When you agree to be a speaker at a mid-February conference in Chicago, you can’t be surprised (and I wasn’t) when the weather forecast turns menacing. With a quick change of my return flight to beat the snowstorm — and with thanks to University Park airport’s new direct flights to Chicago — I was able to arrive on Tuesday afternoon, speak on Wednesday morning, and get back to State College by Wednesday night, a few hours before the snow started to fall.
The conference was the International Public Science Events meeting, the third annual gathering of public engagement professionals from all over the world. I spoke at the group’s inaugural meeting two years ago and it was exciting to see how much they’ve grown since then.
The keynote address was called “Science Events and the Evolving Culture of Science Engagement” and explored the ways in which the lines between science and popular culture are blurring, changing the practice of science outreach nationally and internationally. This really set a thought-provoking tone for the meeting! The speakers were Peter Linett, the “Chief Thought Officer” at an audience research consulting firm, and M.I.T.’s John Durant, founder of the Cambridge Science Festival. One comment I jotted down and will continue to think about: “Science events are part of a larger cultural change towards the informal, playful and subjective.” Linett, Durant and attendees had a good discussion of how these changes are reflected in public science events today and debated the wider implications of this changing landscape.
The hour-long session I co-presented with Theresa Yu Huan Liao, from the University of British Columbia was titled “Building on Success: Expanding Your Outreach Programming” and was both well-attended and well-received. It always pleases me most when there is a lively Q&A session and, in this case, there certainly was. People are eager for both practical tips and conceptual frameworks that will enhance the success of their research/science programming. It was exciting to continue chatting after my session ended with many attendees from all over the country and the world. I made many great new contacts and felt recharged about my work promoting Penn State research through creative and accessible public engagement events.
There was just enough time that afternoon to stretch my legs with a brief walk across the river to the famous neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, home of the Chicago Tribune and one of my longtime favorite buildings in Chicago or anywhere! (Sadly, I discovered they recently closed their Tribune gift shop in the lobby which always was a great source for journalism-geek type gifts. It still exists, but only online. Another sign of the times.)
Then it was back to the airport — where I enjoyed their current light-show installation for the second time in 24 hours! — and hopped on my flight home.
International Science Events colleagues: I hope to see you at next February’s meeting. Though I love Chicago, might I suggest…San Diego?