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GeoSciences Column: Improving together – science writing and football

GeoSciences Column: Improving together – science writing and football

Writing is something that those pursuing a career in academia are expected to be good at. It is a requirement of the job, yet it is a skill few get any formal training in and simply rely on the old saying that practice makes perfect. But what if there is another way? Mathew Stiller-Reeve is a co-founder of ClimateSnack, a writing group organization, which aims to tackle the problem. In today’s post Mathew considers how the workings of a football team might reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project.

The premise behind the ClimateSnack project is simple: We need to improve our writing in science. But many young researchers do not have access to good training initiatives, especially not continuous ones. So, maybe we should just mobilize ourselves; we can mobilize ourselves by starting writing groups and working together to improve. In ClimateSnack, early career scientists (ECS) start writing groups at their home institute. Participants write short popular science articles (usually 400-500 words), read them aloud, get feedback, and publish online. Several ClimateSnack writing groups sprouted up all over the world, however, only a few truly blossomed. What made some groups work and some not? We analyzed the answer to this question in our new paper. The style of a peer-review paper didn’t allow us to make fancy, lengthy analogies. But on GeoLog, I feel safe using football as an analogy to explain the workings of a writing group, and maybe infuse some of my own personal opinions too.

Football is a team sport, but you can play football completely alone and still become an expert. You can see this when you watch football freestylers (like Indi Cowie in the video) do their incredible tricks. Most of these tricksters likely play football with a whole team, but they don’t have to. The same applies to science writing and communication. You can become an expert in these skills by yourself, and some people prefer this. But for ECS’s who like to work together, ClimateSnack would give them the opportunity to improve as part of a team: a writing group.

But what was needed for the teams to work successfully? And what did we learn from the teams that disbanded after a few training sessions?

Successful football teams have good leadership, and in particular good captains. Good captains bring out the best in their players, encourage them when things get hard and manage conflict. These elements were reflected in the ClimateSnack writing groups. The strong leaders guided the groups and encouraged participants to contribute in sensitive ways. However, strong leaders don’t stick around forever. Just as other football clubs often buy captains, writing group leaders also moved on; they finished PhDs and got jobs far, far away. New captains needed to be found, but this was always a challenge.

Can the workings of a football team reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project? Credit: Syaza , distributed via gify.

Can the workings of a football team reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project? Credit: Syaza , distributed via gify.

I am absolutely not saying that the leaders of the disbanded other groups were poor captains! Even a potentially good captain cannot lead a team if he/she doesn’t know the rules of the game. If the rules are not clear then the whole team cannot play properly together. They need to know where the goal is; they need to understand the game’s objectives. And this is where the ClimateSnack management team (where I am most to blame!) was shortsighted. We failed to properly communicate the objectives and aims of a ClimateSnack writing group and the writing process we suggested.

Even if a football team knows the rules and has a good captain, they won’t get far if morale is low, or if the players haven’t got time to train or turn up for matches. We noticed that a lot of the motivation within writing groups was linked to socializing. Just as some amateur football teams might go to the pub after training, one successful writing group planned their meetings just before the Department coffee break so everyone could socialize after the hard work was done.

What other elements need to be in place for a football team to work?

The right number of players is an absolute necessity. Most people have seen how a football team struggles after a couple of players have been sent off. You may have also heard about players going to other clubs if they don’t get to play enough matches. The ClimateSnack group meetings also faced challenges with the number of participants. One group had so many participants to start with that it became difficult to manage. It is difficult for everyone to get something out of a peer feedback discussion if too many are involved.  In this instance, participants lost interest and numbers decreased steadily and finally to a level where too few attended and the group disbanded. In our Bergen group, we always find that the best discussions happen with 4-6 people at the meetings. If we get far more than this in the future, then we will likely split into smaller discussion groups which work more effectively.

