Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Grief and science

Grief. It's a mouthful. It kind of hangs in the air when spoken, it can even be heavy on the page and the screen. Some people might view it as a downer of topic for this time of year, others might be relieved by its expression during these long nights. I remember the first time a person I deeply respect told me with great compassion that she saw me struggling with grief  - it was many years ago and I actually found it deeply confusing. And yet, now, it is so clear that was what exactly what that feeling was. I'd experienced it acutely a couple of times with the loss of a friend, a teacher, a grandparent. The idea that grief could also be chronic was new to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reinvisioning training - "clinical" practice in the natural sciences

I have written a bit about non-academic careers in the natural sciences from the perspective of what comes after policy fellowship programs and legitimizing the non-academic career path. In that second post I briefly touched on the idea of "clinical" training models and their applicability in the natural sciences. In fields like law and medicine, after (or while) time spent learning in the classroom or the lab, students are given the opportunity for "real world" learning via clinical practice. In law school that might involve taking on real cases, and in medical school, working with patients.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The only way is together

I have had a several experiences lately that have led to a more embodied sense of both the futile and counter-productive nature of “getting” anybody to do anything, at least on a long-term basis and in a way that doesn't ultimately feel terrible. As a simple example, say I am on a walk in the woods with a friend. I might want to go one way, while she might want to go another. I could try to persuade her to go where I want to go, and I may have a lot of well-informed reasons about why "my way" is the best way. But, if my goal is to truly be with my friend, to be connected and in relationship, I would be best served by working with her to figure out what works for both of us, rendering "my way" pretty pointless. Sure - there's a possibility that together we might go over a cliff, but as much as I'd like to think it's not the case, I could just as easily end up over the cliff going my own way.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Relatedness in action in science practice

Although these days I spend a lot of time writing in a theoretical way about relationship-centered approaches to science and engagement (in short, explicitly recognizing the importance of relationships between people in science), I am, first and foremost, a practitioner and most interested in just doing good work every day. To that end, I am trying to spend time recognizing work that I think of as "relatedness in action" -- even though the people doing it might not primarily see it that way -- both to make the topic less abstract and to help myself continue to work pragmatically.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Welcoming resistance

Recently, I was lucky enough to be a part of a circle at a small professional retreat focused on process and relationship-building where a group of incredible people with really diverse experiences, many dedicated to social justice and peace-building efforts, shared recent challenges in their work. After a long and winding discussion, the facilitators were able to masterfully weave together a strong thread that had emerged from the conversation. In sum, that thread was that the very places where we face the strongest resistance can often be the exact places that our work is most needed, and hardest. And, that maybe instead of viewing resistance as failure, we could see it as a sign that there really is something to be done there, simply based on the fact that the push-back exists.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Conflict, emotion, and engagement in science: Internal conflict (Part 2)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I come very much from a community engagement perspective in the sciences, having spent a lot of time working in cooperative extension and as a scientist in an environmental advocacy organization. These are arenas in which relationships between people play a central role in the scientific and technical work of the institutions as a whole, and certainly for individuals. Engagement work is, for me, the best and only way to work. It is really rewarding, but there is no denying that at times it can also be uncomfortable and challenging when we inevitably disagree or have different needs or whatever the case may be.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Contemplative practice in the sciences

In 2011, I gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America annual meeting on contemplative practices and community engagement in the sciences. The following year, I published a short paper on a related topic "From science communication to relationship-building: contemplative practice and community engagement in the environmental sciences." In some ways, I wish that I’d detached the issues of engagement and relationship-building from contemplative practice and written two separate articles, but, well, hindsight and all that. Even with 20/20 backwards vision, I still feel like bringing up a problem (getting from communicating to relating) without a solution (the contemplation piece) isn't super productive, but I also see that for folks uncomfortable with idea of contemplative practice, I obscured the relationship building piece.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Science has a relationship problem

Yes, that's a provocative title, and an over-simplification. At the same time, over the past few years it has been one of the main ideas I put forward in conversations and presentations and papers, and it does seem to resonate with many people (particularly practitioners) - the idea that science has not so much (or just) a communication challenge as a relationship challenge.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Just do it: The beauty of practice

I identify myself professionally these days as a scientist practitioner, which I've written a bit about here and here. Sometimes people react badly to the term "practitioner," maybe because it's something that is often used to distinguish it from research, particularly in expert communities. When thought of in that way, it's a challenge to see it in a positive light, because it's already been described in the negative, as what it's not.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Everybody altogether - from "audiences" to "communities"

Audience. I try my hardest to use this word pretty judiciously. We live in an interconnected world - people are organized into communities or networks or however you want to envision it - they have relationships with each other. It's the main way that people hear about (much less act on) things - through the people that they are connected to. And even the connections themselves are ever shifting.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Listening and silence in communications practice

I have been both consciously cultivating and naturally gravitating toward silence practice for many years. It's way, way easier alone -- I'm pretty happy with silence when I'm by myself. It's been a much harder leap to allow for silence with other people -- when things get hard or awkward, I tend to use words to try to make that discomfort go away.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Me" or "them": The tension between institutional and individual change

