Why I Will Be There: #Scio14

Nov 15 2013 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Thursday I did something I have never done before; I sat at my computer waiting for 2:00 pm CST when I could start clicking the link for Science Online Together 2014. All went well for me, and I will be returning to Raleigh in February for another round of the unconference.

Some have recently made clear their intentions to not be at the upcoming gathering (see here and here). Several factors entered into my alternate decision.

I came to Science Online at a different point in my journey from many others. I had scaled the rarified heights of academia to become a tenured full professor. As I embarked on a new journey, to create a news magazine for the American Society of Nephrology, I needed to learn about new-fangled things like blogging and Facebook and Twitter. Science Online 2011, my virgin year, gave me insights into the interactions possible between academic and popular media, as well as the potential interplay of Web 2.0 content and the dead tree media of my youth. That was the last really "small" Science Online, with our venue at Sigma Xi bursting with energy. I felt like I met most of the attendees at some point in time, and I learned a lot that has been put to work in my professional life. Sessions on narrative structure and writing tools have enriched my work as well. I now give talks to faculty about ways to get writing done, much of which is information intially gathered via Science Online sessions. I have recruited several articles for ASN Kidney News from Science Online participants. The magazine also hires journalists for events, so some of these are paying gigs for the freelancers in the crowd!

I also have a guilty secret. One of the reasons I love academic medicine is my love of writing. Had I not been a doctor, I likely would have majored in English and ultimately gone on to an advanced writing degree of some sort. Most academics do not understand this attitude; they hate the writing, even while acknowledging its role in their success. Attending Science Online was like visiting the Mother Ship. All of these people who liked science and writing existed! I was not alone! I also love it now when my husband likes a book, and I can say I have met the author.

Like all meetings, Science Online is not just about work. Evenings include a lot of chatting and networking (and often drinking), just like those at my professional meetings. If anything, I attend more sessions at Science Online than at "real science" meetings, simply because the unconference venue is not adjacent to the hotel. Once you are there, you may as well be in a discussion session since you can't run back to your room and "work on your paper" (AKA chill out with Diet Coke and a novel or daytime TV).

This will be my fourth Science Online, and I see the meeting at a crossroads. First, the venue (North Carolina State University McKimmon Center) and participants expanded in 2012 and 2013. Many of these participants remain unfamiliar to me; the meeting has already crossed the "intimacy" line (and not in the slimey sense of the word; you know what I'm talking about). Also, last year the informal organizational group became a real entity with a dot-com web site. Spin-off conferences, in a variety of locales and on selected topics, sprung up in 2013 as well. The people and concept of Science Online are evolving, and growing pains are inevitable. Will Science Online become a more formal organization with a bigger, more professional conference? Or will it step back and downsize into several smaller gatherings in an attempt to maintain the "community" feel?

I do not know which way things will go, but I plan to make my opinions known. If things proceed in a direction I do not like, I may be writing one of those "Why I'm Not" posts next year. In the meantime, I know I have achieved things I would not have without the Science Online experience. I will be there in 2014, for the learning and the party - just like every other meeting I attend.

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KBO: Keep Blogging On

Apr 17 2013 Published by under EB2013

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain admonished folks to KBO or keep buggering on (he would use "plodding" when his delicate lady typists were present).  In my case, KBO will be my motto for Experimental Biology in Boston, as noted in the title of today's post.

I have picked out some sessions that I want to hear and write about. Now I want to give Whizbangers the chance to nominate presentations. Do you have an abstract that you would like featured? I am game to write about it (although you neuroscientists will have to assume a very rudimentary background knowledge on my part). Either send me a message on twitter (@PHLane) or you can email me (pascalelane) at gmail etc.

Click to buy an Ass-Pet

Keep an eye on my twitter feed to know when my meeting posts go up. Also be ready for more ASPET jokes; ASPET is just so much fun to say!

 

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Reversing Courses

Dec 19 2012 Published by under Learning, [Education&Careers]

Back in November I had the pleasure of hearing Sal Khan, founder of www.khanacademy.org, address the Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Meeting. He described how a stint of long-distance tutoring of his niece led to a revolutionary platform of free online education. He is one of those speakers who immediately connects with his audience, making  you feel like everyone can learn from him. The talk can be viewed on the AAMC website, although it does require registration through an AAMC member school.

Click to Amazon

Now almost finished with his book, I know even more about Khan's amazing journey from hedge fund manager to educator. The One World School House: Education Reimagined begins with the journey of his talk, but pulls in adult learning theory and other educational science that supports his methods. He knew none of this when he developed his videos and software; he just instinctively moved in this direction.

A visit to the Academy videos shows very basic media. While the narrator describes a process, the lesson gets illustrated in several basic colors on a blackboard-like screen. No lighting, no faces, and no fancy animations (see below).

Very Simple

Very Simple

"Flipping lectures" has received a lot of attention in higher education in the past 5 years. Khan's methods essentially fit this model; information gets delivered by video or text book and class time is used for problem-solving and other active learning with teachers. Students like this approach, and studies to date suggest that all students do better. Students predicted to score low do well, and those predicted to do well do even better.

