2021 projects, #8: podcasts

Podcasts have been growing quickly in numbers during the last years, and I didn’t really clue in to that until I re-joined LinkedIn in the middle of the year for other work purposes – and suddenly, it seemed whoever I checked and followed had a podcast. Or had just started a podcast – it is apparently the Professional Thing To Do in the 2020’s.

Currently, my life mostly lacks quiet time to sit down (or go for walks) and listen to podcasts, so I have been amassing an ever-growing long list of interesting, possible podcasts to listen to; it is very low effort to follow more podcasts now that they are available on Spotify.

I used to listen to a lot of podcasts some years ago, when the kids were still small enough to need daily long walks in a stroller. It was mainly EscapePod and a few different Swedish Radio pods, and a very nice podcast with some of my favourite authors chatting about different things, the SFSqueecast, but it ended long ago.

So, my project for 2021 is: take the looong list of podcasts I currently subscribe to, and trial them to see which ones are worth keeping long term. I have one nominee for the list already, the ORION Open Science podcast.

2021 projects, #7: books

I own a lot of books. Nowadays, I mostly buy Kindle books, since the bookshelves had to go when we got twins. I now own about 700 books on Kindle, of which 400+ are read at least once. This is the result of one single Twitter account (mostly), @SFSignal, that tweets sales of SF and other fantastic fiction, under the tag sff_eBookDeal. Some of the books go for as low as $1-$2, and that’s where the majority of my digital library comes from.

I also own a lot of actual, physical SFF books. Nearly all paperbacks. We used to have a high shelf for my books along the walls of our entry hall, but when we switched apartments a few years back, that had to go. It swallowed at least 150 books, that now lying in boxes in the cellar storage.

When we started the Matmolekyler project, we started out with buying useful books. I have a bunch of those in my bookshelves (including some I got myself, or as gifts: several books by HaroldMcGee, two priced *signed* books by Gordon Shepherd). Since then, I try to buy food-science-related books when I find them at reaonable prices. That collection is now about 50 books.

I also went through a period where I was thinking a lot about food and cooking history, so I tried to find some of the earlier real cookbooks (and school household training books) from the early 1900s. There are typically cheap and abundant at used book stores, so by now I have quite a few. Including one I got at a museum, which is a copy of a 1800s cookbook along with a companion book written by a historian). And a set of two old ~1800s household encyclopedias in a new edition from a Swedish agricultural society (I had to order them special and pick them up in person). Let’s say, another 40 or so books.

For 2021, I hope to rearrange all of our (mine, really) bookshelves so that I have more SFF books accessible (since I want to re-read them anyway). I hope to inventory and index all books, and maybe even get rid of some. I need to find some good book inventory software – I have Goodreads but haven’t really used it for sorting books yet.

2021 projects, #6: scouting & leadership

The founder of Adolf Fredrik scoutkår, Ivar Åkerfelt.

My kids wanted to join the Scouts, so we put them in the queue for our local Scoutkår, Adolf Fredriks. Kids whose parents agree to help with (co)leading get boosted higher in the queue, and I do have earlier experience, so I indicated my willingness to help. And then we waited.

Not for long, it took maybe a month or so. No regular meetings were held, but we tried to meet up on Zoom each week (and if you have ever wondered why Zoom etiquette is needed, try meeting with a group of eight-year-olds and try to get them to follow a program).

There have been no outside activities yet, but that is our likely next step, so we have gone over what outdoor equipment we have and what we need. Black Friday let us buy two good sleeping bags for a good price. The kids’ great-grandmother gave them each a good outdoor backpack. I found myself hiking boots, outdoor trousers and a decent size backpack (~50 l ) on sales. Rainjackets, -trousers and boots/waterproof shoes we already have, because of Stockholm winters. We also got two pairs of skates and helmets for the kids, because one of the possible future activities is the skating ice frozen in the nearby Vasaparken, arranged every winter season by the local authorities.

So for the next year at least, I will be the co-leader of a troop of 8-year-old scouts (who will turn 9 during the year). I have so many ideas for fun stuff to do, based on my own years in the Mjölby scoutkår at home.

2021 projects, #5: community managers & resilience

The CMX holiday letter states: “ I just reviewed the data with the research team and one thing is crystal clear: community has become an irreplaceable part of business. In a year where a lot of businesses struggled, and there were many layoffs, community teams actually grew. And companies of all sizes, in all industries, are going to be investing in community in a big way next year.”

I have a standing alert for community-related position ads on LinkedIn, and see clearly a parallell increase in community positions offered in science & academia. Where ads earlier have been implicit about the community aspects, hiding it under terms such as ‘field knowledge’, nearly everyone knows and admits to some degree that in academia, it is impossible to succeed without community support. It is built into the system that your peers will (hopefully) acknowledge you and lift your work up – this mechanism is seen in such academic pillars as peer review, recommendation letters, and hiring committees, to name some examples.

