That’s All Folks

So, here we are at the end of the 23 Things and I will admit I have learnt a thing or two. Seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The best trick I’ve learnt is Creative Commons. It’s like magic that I can generate a recognised logo to protect my work so easy and yet so official looking. I will no longer turn up my nose at Wikipedia knowing the work which goes into it and the traceability of the articles but treat it with a different sort of caution knowing that any old idiot (even me) can add to it, and inflict their own bias and prejudice on the unwary reader. It is something I would like to do more often too, knowing just how much I can contribute to knowledge of the field, at least to a lay audience. In reality though, who has the time.

Public engagement is becoming a greater expectation for Doctoral students these days and I think if I’d known about some of these tools earlier I could have used them to do more. I would still love to organise public engagement opportunities using things like Slideshare and Pinterest, so watch this space. And I’ve learnt a lot from resources others have made available on the internet. So many people pass on their expertise so selflessly by the power of the internet. Who’d have thought YouTube could be used for anything except watching cats being cute and people walking into stuff. Less likely to get on RudeTube though.

Through pure apathy I had resisted getting a LinkedIn page but I am beginning to see the potential benefits for collaboration or looking for jobs. I’m very bad at making effort and keeping in touch with people but through LinkedIn I can add people I’ve met at conferences without feeling like a stalker. There is a slight temptation to look up old colleagues and rivals to see how well your doing relative to them but that probably has more to do with my competitive nature than LinkedIn itself. I think I will find the same is true of a number of tools I have learnt to use but never bothered to try on my own. Things like Doodle Poll, Screencast-o-matic, which I have used since and found useful.

It’s not all been a walk in the park though. The whole program acts as though researchers should talk freely about anything and everything with no consideration of the consequences. It may just be because I am part of a company and a bit old, but I don’t want people who deal with me on a professional level to know aspects of my personal life. Facebook, chat rooms, Twitter, and blogs; all these things should be kept either strictly professional or separate from your work life. Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for work. I would even go so far as to say the program should discuss some of the negative aspects of mixing business and pleasure as a warning. Surely there must be plenty of examples of disciplinary action because of something an employee wrote on Facebook which shouldn’t have got back to the boss? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Also not everything you do is suitable to be shared. It seems the program is encouraging people to loose sight of the commercial sensitivity of their work. Everyone at Surrey has the potential to hit on a big idea; and they should be able to take full advantage of that big idea. I think this point is missing and should be addressed.

I will keep up with a few tools I have been exposed to but I think the majority of Things will sit in my tool box gathering dust for a few years until the rare occasion I find a use for them again. But it has opened my mind and helped me kick down a few psychological barriers at the same time, and for that I am grateful to you 23 Things.

If I’d had the choice though, would I really have spent so many hours getting to know my Things? Probably not. The time may have been much better spent learning programming or keeping on top of literature. Aspiring Journalists, Authors of Chick Lit and Hippies will, I’m sure have developed some indispensable skills. But for me it’s just the tissue paper in the present bag. It’s not the important part (the present) or functional like the bag itself. It’s just a bit of fluff that tags along with my degree and offers a slight distraction in the unwrapping, but hasn’t really changed me as a final product.


Tools for Working Together

This week’s things have been about organising groups working together and this is something I find a battle on a regular basis. As a distance learner I have found it very difficult in the past to ensure information is effectively passed on to colleagues at the university. As a result some of these Things are familiar to me.

Dropbox has been invaluable to me through out the process of getting my first paper written because there are so many people who’ve been involved in my work and need to contribute to the document. Putting the most recent version on Dropbox means that everyone is working from the same document. Having said that, occasionally accidents happen. My supervisor has both forgotten to save changes and deleted a number of folders he had access to so I wouldn’t ever leave my only copy of a document on Dropbox.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy a Doodle Poll was to set up. I have contributed to them before but this was the first time I’d set one up and even I managed it. I would definitely use this tool again and can imagine it being a useful tool for setting up progress meetings and vivas. I also know how hard it is getting old friends together so think this would be a good way to organise your social calender too.

