08 February 2013

Science Online 2013: I’m not going back

At some point during this conference, someone asked me, “What are you going to do about the demand for people to attend this conference?” And I replied without a pause, “I’m not coming back.”

There are some mundane reasons for me not to return. This year was unusual in my course scheduling, and I didn’t have to cancel any classes because I was out of town. Normally, classes will be in session during Science Online. This is the main reason I haven't gone before. And the financial cost gives me pause about going back. I paid for this trip entirely out of my own pocket.

It was quickly clear to me that I didn’t feel the same way about Science Online that a lot of other people did. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t feel like I had boarded the Mothership. I didn’t feel exceptionally energized. Or that my head was exploding with new ideas. Or that the experience was life changing.

A couple of people asked a standard conversation starter: “What session were you in, and what did you learn?” I had problems answering the second part. The pure information part of the conference didn’t hold a lot of breakthroughs for me in my thinking. And I’m not sure the information I did get penetrated more deeply for having been physically present compared to following along online as I had previous years.

That said, I was glad that I went, but not because of what I got out of the conference.

Lilly, one of the students who participates in #scistuchat, tweeted that she felt “honoured” to meet me. This made me furrow my brows, because, well, from my point of view, I’m just this guy, you know? It’s not hard to contact me or interact with me. But it got me thinking more about other people’s perspectives.

I also had a chat with Rene, a librarian, about my experiment in self-publishing a paper on my blog. I gave her some ideas about how and why I went about it, and what the reaction was. I had a great chat with Nick about the state of science funding and how to read a paper.

I told a lot of people the kilt anecdote, and about trying to be fearless. This seemed to resonate with people. In the identity session, I talked a bit about why I’ve always blogged under my real name: “You can’t live in fear.” I mentioned that I realized I had certain advantages that made it easier for me to do so.

After I sat down, Danielle Lee compared some of the stuff I said to Tony Stark, a character who has lots of advantages. I was caught completely off guard by that. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was probably one of the older people at this conference, and one of the few jobbing scientists. Maybe it helped other people having someone there to say that you have to work at not being complacent or timid.

I was glad I went because I think I contributed things that some people found useful.

Nevertheless, when all was said and done, while I was glad to have contributed, I thought this experience is going to be more valuable to someone else. I’m not going to Science Online 2014 because someone will be able to make better use of that slot, and experience the “life changing brain energizing explosion of bloggy love” that apparently other people get, but that I didn’t.

I’m not saying I’ll never go back. I’m just saying that I’m not planning on it immediately.

Besides, while many faiths require a pilgrimage, they typically only require the faithful to complete the journey once in their life. Not every year.


Janet D. Stemwedel said...

I'm glad you came, too, because I benefited from and enjoyed both the sessions you moderated (and your performance at open mic night), but I also understand if the ScienceOnline experience for you didn't live up to the hype -- especially if you're getting what you need from your other professional conferences and societies and such.

For me, though, ScienceOnline is the one conference that makes my wildly interdisciplinary, weirdly off the recommended professional activities, self feel at home. I wish that the professional societies that officially align with my professional identities got me as well as ScienceOnline does, but they don't. And, being able to come to a conference and really feel at home is part of how I can keep going through the slings and arrows of outrageous state budgets and administrative nonsense.

In any event, I hope the ScienceOnline community will be able to continue involving you in the longer conversation that happens beyond the physical bounds of the conference, 365.25 days of the year.

Elizabeth Moon said...

From a different professional perspective (science fiction writer, not as I once hoped, a scientist) I am familiar with the sense that a conference, however stimulating, may not be worth it in terms of effort expended, expense, time lost from work, and so on. When I first started going to SF conventions, it was--the only escape from being homebound with an autistic toddler, and thus a chance to be around other adults, justified as a professional requirement. Now the greater travel hassle and everything else makes it harder and less rewarding. So much interaction can happen online now, too. But we're encouraged to go and be seen in person...and there's always at least one encounter that makes me glad I was there.

Congratulations on the kilt. And I still have friendly thoughts towards Pan-Am, which is my day was a junior college where I took a few summer classes. If the drought hadn't killed them all off, I'd have questions for you about the crustaceans we had here when there was still water on the place. (Lucky escape for you.)