"Peacemaking is a healing process and it begins with me but it does not end there." Gene Knudsen Hoffman

I love this quote. I focus a lot on individual level practices like reflection and deep listening that can help people to be more successful and satisfied by their work, particularly in engagement, as scientists and practitioners. And, ultimately, they are many of the same types of things that I believe help to propel the work itself forward. But there is a real tension there with the fact that there are also larger institutional and systemic changes that need to happen in concert with individual level change for things to truly progress.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Conflict, emotion, & engagement in science: Some context (Part 1)

I am going to write a small series of posts about the role of conflict in an engaged in the natural sciences and, to start, I think it’s important to provide a bit of context. Beginning in graduate school, I spent many years working within the cooperative extension system. I won’t spend a lot of time explaining extension because, well, google, and because many are familiar with it (a good recent piece in Wired is worth a read though). The main thing to say here is that from my perspective it provides one of the most direct, relationship-focused interfaces with communities that a scientist could ever want – it’s fantastic that way. It is an original example of an institutional approach to use-driven or actionable research and outreach; it's a system that was designed from the outset to provide research within an academic, yet service-driven context.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How about the "purposeful" PhD?

Late last week another article on the lack of academic jobs came out - this time in the New York Times, with the very sad title "The Repurposed PhD: Finding Life After Academia — and Not Feeling Bad About It". As many of these articles do (and there are a plethora of them, particularly in the Chronicle of Higher Ed), it starts by reinforcing the idea that everybody in a PhD program wants an academic job, and can't get one, and we are all very, very depressed. Though always careful to throw in a sentence about how some rare people don't want academic jobs anyway, that is usually about as far as that discussion goes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Listening via social media - prioritizing conversations

I recently wrote about the listening (versus talking) side of science communication. For me, listening is practice, one that I am always working to deepen.

Social media presents a particular challenge in terms of listening. On one hand, it can be a great space to listen in to lots of different conversations, and many people interact with it in that way. I personally find it to be a great struggle.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Storytelling: the stories we don't tell

I am slightly wary of the storytelling wave that has taken over these days. I worry about appropriation - the question of whose stories we tell and whether they are ours to tell looms large for me and oddly doesn't pop up that often in the workshops I've been in on the topic unless somebody asks. But, one thing I'd not given a lot of thought to was the stories that we don't tell - particularly the ones that we do or don't tell about ourselves.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The power of intuition in science communication

In the science communication research world over the past year or so, there seems to be an assumption that working from an intuitive place = bad and that working from a data-driven, research-based place = good.** It is in many ways difficult for me to actually hear research results when they are framed that way, even though I do appreciate the place I think it's coming from, which is that there is a lot to be gained by understanding social science research in science communications. But, I'd also like to think there is a role for intuition *and* for data - I mean, why we gotta be so old-school dualistic?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On listening in science communication

It is heartening to see more discussion of the listening side of science communication world of late. I first wrote about the topic in a 2012 article on moving toward relationship-building and engagement in science communication. A discussion with a beloved and wise person in my life spurred me to better define what I meant by listening. The result was that in the article I said:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Exposing the underbelly - the hidden curriculum in the natural sciences

One thing that I find prevalent in the legal and medical literature is reference to a "hidden curriculum" in higher education. The concept originated in the 1970's and refers to the idea that as part of training, we are all subject to social and academic norms that might be quite different from the content of what we are being taught, which can be problematic on many levels.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Careers outside academia: After the science policy fellowship

I have been involved in discussions of non-academic careers (yes, it's problematic wording - substitute "diverse" or your favorite term of art as you wish) for longer than I'd like to admit. As a graduate student 10-15 years ago, I started a student section of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), my primary professional society. As a student, I also organized a career workshop for several years at the annual meeting, and the tradition continued beyond my tenure with the section (which is super awesomely active these days). Increasingly, I find myself on the same kinds of panels I once organized - including one at ESA this summer.

All about science outcomes - thoughts from the evaluation world

I had the opportunity this year to attend the 2013 annual meeting of the American Evaluation Association. For me it was a good insight into a different professional world. I’ve been exposed to evaluation concepts and done some metric level work, especially with the web and social media, and strategic goal setting and what-not, but nothing too rigorous. Increasingly though, evaluating programs and projects is part of my professional world and seems to be a good trifecta of skill when combined with science communication and project development. So, some intellectual grounding in the topic seemed useful.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Toward a more expansive view of being a scientist

So, I tried to write an editorial for a science journal this summer, and a few things about the experience were very interesting. First and foremost was the back and forth with the editor about whether or not what I had written about was actually "science". For me, this gets to the heart of the matter what it means to be a scientist and what is considered science (not to mention how hard it is to publish as a practitioner). I deeply believe that we need be more expansive in how we think about both.

Why I'm trying this blogging thing again

I am a scientist-practitioner specializing in issues related to the environment (a description of my actual work is here). There has to be a better way to describe my professional identity, but my inability to do so is, in my mind, reflective of the state of the field.