ScienceOnline grows up, and I meet it for first time

Jan 23, 2013

ScienceOnline2013, the annual science-and-the-web conference, starts in a week. It’s going to be grand, stimulating and far reaching, building on the success of the past and with the addition this year of hundreds of others gathering at nearly two dozen Watch Parties around the world.

On his Popperfont blog, scientist Dave Ng posted his Getting organized for #scio13 list of goals for ScienceOnline2013. Others have followed suit (see a growing list of blog posts, articles and other mentions). Like them, I’m very much looking forward to the conference. I was at each of the previous six, but in many ways, this seventh will be my first.

From the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference 2007 through ScienceOnline2012 last year, I have been intimately involved as co-founder and co-organizer, so much so that I never really got to be a participant in the conferences. I explored this, in part, in my post-scio12 essay, Triptych: three reasons for me being me.

I get sheer joy from seeing our attendees enjoy the conference, learning and discussing and strengthening their connections. But I don’t get to attend or enjoy in the same way. My satisfaction comes from seeing friendships form, careers blossom, conversations start or continue or broaden, kindness amplify.

Seeing the many hours over many years that Bora and I (and later, Karyn) put into this volunteer effort, Erin recognized the stress it put on us organizers. She often lovingly asked me, “Do you enjoy doing this? Are you having fun?” She would urge me to track my time so I could really understand that ScienceOnline was a second (unpaid) job on top of my professional job, and that that effort needed to be balanced with my health, work, family and other obligations. Her sending me away for a weekend writing retreat led to an important personal epiphany.

“This is my volunteer mission,” I reported back to Erin. “I do this because I get immense satisfaction from bringing people together.” The community responses to this passion — glowing and thoughtful blog posts, detailed feedback forms, unexpected thank you notes (Glendon Mellow handed me a card one year, and I still carry it around with me) and verbal compliments — have been, well, priceless.

My family, like the spouses and children of Bora and Karyn, have given their unconditional love and support all along, and in their own way they have been an important part of ScienceOnline. They stuffed swag bags, shuttled attendees, delivered cookies and Locopops treats to the conference venue, attended keynote talks and celebration dinners, and taught me a thing or two about grace. For them, I made use of the Duke Personal Assistance Service, began to take daily walks, found a more satisfying job and returned to writing in my diary. Bora and I regularly talked about the future of ScienceOnline, and ways to make it a sustainable effort. We suspected that a dedicated nonprofit organization would be best, yet it would take a few years to get to that.

Instead of cutting back and giving ourselves a break, we followed the community’s wishes and kept going — and then made ScienceOnline even bigger. Karyn joined the ScienceOnline planning committee, ScienceOnline2012 was a huge success, and the three of us knew it was time to form the organization. With pro bono help from Erin’s law firm — following in the steps of so many other organizations and individuals who have given time, effort, money and other resources to ScienceOnline through the years — and pledges of support from two foundations, we submitted the North Carolina and IRS paperwork, and cheered when ScienceOnline became official. That’s why we had plenty to toast last week when we sipped our DIY slivovitz.

Still, I’ve been waking up each morning with a jolt, thinking I’m supposed to be responsible for the conference, the one chasing down the details, the one making the decisions. Then I remember that that’s Karyn’s job now (Bora, we’re job creators! Karyn, you’re an executive!), and I happily realize I don’t have the chest pain that sent me to clinic last year for an EKG (heartburn only), and that this is the way I wanted it to be. Now I’m chairman of the board, responsible for leading an organization and supporting the community in a whole new way. What an awesome, and energizing, way to start each day.

Looking back at Bora’s blog post on the eve of the first conference, I can’t help but feel amazed at what our coffee conversation has led to. The first comment on that post asks about livestreaming at a time when we were just worried about getting people at the conference to talk, and now ScienceOnline has grown into this entity with a board and a director and all those watch parties and satellite groups forming around the world. Wow! ScienceOnline, what have you become?!

Looking ahead, I’m super excited about what we, the ScienceOnline community, are going to accomplish together, starting with ScienceOnline2013. The eagerness of scio13 attendees to get to Raleigh to begin those conversations and festivities is infectious. Just watch the Twitter stream.

My goals for ScienceOnline2013
So, as I get ready for the conference next week, I breathe deeply and prepare to dive into the event in a personally new and exciting way. It almost feels like I’ll be a first-time participant. Here’s what I hope to do at the conference:

  1. Say hi to old friends, exchange handshakes and hugs, meet new friends, thank one and all for their part in making ScienceOnline such a splendidly rich and supportive community.
  2. Take part in the discussion sessions, connect with others in the Figshare Cafe and have fun at the evening parties. Listen more than I talk. Learn and observe. Help where I can.
  3. Find 10 tools, examples or strategies for improving how we communicate the science and research of the Duke Department of Medicine.
  4. Find at least three people with whom I can collaborate on a project, activity, or initiative.
  5. Have a ton of fun and dance Gangnam Style.
  6. Beam. With. Pride.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC