Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Welcome to the new bloggers!

The first Science Faculty blogging course has been running for several weeks now and it's time that the new bloggers made their first appearance here! So, here are excerpts from the first exercise I set them for homework, a blog "inspired by" our first session. Do leave a comment, give them some encouragement!

My first blog meeting ever
As I was walking back home, I was thinking a lot about my first blogging experience. Why do I want to learn how to blog? What do I hope to gain? Truth be told, I’ve never really paid much attention to blogs. I have a Facebook account and a page so I can promote my research, but I never thought about blogging. Even worse, I had no idea that the Science faculty had one (yes, I am deeply ashamed of my ignorance).
Then again, there are so many things I don’t know. Ever since I moved to Bristol from Athens, every day is a new experience. Sometimes I feel like I am a toddler exploring the world around me. My limited capacity processor (aka brain) tries to process the stimuli, and though it is not always successful, I still make an effort anyway. Like in the dream, I keep trying to dial the right number or wake up trying.
So, back to the original question: to blog or not to blog? Would the world be interested in my thoughts? Would I care if they didn’t? How would I feel if people didn’t like my way of thinking? Would I get upset?
I have no idea whatsoever. There is only one-way to find out. I think I should blog. I should just say what I think and see what happens.
Hello world !!! My name is Ypapanti, I am Greek (thus the I-don’t-think-I-can-pronounce-this name) and you can call me Papi.
Ypapanti Chochorelou, 3rd year Psychology undergraduate. See the Science Faculty portrait of her here.

Blogging Everywhere
Last Tuesday was the kick off for the first Science Faculty Blogging Course, and to be honest, I was skeptical about the idea of a blogging course, because, I've always had the idea that write a blog should be very intuitive, not too sophisticated, that you don’t need to have previous instruction - basically, such a friendly coffee talk! However, it was totally cool, because somehow the blogging experience became real with people with different background and interests. So, I would like to share my experience reading and writing blog stuff using my iPod and some exciting apps...
...In my experience, I will always prefer to edit and publish entries on a PC or laptop, but sometimes the ideas don’t pop up in the right moment, for those kind of unexpected moments, I use a text editor called Plain Text. As the app of the same title, it’s a simple editor like the default notes app, with the extra features that allows you to create and organize folders and sync everything with Dropbox. Nevertheless, the minimalist paper-like user interface makes the experience of writing and creating something simple and elegant, without distractions (nasty ads), only you and an entire world to be walked and discovered.
Well, I’m at the end of this first entry, so the only thing that I have to say is that almost every app is good. Maybe these that I’ve reviewed are the more boring, complex, least reliable and awful in the whole world, but it all relies on the experience of each user. Which ones are the best for you?
Angel Sanchez, PhD student, Chemistry.

My first blog post
Does the following paragraph grab most audiences?
“A significant seismological event of magnitude 9.1-9.3 has ruptured the fault boundary between the Indo-Australian and southeastern Eurasian plates on the 26 December 2004. Rapid fault slip of up to 15 meters occurred in the southern portion of the belt but to the north the slip was much smaller.”
I’ve just described the technical details of the 2004 Boxing Day Sumatra earthquake. But I definitely haven’t engaged you (unless you are a seismologist). Simply put, this was an earth-shattering event only surpassed in magnitude by the recent Japanese earthquake. There was so much energy that the Earth literally tore apart - the ocean floor ripped apart for over 1,300 km. That’s roughly the distance of Edinburgh to Prague. Hopefully that’s a bit more readable.

(I hope you’re still reading, I’m now trying to be a little less science-y but old habits die hard and all).

This is the reason why I think scientists need to bash down their barriers and blog! It’s not just the journalist’s role to bring science to the public – scientists and journalists need to work together. This is why I am going to start learning how to write again and try to make science engaging and fun for all. (See, even by just writing that last sentence I feel unscientific and bordering on cheesy).

So blogging is what I am learning to do and this is my first attempt. Hopefully why I want to blog has come across to you reading this and that you made it to the end. Actually, I think that what I wrote isn’t just specific to blogging, more of a call for scientific engagement but I am seeing scientist blogging more and more and it’s time I got involved.
Elspeth Robinson, PhD student, Earth Sciences.

On the Difficulty of Communicating Mathematics.
In the first session of the blog course we were asked to write a little post about what we had done that day, 03/29/2010. I then wrote about my usual day of research in mathematics and how to practically use only pencil, eraser, paper and some books and sometimes the computer.
It was then that the theme for my second homework for the blog course arose. When I told course participants and the instructor of the course that I do research in mathematics I saw, I believe, from the questions from some of the people and their expressions, that they are interested in math and really would like to know what research in mathematics is.
Some of the questions that arose on the day about research in mathematics were:
1-) Why research in mathematics is important?
2-) Why is mathematics important and which is the usefulness of the mathematics?
3-) How is research in mathematics done?
Answering these philosophical questions is not a trivial task and must be analyzed carefully. n the rest of my post I'll try at least to start with this discussion and those questions that arose as a curiosity of the participants in the blog course. Due to the small space here I will deal with a more different and simple question: What are the main areas of research in the department of mathematics at the University of Bristol and what they mean?
The research in mathematics can be divided into research in pure mathematics, applied mathematics and in statistics (note that this division is not an absolute truth, because even the division of pure mathematics, applied mathematics and statistics can be discussed as a philosophical question about the nature of the mathematics). At least here in the department of mathematics at the University of Bristol...
Hopefully in the next post or on the next opportunity I will try to explore these issues and other questions which arose through the curiosity of the participants of the blog course.
Julio Andrade, PhD student, Mathematics
To blog or not to blog…..what is the question?!

