All posts by scicommsarah

Some self-celebration: submitting talks

I’m pretty stoked.

I’m due, soon, to give a talk at a climate conference about the data that I’m collecting for my Masters thesis. I know I won’t be finished my thesis by the time I go, but I know I’ll have some insights to share with people in the communication and policy stream.

And just today, another abstract in! A science communicators’ conference, looking for insights into our communication, our audiences, our methods, … So I hope to present something new about factors that indicate someone will be (or is likely) a trusted communicator.

And an important part of submitting abstracts is having the self-belief and confidence to actually present if one is accepted. So I’m celebrating having put another one in. I figure, if they want to hear what I have to say, that’s good enough reason for me to tell them!

Hurrah. The conference I’m speaking at soon is Greenhouse, a climate science conference; and I’ve submitted for the Australian Science Communicators conference in early 2014.

Helping a world of people – ‘reforesting’ Africa

Meeting two members of Landcare International (and, tangentially, the World Agroforestry Centre) today made me really excited, and I wanted to do some musing on why…

Why were they visiting us? Basically, talking with us about revamping their newsletter a bit. It’s satisfying to give some hints on making a communication product better so they can draw people in more, but the goal was what really set me on fire.

Actually, it was their passion for it. These two lovely people were such a great mix of pragmatic and optimistic; keen on sticking to what local people needed and wanted, yet open to new ideas; ‘up’ on new, innovative practices, yet able to explain them simply…

One of the most exciting of those ideas is amazing reforestation of east Africa – especially Niger. And the way it’s being done is completely by the people, for the people.

It’s basically about integrating trees into cropped paddocks to protect the crops, improve their yield (especially when legume trees are used), give fodder to animals and firewood to people – the benefits go on and on. And a president of an African country (excuse me forgetting) has declared that 100,000,000 of the trees will be planted!

It’s incredible, and the photos honestly tell it better. The World Agroforestry Centre has published a free PDF booklet about its importance, how it’s been done, and the huge difference it’s been making to people.

And that’s what lights my fire, too – making a difference. Knowing if I can help these two Landcare International people then somehow I can help a whole world of people, even if indirectly.

Finding your life’s purpose in 5 minutes

Finding your life’s purpose, Adam Leipzig tells us this 10-minute TEDx talk, only takes 5 minutes and 5 questions.

Well, less than 5 minutes if you already know those answers, I guess.

Before getting into the questions, I preface them with some confusion. Admittedly, at the end of the video, I wondered if others really found it so easy to pin down. Or if it changed them so radically.

Also, I didn’t take note of the internet wisdom never read the comments, which is usually rock-solid advice, but this time turned out to back up my own questions.

Anyhow: what’s your purpose in life?

Riddle me this: Who you are. What you do. Who you do it for. What those people want/need from you. What they get out of it (how they’re changed after).

It can be as simple as one sentence (and like the best communication plans I think, similarly, shorter is better).

Wisdom or folly, profound or puerile, the answers that jumped straight to my head in the talk were: I am SciCraftSarah and I edit and write. My work is for everyday people who might benefit in life from understanding more about science. They end up more empowered in their lives.

I realise, typing it out, that it’s a very ‘deficit model’ type of science communication, which I would usually steer well clear of for a multitude of reasons (next post!). Perhaps it’s a resistant, immature idea of mine, or it is just flat-out idealism about how science can help people?

However, it’s meaningless to be too harsh on myself yet. There are critics of the criticism of the deficit model – and there’s certainly much benefit in information about science when you don’t know it and want to know.

Can you answer your life’s purpose in those 5 questions? What answer do you come up with? Does your idealism get in the way of answering, or practicing it?

Designing user-friendly websites based on tasks, not categories

What’s the most common way of creating a webpage? Although it’s tempting to make some categories about what I need to put info under, and pick a great layout, you run the risk of not satisfying what your users actually need from the webpage.

I have been working on this a bit lately, as we design a new webpage at work and as I help 2 friends with their own webpages.

The key is to always think in tasks. What does someone want to get done when they come to your website? People don’t just come to websites to read aimlessly – really, they don’t. When was the last time you wanted to waste some time and decided to open a random webpage and read everything you could find on it?

We never do – there’s always a task in mind. That task might be, as for my friends’ websites, look for any new pieces of fashion from xxx designer. Sometimes it can help to think about tasks in the format of questions. What new pieces has xxx released lately? Can I get xxx in a different colour?

There are a range of different tasks that your audiences will be looking to complete when they come to your website. I have found, in other projects, that they are fairly distinct.

However, yesterday was strange: many of the tasks of different audiences (of my friend’s website) overlapped. I haven’t found that before. It was quite an interesting experience.

I feel quite sure that it will certainly change the way the website is laid out, because the similar tasks between audiences go beyond the usual ‘store’, ‘blog’, ‘contact’ classifications that you might use. I’m not sure how, yet, but it will.

Have you experienced either using tasks to design a webpage, or overlapping tasks between audiences?

Doing dangerous work

We’ve all done dangerous work. Some of us do it more than others. I’m struggling a bit with it at the moment.

It’s work that you do to not do more important work.

I blame myself, and the method I use to do it is seeing other ‘want to dos’ on a list. The painful noticing has happened because the put-off tasks have turned red in Habit RPG. That is not to say I was unaware of putting them off…

Many articles about productivity encourage you to do your most important work first, minus distractions and minus small tasks. I admit that I’ve not put a lot of effort into working this way so far; I have an ‘addiction’ to minutiae that lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Then when deadlines creep up, I am forced into the biggest, scariest task.