Effective writing groups demand some kind of time commitment from the participants. Good writing requires practice, just like football. Football players often train several times a week. With ClimateSnack, we did not have the luxury of asking the members for this level of commitment. Students are already under pressure from a variety of different sources. They need to complete mandatory courses, collect data, attend conferences, and work as teaching assistants. People who play football have a passion for the game and make time for it. Unfortunately, few young researchers have a passion for writing (cards on the table: I was exactly the same. It took a lot of time before I started enjoying writing). Therefore, something voluntary like a writing group will often fall by the wayside when to-do lists are being compiled.

A football team celebrates together after scoring a goal!

A football team celebrates together after scoring a goal! ( Lewes Ladies 2 BHA 1 4 May 2014. 645 , credit: James Boyes distributed via a href=” https://www.flickr.com/”> flickr).

Some ClimateSnack teams started scoring goals! ClimateSnack participants have published over 100 articles online, some of which articles have appeared in newspapers here in Norway. Many participants feel that their writing has improved. Some participants have even started receiving better peer reviews for their scientific publications. Other participants have also used their new network to organize science communication workshops. Even if many writing groups didn’t find a footing, for some people the concept worked really well. And many people have made good friends!

Just like with many football teams, they are more likely to score more goals if they have generous sponsors. Football clubs need to buy kits, pay for pitch maintenance and travel to play other teams. A writing group project like ClimateSnack ideally needs some funding to let new ideas flourish and allow different groups to interact and learn from each other. The ClimateSnack founders had big ambitions to create an international online community where ECS would interact and peer-review each other’s articles across borders. We secured some funding to update the website, but never to implement the kind of things needed to properly promote an international community.

Despite the challanges we encountered, we have seen that writing groups can be a really effective way to learn writing skills together (like ours in Bergen in the photo). Maybe they are so effective that universities should consider implementing them in curricula for all students at all levels. With this in mind, I’ll indulge with a final football-related analogy. When I was a child, we had to play football at school. I didn’t like it! However, now I appreciate that I got fit and healthier, and I learned skills that I could apply to other sports in the process. You see the link to learning basic writing skills?

Indeed, if you think about it, I could have applied the football team analogy to any aspect of research education: We can learn anything alone, but it can be more enjoyable and rewarding if we learn together. However, I think the analogy works well with communication. After all, this is the part of the research process where we really have to put ourselves out there, we have to receive feedback, debate our results, and defend our conclusions, often in open forums. These are all elements at the forefront of writing group dynamics.

Read more about the highs and lows of our ClimateSnack project in our paper in the recent HESS/NHESS special issue on Effective Science Communication and Education in Hydrology and Natural Hazards.

By Mathew Stiller-Reeve, co-founder of ClimateSnack and researcher at Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway

Reference

Stiller-Reeve, M. A., Heuzé, C., Ball, W. T., White, R. H., Messori, G., van der Wiel, K., Medhaug, I., Eckes, A. H., O’Callaghan, A., Newland, M. J., Williams, S. R., Kasoar, M., Wittmeier, H. E., and Kumer, V.: Improving together: better science writing through peer learning, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 2965-2973, doi:10.5194/hess-20-2965-2016, 2016.

Imaggeo on Mondays: counting stars

Imaggeo on Mondays: counting stars

This year’s imaggeo photo contest saw humdreds of great entries. Among the winning images was a stunning night-sky panorama by Vytas Huth. In today’s post, Vytas describes how he captured the image and how the remote location in Southern Germany is one of the few (in Europe) where it is still posssible to, clearly, image the Milk Way.

I took the image in October 2015, usually the last time of the year when it is possible to see the center of the Milky Way at night. It is a single exposure 50mm, f/1.8, iso6400, 6s and it was shot in the north-eastern German lowlands. Light pollution is little there since it is the least dense populated region of Germany with lakes and forests and clean fresh air. Many other areas of Central and Western Europe are heavily light polluted, and decent shots of the Milky Way can usually only be done high up in the mountains. Light pollution has been recognised as a problem since the early 80s and its adverse effects of light pollution affect human health, animal behavior and ecosystem functions.

