2021 projects, #3: test-knit a cardigan

Test knit with straight 6.5 mm bamboo needles

I have knit a ton of things over the last 15 or so years, but I have never tested someone else’s pattern, yet benefited from others testing patterns I then bought and used. This is sort of the knitting world’s equivalent to peer review – you invest your input in the system and it pays back to you (eventyally and indirectly).

I decided to start off easy, so when my friend Helena (who designs and knits awesome and pretty complex sweaters and hats) sent out a call for testers of a new cardigan, the Gunhild cardigan, I hopped on. In thick, wooly Alafoss Lopi – a much quicker knit than what she usually designs, and much esier as a starting point.

The test knit came out beutifully – exactly the right number of rows and stiches measured over 10 x 10 cm (the standard way; each pattern has/should have this info). But it required cable needles, and despite more than a decade of hoarding needles, I didn’t have enough of that kind in that precise size.

Ordering stuff online just before Christmas is no fun, but I found a new-to-me Swedish company that had the right needles and order the most expedited freight option. Then an excruciating week of waiting, before they finally arrived late last night. Which puts this project sqarely into 2021!

2021 projects, #2: Veganuary

There is an international movement, started in the UK and calling themselves Veganuary, who aim to inspire people to go vegan for a month, on a try. Internationally, it is big, with more than a million people in total signed up since 2014. In Sweden, it is probably still more of a fringe movement – but still involving tens of thousands of people – supported by Djurens Rätt.

I have signed up for the international version. I already have a general ongoing ‘project’ to eat more vegetables, both in larger amounts and more varieties, so this should fit right in. I am mostly doing this for climate reasons, so expensive imported-by-flight ingredients are out.

I’ll be doing this in conjunction with needing to cook for and feed two kids, aged 8, omnivores. Wish me luck.

How do I become a “community-whatsit”?

This post was written when I was in the then AAAS CEFP training program, now CSCCE. It first appeared on the CSCCE blog on August 3, 2017. I am grateful to Lou Woodley (CSCCE) for edits and comments. The post was written in relation to my role as Community Engagement Officer at INCF (International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility).

“Don’t worry about understanding everything at once, NOBODY has the right background for this” said my MSc thesis supervisor, a dozen or so years ago. Then, the advice applied to mathematical modeling of the biochemical networks involved in learning and memory, an area that came with heaps of dense academic papers peppered with acronyms and incomprehensibly condensed descriptions of experimental protocols. Now, that advice applies equally well to community management, an area of expertise I did not even know existed in science until a few years ago.

With the ongoing funding crunch and uncertain academic job market, interest seems to be growing in alternative careers. As a person who went from a regular PhD to an atypical job at a science non-profit, I’m increasingly often asked for career advice that boils down to ‘What should I do to get to where you are now?’.

Recently I participated as mentor in a career workshop for postdocs and other students, and I was getting the same type of questions. Since I had no idea one could become a community manager, I ended up in my position mostly by a series of chance choices and events. But there are some things I am in retrospect glad I happened to do or learn, because they turned out to be very useful.

Should I get a PhD?

It depends. My PhD has been immensely useful, since I am still in a related community. If your intended community does research, or is close to science in some other way, having similar experience will help you understand them better, and will make it easier to talk their language. Joining a field shows you how it is to come into a community as a new member, and is a useful experience to have later when you are helping others become part of the community you manage.

Learning confidence in dealing with hard, perhaps unsolvable problems — like your own research project — is the very definition of a useful transferable skill. With that said, a PhD is also several years of niche work that will be hard to bear if you don’t love it (at least part of the time). And there is an inordinate amount of time spent formatting reference lists.

Should I learn something else?

Besides the content of your PhD? Definitely. I began my random walk towards community management with communication, and that is probably a good starting point if you have a background in research. If you are coming directly from academia, chances are you’ve become an expert at communicating clearly with your scholarly peers but are getting increasingly blank stares from anyone else. Or you might be a communication genius, but unless you have some way to prove that, many people will assume the incomprehensible scholar stereotype applies to you, too.

Science just published a great article on whether you should add another degree after your PhD and as they say, adding verified experience can help. But it doesn’t have to be formal courses. Writing a blog or running a podcast/YouTube channel/improv theater troupe will not only give you experience in communicating with a varied range of audiences. It will also serve as a handy track record of communicative ability. A general familiarity with social media will also be useful; if you are not working with it yourself, you will likely collaborate with those who do. And any task involved in generating or framing content — such as editing, layout, print, photography, user experience design and website management — is a valuable potential community manager skill.

Is it less stressful?

