Monthly Archives: May 2014

Budget blow out, shifting goal posts or ‘Don’t my taxes pay for that?’

So my mental fortitude is currently being tested as I have entered the ‘valley of death’ (see previous post) of my crowd funding campaign. I also have had major and inconvenient goal post shifting for my undergrad course at work (which I am completely powerless to stop) in the past couple of weeks. This, coupled with jet lag and a nascent head cold has taken my focus from spruiking my campaign. Which has in turn led to a spiral of self loathing about being an academic joke and a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.

Ahhh…the fetid stench of imposter syndrome is strong at times when I am at a low ebb like this. But as usual, I gird my loins with a metaphorical nosegay of ‘posies’ to ward off such malodorous miasmas and push on. But not before making a plaintive inquiry to the Twitterverse as to why Hipsters seem so much less loveable that the Mighty Maggots

The only person to offer up comment was the producer/presenter of my For Science podcast James Purser, the owner of the angry beanie (@purserj). James pointed out that it could be part of the 2014 Budget hang over which has dented general consumer confidence in Australia at the moment. But then a more horrifying thought occurred to me…it may have more to do with the ‘announcement’ of a new Medical Research Fund ironically to be paid for by the end of free at the point of care GP visits by the introduction of a $7 Co payment on each appointment (including childhood vaccinations !?)

Leading scientists have condemned the move here and here and some have questioned the veracity of the proposal and whether something due for roll out in 6 years time will actually happen….I must say, I am cynical. I think they will take the money and run and I will likely never see a red cent into my research funding coffers. If approved by the Senate, It is also disaster for Aboriginal health

But then I had a PTSD flash back to a conversation I had with a mother of a child who had the disease that was the subject of the Mighty Maggots campaign. She did not see why she should put her hand in pocket to fund my research as ‘Don’t my taxes pay for that?’. After going home and crying for the rest of that afternoon (and swearing to retrain as an Accountant) , I realised that this is a common perception and some what justified.

But since the budget announcement, it is fair to say that most Australian tax payers could be justified for thinking the same now. And this movement of the goal posts of public sentiment in relation to funding medical research may have spoked my wheel for my current campaign. I will have to find a more global audience for my pleas for pledges.

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Unto the valley of death…of crowd funding science

I have been very happy for the response my hips 4 hipsters campaign has attracted so far…considering I haven’t started to push it as yet (due to my absence from Australia at launch time, which limits my availability to talk to local media and podcasters). And thank you to you, dear reader, if you are one of my 40+ supporters so far.

But I also know that after the initial flurry of pledges, there comes the inevitable lull in proceedings which I like to call ‘the valley of death’. It caused me and my colleague untold misery last time during the Mighty Maggots campaign, mostly as we were in the first cohort of researchers to try this ‘new’ funding source and no one had any idea if it would fly or how it would play out. Scary times indeed.

The scariest thing last time was the response from the Pozible brains trust, who had only ever experienced failure from these kinds of ‘slow burn’ projects before and were quietly freaking out at this point of the beta testing. A traditional creative based crowd funded project with substantive rewards (such as a book, CD, tickets to a show) would usually be at 50% funded by the end of the first 2 weeks of a 45 day campaign.

Thankfully, the benefit of hindsight means that I have experienced this before and hence are able to enter this time (which could be as long as 3 weeks!) braced for the imminent neuroses that will descend. But even though expecting this to happen can take the edge off my doubts, they are still there….whispering with maleficence from the back of my mind, every day that passes with no messages of pledges sent to my work email.

I hope the ‘first timers’ concurrently running campaigns from the Research my World cohort are still having fun communicating their research to the wider world and are too busy to listen to their inner demons.

Picture Credit..from an interesting article about science and policy

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Evangelical about crowd funding science…..I am the prophet.

I am reflecting today on the wonderful time I had in the last couple of days during my visit to Swansea University, at the kind invitation of Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott who invited me to come for a ‘tweep up’ (See, this is the best example of using Twitter for professional networking I can give you!)

I got to spend time with many people, including big Profs from the UK and Germany as well as the Mid-career researchers, their post docs and PhD students. I even got to meet the local Chapter of Science Grrls … Perhaps I need to start a Geelong Chapter?

During each of my meetings, I found myself armed with my iPad, showing people my Mighty Maggots and Hips 4 Hipster Pozible campaigns. And explaining that due to increasing funding difficulties in Oz for ECRs like myself, I had chosen to invest time and energy into these types of campaigns instead of the traditional once a year flagellation of Grantfest.

