Tips For Starting A ScienceOnline Satellite: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Last October the SDBN did a grand experiment and hosted a ScienceOnline satellite meeting. In the end, it was a great success, we pulled together a fantastic panel, got an attendance of 75, and had a stimulating discussion. However, to be completely honest it was a lot of work organize it and times I thought the event was going to be a flop! Here are some tips for those of you who want to start a ScienceOnline satellite, as well as how to participate in San Diego.

  1. Think outside the (micro)blog. I follow the ScienceOnline community through Twitter and assumed that a local satellite would need to start with scientists who were already using the application. I tried mapping Twitterers in the area and got dismal results, but I did connect with Justin Kiggins aka @neuromusic and he’s an important part of ScienceOnline San Diego (#ScioSD) now. Justin also commented that “San Diego scientists tend to do science online, but they don’t necessarily talk about it online.” Justin told us about several initiatives he knew about in the area: the Neuroscience Information Network/Neurolex, the Whole Brain Catalog, WholeSlide, Figure Zero, and Neurolinx. We were lucky to get Stephen Larson from OpenWorm on our panel at the October event. I started thinking about local resources I had used as a researcher such as the Protein Kinase Resource and the associated San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Of course, we contacted Phil Bourne of SDSC, the RCSB/Protein Data Bank, and SciVee as well and hope he can participate in future meetings. Someone else reminded me about Andrew Su and his work with BioGPS and GeneWiki. In addition, during a trip to TSRI I was reminded that Art Olson has been a pioneer in science communication for many years through his lab’s visualizations and models. So, in preparing for the event, I sent many personal invitations, made phone calls, etc. I even put up fliers and was reprimanded by a security guard at one local institution! In summary, cast a wide net for your first event, and leverage existing groups and institutions.
  2. Consider your region’s ‘flavor’ and needs. I realized some differences between San Diego and the existing ScienceOnline community. The east coast, where the ScienceOnline conversations are centered, is home to more science journalists and bloggers due to the influence of the media hub of New York City, and Washington DC brings more government interests (e.g., NASA) and an emphasis on education. These elements are less pronounced in San Diego, where startups, funding, and intellectual property are very important. This is not to say that we don’t hope to grow in areas such as education, we have had a few people step forward with interest in this and other areas. Personally, I think there isn’t enough media attention to San Diego biotech locally, and that this could be tied to funding issues (something we’d like to address in ’13). We hope to continually gauge interest in different topics, and understand we may need to tread some new ground. We were very happy to have the support of Kevin Lustig and Assay Depot at our event, and they are involved in a ‘DIY Bio’ lab is set to launch in Carlsbad soon.
  3. Consider your audience VERY carefully. For the SDBN events, we charge a fee to cover dinner and space rental, and choose to hold more regular events with this model rather than waiting until we can guarantee sponsorship and a reduced rate. It works well for us, but we found that…how should I say it…the #ScioSD audience was less prone to pay for an event. In addition, Heather Buschman, another important part of the #ScioSD team from the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute (SBMRI), indicated she thought our venue in Sorrento Valley, while very convenient for biotech, was too far away from the academic center, which is closer to La Jolla. While we had a great turnout in October, let me tell you that it was a lot of hard work, and likely would have been easier if we’d served our audience better. The next event, a watch party for the ScienceOnline conference in North Carolina, has a lower registration fee and and will be held at SBMRI. (Thanks to Heather for securing the venue and to Gareth Morgan and the TSRI Society of Fellows for sponsoring).
  4. Lean on the masters. As I mentioned in an earlier post, serendipity played a role and ScienceOnline Director Karyn Traphagen was able to fly out and be a panelist at our event last October. She told us all about the resources available to ScienceOnline satellites and has helped us greatly to get going. Learn more on their website.
  5. Let go. Once we cast a ‘wide net’ to announce our first #ScioSD event, we found many people who are enthusiastic and willing to run with the organizational tasks. This is how a ScienceOnline satellite should function, in my opinion–no one person or organization taking on the full load. I’m “happy” to say I’ll be participating only tangentially in the watch party, in that I’ll be following their Tweets while I’m at the conference in North Carolina and perhaps relaying questions from them during sessions. I have met SO MANY incredible people in the process–if you want to meet scientific thought leaders, this is the place!
  6. Create resources to help. Because the San Diego science community is not currently engaged on Twitter, where do we go from here? We’ve created a few resources:
    1. Twitter list of San Diego scientists, managed by @ScioSD, also follow #ScioSD on Twitter for updates.
    2. Facebook San Diego Biotech interest group and ScioSD Facebook Page<
    3. ScioSD Google Community (and the organizers are using a Google Group, contact SDBN if you’d like to be included).
    4. San Diego Science Blogs RSS Feed (contact SDBN to be added)
    5. LinkedIn Group
    6. (Website coming soon!)

If you’re in San Diego, how do you participate? The next upcoming events are an informal gathering at Rock Bottom in La Jolla Thursday January 24th at 6 p.m. (follow @ScioSD) and the ScienceOnline Watch Party February 2nd. What is a watch party, you ask? Each session at a ScienceOnline conference is a flurry of activity, from the events going on in the room, to online discussions which start and multiply. At the watch party, you’ll watch three live sessions in which you’ll be able to participate in the online discussions, as well as talking about the session to local participants. Two prerecorded sessions will also be watched, and you’ll get to vote on these. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll meet locals who are interested in ScienceOnline and you’ll also help us to form the local chapter. Here’s the registration page, hope to “see” you there!

Special thanks also to Jill Roughan, Sandeep Pingle, and Leah Cannon, and Ramy Aziz, all part of the growing #ScioSD Team!

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