Last fall, when I taught fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base pathophysiology to second year medical students, I took this approach. I had text-and-figure handouts in PDF format already. I then took my PowerPoint slides and narrated them, turning them into video files the students could view whenever. Class time involved case-based questions that the students could discuss among themselves and then answer. We then went over the answers and rationale.

Yes, this took a lot of work on my part ahead of the class. It was a lot more fun for me than lecturing to a group of droopy-eyed students.

One barrier I see to flipping lectures involves video production. Faculty often complain that they do not have the software or equipment to set up the videos. They do not want to put effort into that sort of production.

Of course, nothing is necessary besides their computer with a microphone and their lecture slides. PowerPoint now has a "Save As Video File" option on both the Windows and Mac platforms. As we can see from the Khan videos, nothing fancy is required for learning. Clear presentation and illustration is most important.

I have made a video about making PowerPoint videos. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

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That Special Time of Year

Oct 31 2012 Published by under [Medicine&Pharma]

Like Christmas on Halloween!

It's time to pack up the laptop and other gizmos and head to the West Coast.

It's Kidney Week! Thousands of us with interests in urine and all things related will invade San Diego for science and debate and fun.

I will be tweeting from this meeting through Saturday, when I leave for San Francisco and the meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

By the way, with eight days of travel and a black-tie event, I'm checking a bag. Just a couple of totes for the gizmos and meds, both of which will fit under the seat in front of me.

I also mailed my absentee ballot last week. If you don't vote, you aren't allowed to complain. And I do so like to complain...

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What I Am Reading: Better Presentation Design Version

Oct 10 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

When I first started in this business, slides were actual slides. With our early model computers, we carefully printed out our slides, had them photographed, and collected our 35 mm slides for loading in carousels. If the presentation were a big deal, like a national meeting, our art staff would generate blue diazo slides.

Soon we had PowerPoint. For a hefty fee, we could purchase full color slides. As the cost of slide printers dropped, we began to see the unfortunate consequences of eliminating designers and artists from this process. Now, with inexpensive digital projectors (some of which can present from your iPhone) we not only face the dilemma of unlimited colors, but also the potential for motion sickness from ill-advised animations and transitions.

Click to Amazon

I cannot remember where I stumbled across the recommendation for slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, but I am grateful. You probably know her group's work; they designed a little slide show for Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth.

I have made my way through 80% of the book now. In general, it recommends a "less is more" approach. Uncluttered backgrounds, limited words, and striking images improve most presentations. Most chapters include before and after slides. If I could boil the book down to one line, it would be something like:

Step away from the templates!

My favorite part so far is the chapter on creating movement. We need to view our presentations not as a series of slides, but with a more cinematic approach. Careful use of animations and transitions can achieve this effect. I have screenshots of a double-paged spread below, illustrating a series of slides:

Click to enlarge

For those of you who cannot see the movement generated through transitions, color, and graphics, I captured images of each slide and put them into PowerPoint to generate this video. Please forgive the fuzziness of the enlargements!

Academics depend on clear presentations to get our message across. When was the last time you felt inspired by a slide show?

I thought so.

slide:ology is available in both dead tree and electronic format. Click, buy and make your slides better.

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Packing for #EB2012

Apr 13 2012 Published by under Fashion (or not), Travel

Many of us will travel to San Diego in a week for Experimental Biology. You have spent time registering, picking a hotel, making travel arrangements, and considering sessions. Now it is time to consider your packing.

San Diego makes it easier; most of the year the temperature runs about 70 and the sun usually shines. Could we get rain? Sure, but really bad weather is not a strong possibility. You should have a fold-able pocket umbrella in your suitcase anyway. Check the weather forecast right before you finish packing; they don't get particularly predictive until the 5-day time-frame.

Conference travel involves at least 3 types of activities. These include travel, attendance, and presentation. With a bit of planning, you can get appropriate apparel for a 5-day trip into a case that fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. What do you sacrifice? Shoes. If you need more than 2 pair (one to wear on the plane and one to ride in the case) it's unlikely that you will get by with just the roll-aboard.

On travel days, comfort may be the primary consideration; however, you should also consider what happens if checked luggage does not immediately make it to your final destination. Having a clean set of underwear and all personal necessities available can make that delay tolerable. Also consider wearing something you could wear to a session; nice jeans with a shirt and jacket can work for almost any meeting session and can be just as comfortable as sweats. OK, not sweats, but you know what I mean. Also, wearing a jacket avoids taking up valuable suitcase room. Nice slip-on shoes also work well. You want something that won't slow you down too much when you hurry for a connection, but not something so complicated it will take you half-an-hour to redress in security. The people behind you in line will be more of a threat if you wear above-the-knee lace-up boots (trust me, I have seen this happen) than any terrorist.