I found myself being listened to with varying levels of interest from polite indifference (Male Big Profs and Mid-career researchers, to whom I also had to explain the concept of the Profzi scheme)….to mounting excitement (female EMCRs with own labs but little traditional funding, like myself).

All of the people I spoke to are currently are engaged in many diverse science communication activities (encouraged by Hilary, who has done Soap Box Science) and as I pointed out, they could leverage these opportunities to enthuse people about their science (and then get the audience to put hand in their pockets to support such fabulous research)

And if I had a pound for every time I asked yesterday “Never mind selling your science to a panel of your peers via grants, if you can’t sell your ideas directly to the ‘man (or woman) on the street’ for ¬£10, does your research have significance to the tax payer?”

Several people noted that the British are much more prone to philanthropy than, say….the Australian population, and perhaps that the current geek chic trend in UK popular culture (Brian Cox et al) could be utilised to work for their own benefit via crowd funding. Many people asked me ‘what do the people expect in return?’ And I explained project rewards as well as the ‘personal access to boffins’ concept and that people just like 6 monthly updates to see you are attempting to do what you set out to achieve.

To me, crowd funding campaigns have all the advantages of science communication with the possibility of the ‘win win’ scenario of getting some research cash to support your lab work. And the more extroverted researchers I met yesterday would be well suited to gushing enthusiastically about their research, given the opportunity.

Hilary also asked me to explain the concept to her and we spoke about the commercial aspects and tax implications and whether it was advisable for individual researchers to go it alone or get the support of their University, a topic covered in this piece and this piece and on the Pozible blog here.

I hope that introducing the concept of crowd funding to this group of dynamic people will see some of them have a go…or at least explore if it is viable for them. And as the funding noose ever tightens globally for research funding, I hope the seeds I planted in the minds at Swansea may find fertile soil. And as I said to one of the researchers…We could whinge about the funding situation (as we are wont to do)….or we could just do something about it to empower ourselves.

(PS if any of you suspect that I may be on some sort of junket … Rest assured that I also spoke about sciencey science in my time there and have come away from Swansea with new collaborations for both the Mighty Maggots AND Hips 4 Hipster projects….!)

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Does crowd funding work by Karma or serendipity?

Okay, so this may seem a little esoteric for a scientist (who is an avowed atheist*) to be pondering so early in a crowd funding campaign, but as someone who had not donated to such projects before starting to run one last year, it is something I will be able to assess this time around.

As there is only a small number of Deakin projects this year, I have not had to bankrupt myself supporting all of my colleagues equally and they have all repaid the favour. But it makes me think of all the people who I have given time and advice to on such matters in the last year, after running a successful campaign. Will this ‘service’ to the concept be rewarded? Not that I charge for this service, it is the kind of altruism that is well within my power to deliver with minimal fuss or bother and I enjoy helping people ‘workshop’ their ideas. I then always feel like a proud Nanna (yes, I am almost that old…) when I see other people’s risks to attempt crowd funding in non traditional fields like science succeed. And know that I have played a tiny part in helping them to decide to have a crack at it.

And in the true spirit of crowd sourcing ideas on such things, I hope that some will repay my support, by offering me support in kind. Not to necessarily pledge to my project (although that is always gratifying!) but to share with me the contacts that they may have made in the media or philanthropic circles so that I can add these folks to my strategy to market my campaign in the next 43 days.

As my project is in a non glamorous field of science (Microbiology) I will need to work extra hard to attract attention to the significance of my proposed work. It does not have the intrinsic interest of things like sick kiddies, brains or cancer to the media/philanthropy sectors, so have gone with quirky and humorous (as I find that easiest to pull off personally) and hope that will carry the day. Clearly, last time, the Mighty Maggots inspired morbid fascination and the microbiology of the flesh eating bacteria had a strong local flavour which enabled outreach opportunities. But I was a newbie to Twitter and had yet to cultivate a reputation as a science communicator. This time, I have ten times the followers, mostly real people, a fair proportion who I have interacted with at some point. Many of them are my fellow microbiologist from all over the world.

But from my experiences last time, this kind of ‘singing to the choir’ resulted in only a few contributing to the offertory plate. So far this time, it is looking more encouraging as I have only had 19 pledges so far, a significant proportion from microbiologists of varying stripes. Perhaps due to fact the choir is substantially bigger this year? Perhaps the proportions remain the same? I think I will get some data on that from my good friend, colleague and Twitter valentine, Stu Palmer (@s_palm) for a later post.

