I feel incredibly lucky to be living in Melbourne right now – the weather’s suspiciously stunning, I can walk from where I’m living to my office and I can indulge in the entire Melbourne International Comedy Festival season.
I’m in a writing groove, averaging about 1000 words a day. This would have seemed challenging at the start of my PhD, but now that I’ve reached the other side of the gaping canyon that is the middle of a PhD, I can look into the chasm and use it as inspiration, rather than feeling paralyzed with vertigo. Now I’ve plenty to say and unlike at the start of my research, I can draw on others’ work to back it up.
I’m also feeling like less of an impostor as a Visiting Scholar at Melbourne Law School, after being a guest speaker in Global Governance, participating in a day-long intensive about governance of REDD+, drawing on my recent experiences living in Asia. I was able to raise awareness of indigenous peoples’ concerns about how international agreements are being implemented, while having fascinating discussions about forest and development governance with Masters students from places including Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan and Palestine. Thanks to the inspirational Margaret Young for asking me to be involved.
To balance my serious PhD work, I’m also delighted to be participating in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s professional development program for funny women this coming weekend.
I’m back in Australia! I have much updating to do, but here’s a quick note to report that I’m based in Melbourne for the next while. The University of Melbourne have kindly accepted me as a Visiting Scholar within Melbourne Law School, allowing me a room of one’s own (or a carrel of one’s own at least) and access to wonderful resources, which should allow me to finish writing my PhD in the coming months. The first peer-reviewed paper emerging from my PhD has finally been published earlier this month (DOI: 10.1177/2158244014523791). I went to great lengths to make it open access, so please enjoy reading it paywall-free!
I was under contractual obligations to limit public comment related to my work during the last year, which impacted this site. Those same contractual obligations meant I had to take leave from my PhD for a year to do the very interesting things I did, hence I’m coming back to it now. It was a profound year that changed my views of the world, in which I did many novel things. They included riding a motorbike in Thailand hundreds of kilometres, helping indigenous peoples to produce a comic book about human rights, presenting about Wikipedia and women in technology in Cambodia with Khmer translators, and helping organise a dance flashmob for women’s rights as part of One Billion Rising.
I’m still processing how all of these experiences inform my life now and dealing with some reverse culture-shock. I’m lucky to have a space to focus in Melbourne that is allowing me to segue into the post-PhD chapter of my life…
I’m now working as a freelance consultant while working on my PhD – recent projects include:
- a deliberative discussion about public perceptions of climate change;
- comedy and improvisational theatre (I mention upcoming projects, including science impro, in this Science on Top podcast);
- Science Rewired;
- my last project before resigning from RiAus about the mathematics of Alice in Wonderland.
I’ll be performing regularly in the 2013 Adelaide Fringe – information about some of those shows will appear here later.
I wrote this article for RiAus while I worked there.
I’ve recently returned from a round-the-world adventure, presenting at several conferences and workshops about my PhD research and exploring along the way.
During my adventures I was lucky enough to visit some of the world’s coolest places that do science-art projects, as well as compare notes with some people working in these spaces internationally.
While I was in California I visited the Exploratorium and was enthralled by their tinkering studio. I spent a good ten minutes playing with their oscylinderscope. Even though I know I perceive music when sound waves tickle hairs in my ears, there was something compelling and affirming about seeing this at the same time as hearing it. We’ve done some cool music-themed things in the past at RiAus and I hope to see something about the physics of music happen in the future.
I also visited Noisebridge, a hackerspace in San Francisco that blew me away. They had a collection of 3D printers just sitting around that dwarfed the collection we had at our 3D printing workshop with ANAT. They also have a dedicated sewing room, woodwork room and bike wall (pictured) – so much space!
It made me appreciate how awesome Hackerspace Adelaide is, given the limited real-world space and resources. I guess that’s why lots of projects end up happening out and about, like our Tour Down Under project in 2011.
I moved from the new-world technological frontier of California to a place steeped in science history – Florence. There I visited Museo Galileo and La Specola, fundamental to the history of astronomy and anatomy respectively. La Specola was fascinatingly creepy, while I found Museo Galileo profoundly educational for me personally.
I visited Museo Galileo fresh from talking about evaluation of science engagement at the Public Communication of Science and Technology conference, which made me more mindful of how I was engaging with the museum. At the moment I’m particularly interested in observational, ethnographic approaches to evaluating engagement, so was thinking about what someone might report from observing me interacting in the museum. I’m also interested in how engagement activities reinforce (or contradict) each other – and realised my own personal experience at Museo Galileo related to this.
e project, I worked with mathematicians and scientists to develop the interpretive signage for the final exhibition – as well as learning to crochet to contribute to the project as an artist. I was much more comfortable with the environmental science and biology in the project, so spent more time trying to get my head around the idea of hyperbolic space with mathematicians David Butler and Simon Pampena who kindly helped out on the project.