However, even the area where this shot was taken is not free of light pollution, which can be seen by the orange glow at the bottom of the image resulting from nearby village lights. However, a proper amount of lighting is generally unneeded, with audits suggesting between 30-60 %. This indicates that a better managing of light not only reduces light pollution but also energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Last, but not least, everyone I know loves to watch the stars. Dark night skies are a cultural heritage, that man has looked upon for thousands of years, used as a calendar to prepare sowing and harvest or to navigate ships around the world’s oceans. For these reasons I believe that it is equally important to preserve dark skies as much as other elements of nature.

To put it into Bill Watterson’s words (creator of the famous comic series Calvin and Hobbes): “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night I bet they would live a lot differently.”

By Vytas Huth, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, University of Rostock, Germany

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

Conference posters: Most scientists spend tens (if not hundreds) of working hours perfecting their conference poster. There’s not just the science to think about, but also the design, the flow, the images, the language… The list is endless. Once complete, you print it, roll it up and feed it into the protective poster tube. Then you travel to the conference venue, whereupon you ‘compete’ with other scientist trying to stand-out from the crowd and entice fellow attendees to stop by your presentation, if only for a few minutes.

And then it is over, almost as quickly as it started. You pack up your poster to take back to your institution, to languish amongst the pile of other posters in a corner of your office. Best case scenario, you’ll revisit the electronic version when presenting on the same subject again and rework some elements. In all likelihood, the few hours of glory in the poster hall will be the climax of hours of hard work!

What if you could breathe a longer life into your poster? One which would mean you’ll reach audiences you never expected, while transforming your work into a brand new, useful product?

Today we speak to Sandra de Vries, a former master student, who also crafts posters into wearable garments, breathing a new lease of life into your scientific findings.

It all starts with a textile poster – where your presentation is printed on fabric as opposed to paper – which Sandra then turns into anything from a tie, to a tote bag, through to a skirt! The designs come complete with QR Codes, which people can scan to access the original presentation.

First, could you introduce yourself and tell our readers a little more about your background.

Hi, everybody! As a water ambassador during my studies, and currently working as project developer for the Valorisation Program Deltatechnology and Water, my interest for the water sector has been growing for a couple of years now. That brought me to my new job, where I just started working as IHP-HWRP Committee Secretary.

I take special interest in supporting and increasing innovative solutions in the water sector and creating awareness for the importance of water (on a national as well as international level) for which I helped set up the initiative Team Helder Water. I like to tackle challenges by being creative and enthusiastic about the solutions possible.

During my Water Management master at the Delft University of Technology I conducted research in the Mara River Basin – Kenia, Jakarta – Indonesia, and Ostional – Nicaragua. I conducted this research in cooperation with UNESCO-IHE, Deltares, and the research institute CIRA in Managua – Nicaragua, respectively. Living, travelling, and working abroad has created an interest of discovering other cultures and working together with them on challenging and global issues.

Repost is your initiative to turn textile posters into useable items. How did you come up with this original idea?

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

It actually all comes back to my time as an EGU conference assistant, during EGU2014 and 2015. For my work in the poster areas we were asked to remove all left-behind posters every evening. These are quite a few, and surprisingly, some posters turned out to be printed on textile instead of paper. After the first evening of throwing away perfectly nice posters that were only used for two effective hours, I discussed with a friend the waste of material, time, but especially effort. As I had been designing and making  clothes of my own for a couple of years, I started joking about keeping some of the textile versions. “I could make a dress out of it and perhaps a beach bag for you!”, I exclaimed to my friend. So at the end of the next day, instead of throwing away the textile posters, I started collecting them. Beautiful pieces of research, all of them!