I arrived about an hour late for our first blogging session. High on Lemsip it took me a while to locate the group through the misty paracetamol fog but there they were. My fears that this had all been some cleverly orchestrated practical joke were set aside. I had been looking forward to this course for a while so I wasn’t going to let a dose of freshers’ flu defeat me! I was slightly worried that, having spent the last three years of my life writing as a scientist in short, staccato sentences, I would have lost the ability to string together a sentence of more than 5 words. That one was 37, all is not lost.
So this last session got me thinking about what I wanted to get out of this. I did a quick search to see who was blogging in my field and I stumbled across a number of blogs devoted to interesting biology and weird science. Most with an aim to engage people with information both bizarre and visually appealing. One to aspire to is Arthropoda, the collective thoughts of a grad student from the University of Maryland. It has a great combination of interesting personal encounters with strange animals, stunning photography and sound but easily digestible science.
The wildlife in Bristol seems less exciting but this is probably because it is too familiar and I don’t pay it enough attention. Searching “most boring blog” via Google to get some perspective led me to ‘the dullest blog in the world’ with entries such as ‘Straightening the doormat’:
February 7th, 2010
I noticed that the doormat was at a slightly crooked angle. I reached down and moved the mat back into its correct place. The edge of the mat was then perpendicular to the door.’
Back on topic (not entirely sure what it was to start with) its really impressive and quite daunting the number and quality of science blogs out there. If I’m going to make my own I’ll have to find something I’m passionate and knowledgeable about, two things spring to mind, deep sea fish and cheese. Perhaps I can combine the two. I’ve searched it, it doesn’t exists, horay! Time to get thinking of a snappy title.....

Milly Sharkey, PhD student, Biology.
Stream of conciousness
I have blogged before and enjoyed it, however, I felt every word I wrote must be perfectly crafted as any and every person in the world would be able to see it once posted.
Yet just in the short opening to our first meeting I realised that blogging isn’t supposed to be perfect it is supposed to be an opening to a dialogue. Now thanks to that the ‘chore’ of writing being lifted, I can’t stop myself from writing. I find words flowing back on to the page with ease, an un-hindered flow of conciseness onto the page. With no ugly read lines appearing, or even worse green ones.
Further more the best thing, arguably, I took away was meeting everyone else. I love meeting new people and learning about them. So a collection of scientists from so many walks, of which I know little to nothing, panders to my urge to learn. It will be interesting to see how we all feel about each other’s subject. Although we are all scientists your view of the same science can be different. I know from personal experience as I think that I took the easy option when it came to sciences. For instance I have the up most respect for biologists and organic chemists as they are required to learn so much more. I just learn one thing and apply it, probably in a vacuum with no friction or other external forces to make it easier. {http://xkcd.com/669/}
This first session has just wet my appetite and I look forward to more. I think this could lead to a very fruitful end, and the production of something worth reading or even better worth commenting upon.
James "Ed" Darnbrough, PhD student, Physics.

Positive and negative charges

When I left the first workshop (which I really enjoyed), I did also feel some trepidation about what I would write about. Working on the assumption that it is always best to go with your instincts, and the first thing that comes to mind, I decided to write this post about my ambivalence about blogging. Tania had said write anything at all about the first session that comes to mind and so I decided to take on board what she said about having an authentic voice, which is of course true. Speaking with honesty will always encourage an honest response.

So what is my ambivalence about then …. The true definition of ambivalence is to be in the state of having both positive and negative valence towards someone or something. Today, although part of the online generation, I have very conflicted feelings about the constant exposure that is a natural product of being part of the social network. It has to do with being an essentially private person, or maybe just a product of an older generation than my fellow bloggers in this group. In truth, I feel uncomfortable about revealing too much of myself to complete strangers, even though, when blogging to what would hopefully be a wider audience, they would be people I probably wouldn’t ever know.

This reluctance of mine is why I resisted joining Facebook for so long, despite the numerous people who used to moan at me because I wouldn’t join. Of course, now I am on it I wonder why I didn’t join long ago. ...

However, the downsides are that I worry too much that Facebook separates me from real-world interactions with people - how often do I send a quick Facebook message when I could phone instead, hear my friends’ voices and have a proper chat. The other ‘negative’ which relates more to blogging (and I may seem a bit intolerant here) is to do with the sheer banality of some people’s Facebook posts. The same is true of blogging – I have previously read some which have just been incredibly boring and, frankly, puerile. Having said that, there are numerous blogs out there which do inspire, enthuse and interest me enormously.

Still, this all sounds horribly negative which I didn’t want it to do. The reason I joined the course is that I feel very passionately that I want to post on the science blog in order to share and communicate my love of science, and, in particular, how the application of scientific techniques to archaeological problems has, over the last few decades, significantly increased our understanding of the actions and behaviours of past peoples.
Julie Dunne, PhD Student, Organic Geochemistry

Well, that's your - and their - first taste of blogging on the Science Faculty blog, I think it's going very well. There will be more coming soon - if there's something you'd like them to blog about, leave a comment, we'll see what we can do.


Ed Darnbrough said...

I know I have said it before but, I think this will be a fascinating venture, so many different scientist all adding to one will show the different facets of science. Hopefully it too will help show that scientists are not just people in white coats working in rooms with no windows, well not all the time.(http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php)

Anonymous said...

I like the one about fish and cheese. That girl has talons.