Performance and collaboration: creating new scientific ecosystems at CESTEMER

The Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research (CESTEMER) was held at the Goodman Theater in downtown Chicago on September 15-17, 2017. Initiated by Raquell Holmes and improvscience in 2012, it brings together a diverse mixture of scientists, artists, humanists and performers to discuss and discover new ways of doing science in groups. I attended to share what we’ve been working on at the Ronin Institute, as well as gathering new ideas and strategies for the way forward. There are now many great venues and conferences for discussions on improving science communication, the value of creativity in our workplaces, or integrating the arts and humanities into STEM and education – CESTEMER was about all of those things, but with an added unique emphasis on group performance and play.

In addition to the regular talks, poster sessions, and keynotes, all conference attendees had opportunities to participate as performers through games and techniques drawn from theater and improv. This meant the conference was not the usual armchair experience – all conference attendees were co-creators of the performance that was the conference itself.  Why is this important? Performance is critical to group learning because of it’s “show, not tell” and experiential nature. To take just one example, the workshop run by Nancy Watt and Carolyn SealfonWhose Idea Is It Anyway?” tackled the ownership of ideas in science. Workshop participants grouped together to solve a physics problem and were asked to “play” different characters drawn from several personality types. By experimenting with different characters, we were able to experience how each group solved problems based upon their willingness to build on other’s ideas, embrace mistakes as learning opportunities, share credit and move the collaboration forward.

The intense competition to demonstrate individual “ownership” of an idea often prevails in the academic world (coupled with an artificial scarcity that is perpetuated by the journal prestige system amongst other things) can sometimes lead to an atmosphere of distrust. Therefore the direct experience of the value of empathetic collaboration to produce both better results, as well as unexpected and serendipitous discoveries, through such workshops, will become increasingly invaluable as a means for cultural change in our institutions. This bottom-up approach, coupled with more top-down changes in publications and funding incentives, will, I believe, lead to more durable cultural change than either alone. Plus it’s also a much more fun way of doing science!

I presented a short talk outlining how the Ronin Institute is aiming to foster new ways of thinking of the scientific enterprise as an “ecosystem” of peers. In this ecosystem, scientists collectively empower themselves to build scientific careers in whatever mode or style works for them in the context of the rest of their lives (whether this is in a university setting or elsewhere). I contrasted this ecosystem idea with the usual “pipeline” metaphor that conceives that pursuit of autonomous research requires following one of a set of fairly narrow career paths, controlled by a relatively small number of gatekeepers. I shared the concrete steps we have made in cultivating our own science communities, such as the face-to-face local meetups, participant-driven events like our first Unconference, the virtual meetings: the weekly Tuesday “watercooler” and virtual web research seminars. You can see the slides here:

In summary, CESTEMER was a really fantastic opportunity to generate new “spores” in our evolving ecosystem of science and scholarship. I thank CESTEMER for inviting us, and I’m excited for the Ronin Institute to become part of this conversation. I look forward to all these spores travelling back to each of the participants’ everyday workplaces and spreading the message that we all do our best work when we listen and play together. I plan to attend the next CESTEMER conference in 2019 and I invite anyone interested to join me!

Independent Scholarship Survey

Research Scholars Arika Virapongse and Alex Lancaster have put together a survey designed to help us better understand how independent scholars “make it work.” We’ve already begun collecting responses from current Research Scholars, and the preliminary results look really interesting. We’re looking forward to sharing them once the results are in. We also want to open up the survey to anyone who has been doing independent scholarship and anyone pursuing a non-traditional academic career path. If that sounds like you, we would love to get your input on this. Or if you know someone who fits this description, please feel free to bring this to their attention. The survey can be accessed here.

The survey takes about 30 minutes to complete. We know that your time is valuable, but we ask that you try to contribute as much detail as possible in your responses. Unfortunately, there is not a way to save your responses and complete the survey at a later date. For the option to work at your own pace, you can preview the questions here.

We are hoping that the information we collect will help us to develop new and better ways to support diverse models of scholarship and academic careers. And we would love for you to be a part of that.