In the year after EGU2014 I did what I promised my friend, and chose two posters to become a beach bag and a dress. Again, in 2015 I joined as an assistant, and this time it was even better, I was working at the hydrology poster area. This gave me an even better possibility to collect textile posters, which often showed topics of my own interest! And during the Delft hydrology dinner in Vienna (every year organised by the division), I wore the dress made out of a poster from EGU2014. This resulted in really enthusiastic reactions, which only increased my own enthusiasm for the idea. After EGU2015 I created a couple of aprons which were used during the hydrology fieldwork of my master, and a pencil skirt for my own thesis defence. Of course with all topics matching that of my own thesis. And finally, I created the tie, a present for my supervisor Prof. Hubert Savenije.

Is the process of turning the posters into clothing items difficult? What does the process involve?

As you might imagine, posters are printed on a textile that is best compared to canvas. This is pretty stiff fabric, and for sure not everything can be made out of it. The first dress I made is actually the best example for this. I was not incredibly satisfied because the inflexible fabric did not allow for a nice fit. I also broke many a needle in my sewing machine, since the fabric is often thicker than normal fabric. So the product-possibilities depend on the type of fabric, and the thickness of the textile posters have thus far influenced my product choices.

The next step is like designing any other piece of clothes or accessories. You need to design a 2D-pattern that shows you which pieces of fabric you need to create a 3D product. In case of clothing, which naturally should also fit a person, one needs to take into account different clothing sizes.

You include QR codes in all the items you make, why is it such a unique feature?

The extra highlight of our product, especially interesting for researchers, is indeed the QR-code attached to the product. This QR-code redirects to the original poster of the author. Imagine the extra publicity you can create for your work in this manner!

Cutting up the poster in order to REmake it, can create a loss of the information contained in the poster. By including the QR-code we ensure to REpost the work to anybody who might be interested by what is shown on the clothing or accessories.

Which items have you enjoyed creating the most and why?

I still remember the first time people saw the beach bag I made for my friend. Everybody was enthusiastic, envying her for her new bag. This was very surprising for me, I had not expected that others would like the idea as much as I enjoyed it.

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

I am most proud of the pencil skirt I made. When I started creating it, I was not even sure if it would work out, and I wanted it to be perfect to use it for my own thesis defence. Eventually, it turned out to be great, and so original that I was asked by people where I bought it!

What next for REpost? Do you plan on pursuing this as a business where anyone can purchase items you’ve made?

Yes, definitely! It started out as a nice fun hobby and project. Now, after having talked to many people, I believe this has more potential than just keeping it for myself. Together with my sister Maria, we are finding ways to increase production, incorporate the QR-code and bring this to a higher level. To make it easier for you in the future, we’re actually in contact with conference organizers  to incorporate this choice into the digital registration procedure.

If this sounds interesting to you as a poster-author and you’re planning to print on textile, contact us via our email address repost.poster@gmail.com or check our facebook page repost poster!

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

GeoPolicy: How do Members of European Parliament learn about science?

Only ~5% of Members of European Parliament, or MEPs, have a background in the physical sciences1, yet many political challenges require an understanding of the science surrounding these issues. Issues such as locating and extracting mineral resources, understanding climate change impacts, and developing new low-carbon technology. The European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP) have structures in place to ensure drafted policy can be supported using scientific evidence. This GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at how the EP gathers and requests scientific evidence.

 

The EC and the EP have different mechanisms to ensure policy workers and MEPs are briefed on scientific material. The EC conducts in-house scientific research within the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and has recently constructed the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to ensure that the latest academic research is heard. This post focuses on how science supports the EP as last month’s GeoPolicy post discussed SAM in more detail.

There are 751 MEPs (including the UK) within the EP. All MEPs are required to sit on at least one of the 20 committees that focus on a particular area of governance. Each committee is responsible for assessing legislation proposals and negotiating edits to legislation with the Council of the EU. Additionally, they can organise meetings with experts and commission internal reports that focus on their relevant policy areas. A full list of the EP committees is shown below.