Since I did my AAAS Community Fellowship in 2017, a training program that ran twice and which has now transformed into an independent organisation called CSCCE, Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement , I have been an active member in the community that surrounds CSCCE. We have a lot of interesting activites and projects around community management – interest groups (I’m in the Open Science SIG and lurking in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion SIG), projects (I’m in one we started in 2017, aiming to describe and pin down community manager skillsets), and Working Groups (I’m in the Community Champions WG).

The theme for the 2021 Community Manager Advancement Day, which takes place on January 25, is resilience. A very fitting theme, after this Covid year. Resilience of self, when the world stops around you; resilience of communities to chaos and changes; resilience of organizations and society – where community has a huge part.

2021 projects, #4: learn something new

I have always sought out situations where I think I could learn something interesting. 2021 will not be different. Many of the tings I have learned over the past decade are by Brownian motion and absorption – spend enough time in a community, you will pick up their interests. So I thought it would be a nice thing to learn something in a more structured fashion.

If there is one thing – something not Covid – which has popped up repeatedly in the space around me this year, it is AI and machine learning. Many papers with new neuro tools using deep learning and other ML approaches. That fantastic protein folding study. The Semantic Scholar search enginge’s new amazing TLDR:s of papers. And I attended a very interesting webinar on the possible applications of AI in music (I think it was a Stockholm AI event, but their event calendar is bugging out on me currently, so I can’t verify).

What entices me is the amazing creativity I see in many approaches – there are obviously a wide range of AI applications that I had not been able to imagine.

So I have signed up for two courses, one translated into Swedish – mostly to pick up the Swedish terms if they even exist yet, also because the translation is fantastic – and one in English from Coursera.

My 2020 project was to learn Python. Since I effectively started it in September, I haven’t come that far yet (I am at the NumPy stage), so this will be a continuing project in 2021. Also, I was gifted my friend Benjamin Auffart’s new book on ML in Python, the Artificial Intelligence in Python Cookbook, so I have resources to make this another branch of the AI learning project.

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.

Jul 2020: att koka kola

En av mina tidigaste julförberedelser är att koka kola. Jag vill hinna med några sorter innan jul, och det finns ingen(?) som orkar dela och slå in mer än en sats kola per helg (~100 st).

Ingen fotobeskrivning tillgänglig.

I år har jag hittills kokat bergamott-kola, chokladkola med lavendel, och lakritskola (ovan).

Till bergamott-kolan använde jag Mitt Köks recept på citronsmörkola, av Michael Hoffman, fast med finrivet bergamottskal och -saft. Det viktiga att tänka på när man smaksätter med citrusskal är att ha i det absolut sist, precis innan man häller upp kolan. Annars försvinner mycket av smaken. Bäst är därför att riva skalet riktigt fint på ett zestjärn, så det inte blir märkbara bitar i kolan.

  • 4 dl vispgrädde
  • 4 dl strösocker
  • 2 dl ljus sirap
  • 150 g smör (normalsaltat eller osaltat)
  • Smaksättning alt 1 – citrus
    • 1 st ekologisk bergamott eller annan citrusfrukt, finrivet skal + saft
    • 1 krm salt (eller mer, om smöret var osaltat)
    • Saften kan blandas med övriga ingredienser i början av koket, men det rivna skalet ska blandas i allra sist.
    • Garnering: en eller ett par sorters fint strössel, gärna mindre bitar tex minipärlor + lite flingsalt
  • Smaksättning alt 2 – choklad
    • 2 rågade msk/ 0.5 dl bra kakao, t ex Monbana.
    • en halv tesked salt (eller mer, om smöret var osaltat)
    • en halv tesked malt kaffe
    • en halv tesked malt lavendelsalt
    • ett kryddmått anchopeppar
    • Garnering: en eller ett par sorters fint strössel, gärna mindre bitar tex minipärlor + lite flingsalt + finrivet limeskal

Resultatet av receptet blev så bra att jag använde samma recept som utgångspunkt till chokladkolan, men med lite ändringar och tillsatser. Viktigaste ingrediensen i chokladkolan är riktigt bra, mörk kakao (nej, inte Ögonkakao). Jag gillar den här från Monbana som brukade vara omöjlig att få tag i förr, men som nu finns på apoteket. Jag tog två väldigt rågade matskedar. Sedan spetsade jag chokladsmaken med att förstärka åt lite olika håll med (pyttelite) lavendel, ancho, (pyttelite) kanel, lite salt, och lite vanligt malt kaffe. Limeskal och flingsalt ovanpå – och lite snöflingeströssel – när jag hällt upp kolan i formen.

Ingen fotobeskrivning tillgänglig.

