Chicago, and of course Southern California. These regional groups will help people to connect in real life and to discuss the issues specific to the region.
  2. Community. Both in these geographical groups, and online globally, ScienceOnline seeks to build a community which can tackle the tough questions about science communication.
  3. Tools. ScienceOnline seeks to help facilitate the ’4 C’s’ through tools such as ScienceSeeker which collects and curates science blog posts and news. Karyn said that some exciting new changes will be launched soon, stay tuned!

Karyn got very passionate when talking about the bigger picture for ScienceOnline. She sees a culture in which scientists often replicate their mentors and keep with outdated systems for communication and eschewing outreach. She sees a major disconnect between research and the public, and this has resulted in a funding crisis and distorted views of science. If we’re doing science to save lives, isn’t it important that our work is understood?

There are myriad tools for scientists available to leverage the 4 C’s, and there are many topics which can be discussed which don’t divulge intellectual property (e.g., news, publications, events). Karyn and I discussed the fact that understanding the amazing benefits of participating in the ScienceOnline community is highly experiential and we hope that we can better understand the needs of the region on Monday. Karyn’s interdisciplinary experience will surely help us to create a ScienceOnlineSoCal group which will benefit us all. Please join us!


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Building a Digital Lifeform Through an Open Source Project

Posted by Mary Canady October 19th, 2012 .
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Stephen Larson, panelist for our October 22nd ScienceOnline event, describes the OpenWorm project, a fascinating initiative that demonstrates the power of researchers working together online.

Can a large scale biological simulation project be run as an open source project?

With well funded efforts like DARPA’s synapse project and the Blue Brain project it seems like it would be difficult.  But that’s what the passionate group behind the OpenWorm project believe and have been making it a reality for the past year.  Some basic facts about the project:

The project has already produced a “Worm Browser” that allows anyone to see the anatomy of the organism that is being simulated.  The project has also made great progress in marshalling the facts that are known about this organism into a “connectome” that can be simulated.  Finally, the project recently published a paper that outlines its previous work and points directions to the future.

We need help!  If you are interested in helping out, whether or not you have any special expertise, please send an email to contact@openworm.org or check out the contact page on the website for more ways to connect!


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How Does Great Science & Communication Benefit You? Ask #ScioSoCal Panelist Miriam Goldstein.

Posted by Mary Canady October 18th, 2012 .
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We are very lucky to have Miriam Goldstein on our ScienceOnlineSoCal panel October 22nd for several reasons. One is that she is very busy right now as she’s in the final process of writing her Ph.D. thesis at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). Another reason we’re lucky is that although many would consider that Miriam is just beginning her scientific career, she’s gotten more press than many do their lifetime. Miriam clearly understands that science communication is important, and her experience can help researchers utilize this tool to improve their own careers. I am going to step in and write this post so that Miriam can concentrate on her thesis, but she’ll be available at our event Oct. 22nd for questions.

At SIO, Miriam studies the impact of plastic debris on marine invertebrates. In 2009, she was the Chief Scientist on the student run Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (Seaplex). One of the studies done on the ship involved collecting water samples and Miriam’s team found that the amount of ocean plastic has increased 100 fold in the past 40 years. In addition, Miriam’s group found that this debris is altering the habitat of a marine invertebrate, and this could have major implications for the ocean’s ecosystem. These findings received worldwide media attention, including the BBC, NPR, and my favorite, The Onion.

Like most ‘overnight successes,’ Miriam has been working hard as well as communicating her science for years, she has blogged since 2007, continues to blog, and has been getting great media coverage since 2009. Of course, she works on a subject which is very topical, which helps. However, the fact that she communicates online regularly with the public and other researchers has likely shaped her research topic and goals to be in line with what people care most about. This benefit helps science communicators throughout their careers to get funding and jobs, among other things.

Additionally, Miriam is in tune with the educational needs of students ranging from high school to graduate studies. Check out her impressive work teaching students in San Diego. Through her important research and science communication, Miriam’s work puts a spotlight on San Diego’s important ocean research. Can you imagine the impact if we had active ‘research spokespeople’ for all of the scientific areas we excel at locally? Please join us October 22nd to learn from Miriam’s experience about how you can improve your career and research.


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9 Reasons Sanford-Burnham Blogs

Posted by Mary Canady October 15th, 2012 .
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Heather Buschman, Ph.D, scientific communications manager at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, explains why she and others blog at Beaker, the Institute’s science blog. Heather will speak on the expert panel at our ScienceOnline event on October 22, 2012.

At Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, it became apparent a few years ago that we needed a new way to communicate the Institute’s science to the lay public. We produced a quarterly newsletter and we issued press releases when necessary, but many smaller discoveries, events, and other tidbits slipped through the communications cracks. We lacked the ability to share breaking news. So, in March 2010, we published the first post on our blog, Beaker. Since then, we’ve shared nearly 500 blog posts on everything from autophagy to zebrafish. We’ve used Beaker to tackle issues like NIH support for translational research and to show our support for Prop 29, the California voter initiative that proposed to fund cancer research by increasing the state’s tobacco tax. We’ve covered our wacky game show-style fundraising events and paid tribute to a beloved supporter who passed away. We’ve reported on more than 100 research publications and shared more than a few personal stories.

It’s a lot of work to keep this hungry beast fed—we try to publish new posts three times a week. Why do we do it? Here are 9 reasons (in no particular order) we blog at Sanford-Burnham:

  1. To increase the public understanding of science. These days everyone needs to understand complex scientific information—to make personal health care decisions, to vote on initiatives and elect representatives who will shape scientific policies, to make healthy consumer choices, to serve on a jury, and more. It’s up to individual scientists, research institutions, and funding agencies to help educate the public. By far, the most read Beaker blog post is DNA 101. It doesn’t even mention Sanford-Burnham or our research, but it seems to be something that a lot of people want to know about.
  2. To keep up with the daily news cycle. Like most institutions, we not only produce our own news stories, we also want to earn coverage in traditional news outlets (newspapers, magazines, TV, etc.). The conventional way to let reporters know what’s going on is to send them a press release. But many journalists are growing weary of the dry, formulaic press release. I can’t say I blame them. We believe that blog posts are becoming the new press release. Blogs allow for more context, images, video, and interaction. Beaker is a place to report news, but also to tell engaging stories. We can even write in the first person! What’s more, as the pressure to produce more news faster, to feed the 24-hour news cycle with an ever-shrinking staff, we find that reporters are increasingly turning to places like Beaker as an information source.
  3. To provide useful, timely information. When there’s big news in the world and we want to provide background information or expert commentary on it, we turn to Beaker. For example, when John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last week for their work reprogramming mature cells into pluripotent cells, we quickly responded with a Beaker post called “Stem Cells 101.” When the FDA approved Truvada, the first HIV prevention drug, we asked our HIV experts to comment on it.
  4. To demonstrate your tax dollars at work. And make the case for continued NIH funding! Tough economic times mean everyone has to make tough budgetary decisions. We hope that by explaining our research findings in lay terms, Beaker is playing at least a small part in demonstrating to the general public and our elected officials how NIH dollars (and funding from other federal and state agencies) are used and why it’s important to keep investing in basic and translational medical research. For example, check out this post about a recent study funded by the NIH and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
  5. To give people a place to engage us in conversation. What’s important to the general public? What do people want to know more about? How are we doing? We’d never know unless we provided a place where people can comment on our stories. Right now, we’re also running a short reader survey on Beaker. (Please participate at beaker.sanfordburnham.org!)
  6. To build an easily searchable “history” of our research findings. By posting new content roughly three times a week for the past two and a half years, we’ve built an impressive library of news, video, images, quotes, disease-related information, and more. Beaker keeps it all nicely categorized, tagged, and easily searchable. Barely a week goes by that we don’t benefit from this, whether it’s a potential donor wondering what sort of diabetes research we’re doing or a reporter seeking stories for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
  7. To show the human side of science. Let’s face it: most people think all scientists are nerdy men who where white coats and, well, lack social skills. We use Beaker to tell stories about the people behind the science—some who even look like this. We’ve also shared some very personal stories. Here’s mine.
  8. To make it easy to follow us. People and reporters can choose to receive our content by visiting our site, subscribing by RSS feed or email, or by following us on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. We don’t have to flood your inboxes with unwanted emails.
  9. To let people know they can make a difference by donating. Most of Sanford-Burnham’s revenue comes in the form of grants, but we are a nonprofit organization that also relies on philanthropic support. Beaker helps us remind people that they can directly support medical research by donating to Sanford-Burnham. No marathon running or mustache growing required!

Why do you blog? Let us know in the comments below!