Have you ever read a word so many times that it lost all meaning to you?
The topic of impact was widely discussed at the science communication conference. How do we generate impact? Then, measuring impact. The impact of impact, if you will. As one of the biggest take-home messages from the conference, I think the impact of impact had quite a big impact on everyone. And this is where the word lost all meaning. The most useful analogy given at the conference in trying to assess a ‘high-impact’ topic was a bus, smashing into a pyramid of badgers.
But this isn’t what I want to talk about.
What I want to discuss is the impact of the conference on me.
To look at it simply, the conference was the bus, and I was the pyramid of badgers.
This was my first non-research conference, and my first conference as a lone delegate. And I’m not even a proper science communicator… yet. How the hell did I plan to fit in to such a place? With a lot of the sessions focussing on best practise (I don’t practise) and current issues facing the area (I’m not in the area yet, so I’m unaware of past issues), why the devil was I going and what did I hope to gain?
The answer was simple, I needed to know more!
I know that science communication is where I’m going. The only problem is that I don’t quite know which bit of it I’m going to, or how I’m going to get there. My plan at the conference was information gathering, specifically about the different aspects that make up science communication, i.e. the different jobs that people have. I was also intrigued about how they got into those jobs, their backgrounds, what previous experience qualified them to do the job that they do now.
Did I expect to get this information easily? Not really. My personal preparation for the conference involved attending a ‘making contacts’ workshop, where a lot of emphasis was placed on helping new contacts in some way, thinking about what you can do for a new contact when you meet them for the first time. I thought that trying to get information out of people when you have nothing to offer them would make me very unpopular, and that I would leave not much more well informed and a darned sight poorer.
The clue was in the title really. I’m a scientist, and they’re communicators. Duh! People frickin’ loved talking to me!
A smile, a friendly wave, a come-hither, and I was on information overload. People entertained every single awkward question I had to ask, whether they were in private during the networking sessions, or for everyone to hear during the seminars. And then some. After getting most of their CVs, people would start giving me advice about where I should be going, who I should be talking to, what I should be doing to improve my skills in the field (can you feel my skills improving… right now…BOOM!)
I’ve been left feeling like I have more of a plan. I have things I need to do, information I need to gather, places I need to visit, and a rough guide of when to do it by. A roadmap, if you will. And a timetable.
The people at the science communication conference were some of the most friendliest and most helpful people I’ve met so far. This first science communication conference will be one of the most memorable stops on my journey to becoming a science communicator.
While I’m still a physicist, though, (and loudmouth), I know that collisions are relative, and impact depends on your perspective. Have I dropped enough bus analogies yet? I was the bus, and those poor people I grilled for hours, preventing them from doing their own networking, were just badgers in a giant pyramid.
And I’d like to take the opportunity to thank them for their time.