I don’t really know the way around this yet. Have you ever used a tactic to get around that ‘slow to start’ feeling?

Making public commitments

Committing to something is eeeeasy. When you don’t tell anyone about it. Or do anything real about it. Sheesh!

I’m working on committing, at the moment, to a whole lot of things, and identifying what I’m committed to.

And our difficult homework this week was to tell 3 people what we’re committed to. I went a step further, and told about 30 people… by emailing them about doing an interview with me for my Masters research. And told my boss. And my supervisor. And various friends.

So I guess that homework’s ticked off…!

My supervisor, on chatting with her about the research, said that all that’s left to do is actually *do* the work. She’s right. This is proving the hardest thing, and also why you’re getting a blog post right now.

It’s exactly why so many student houses get reeeeeally clean around exam time.

The only thing that I can think of to keep my anxiety-ridden mind off the enormity of it all is to break it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Which HabitRPG helps with, incidentally.

Next post, I think, will be reactions from a 2 weeks (or however long it’s been) of using HabitRPG. Fun kinda tops the list, oddly enough!

Planning communication: what’s so exciting about it?

How boring and positively UNspontaneous. How staid. Planning communication! Instead of being off-the-cuff and free, and truthful. Right?

Wrong.

But how is planning communication exciting? Firstly, valuable context: at work, we’re getting ready to do a communication planning workshop for an organisation that works in a tricky space.

To outside appearances, it’s a pretty simple process. We get some info from them, run a workshop with people, then come back with a plan.

Wrong!

We do a whole lot of work in the meantime to make the workshop work. We research before working with the organisation, do more research after, do a plethora of interviews and thinking and analysing beforehand.

In some ways, I would argue that the communication plan, the shining ‘holy grail’ of the process, isn’t even the final product. I think the shared understanding that comes from people in the organisation sitting around and thrashing out all the issues is the ‘shiniest’ benefit of the process.

The other thing is, the whole process appeals to my perfectionist, comprehensive nature. See, we get to go over so much material, gather each item’s small gems, interview everyone and make sure all the issues are covered off, then analyse it and dump it (carefully) onto a proverbial table at the workshop.

Before having done this process, I would never have guessed one could get so darn much out of talking. But each issue and possible solutions are sifted through, and the most important parts are picked up. And if it’s done well, most people are pretty happy with the result. And everyone goes forward on the same page.

Now, my boss would say that that’s not the end, and that a communication plan lives and breathes on, but that’s for another day…

What power does the mind have?

Running is a new, perhaps short-lived addiction of mine. Cold mornings, cold evenings, tired – I’m still doing it. This is big news, given my dislike of running.

With a bung knee, not only do normal joints and muscles protest, but my right knee whines and stiffens in protest, many hours after.

And yet – I’m curiouser every day about what my mind can do [can I use the word against?] against my body. This is probably well studied and much used in sports circles, but not often have I experienced this. Pushing further than one thought they could. Pushing harder. Keeping on going when all.you.want.to.do.is.STOP.

It’s a new feeling. And not one just mitigated by the YOULOVEEXERCISING chemical haze of endorphins – it can happen before those suckers kick in.

Why can I make myself keep going until, say, the next song or the next telephone pole?

Do you have fantastic or fanatic experiences with pushing past physical limits?

Can we make every science story interesting?

I worked with a colleague to teach students about the 3 Minute Thesis today – condensing a PhD into an engaging, exciting, simple 3-minute explanation. There were some tough topics – all were interesting when we got into them, certainly – but it got me thinking about whether every topic can be simplified, can be engaging. My initial gut reaction is that yes, anything can. An inner cynic then scrunches its nose up and whines, ‘Really?’

It’s often a case of finding that one story, that one spark that really grabs someone. Perhaps it’s the right example, the right zoom-in to a problem, or a zoom-out. Even finding, despite a complex topic, some humour.

I can see the incredibly interesting topics peeking out from underneath ‘solid’ language and a pattern of how we’re taught to speak academically. There are so many quirky and fascinating stories to be told about research and the passion of the people looking at that work. We’re lucky to spend this time with the students, bringing those stories out and helping them find their confidence to tell them.

Writing often, writing much – another try

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted ‘fur realz’. I’ve got a wackydoo new ‘system’ – as often lurks behind spurts of motivation – that I’m trying. One of the daily goals is to write very short blog posts to get back in the habit of writing often, writing much.

Understanding audience and making posts relevant to readers certainly does not make the process easier – doubts creep in, insidious as air. ‘What have I got to say that anyone will find interesting?’ But I press on. 200-ish words is the aim. Perhaps I can, in the last half, share with you the combination of tools I use to manage my time.

To-do lists? My favourite is Todoist (and no, that’s not a spelling mistake). I love this one – click and drag, keyboard shortcuts, printable lists, again with the simple/elegant layout. Love it.

The only problem is… actually doing the things on the list, right? As always! For this I’m trying Habit RPG. I will update on my progress on that soon.

And lastly, keeping track of what I do work on: I work in a consultancy – so time tracking to individual projects is essential. Toggl gets me there. Simple, simple, elegant interface. Reports I can download anytime I want, or weekly to do my timesheet. Mobile app, web-based or offline software.

And now I can check off one more thing for the day!