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….!)