ScienceOnline'09 - interview with Russ Campbell

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline'09 back in January.

Today, I asked Russ Campbell from the Fishtown University blog to answer a few questions.

Welcome to A Blog Around the Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background?

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Hi Bora. First, thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers. I'm a big fan of your blog and your work with ScienceOnline. I'm a native of the Fishtown-section of Philadelphia. During the past six years I have been putting down roots in Durham, NC. My background is in university communications. I worked the arts and culture beat at the University of Pennsylvania and in electronic communications at UNC-Chapel Hill. I have always loved science, but we had a bit of a falling out during the high school years when I met literature and Albert Camus. Then Jack Kerouac and the Beats came along.

The past four years have been interesting as I'm attempting to combine my two loves of science and literature. It's not easy, but I think one of the benefits of my liberal arts training has been the ability to make stuff up.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The short answer is a novelist, but I think in the past few years that goal has morphed into some kind of intellectual explorer. There's so much I find fascinating that I have commitment issues. I guess you can look at the people I hold in high esteem--Benjamin Franklin, Camus, Pardis Sabeti--to see that what I want are possibilities. I want to search for wisdom. I want to be a part of a community that strives to look for both answers and questions.

What is your real life job?

I'm the communications officer for the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private biomedical research foundation in North Carolina. The foundation also focuses on science education in North Carolina.

What I like most about my job is the freedom and flexibility I am allowed to explore new ideas like ScienceOnline. I think I have the greatest job in the world and I'm not just saying that because my boss might be reading.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

From a professional standpoint, I'm interested in how scientists use technology to share data. Your readers are more than aware of the explosion of data in recent years. It's how scientists use that data I find interesting. Some fields of study are better than others.

But I'm also interested in the engagement factors of online media. There are a lot of great people out there doing interesting things, but I fear that a lot of it is preacher-to-choir.

How does blogging etc figure into your work?

I'm suspect about institutional blogs. That said, there is a place for it and some places do do it better than others. So blogging for me is on a more personal level with regard to work. I read a lot of different things on a lot of different topics so I created as an online notebook to attempt to make sense of what I was reading. I haven't been very good about keeping it fresh, but I haven't given up. In fact I should probably update before this comes out.

When and how did you discover science blogs? Favorites? New cool science blogs while at the Conference?

I discovered science blogs during the first N.C. science blogging conference in 2007. I didn't know much about blogging. I'm not sure if I was even reading blogs then so the conference opened up a whole new world to me right in my backyard.

You were probably one of the first I started reading. Now I read The Intersection, Science Cheerleader, Isis, Abel Pharmboy, Kirsten Sanford's A Bird's Brain. I also like ScienceGoddess who set up a youtube channel for her book reviews.

I also follow several education blogs like Instructify and This Week in Education. I'm not going to mention the sports blogs--but I like what the Phillies are doing.

Is there anything that happened at the conference that changed the way your think about science communication?

There's not a lot different in science communication then there is in creative writing. Two keys points are know your audience and tell a good story. One of the best things of last year's conference was Rebecca Skloot's talk. Just an amazing and compelling story--I cannot wait for her book to come out.

As for the audience bit, it's easy to get swept up in our own little worlds and circles. I try to keep in mind that there's a much larger audience that doesn't care what I, or anyone at ScienceOnline is saying. How do you reach that audience? When I start thinking about it my head hurts and I feel the need to read Derrida.

I started thinking about Science Communicators of North Carolina (SCONC) around the time of the first science blogging conference. Here were all these people that worked within a 20 mile radius and I had no clue. Chris Brodie and I joke that the only time we got together for a beer was in San Francisco, Boston, or St. Louis. That was ridiculous as he worked a mile down the road. Brodie and I got together and made it happen and it has taken on a life of its own. There's buy in and support from so many different people. It may be my proudest professional accomplishment.

It was nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January (and a few times before then).

Thank you very much. Keep up the good work and I look forward to the next time I see you.


See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.


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