In the final, interactive section of Museo Galileo, I came to an exhibit (pictured). Had I not been involved with the hyperbolic crochet project last year, I may have quickly glanced at it, pressed a button, then moved on. As it was, I spent a good ten minutes there. I pressed the buttons that moved the cone mostly full of water around, which changed the type of curve within. I tried to integrate in my brain how the level of water moving within a cone related to my understanding of hyperbolic space from the crochet project last year.
It would have been clear to anyone observing that I was engaged with the exhibit. I spent longer at the exhibit than others who passed through the whole room while I was there. However if people had been observing alone they would never have known why I engaged with the exhibit. Yes, this exhibit in Italy clearly stimulated my genuine learning about mathematics. However this learning built on my prior learning about mathematics through a craft project in Australia. In my evaluation research I’m interested in the steps that people take between projects that lead to more active citizens or more aware people, so it was profoundly useful to understand these steps within myself.
I went on from Florence to London, where there are too many amazing people and places doing science-art projects to mention. Keeping on the crafty theme, there are some people doing projects beyond London that I met who inspired me.
Something that appealed to me as a potential project for our 300+ group of science-art crafters involved in the RiAus Adelaide Reef is the Knit a Neuron project, created by Helen Featherstone and Anne Cooke.
This project appealed because, like the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, it allows people to contribute an individually crafted piece which, combined with others, forms a new entity. Through creating their individual pieces crafters can learn some science or maths about what they’re crafting. Then the final exhibition gives everyone – viewers and crafters – something new to learn about, which in the UK version was the science of brain injuries and stroke.
I also had a great time throwing around crafty ideas with Julia Collins, who’s a doctor of knots at the University of Edinburgh. She does an awesome range of projects there now. We enthused about Vi Hart and got excited about the possibility of doing crafty maths projects for the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the same year – fringe festivals across hemispheres united through math and yarn!
Moving from yarn to other festive things – I was lucky enough to be in Paris for the launch of the science humour exhibition (pictured) at Espace des Sciences Pierre-Gilles de Gennes in Paris.
Even if you don’t speak French, if you can follow enough to click on ‘visionnez les blagues’ on this site you can discover a trove of science cartoons. I contributed by sharing my favourite cartoon and explaining why I liked it on a note – that cartoon and explanation are now part of the exhibition. I would love to see this participatory project happen in the RiAus FutureSpace Gallery down the track.
I’m currently in Florence, Italy for PCST2012. I’ve been presenting here on evaluating public engagement with science. I’m also involved in developing the new PCST postgraduate researchers network, which has emerged from a meeting at the European University Institute the day before the conference. A strong theme from the meeting was the need for more accessible information about projects happening and people working in PCST internationally.
That theme has been reiterated within the PCST conference itself. The issue of accessibility came to a head during a plenary yesterday afternoon about the journal Public Understanding of Science, with reflections from past and current editors on its history and future.
In question time, Alice Bell brought up the elephant in the room by angrily critiquing the editors’ attitudes to open access, to which Martin Bauer responded with some valid points about challenges in open access, such as the impact on authors from developing countries.
I’ve made a Storify of some of the tweets from the session, to give you a flavour of what went down.
As a result of yesterday’s session – along with my internal ethical deliberations in recent months – I’ve decided to start boycotting Public Understanding of Science.
I’ll still read it – I have to, it’s one of the main journals in my field – but I’m going to take a risk in my academic career and instead focus on contributing to open access journals, even if they’re lower-impact.
I hope it will lead to change. Here’s a copy of the email I sent withdrawing my submission to PUS this morning:
——– Original Message ——–
From: “Cobi Smith” <email@example.com>
Date: Apr 20, 2012
Subject: Re: PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE – Decision on Manuscript ID PUS-11-0135
Dear Professor Bauer,
thank you again for your consideration of my paper ‘Public engagement in prioritising research proposals: an experiment’, manuscript ID: PUS-11-0135, for inclusion in Public Understanding of Science.
I was delighted when I received your recommendation to revise and resubmit. This is the first paper I’ve submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, emerging from my PhD research. I was prepared for rejection, so to be given constructive feedback and the opportunity to resubmit was a welcome surprise.