 

EP Committees
AFET Foreign Affairs EMPL Employment and Social Affairs CULT Culture and Education
DROI Human Rights ENVI Environment, Public Health and Food Safety JURI Legal Affairs
SEDE Security and Defence ITRE Industry, Research and Energy LIBE Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
DEVE Development IMCO Internal Market and Consumer Protection AFCO Constitutional Affairs
INTA International Trade TRAN Transport and Tourism FEMM Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
BUDG Budgets REGI Regional Development PETI Petitions
CONT Budgetary Control AGRI Agriculture and Rural Development
ECON Economic and Monetary Affairs PECH Fisheries
 Special committees
TAX2 Tax Rulings and Other Measures Similar in Nature or Effect (TAXE 2)
 Committees of inquiry
EMIS Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector

PANA Money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion

 

 

The European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)

The EPRS is the in-house research centre for the European Parliament (not to be confused with the JRC who are the in-house research service for the European Commission).  If science communication within the EP were a concert taking place in a park, the EPRS is the gazebo in which the band is playing. They operate as the main provider of science to the EP; usually carrying out secondary research or commissioning primary research in response to requests made by MEPs, committees or other EP bodies. They also carry out joint projects with the JRC for example the Science Meets Parliaments scheme (see below).

Many of their subsequent reports and resources are available online for the general public to read. Additionally, they have an active blog in which they post a variety of different types of articles3. These include updates on ongoing legislation being drafted by the EU, information briefings about a science policy topic, more in-depth analyses, infographics, and factsheets.

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages. )

An infographic showing the continental contributions of historical CO2 emissions available on the EPRS Graphics Warehouse webpages.

 

Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA)

MEP committee representatives can sit on cross-committee panels, which look at interdisciplinary topics. The Science and Technology Options Assessment, or STOA, is a cross-committee panel that focuses on providing Parliament’s Committees and other parliamentary bodies with independent and impartial scientific advice for science-related issues. The panel was established in 1987 and is made up of 23 MEPs that span eight permanent Committees of the Parliament: AGRI, CULT, EMPL, ENVI, IMCO, ITRE, JURI and TRAN. STOA also employs secretariat staff to help with projects and events2.

STOA (who meet monthly) have budget to fund research projects totalling 650,000 euros per year. Together with the EPRS they fund more substantial projects to provide scientific evidence for topics of policy-relevance. A study can have a maximum amount of 100,000 euros funding.

STOA work very closely with the EPRS. Together, the types of projects conducted are:

  • Impact Assessments. These usually have a timeframe of <1 year and a resulting report is written for the requesting committee.
  • Technology Assessments have a shorter time frame. The usual result is a short report summarising the current state of affairs for a specific topic.
  • Scientific Foresight Unit carries out projects that look at 30-50 years into the future. Activities include horizon scanning, scenario building, and legislative back-casting (to accomplish an end goal, i.e. 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, what legislature is needed in the near future to achieve this).
  • Short written documents include “awareness documents” and “What If” documents, which are all available on the EPRS blog.
  • The Scientists-MEPs pairing scheme entitled Science Meets Parliaments, which is co-organised by the Joint Research Centre. This year there was over 30 pairs and there are already plans to hold the scheme again in late 2016. A summary of the experience can been found here.
  • Discussion workshops in which external experts can be called into present scientific research on a particular topic. Previous topics have been on volcanic eruptions and mitigation of earthquake effects.

Current projects being conducted focus on ‘future agriculture’ (precision farming), ‘assistive tech for the disabled’, and ‘3D printing and additive manufacturing’. Possible future topics will cover: energy resistance, employments, new technologies, regional policy, and language development within the information era.

 

Sources

1 – http://www.eubusiness.com/Members/michaelterberg/MEPs

2 – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/cms/home/panel

3 – https://epthinktank.eu/about/

 

 

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