O'Really?

February 4, 2013

On becoming a STEMnet ambassador: What, why and how?

A piece of raspberry pie

Creative Commons licensed picture of a DayGlo Raspberry Pi by @kevinv033 on Flickr

STEMNet is an organisation in the UK which creates opportunities to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Recently, along with about 15 PhD students from the CDT in Manchester, I became an STEM Ambassador. This post briefly describes what STEMNet is all about, why you would want to get involved and how you can do so.

What is STEMNet?

STEMnet is a network of volunteers (STEM ambassadors) who help schools and teachers by providing extra support in the classroom to teach topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teachers can ask the network for all kinds of help, it might be, for example:

  • role models to do a Day in the Life of… session (e.g. Astronaut, Star Gazer, Genetic Engineer, Roboticist etc)
  • help with a Raspberry Pi workshop
  • support running a Science club
  • demonstrations of interesting technology that might not normally be available in school
  • et cetera

Ambassadors (who have been vetted by the DBS) respond to teacher requests or propose their own ideas. Ambassadors commit to doing at least one education or outreach event per year, and often end of doing more. Interesting and varied learning experiences usually follow.

Why you should get involved

There are plenty of reasons to get involved in STEMnet:

  • It can be great fun working with young people.
  • The world would probably be a BetterPlace™ if we had more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. STEMNet is working towards achieving this important goal.
  • Schools and teachers need all the help they can get in the classroom, teaching is a challenging but important job.
  • If you think you’re a nifty communicator, there’s nothing quite like a classroom full of teenagers (or younger) for testing your theory.
  • Join an active and diverse network of around 30,000 ambassadors across the UK

How to get involved

Contact your friendly local STEMnet co-ordinator if you would like to become a STEM Ambassador. For Greater Manchester, that’s the good folk based at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI): Daniel O’Connell and Donna Johnson (featured in the video below).

We’ve got some exciting new projects planned via STEMNet, in addition to what’s already going on at cs.manchester.ac.uk/schools. Watch this space!

May 18, 2012

Web analytics: Numbers speak louder than words

Two hundo! by B. Rosen

Two hundred light painting by B. Rosen, via  Flickr available by Creative Commons license

According to the software which runs this site, this is the 200th post here at O’Really To mark the occasion, here are some stats via WordPress with thoughts and general navel-gazing analysis paralysis [1] on web analytics. It all started just over six years ago at nodalpoint with help from Greg Tyrelle, the last four years have been WordPressed with help from Matt Mullenweg. WordPress stats are unfortunately very primitive compared to the likes of Google Analytics and don’t give you access to the server log files either. WordPress probably flatters to deceive by exaggerating page views and encouraging users to post more content, but it doesn’t count self-visits to the blog. Despite all the usual limitations of the murky underworld of web analytics and SEO, here are the stats, warts and all.

As of May 2012, this blog is just shy of 200,000 page views in total with 500+ comments (genuine) comments and 100,000+ spam comments nuked by the Akismet filter. The busiest day so far was the 15th February 2012 with 931 views of a post in a single day which got linked to by the Wall Street Journal. The regular traffic is pretty steady around the 1,000 views per week (~4000 views per month) mark. Most readers come from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany (jawohl! in that order) which breaks down as follows:

Top posts: What people read when they get here

The most popular pages here are as follows:

Page Views
Home page / Archives 33,977
Impact Factor Boxing 2010 17,267
Impact Factor Boxing 2009 10,652
How many journal articles have been published? 7,181
Impact Factor Boxing 2011 6,635

Are we obsessed with dodgy performance metrics like journal impact factors? I’m not, honest guv’, but lots of people on t’interwebs clearly are.

Top search terms: How people get here

The search engines send traffic here through the following search terms:

Search terms Views
plos biology impact factor 2010 3,175
impact factor 2010 1,631
impact factor 1,589
plos biology impact factor 1,566
impact factor 2009 1,333

Is there a correlation between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Impact Factor (IF)? Probably. Will it ever stop? Probably not.

Referrals: Spread the link love

It’s not just search engines that send you traffic…

Referrer Views
Search Engines 16,339
cs.man.ac.uk 4,654
Twitter 2,334
friendfeed.com 2,262
flickr.com 2,077
researchblogging.org 1,904
en.wordpress.com 1.037

… social media (twitter, friendfeed, flickr, researchblogging and wordpress etc) refers nearly as much traffic as the search engines do. I fit the demographic of bloggers previously described [1]: male, educated and a life scientist.

Top five clicks: How people leave

This is what people are clicking on:

URL Clicks
isiknowledge.com/JCR 914
feeds2.feedburner.com/oreally 407
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_on_arrival 396
aps.org/publications/apsnews/200811/zero-gravity.cfm 363
plosbiology.org 305

Dear Thomson Reuters, you should have an associates scheme like Amazon. I’m advertising your commercial product (Journal Citation Reports) for free! I’m far too kind, please send me a generous cheque immediately for my troubles or I will remove all links to your product.

Lots of people looking for the lyrics of the Friends sitcom jingle don’t know what “Your love life’s D.O.A.” means. Glad to be of service.

Conclusions

Traffic here is fairly modest compared to some blogs, but is still significant and to my mind justifies the time spent blogging. It is great fun to blog, and like most things in life, it can be very time consuming to do well. There is a long way to go before reaching the 10,000 hours milestone, maybe one day.

What people are actually interested in reading, and what you think they will be interested in reading are often two completely different things. Solo blogging has disadvantages and it’s been very tempting to try and join one of the many excellent blogging collectives like PLoS Blogs, Occam’s Typewriter or the Guardian science blogs. For the meantime though, going it alone on a personal domain name has it’s advantages too.