I often use Skype for progress meetings when my supervisors can’t all be together but find it very difficult to check every one is on the same page. I’ll email out the slides and we’ll discuss on Skype but find either one person has whizzed ahead and is asking questions about something in 3 slides time, or someone else can’t be trusted to sit and listen without tuning out. I think it is a useful tool but really no better than a phone call.

I much prefer the idea of a webinar type set up for this, like Adobe Connect which friends at another university regularly use. I think this would be a much better way of managing supervisors from a distance in a progress meeting because you can control which slide they are looking at. It wouldn’t help with people tuning out though. And I wouldn’t want to pay for it. I’m so tight I could have been a Northerner!

I have also attended webinars run in a similar way and find them better than sharing slides through Slide Share because you get far more information when someone is discussing their slides. I find people are more willing to participate in a lecture if they don’t have to speak out loud and I think the MSN style question function in webinars really overcomes people’s fear of voicing questions.

I don’t like the idea of Google+ Hangouts because it strikes me as an unprofessional way to discuss your work. Why would you send a lazy excuse for an email when you could send a real email. If you’ve got a lot to say take the time and express it in a well structured email, just like if you want to have an in-depth conversation with someone don’t try and do it by text. I think Google are just trying to complicate matters and make a gimmicky method of communication in case it becomes the next Facebook. Fine for kids, not for work.

So I’d happily set up a doodle poll now and find Dropbox pretty useful. Skype is fine if you don’t have someone else paying your phone bill. As to the other tools, Thanks but no thanks 23 Things.

Is it Secret? Is it Safe?

Throughout the course of Surrey’s 23 Things I have come to realise I am not very trusting or good at sharing. I am amazed at all those wonderful people out there who will put their hard earn research on the internet for anyone to take advantage of. One example is the beautiful Nanoflower I’ve featured, which was produced by Noordui and Aizenberg of Harvard University from the chemical growth of barium carbonate crystals, and shown as a false colour SEM. You guys are stars. I can’t imagine letting other people use my works; it’s like my baby and I want to keep it safe.

Thankfully, I see from this week’s Things that their are ways of protecting my work, so perhaps I can stop clucking over it like a mother hen. The lovely people at Creative Commons have set up a system to protect my work so maybe I don’t need to be so careful when exposing it to the big bad world which is the internet.

The language of Creative commons took a bit of getting used to and it took me a while to find any images with the symbols I was looking for but I think this is because a lot of people are as selfish as I am. I even managed to apply the symbol to my own work (hence the very out of place last blog). I will definitely be using this feature in the future. Thanks 23 Things, another really useful tool I would never have known about.

Open access is a very confusing subject for me, mostly because I can’t see how journals will keep going in the future. I imagine journals to be a relatively big industry, so if they aren’t used in future, I guess a lot of people will be out of work. I agree that tax payers should be able to see what their money is going to fund but is making papers accessible to them really that useful? I remember the first paper I read; I struggled with the language and flipping back to Wiki for the best part of a day just to translate it into something I could understand. Do we really think the typical tax payer is going to put themselves through that? Wouldn’t we be better off writing a lay-person’s abstract to each paper which is published and put that somewhere with open access?

Neither of my papers are currently on the SRI open access repository, but one could be put on very easily. While it could allow my paper to reach a wider audience, I wonder how many of the researchers I would like to reach, don’t already have access to journals. Some industrial partners perhaps would benefit, but isn’t it better that I am approached directly by them to get potential contacts for collaboration? If my work could be read on open access, there would be no need for industry to interact with academia, they could read up on what’s already been done. I am in two minds whether to push for my articles to go on an open access repository.

Altmetrics made me happy because it put a paper I’m on in the top 5% of all articles they score. However I have to wonder how accurate that actually is. They seem to give quite a heavy weighting to articles which have got news coverage, which can be influenced by how active the university’s PR department is rather than the value of the work. Also, just because it’s on Twitter, doesn’t make it good. I’d probably tell every one on my twitter account I’d published my first paper, but that doesn’t mean my research is causing a stir on social media. I think it is an interesting tool to get an idea of the importance of your work in the first few weeks after publication but I think in the long term, number of citations is far more valuable.