I appreciated the reviewer’s comments, because they reinforced my own doubts about my original submission and prompted me to address them. They also guided me towards literature that I’d not yet come across during my PhD which has been a valuable addition to my knowledge base.
However part of the reason I’m yet to resubmit is my concern about Public Understanding of Science failing to move towards an open access publication model. My research, like many in the community of academics contributing to PUS, is about public access to and involvement in scientific knowledge. So I feel I have an ethical obligation to ensure that my own research and knowledge is shared in a way that is publicly accessible.
I had submitted my paper to PUS in September, and in the time between when I submitted and received your feedback I participated in Open Access Week. Being a panelist for Open Access Week in October strengthened my resolve to only work with open access journals, however when I received your promising feedback I said at the time that I would take up your offer to revise and resubmit.
However I now wish to withdraw my paper for consideration from PUS so I can instead submit it for publication in an open access journal. This decision has been prompted by my participation in the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference, specifically the session in which you and past editors of PUS discussed the journal’s history and future.
I understand your concerns about the impact of moving towards an author-pays model of open access on authors from developing countries. I also appreciate the costs involved in running a journal, including the peer review service which I’ve benefited from, as I mentioned earlier. However I think more weight needs to be given to ensuring that research in public engagement with science is open and accessible to those who may use it. This includes many practitioners in museums, governments and non-profit organizations who don’t currently have access to research about and for them – as well as the overwhelming majority of people in the developing world.
I hope that my boycott will be an incentive for those managing PUS to more thoroughly and seriously explore possibilities for moving towards an open access model of publication. I know many people who were in the PCST plenary will be interested to see how PUS follows up from criticisms raised in the session. I’ve mentioned Open Access Week in October to highlight it as an opportune time for PUS to revisit the issue.
My own research and practice has been heavily influenced by the community of academics contributing to PUS. So I genuinely hope that I will be able to contribute to PUS in the future, when such contributions will be accessible to all who may have use for them.
Another Update: The paper I withdrew from Public Understanding of Science is now published – it’s open access :)
I wrote this article about my Adacamp experience for RiAus when I worked there.
Recently I was honoured to attend the first-ever AdaCamp, an ‘unconference’ for women in open technology, hosted by The Ada Initiative at the CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne. I was attending this during my holidays with no particular affiliation; however it became evident throughout the day that the conference had relevance to my role at RiAus in many ways.
This conference preceded linux.conf.au, an open technology conference, but was specifically for women. Why? For reasons the Ada Initiative was set up to address. Women are underrepresented in the technology industry – which is why RiAus has hosted activities such as the WIT luncheon late last year. Most starkly, women make up less than 2% ofparticipants in open source projects. Given that RiAus is about bringing science (including computer science) to people and people to science, this is an issue of concern. Open philosophies align well with the RiAus raison d’être, as they allow people of all types and backgrounds to benefit from the wonders of science. Last year I presented on a panel at Flinders University library during open access week. Whether it’s open access to research or open source technology there are shared principles — which was the theme of one of the AdaCamp sessions, captured here.
One of the first sessions at AdaCamp was dedicated to the impostor syndrome, which afflicts women in science as much as women in open technology (everybody in the session, including myself, identified with this). I added to that wiki a feature in Nature about the impostor syndrome in women scientists. Speaking of which, women are underrepresented as editors of Wikipedia. Have you ever used Wikipedia? Have you ever contributed to it? I had, but it never occurred to me to identify as an editor until I heard that women were underrepresented – and there’s a mailing list about that.
One of the best things about AdaCamp was meeting some amazing women from around Oceania and beyond who are using their passion to defy stereotypes of who participates in open projects. You can see a photo of us, and read blog posts from other participants, here. AdaCamp stood out for me from other conferences because everyone participated and seemed to really want to go beyond the conference and drive things out in the real world (thanks in part, I’m sure, to the ‘unconference’ format). I found it useful to identify potential speakers and presenters for future RiAus programs, and to get ideas for projects that could work in other organisations I’ve been involved with, such as Hackerspace Adelaide.
It also made me look at whether women are represented in technology projects RiAus is involved with, such as the upcoming 3D Printing workshop, which will indeed feature an exceptional woman in technology — Dr Genevieve Bell from Intel.
This is a quick note to report that I’ve moved back to Austalia to work for the Royal Institution of Australia, as Science in society facilitator, with funding from the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. My role is about implementing the Inspiring Austalia strategy at the state level, working with the South Australian Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology.
I’m still researching participatory science and policy processes for my PhD at ANU, details of which are here: http://cpas.anu.edu.au/person/cobi-smith
For the moment the best way to keep track of what I’m working on is probably via Twitter.