So, if you’ve read, commented or linked to this site, thank you very much. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy writing them. Like smartphones and wifi, it’s hard to imagine life without blogs and bloggers.

References

  1. Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J., & Thelwall, M. (2012). Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information PLoS ONE, 7 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035869

May 10, 2012

The Lovelock Laboratory: A fantasy workplace in the West Country

έροτας : love, as described by an implicit heart curve (x²  + y²  − 1)³ − x² y³ = 0

An equation of love (x² + y² − 1)³ − x² y³ = 0

Former Mancunian James Lovelock runs the kind of a laboratory most scientists can only fantasise about working in as they grind through the humdrum bureaucracy of peer-review and never-ending grant applications. Lovelock is fortunate enough to run a completely independent, self-funded lab located in the beautiful West Country. There’s a fascinating interview with him on The Life Scientific with Jim Al-Khalili where he says lots of interesting things about elocution lessons, nuclear power, climate change and his grand theory of planet earth, Gaia [1,2,3]. When asked, he also made this interesting comment about being an indepedendent scientist [4]:

“It’s the most wonderful thing to do [being independent]. I keep on saying that scientists are just like artists if they are creative. If you were an artist, would you want to spend your life in an institute for fine art, quibbling with other academics about the different styles of painting? You’d rather be in your garage doing your masterpiece and selling a lot of art to some tourists to pay the way. That’s been my life as a scientist. ”

The audio file of the broadcast is available for download or just click on the play icon below:

So to become a truly independent scientist, you either need to win the lottery, nobel prize or possibly invent the modern equivalent of electron capture detection to bankroll running a lab from the bottom of your garden.

Well if nothing else, it’s an entertaining fantasy to while away dull moments in the real world…

References

  1. James Lovelock (2009). The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning ISBN:1846141850, Penguin
  2. Andrew Watson (2009). Final warning from a sceptical prophet: James Lovelock fears that humanity faces widespread death and mass migration as Earth’s systems become further unbalanced by climate change Nature, 458 (7241), 970-971 DOI: 10.1038/458970a
  3. John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin (2009) He Knew He Was Right: The Irrepressible Life of James Lovelock and Gaia, ISBN:1846140161, Allen Lane
  4. Matthew Reisz (2012) Free-range thinkers: Independent scholars can confound, complement and challenge the work of their campus counterparts. Times Higher Education

March 15, 2012

Be nice to nerds … you may end up working for them

Thought for the day: be nice to nerds because you might end of up working for them.

This sound advice comes from DARPA defector and newly appointed Googler Regina Dugan (see picture below).

Regina Dugan by Steve Jurvetson

What’s that you say? You’re not sure exactly what a nerd is? There are many definitions but the graphic below sums it up better than the Oxford English Dictionary ever could.

Are you a nerd, geek, dork or dweeb?

But beware! Many self-confessed nerds may actually be dorks, dweebs or geeks. It’s a grey area out there in the Venn of Nerdery, not quite as clear cut as the diagram above. To be sure of treating nerds right, you’ll need to be nice to dorks, dweebs and geeks too! See video for details…

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Regina Dugan at TED via Steve Jurvetson]

September 22, 2011

I Can’t Get No Job Satisfaction

I can't get no satisfaction

Rock and Roll: The ultimate in job satisfaction?

Job satisfaction is like a complex mathematical equation that needs to be balanced. There are many factors that contribute to the mix, both good and bad. Hopefully the good things about a job will outweigh the bad. But what are the good things that contribute to the elusive but crucial job satisfaction?

Daniel Pink, argues that motivation is key to job satisfaction. If you provide the right motivations to people in an organisation, not always large financial ones [1], then their job satisfaction is more likely. According to Pink, the three key motivations are:

  1. Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed.
  2. Mastery: The urge to get better at doing things and be recognised for it
  3. Purpose: The sense that your work makes a difference and maybe even makes the world a better place somehow.

Pink explains how these factors work in another one of those beautifully animated RSA videos below:

So if like Mick and Keith, you can’t get no (job) satisfaction [2], it’s probably worth aiming for more autonomy, mastery and purpose in your work.

References

  1. Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Loewenstein, G., & Mazar, N. (2009). Large Stakes and Big Mistakes Review of Economic Studies, 76 (2), 451-469 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-937X.2009.00534.x
  2. Jagger, M. & Richards, K. (1965) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction Decca Records

November 2, 2010

Standing on the shoulders of tyrants

Newton (after Blake), by Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library Piazza by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr.There are at least two ways of looking at the history of Science:

  1. If we have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
  2. If we have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of tyrants.

Take Isaac Newton for example, a giant whose shoulders we all stand on today. During his scientific career he employed plenty of tyranny to get ahead. While devising his calculus Newton had a bitter rivalry with his contemporary Leibniz where he exploited his position of power and influence at the Royal Society [1] to discredit his opponents work. Newton was evidently no gentle giant.

Over at the BBC, Marcus du Sautoy charts some of this murky political territory in the first episode of his entertaining Brief History of Mathematics series. The rest of the programmes introduce some of the other colourful personalities involved in the history of “the queen of the sciences”.

So if Newton is anything to go by, many of the giants shoulders we stand on were (and are) terrible tyrants. While friendly and open collaboration is important in Science, cut-throat competition clearly has a place too.

References

  1. Isaac Newton (1671). A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; Containing His New Theory about Light and Colors: Sent by the Author to the Publisher from Cambridge, Febr. 6. 1671/72; In Order to be Communicated to the R. Socie Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 6 (69-80), 3075-3087 DOI: 10.1098/rstl.1671.0072

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Isaac Newton (after William Blake), by Eduardo Paolozzi, British Library Piazza by Chris John Beckett on Flickr]

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