This question tends to come from people having done at least one post-doc and looking with bleak disillusionment at a future that seems to mostly consist of writing rejected grant applications. The answer is: Nope. At best it is differently stressful. Instead of organizing your life around one big risky project with a well-thought-out plan, you’ll be juggling an untidy heap of lesser but more severely conflicting projects — the inaugural CEFP fellows motto of “We multi-task while multi-tasking” is only partly a joke — and will most likely see your plans evaporate into thin air on a weekly basis. And instead of not knowing what you are doing after your three years of funding run out, you’ll be subject to the vagaries of yearly or even quarterly budgets.

But I can’t find a job like that out there.

To which I say: Grow your job into the role you want! A lot of jobs border on potential community management roles. Mine was a traditional one-way communications job at the start. I did not plan to spend the rest of my life writing newsletters and layouting print materials, and I also felt that we as an organization could probably serve our community better if we were a bit more communicative.

So I asked my boss to let me start a few social media efforts in our organization’s name, beginning with Twitter. I went to conferences and talked, talked, talked to everyone who was introduced to me as a community member, trying to find out what they wanted and needed. I got involved with a few community initiatives, some that worked and some that didn’t, and spent hours trying to pinpoint what made some take off while the others simply puttered along. I organized boring workshops and interesting workshops, and tried to do the latter more and more often. Gradually, I began thinking more like a community manager, and less like a regular communications person.

All the major deciding points in putting me where I am today looked like random events at the time. There happened to be funding for a PhD position. On a whim, I started a blog. I was lucky to find a job where I could stretch my old role into a new one. Ask most other community managers, and I suspect they will look back at an equally random career trajectory.

So don’t worry. Nobody has the right background for this at the start 🙂

You can learn more about scientific community manager roles (including Malin’s!) in the CSCCE Meet a Scientific Community Manager series. Find all of the CEFP Fellows’ posts here.

This post was originally posted on the CSCCE blog on August 3, 2017.

Why social media research should not be done by the non-social-media-literate

Jag är förkyld och orkar inte blogga på riktigt, men jag blir fortfarande arg när någon forskningskommunicerar dåligt på internet. Ni får den engelska varianten för jag orkar inte heller översätta.

This was, as many of my blog posts, triggered by someone being wrong or misleading on the internet. The worst cases often come from newsreleases, this one too.

I’ll just leave you to quickly skim this little gem https://neurosciencenews-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/neurosciencenews.com/depression-social-media-17324/amp/

TLDR: Social media linked to depression
(note the sneaky weasel word ’linked’ in the title, it does NOT mean ’causes’)

Sigh. ”It used to be a hen-and egg situation, but now we clearly see increased social media use linked with depression”. NOPE. This is clearly STILL a hen-and-egg situation. Despite the claims in this newsrelease it is still not proved by this study that social media results in depression.

For instance, in the long lead-up to my depression, I buried myself increasingly in my phone as a defence, because I was too cognitively depleted to engage with my family, and social media (and mobile games) was easier than real interaction. I think that is a pretty common reaction in stressed and tired people in general, I’ve seen it a lot in new parents. And stress and tireness are commonly a risk factor and possible trigger for depression.

My take-home from this is rather: be wary of changed social media usage patterns in people, it indicates that they don’t feel well and may get worse.

And being condescendent and/or aggressive about someone’s social media use, which is the most common approaches I have seen the social media antagonist crowd take – and won’t THIS news release trigger them into a frenzy – will not help things, rather the opposite.

And even more annoying, becasue the whole research field of ”let’s prove with SCIENCE that internet/social media/’screen time’ is BAD’ (I refuse to dignify that marsh with an academic name) does this. Let us stop with the cliche-based guessing hypothesising from non-social media literate people, that is just bad science!

Social media doesn’t make people feel bad because they follow a lot of unreachable, superficial narcissist accounts – because that is not what people in general DO on social media. A few masochists might, but in general people follow other people they like and know, or want to be updated on, or individuals or groups that have the same hobbies as them. Yarn social media, for instance, has lots of nice people and content on each platform I use or follow. Instagram #knitting is my favourite cheer-up-channel.

How a blog snowballed into my current career

I started blogging science after a couple of months into my PhD, because I needed an outlet for all the fantastic papers I found that were ”not relevant” (to my studies and project). I had been reading author blogs (LiveJournal!) mostly, seen the odd blogging scientist now and then for a few years and figured ’Hey, I can probably do that!’. As it was early days, I hadn’t quite yet succumbed to the academia == English norm, so I wrote in Swedish. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was like 3rd or 4th blog *in total* in Swedish focused on science. After a few years, I had built up enough of a presence to be invited to talk and write in other venues, including a summer stint as a ’real science journalist’ over the summer at one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers, Dagens Nyheter. I picked up some interesting friends during bloggin, including a food writer, and we two decided to apply for a book grant (I thought it was risk-free, we would not get it, because the one thing I knew about grants is that you don’t get them). But we did, and I had to go to my professor and say, ’Hey, I got a grant and will need to work part time on my PhD thesis’. He accepted. At that time my blogging dvindled to almost nothing, and I turned to Twitter instead (’it is a very short format, it won’t take much time’. Hah.).