So I’m feeling a bit better about sharing my work after this week. Creative commons gets a big thumbs up from me. While I still am not convinced by open access, and become more confused the more into the debate I read, I do see some reasoning behind it. And Altmetrics is just good for giving me a confidence boost, and telling me I’ve been on some worthwhile articles.


 More Nanoflowers

Presenting Online

This week I’ve been looking at how to present my work on the internet.

My first job was to make a screen cast, and while it won’t be interesting to anyone on the internet, it could be very useful within my company. I walked through how to use our specialist software to reconfigure a chip and found it very quick and easy to record. I’ve explained the same process before by email and it took me about half an hour to write instructions, compared to less than 10 minutes with screencast-o-matic. I think what I’ve made is much more informative because it points out where on the screen users should be looking.

I have looked at Slideshare before and think it is far better than Note & Point or Speaker Deck, mainly because it had much more available on it and what was there was better quality. Sadly all these sites made the presentations very boring. I think I would be more likely to make a Powerpoint presentation, and record it with screen-o-matic so I can talk through it as I go. It would also make it much more interesting to a viewer and could  be loaded onto YouTube, which can reach a greater potential audience.

As pointed out by Surrey in the general presentation tips, a presentation is much better if you minimise the text, but when presented using Slideshare you’re not there to tell people your points, so the lack of text just means the presentation doesn’t make sense. Some presentation which had been loaded were just a collection of random images; pathetic. Generally I think my presentations are fairly good but they wouldn’t work on Slideshow. I think posting existing presentations on Slideshare should be discouraged. If you think your presentation is important enough to be on there then take the time to make it especially for Slideshare so it has all the relevant information.

I also think it is very difficult to know how much information is too much information, especially when working in industry. While I may discuss something interesting and cutting edge at a conference, I may not be willing to commit it to writing where others may reference it or look back and use my findings at a later date. I would have to think very carefully before sharing any of my research on Slideshare, and think some researchers may put their work on such sites without considering this.

I would share public engagement sources on sites like Slideshare and Screencast-o-matic but I don’t think it is the correct forum for cutting edge research. I would be a good method of sharing well documented information, like lectures on fundamental physics . I think university teaching would be greatly improved by having the lectures available online but again, I think without someone telling the story the slides may not be that helpful. People should tailor presentation so it contains everything you need, otherwise what’s the point. I read a lecturer in Microbiology at Bradford University is making podcasts and providing links to supplementary material so students can read around what is said in lectures. He has grasped that there are a lot of different ways people learn and is trying to accommodate for all of these in his lectures. A good example of how presenting on line should be done.

Online Resources

This week I’ve been looking at Wikipedia, YouTube, Slideshare and Corsera. It has definitely been the most valuable aspect of the 23 Things so far for me. I’m amazed at all the top people making videos for the good of the world, and the quality of some of what comes out.

Wikipedia has always been my go to when I start researching something new but I had never really considered where it comes from and the work that goes into it. The Talk page really opened my eyes to how many people contribute to it without having to actually put pen to paper. I looked at a page on my research topic and the general comments were that it was clearly written by someone in a specific field, which made it come across as quite narrow. It seemed very bias to one application and I felt pretty offended that my application was under represented. It wasn’t that the article was wrong, just a bit under-informed.

While the comments pointed out this weakness, they dated back to 2011 and no-one had bothered to fix it. This is where I stepped in, and while I only added a general overview for the introduction, outlining different applications, I was still pretty chuffed. Getting around the language was a bit tricky to start off with (linking to other pages and adding references), but if I can manage it, any idiot can! I hope to go back and make it even better at some stage but I think finishing my thesis is the top priority at the moment.

The references were sketchy and would get laughed out of a viva. They directed me to some webpages which were no longer running or had changed since the article was written, so I couldn’t work out what they were trying to prove. This might have been specific to the pages I looked at but I wouldn’t bother looking up references in the future. I’d also be less likely to trust information I read on Wikipedia as a result of this exercise. Being a scientist I don’t often think of things like bias and writer motivation but I think this can play a big part on Wiki.