The rest of the meeting you have two things to avoid: looking sloppy or slutty. You are meeting potential colleagues and reviewers; if I receive your next manuscript, do you really want me to remember the girl with the dragon tattoo or your unusual navel piercing? When you present, a suit-like ensemble is ideal, especially if you are young or female. Like it or not, dressing professionally will make you seem more authoritative. Pissed that people may judge you by your clothing? It happens whether you like it or not.

Finally, remember all the chargers for your gizmos and never let anyone check your presentation. Posters should only enter the luggage compartment if pried from your cold, dead fingers.

This advice has been compiled into a brief slideshow below. Enjoy, and may you and your luggage always arrive together. See you in San Diego!

 

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Meeting & Greeting

Apr 09 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

An interesting post at Science News addresses the costs of conferences. All sorts of issues arise, including shrinking travel budgets, environmental costs of all that air travel, preliminary work that becomes "permanent", and even the number of trees used to generate program books. Having been in the biomedical science biz for 20+ years now, I have survived several waves of "let's quit meeting and just do this online." Conferences will never go away for one reason: we like them.

Bumping into new contacts in the Exhibit Hall

Oh, I hear people complaining about taking time away from their work and family. We all gripe about time spent in airports. Yet we all keep submitting and accepting and going because nothing replaces face-to-face interactions for us human beings.

There is value in meeting potential colleagues and reviewers. Some of the best ideas and collaborations get built around informal conversations when you toss a group of people with something in common together. Big keynote addresses could just as easily be done via the net, but those do not keep me on the road. No, it's the chance to meet new people who will help me think about things in a new way. I always consider a meeting successful if I get one new idea to explore.

Last month my department had a panel discussion about working a meeting, directed at our trainees and junior faculty. Those of us on the panel all agreed that networking (there's that word again) was why we paid for attendance. You never know who may be important in reviewing your work or getting you hired sometime down the line. Even if you really only connect with other trainees, you will learn more stuff about what other programs are like (you may be in nirvana and not know it). You may meet someone who will be hiring when you are ready for a second job. You may meet someone who will be reviewing you on their first study-section assignment. You will learn something from everyone you meet. Think of it as being mentored by a hive of "E-Bees".

There are some tips we gave our n00bs to make their networking easier. First, get a professional non-university email. You do not want all your job offers and conversations going through your university accounts. You also do not want to use an address that is too personal; "lovesbeer@yahoo.com" or "partygirl@gmail.com" will not impress potential colleagues. If it does, you probably do not want that job. Figure out some permutation of your name and/or science and get that gmail account set up now. As someone who recently changed jobs, it was wonderful to have a "permanent" email to use as my university account went dead.

Next we suggested business cards. Even in the age of the electronic frontier, the humble piece of dead tree remains the most accepted method of exchanging contact information. You're a trainee and they don't make cards for you? Do it yourself! Anyone with a computer and printer can buy a pack at the office store and have reasonable cards in less than an hour. Yes, some people will exchange cards and then throw yours out in the airport. Some new acquaintances will put you in their contacts. That's the way it works. You will do the same.

Finally, consider starting an online presence. If you aren't up to a full-fledged website, at least start on LinkedIn (this link takes you to my public profile as an example). The networking site for professionals essentially puts your resume into your profile. Upload a nice photo of your face, and you're in business. Eventually, you will make connections on the site. Some of us even get the odd job offer via LinkedIn (wrong place, wrong time, but otherwise something I would have jumped at). It will not yet replace emailing your CV, but it does give you an online presence that should not provide any embarrassing personal details. Eventually you will find useful information here via interest groups and discussions.

Finally, remember that the real meeting takes place away from the microphone. Casual discussions in hallways and restaurants and bars are more important than plenary sessions (unless you are on the platform, and even then...).

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Meeting Programs 2.0

Jun 25 2011 Published by under Societies and Meetings

In this day it seems criminal that more meetings have not used smart phones for programming. Not just to list topics, but to produce truly interactive apps that embrace the nature of Web 2.0.

The app for the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions (at least the iPhone version) provides a giant leap in the correct direction. Every time I log on it downloads updates, including daily highlights and corrections. The program can be browsed or searched by day or track. Exhibitors are listed and mapped, and maps of the area and venues can be pulled up. An app-within-the-app provides twitter access, with one of the meeting hashtags automatically added to your tweets. The lack of photo sharing was a bit annoying during the reception last night, but I can always use TweetDeck for that function. Anyone tweeting with meeting hashtags gets pulled into the app twitterstream, so it's a great place to get a real-time snap-shot of what is happening.

You can even use the traditional online itinerary builder and pull it into the app. It's convergence, I tell you, convergence!

Seriously, grab the app for free. Play with it. Show it to your organization's meeting planners.

The official app of the American Diabetes Association 71st Scientific Sessions is published by TriStar Publishing, Inc., and powered by Core-Apps.

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If Only...

Aug 27 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers]

For those of us with significant administrative responsibilities, from the September Harvard Business Review:

"For the meeting, I need a copy of the agenda, the hidden agenda, and my own twisted personal agenda."

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