Till lakrits-kolan fick jag experimentera lite mer. Jag utgick ifrån det första receptet jag hittade som nämnde lakritsstång, ett från 2011 på Koka ihop postat av Anneli i Örnsköldsvik (som angav Apoteket som receptkälla), men eftersom jag ville bli av med två hela 3dl paket grädde skalade jag upp allt med 20%. Och från tidigare år mindes jag att en lakritsstång inte riktigt räckte, så jag tog två. Sedan hade jag också i en cup (~2.5 dl) melass för att bredda lakritssmaken lite grann. Och en halv tesked salt. Det blev en gigantisk hög kola, nästan 120 rätt stora bitar (dvs ~20 bitar per dl grädde).

  • 5 6 dl grädde
  • 500 600 gram socker
  • 5 6 msk sirap ljus
  • 2 msk 2.25 msk (34ml) flytande glykos
  • 50 60 gram smör
  • 50 2*50 gram lakritsstång
  • 2.5 dl melass

Det är jättelätt att starta ett kolakok, och använder man termometer rakt igenom är det inte stressigt heller. Det är efterarbetet – skära och slå in – som tar tid och ansträngning. För kokningen väntar man bara tills det är “klart”, en dryg halvtimme på 2/3 av maxvärme, och så tar man grytan av värmen. Stektermometer som kan ligga i smeten hela tiden gör det lätt som en plätt, se till bara att den inte nuddar botten på kastrullen. Det kan vara bra att röra runt lite då och då när temperaturen börjar gå över 120-125 grader, då börjar kolan vara trög och kan bränna vid i bottnen. Särskilt viktigt är det att röra om man har kakao i kolasmeten.

Och när är “klart”? Det varierar med hur mjuk kola man vill ha. ICA har en bra och rättvisande temperatur-guide, jag citerar:

  • Vid 122-125°C är knäck- eller kolasmeten lagom kokt för mjuk kola.
  • Vid 140-145°C får man hårda kolor som är lite sega mitt i.
  • Vid 160°C är smeten karamellfast.

Mjuk kola” är inte vad jag siktar på, precis. Jag tycker den blir flottig och obehaglig. Däremot är den klart lättast att skära.

Hård kola” vill jag inte riktigt ha, men ganska nära. Vid 140-145 grader blir kolan dessutom nästan omöjlig att skära om man väntar för länge, då får man skära kvickt när den svalnat lagom mycket och inte för mycket (~10-minutersintervall).

Lagom kola” – ungefär 130 grader – brukar jag sikta på. OBS att chokladkola med kakao blir hårdare än vanlig kola och behöver vara några grader mindre varm när man slutar koka den.

Bäst blir nog resultatet när man *precis* låter kolan passera 131 grader och häller upp den genast. En stek-termometer som sitter i smeten hela tiden (men INTE nuddar botten) är som tidigare nämnts en bra hjälp. OBS också att man bör passa på att skära kolan innan den svalnat helt. Lägg de nyskurna bitarna separat med ett par millimeters mellanrum, annars flyter de ihop (om du t ex lämnar dem över natten). OBS att chokladkola med kakao blir hårdare än vanlig kola och behöver vara några grader mindre varm när man slutar koka den.

Strategiskt glest uppskuren kola. De flesta klarade sig, men några fick jag skära isär nästa morgon.

Det är bra att förbereda en form. Antingen smord eller fodrad med bakplåtspaper (INTE smörpaper), eller hängsle-och-bälten style: smort bakplåtspapper. Jag rekommenderar baksprej, det är jättesmidigt. Annars funkar neutral olja, t ex solrosolja, bra – fukta ett hushållspapper och sprid ut olja tunt över bakplåtspappret. Kolan blir lite fet på ytan (= fastnar inte längre) när den svalnat, men medan den är smält fastnar den obönhörligt i alla ytor som inte är smorda, och sitter som järnet när den stelnat. Vi har förlorat minst en tallrik på för hård (lakrits)kola som fastnat och inte ville lossna.

Kola kokt som jag vill ha den blir riktigt hård och svårhanterlig när den svalnar, lite som glas men förstås inte lika hett. Kokar du till ~130 grader som jag rekommenderar jag att strategiskt skära kolan tvärs över några gånger medan den svalnar, sedan skära i de halvfyllda skårorna – eller klippa isär, jättesmidigt med bra sax – det skårade kolaflaket till ~3-4 cm breda kola-remsor, sedan skära remsorna i ca 1-1.5 cm breda bitar. De måtten blir en lagom bit för antingen
* lyx-varianten: färdiga kolapapper, finns dyrt på Panduro (59kr/50 st). Billigare på andra ställen, leta i webbaffärer som Lyckasmedmat.se (25kr). Eller
* budget-varianten: vik ett bakplåtspapper (INTE smörpapper) i fyra på längden, klipp i remsor, klipp remsorna i lagom stora bitar. Prova på en kolabit innan du klipper många bitar, det går åt lite mer papper än vad man tror om man ska snurra prydliga knut-rosetter i båda ändar på kolan.

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.