I found some great resources on YouTube, completely by accident. A lecturer from Imperial Collage has made a series about using word for scientific documents and it was such a pleasure to watch a demonstration of where all the buttons for cross referencing and adding headings were. Normally I’d have to read through the boring Microsoft instructions flicking between the text and Word. Instead I got it all on my screen with his lovely proper English accent gently helping me bumble through it. It was like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was personally helping me through it, in the comfort of my living room. Really looking forward to seeing more from him, and fighting the urge to internet stalk him.

Slideshare and Coursera were both good and might even be useful as references but you’d need to be really careful picking your presentation. Materials on specific topics on Coursera were quite limited and the difference in quality within the same topic was huge. Rice University made a nice shiny video which was so polished it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the BBC on a Monday night. The equivalent from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology on the other hand looked like something from the 80s. While that doesn’t say anything about the technical content, it did highlight just how much work went into the Rice one, giving me confidence that it was well thought out and up to the job.

So thanks 23 Things. Your program has been worth it just for this weeks activities. I will definitely be using these resources again. At the same time it has made me very concious of the spin such sources can put on things, and maybe I’ll stop reading things at face value in the future. I’ll take more of a sociology approach to reading in the future (shudder at the thought).

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

After a very busy few weeks I am back on the 23 Things (now down to 13 by my count). I’m looking at different methods of sharing images.

Twitter and Storify were both new experiences for me and after setting up an account I felt quite overwhelmed by the amount of information which was on there. Being April Fools Day there was plenty to entertain me in the technology section about new products or services being brought out. Who actually fell for self service checkouts for dogs in Pets at Home is beyond me but it whiled away a good minute. After the initial excitement I floundered, not knowing who was a useful and topical person to follow.

Given that I have not chosen to sign up to Twitter in the last 9 years (I looked it up and it launched 2006), this account is strictly for professional purposes so I feel pressure not to follow anyone who may reflect badly on me. As a result the only things I am following are news stories and some popular scientists. While this is safe it also makes me come across as a really boring person. In reality I’m only a little bit boring!

It seems like a good method of getting information and news at a glance. I’m not sure I need this instant access for my work though, and don’t see my research as being high profile enough for anyone to want instant up dates on progress as it happens.

Storify strikes me as a brilliant tool for public engagement activities. Imagine 100s of scientists across the world posting a series of pictures for one day, describing a normal day in their life as a scientist. It would be a brilliant way of showing the next generation of scientists just how much fun a career in science can be. For anything more I remain unconvinced. Working in industry, it’s not like I can share my results as they happen. While it would be lovely to see research unfold in front of you like a story, I can’t imagine many serious scientists would be willing to do this and, at least in my experience, the rate at which research progresses see most people loose interest in the time it takes me to analyse data.

Flickr, despite initially annoying me for making a spelling mistake to sound cool, grew on me. I can see the appeal of looking up images to put in a presentation and knowing instantly what is freely available to download. However it is much more limited than Google Images so I’m not sure I’d bother.

Pinterest seemed easy to get lost in, and I found fascinating stuff, including “What Your Favourite Disney Character says About You.” However it didn’t feel like the place for professional science. It would be great for public engagement though. I can imagine putting a poster up there to explain my research to a non-scientific audience. However helping people to find them would be the biggest challenge. Perhaps a collective effort could help, for instance a day in national science week, where a lot of posters could be made available. The event could be publicised encourage the public to look for them.  Again a nice tool with interesting things on there but I can imagine it being more interesting than useful to me as a scientist. This would be a particularly useful tool if you had a design based job and wanted pictures for inspiration. Next time I’m decorating a cake I will definitely have a look to get some ideas.

I think Twitter could be a good tool to spread news in your field but I think it requires quiet a strong initial following to reach a lot of people. It also appears to be quite a long term investment, which I’d love to have time for but suspect I will be leaving my account idle after a few days. A number of these tools would be useful for outreach purposes as they communicate to the masses but I’m not sure they will reach far enough to be seen by other researchers in my limited field. With so much communication going on through these social media sites it would be very easy to be drowned out so I’m not sure it is worth investing my time.