Ranalli on Thoreau Tonight (October 11) in Acton, Mass

This evening (Wednesday, October 11, 2017), Research Scholar Brent Ranalli will be giving a talk at the Acton Memorial Library in Acton, Massachusetts on Henry David Thoreau’s “Indian Stride.” The talk starts at 7pm and is free. More information found here:

THOREAU’S “INDIAN STRIDE”   Local historian Brent Ranalli discusses Henry David Thoreau’s fascination with all things Native American and the odd fact that at least three contemporaries said the Concord philosopher walked like an Indian. Ranalli presents the results of research into the actual biomechanics of traditional Native American and Euro-American walking styles and their cultural significance, as well as a reconstruction of Thoreau’s own gait based on literary sources. Acton Memorial Library; free.

Monosson Speaking at Arnold Arboretum in Boston 10/4

If you’re in the Boston area, Research Scholar Emily Monosson will be speaking tomorrow (Wednesday, October 4) at 7:00 pm in the Hunnewell Building at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum’ in Boston. Details below:

Natural Defense: Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Protect Our Food and Health

Emily Monosson, PhD, Environmental Toxicologist, Writer, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

1 Session: Wednesday, October 4, 7:00–8:15pm

Location: Hunnewell Building

For more than a century, we have relied on chemical cures to keep our bodies free from disease and our farms free from bugs and weeds. We rarely consider human and agricultural health together, but both are based on the same ecology, and both are being threatened by organisms that have evolved to resist our antibiotics and pesticides. Fortunately, scientists are finding new solutions that work with, rather than against, nature. Emily Monosson will speak about some of science’s most innovative strategies and the growing understanding of how to employ ecology for our own protection. Natural Defense, Monosson’s newest book, will be available for purchase and signing.

Fee Free member and student, $5 nonmember

Register at my.arboretum.harvard.edu or call 617-384-5277.

Lancaster at CESTEMER

Good news Chicago!

This weekend, from September 15-17, is ImprovScience’s CESTEMER conference, at the Goodman Theater (http://www.cestemer.org/). From their description:

What happens at CESTEMER? This innovative conference brings together faculty, graduate students, K-12 educators and professionals in STEM and art fields who are exploring, practicing, and researching performance in science. CESTEMER advances, among these diverse attendees, the practices of community-building, collaborative creativity, diversity and inclusion and their relationship to ensembles.

And, this CESTEMER will feature a talk by Alex Lancaster, who will be giving an overview of the Ronin Institute. His abstract:

The Ronin Institute, formed in 2012, is a self-organized community of scholars from both the sciences and humanities formed with the core assumption that researchers should create their own measures of success and that affiliation with a conventional brick-and-mortar research institution should not be the sole metric of “success”. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization the Ronin Institute provides an affiliation for scholars, as well as a financial structure whereby researchers can apply for federal and state grants. In this talk I will share our own steps in cultivating virtual science communities, such as the creation of face-to-face local meetups, participant-driven events like our first Unconference held in November 2016, as well as virtual meetings: a weekly Tuesday “watercooler” and virtual web research seminars. I look forward to learning more from other CESTEMER participants about how we can continue and extend our journey towards creating living, joyful communities of scholarship.

Enjoy!

Thanks to All for a Fantastic Unconference

On Saturday, we held the first in a series of unconferences on The Future of Careers in Scholarship at The Democracy Center in Cambrdige, MA. It was a beautiful day, we had a great turnout, and the event was a fantastic success. In the coming days, we will be assembling a summary of the various discussions that took place in order to continue that conversation and expand it to an even broader community. So, keep an eye on this space for updates about this event and future events — maybe in your area!

In the meantime, we wanted to thank the various people who contributed to making the unconference a success.

First, and most importantly, we want to thank the participants. The success of an event in an unconference format depends on the energy and good-faith efforts of the attendees, who set the agenda and generate the content. Everyone who came prepared to both talk and listen, and the results were fantastic.

Second, we want to thank the three seed speakers, who started us off by throwing some ideas out to the larger group: Sonia Hall, Jessica Ehinger, and Raquell Holmes. All three were interesting, and, just as importantly, fun.

Third, we want to thank the Democracy Center for use of a great space in a perfect location.

Finally, we want to thank the sponsors, whose support allowed us to keep the event affordable:

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The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (http://www.kauffman.org)is a leader in the promotion and understanding of entrepreneurship. They are currently seeking a Research and Policy Director to lead an interdisciplinary research program focused on understanding the conditions that best support entrepreneurs and the policies that can foster those conditions. For more information, visit http://www.kauffman.org/who-we-are/careers-at-the-kauffman-foundation/research-and-policy-director.

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The Society of Professional Consultants (http://www.spconsultants.org) is an organization that helps individuals establish themselves as independent consultants and helps established consultants to maintain successful careers. They are also offering a free 60-day trial membership to attendees of the unconference.

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Ronin Institute Research Scholars Gordon Webster and Alex Lancaster are Partners at the consulting firm Amber Biology (http://www.amberbiology.com), working at the intersection of biology and computer science. Their new book is Python for the Life Sciences.

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Ronin Institute Research Scholar Anne Thessen is the principal of The Data Detektiv (http://datadetektiv.com), which specializes in custom data analysis and inference in the biological and geophysical domains.

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Research Scholar and Board Member Steven Orzack is the founder of the Fresh Pond Research Institute (http://freshpond.org), which served as one of the inspirational models for the Ronin Institute.

First Ronin Institute Unconference

The Ronin Institute is organizing its first “unconference” on Saturday, November 5, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The theme will be “The Future of Careers in Scholarship“, and the event will be held from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at The Democracy center, located in Harvard Square, at 45 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA. I hope you’ll join us!

For additional details and registration information, visit the event page on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ronin-institute-unconference-the-future-of-careers-in-scholarship-tickets-28163314231

You can also keep up with this and future events at the events page: http://ronininstitute.org/events/

Second Round of Conference Scholarships Awarded

Following the success of our first round of conference support funding, the board authorized that allocation of additional funding to support travel to academic conferences, as well as research-related travel. So, in addition to our first round of awardees, we offer our congratulations to Michael Clarage, Michelle Coughlin, Ruth Duerr, Vicenta Salvador, and Eleanor Wynn.

Smallbridge HallMichelle Coughlin’s award helped to support her trip to the UK to do research for the her next book, The First First Ladies, about the wives of America’s colonial governors. She sent along a number of gorgeous photos of the homes related to Penelope Pelham Winslow, who was married to Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow. It is great to be able to see the impact of the conference scholarship program.

Our next round of funding is scheduled for January 2017. In the meantime, we are raising funds to continue — and expand — this program. The members of the board have pledged to contribute an additional matching $1000 if we are able to raise $3000 for this program by the end of 2016. So, please consider helping us by making a contribution. You can donate online: select “Conference Scholarships” to direct your donation specifically to this program. To find out more, check out our donation page.

Introducing the Ronin Institute Newsletter: Kitsune

Happy New Year to everyone out there.

In December, the Ronin Institute published the first issue of Kitsune, a newsletter that will come out six times a year and will keep you up to date on the happenings at the Institute and in the world of alternative scholarship more generally.

That first issue is now available on the website here. If you would like to receive it in your very own inbox, send an e-mail to us at kitsune@ronininstitute.org, and we’ll add you to the list. You might also add kitsune@ronininstitute.org to your address book, so that your newsletter does not wind up in your spam folder.

We’ve got a lot of exciting people on the rolls now, and some cool programs in the works. Keep an eye on Kitsune, and you can stay up to date on both.

Ask a Cool Anthropologist

It’s a problem we’ve all been faced with. You’ve got a question, the sort of question only an Anthropologist can answer. But the problem is, all of the Anthropologists you know are just so . . . uncool!

Well, today, friends, I present the solution to your problem: Ask a Cool Anthropologist

This is a new feature from Cool Anthropologist and Ronin Institute Research Scholar Kristina Baines.

Want to know if it is more than a coincidence that Homo floresiensis was found in a country with 127 active volcanoes? Ask a Cool Anthropologist

Want to know if a refrigerator will really protect you from a nuclear blast? Ask a Cool Anthropologist

Want to know what that thing on your leg is? Yeah . . . you really should probably go see a doctor about that.