If academia and industry were ScienceOnline. . .

Bringing together science advocates of all ages and stature since 2007.

Next week in the state capital of North Carolina, 450 science communicators of various flavors are meeting for three days at ScienceOnline2012 to learn from one another the most effective ways to, well, communicate science. I'm really excited because several of my C&EN and CENtral Science colleagues will be joining me from the DC HQ, including our benevolent overlord, sister in Gatorhood, and C&EN Online Editor, Rachel Pepling, and my Santa Fe science writing bud and fellow Ryan Adams enthusiast, Lauren Wolf. Even Sarah Everts - our beloved Canadian - will be joining us from post in Berlin. In fact, the attendees will include folks from over 25 US states and a dozen countries. As a wee blogger during the mid-noughts, I was fortunate to join the co-founders - Anton Zuiker and Bora Zivkovic (with Brian Russell and Paul Jones) - to help lead sessions at what was then the 2007 NC Science Blogging Conference. This crowd-sourced meeting is now known as ScienceOnline and has grown to be one of the most highly-sought online meetups in the world, having spawned similar meetings such as Science Online London. Someone - I can't recall who - called ScienceOnline the South-By-Southwest (SXSW) of science communication. Most readers know that I was originally a Jersey kid. We were raised (or forced by peers) to be full of self-important hubris and my undergrad education was a four-year battle of one-upsman(woman)ship. That piss and vinegar got diluted out of me - in a good way - during residencies in Gainesville, Florida, and Denver, followed by the middle-ground of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where I began writing a science blog. I realized that in these places, outside of the influence of the New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia corridor, that one could be a solid, critical scientist, while also being a human being. (Although I realize it's even been tougher in NC now with the harsh competition of workforce reductions, especially in pharma.) Co-founder of ScienceOnline and general BlogFather Bora Zivkovic, now blog community manager for Scientific American, wrote a characteristically long post about the nature of this unconference. Bora writes a lot - a real lot - but even his greatest admirers may often miss the richest of his gems. This was one that should be of particular focus to any nervous folks attending for the first time:
The ScienceOnline Community ScienceOnline2012 is a community-organized, community-planned, community-funded, community-owned and community-run conference. The ethos of the meeting is that this is an egalitarian community. Nobody is VIP, nobody is a priori a superstar. One becomes a superstar by virtue of being here (including virtually, yes). Participating in ScienceOnline is a badge of honor and a matter of pride – it means “I am a part of the small but cutting-edge community that is changing the worlds of science and science communication”. Even those who tend to get treated as VIPs by other conferences – New York Times and The New Yorker columnists, senior scientists, Pulitzer Prize winners, familiar NPR voices, CEOs, top bloggers – love the fact that, once a year, they are equal to undergrads, high school students (and their teachers), beginner bloggers, programmers, artists, librarians, and others in the community. Everyone is a superstar in their own domain, and a n00b in others. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn. It is a lot of fun. A lot of networking goes on. A lot of intense learning goes on. Many, many collaborations and projects got started here, and those often turned into gigs and jobs later on. Some of those projects would then be first announced to the world at the next meeting.
I've been most fortunate to be a contributor and beneficiary of this community. And I very much wish that we behaved this way every day. So, we'll see some of y'all next week. And for those of you among the 56% of first-time attendees: stop me (if I'm running around madly) and say hello and tell me who you are. You're simply a friend I haven't yet met.

Author: David Kroll

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  1. Awesome reflection David! I feel strongly that owe everything about where I am today to Science Online community. They really showed me that one can be anything they want to be, no matter how far out of the box you might feel you are. Never had so much support from people, something severely lacking in academia. Can’t wait to catch up over guitars, beer and SCIENCE!

    • Same here, Kev – I most certainly wouldn’t have my new job if not for the support of the ScienceOnline community (of course, it’s considered outside of mainstream bench science). But these great friends helped me realize where my strengths were and encouraged me. The friendships I’ve made have been rich and invaluable. And even though you’ll probably leave the country before I make the 3 hr drive to see you at your place, I know that we’ll always be compatriots in music and marine biology.

      Rock on!

  2. What Kevin said.

    The experience of ScienceOnline has literally changed my life and who I think I can be – sounds lofty and high-falutin’ but it’s true. I went from doing my painting in a quiet corner of the internet to learning, discussing and collaborating with the most energized, optimistic and funny group of now-friends I could hope to meet.

    • Indeed, Glendon, and we are all richer for being more broadly exposed to your fine art and illustration talent on all things science.

      For C&EN readers who don’t know Glendon (The Flying Trilobite and Symbiartic), check out this post at his Scientific American blog:


      I absolutely adore the coffee ring/brain cross-section watercolors.

      And even more relevant to our chem readers, his rendition of the chemical structure of caffeine was commissioned by neuroscience blogger, Scicurious, for her long-planned tattoo expressing her love for the methylxanthine. In the post, Sci proudly models the structure as tattooed on her back.

  3. so excited and so ready!

  4. What Kevin and Glendon said.

    ScienceOnline has been hugely important in helping me connect to the audiences I really need to connect to in order to keep my research relevant (i.e., not professional philosophers, but people doing science and science communication). Plus, the feel of the conference is so different from your run-of-the-mill academic or professional conference (even the really good ones) that it challenges one’s expectations of what a conference can accomplish. (It also ends up feeling like the very best of reunions, even when those with whom you’re reuniting are people you’ve not yet met in real life!)

    Yeah, I’m psyched.

  5. Thank you, David, and all the others who have commented. As one of the first-timers, it is great to read these reflections of how this community has supported and energized so many people. Although I’ve never made it to ScienceOnline yet, even watching from afar, and interacting with many of you online, I’ve benefited enormously. Can’t wait to meet many of you in person in a few days!

  6. “Benevolent overlord, sister in Gatorhood, and C&EN Online Editor…” I think I need to add that to my business cards.

    Really looking forward to the conference this year, hopefully in a far less overwhelmed state. As a first-timer who attended for just about 30 hours last year and was completely starstruck by the company I kept, I don’t think I really took advantage of all that Science Online has to offer.

    Final note: JAEPer Christine Herman will also be among the CENtral Sciencers in attendance.