But you can be strategic as you like, trying to target specific groups in a control freaky academic fashion, but my previous experience also tells me that the contacts with the biggest donors that get your project over the line come from serendipity. The odd tweet to a public figure here, the business card or two passed on there….(and Warwick Anderson, head of the NHMRC, you still owe me $49 from when I spoke to you during the last campaign…but won’t be the last time someone from the NHMRC fails to give me research cash, more’s the pity)

The donors who mean the most to me are those that pledged far beyond the range that they could comfortably afford. And then supported me consistently through out the campaign. Last time, these folks were rewarded with indoctrination into the cult of the #fluffymaggot . I have been racking my brains to think up something suitable for this time. I sure it will come to me over the coming weeks…and may have something to do with gin…!

*except on past fertility matters, which saw me praying fervently to the moon Goddess during several lunar eclipses….It’s a woman thing….

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Fear and loathing in crowd funding science

I have built and polished my Pozible page for hips4hipsters I have had all my fabulous ‘team’ of animators, film makers and artists as well as the internal folks at Deakin and Pozible all delivering in good time for the launch tomorrow Oz EST. (And thank you to Adam Micolich (@ad_mico) for the inspiration for the title of this piece)

Now the doubts begin to stalk me.

Have I done enough preparation?
Do I have enough promotional events in place in the coming 45 days to get my message out there?
Is my message easy to understand for the lay person?
And will they be amused/interested enough to reward me with a pledge? Will they find my rewards quirky?
Who are the super tweeters in my field that I can ask (read: beg) to RT my link for me?
Have I been too hyperbolic when trying to communicate the risks of ignoring this issue of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria?
Should I have risked my (barely existent) professional reputation by wearing a beard/flat cap ensemble and dancing with a Hipster skeleton on YouTube or does it endear me to my audience?
How can I amplify my signal to new audiences?
Am I going to piss off my fabulous twitter followers so much, they will abandon me?
Will more than 1% of the people I ‘know’ on social media actually put their hands in their pockets and cough up some cash?
Am I going to receive more bemused ‘pats on the head’ from my superiors but no actual recognition for this unique form of service (again?)
Am I at risk of becoming a ‘performing show pony’ for this concept? (Or is it too late to worry about that?)

But the overarching fear right now is: What if I FAIL? (She screams to an uncaring sky)

This is a high risk strategy…it is a lot of work and I have invested some of my precious research funds to get the show on the road. What if I have set my target too high and I can manage to convince enough people to give me enough pledges to get over the line for this ‘all or nothing’ venture.

But, unlike the normal ‘set and forget’ grant processes traditionally favoured by science funding agencies, there is no room for fatalism. I WILL be able to change the outcome of campaign, depending on my actions. Which is empowering….and for someone as stubborn as me, exhausting.

Let the games begin…

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Seeing the bigger picture on Crowd Funding preparations at 38,000ft

I write this post whilst sitting on a flight from Singapore to London, scant days from the launch of Hips 4 hipsters. The lovely folks at Singapore Airlines have provided me with marvellous wifi capability on this A380 and I am currently using it to DM James Huston from Bridge8 who is in Melbourne, uploading my campaign animation to the ‘Research my world’ Dropbox…where is it going to be uploaded to the official YouTube Channel by the wonderful Elizabeth Brathwaite (who I am emailing) at Deakin Burwood before I get off this flight. She has already uploaded my ‘talking head’ campaign video this morning while I was sleeping in an Airport Hotel, in Changi.

I have started promoting the video of me talking about my motivations for the campaign (including out takes) to my twitter followers as a ‘Sneak Peek’ and will stick it here for you, Dear Reader.

I have also congratulated the fabulous Catherine Donaldson from Faster Pussycat Productions who designed my logo after I gave her a completely awful brief of a scribbled hand drawn version of my ‘vision’ for the logo…she did a fabulous job and seem excited by its animation by the lovely James.

I have yet to completely polish my Hips 4 Hipsters Pozible project page and I am praying that Matt from Pozible will be checking his email at some wee small hour of Monday AM.

But I have had fabulous help on the rewards angle by a Tasmanian ceramic Artist, Kim Foale @frogpondsrock and Michele Banks @artologica … Just hope the tax man doesn’t skin me too much for actually having rewards of worth this time (as opposed to the ‘priceless’ [read: valueless] maggot art produced for the last crowd funding project.)

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