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.