So I wrote a book in parallell with my thesis work for about a year, spent some much needed time on Twitter whenever I got up for air, and at the same time my second mentor started working in something big and global I vaguely knew was about neuroscience, so I didn’t se her that often (that was INCF). I skimmed their web page occasionally to see what she was doing, and one time I came across an old job ad of theirs for a scientific communications officer, degree preferred, and with knowledge of neuroscience. I had learned from my journalist friends and acquaintances that hired positions in scicomm did basically not exist, and always had hundreds applying. So I asked offhand when we met next time, ‘How on earth did you not get anyone, and do you need help with anything urgent’? Long story short, the next week I had a talk with the project PI and got offered the job. So I went to my poor professor, AGAIN, and said ‘I want another 20% off my thesis work, because I accidentally got this other job…. And he accepted AGAIN, so then I did 20% book/20% INCF comms/60% thesis for another year, during which the book got finished and printed, INCF newsletters came out regularly, and the thesis got written. Then I took the weekend off, and started full-time at INCF next Monday (while still doing the occasional talk, interview or blog post on the book).

I still have a sort of parallel ‘career’ as a scicomm person, though mainly I’ve written for free for causes I like (the blog that became the book, for instance), and I mainly do my scicomm via Twitter. I’ve been on the Advisory Board for Poulär Astronomi (Popular Astronomy) since my blogging days. Right now, I am one of the Swedish members of an EU project called RETHINK, about improving scicomm (its Swedish Node is run by Vetenskap& Allmänhet). I also run a network, founded with some friends and friends-of-friends, for research communication professionals called FORSKOM (it lives on LinkedIn, and is officially bilingual Swe/Eng).

Community engagement working notes: monthly peer meeting

In 2017, I entered a AAAS Fellows program on Scientific Community Engagement, called “Community Engagement Fellowship Program” or in short, CEFP. The program has now moved to the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement.

Group photo of 20 smiling people in blue tshirts, all 2017 community engagement program fellows.
The CEFP 2017 Fellows, photo by permission of Lou Woodley. I’m in the middle row at the left.

This program was a turning point for me, personally and professionally. Many of us still keep in contact, and one of the things I regularly do is meeting virtually with another CEFP fellow, Stefanie Butland. She’s in Canada and I am in Sweden, so we meet virtually over audio (for the bandwidth to keep up with us). I really recommend you to do something similar, if you are lucky enough to find a compatible person.

We meet the same day each month, and usually check in the day before to confirm the time or adjust it if necessary, and we always end the talk by confirming the next meeting time.

We use these talks mainly to ask for advice on challenging issues – for a while Stef talked about the same hard issue for months and it worked out! – and for celebrating achievements and successes. Several of the issues work themselves out while we are discussing them.

It works because we are strict about keeping to 15 minutes each. Usually, we self-regulate around our own 13-minute marks. Despite the short time, we can get a lot done, because we trust each other and are honest. And we both have similar and different experiences, good and bad, from our community manager work, so there is almost never the need to explain a lot of detail.

Andra länkar / other links

Min doktorsavhandling går att ladda ner från DIVA (länk)
Min licavhandling går också att ladda ner från DIVA (länk)

Jag gick ett träningsprogram (Fellow’s Program) via AAAS under 2017, för att utvecklas som community manager. Programmet har nu omformat sig till en fristående organisation, CSCCE (Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement) och man kan fortfarande bli en fellow. Och här är mina fellow members!

My PhD thesis can be downloaded from the DIVA portal (link)
My licentiate thesis can also be downloaded from the DIVA portal (link)

I was accepted to a training program for scientific community managers (Fellow’s Program) via AAAS in 2017, to develop further as community manager. The program is now reformed as CSCCE (Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement) and you can still become a fellow. And these are my fellow members!


Jag har äntligen fått lite tid och möjlighet att blogga, igen. Det kommer bli både jobb och hobby, sometimes in English, och inte alls lika många foton på mina barn som man skulle kunna tro. /Malin

I finally will have some time to blog, again. It will be both job and hobby, sometimes in English, and mostly free of photos of my kids. /Malin

Vetenskapsjournalistikens framtid diskuteras just nu i Trieste…

… och hade jag inte lyckats bli väldigt otajmat sjuk hade jag varit där idag och talat om bloggande.

Workshop-programmet finns här, men framför allt rekommenderar jag workshopens tillhörande blogg där många av talarna (jag med) fått bidra med summerande inlägg om vad de skulle tala om.
Today, the future of science journalism is being discussed in Trieste, and if I had not become ill at a very unfortunate time I would have been there today to speak about blogging.
The workshop program is here, but I most of all recommend the workshop’s associated blog where many of the speakers (including me) were asked to contribute a summary of what they planned to speak about.