The ecosystem of science

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Science really means to me and what the philosophers of science have said about the system of science. I love Newton’s famous notion about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” but I don’t necessarily see it in that way… especially in my line of research investigating altmetrics and scholarly communication.

It’s a blustery evening in Finland and I am watching the trees bend and shed leaves in the strong breeze while thinking about this. It seems to me that the system of science resembles an ecosystem in which we try to make our lives meaningful and to shed light on our surroundings. We do, of course, use the work of others to view things through their eyes, but I don’t see myself standing on their shoulders and reaching for the stars. Instead I see myself as a small sapling, struggling for nourishment in a vast forest. At the same time, I view those before me, especially those marvelous minds from which I borrow, as large trees that shade me from the sun and break the harsh winds blowing over me. I see the trees of Goffman and Gibson, of Heidegger and Kant, and on and on, in my part of the forest. These solid, long standing trees protect me and nourish me, allowing me to grow and to become a tree myself.

As scholarly communication and science has changed, so too has the ecosystem. We are no longer simply trying to aspire to being the trees that provide the root system of science, we are also trying to spread and have an impact outside our forests. I feel like we are  now flowering trees, making pollen that can be carried away to the farthest fields with hopes of having an impact on our surroundings. We have evolved to make use of the technologies that have become a part of our world, to attract the attention of others so that they can carry our pollen away. A large part of this new technology and ecosystem is the internet, specifically social media and other online sources of information. Social media users are the bees that we need to spread our pollen, our information, outside of our isolated forests. What the bees are doing with this information, we don’t yet know.  But what we do know is that they can spread it faster and farther than ever before.

Through my work I hope we can figure out where our information is being spread and what kinds of impact we are having on society.

It. Is. Done.

I have finally finished my Ph.D. Yay. I graduated from the School of Informatics and Computing,  Indiana University, Bloomington at the end of July, 2015.

After seven years of contemplating social structures, norms, behaviors, communication, and the ways in which people use the affordances of social media, I was able to successfully defend my thesis in front of four of my peers and a handful of students in May, 2015 and make the required minor revisions and formatting changes to submit the final version of the document to the graduate school at the beginning of July, 2015.

It has been a long, rewarding journey and I am happy that I completed it. I have been able to travel around the world, move to two countries, and meet some extraordinary scholars, travelers, and neighbors. It’s been quite an adventure, one which I hope continues as I progress in my career as an academic. Thank you to everyone for the support and love throughout this process.

I’m now in Finland working with great scholars and looking to improve my abilities as a scholar, researcher, teacher, and coworker.


Scientometrics, Scholarly Communication, and Big Data… oh my!

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The Digital Humanities and Humanities Computing: An Introduction by S Schreibman, R Siemens, & J Unsworth

I’ve started the 2012 fall semester with a new G.A. position working for Dr. Cassidy Sugmioto on a grant titled Cascades, Islands, or Streams? Time, Topic, and Scholarly Activities in Humanities and Social Science Research.  The grant was awarded through the NEH and the Office of Digital Humanities and was part of the Digging Into Data challenge. The official grant description reads:

This project will examine topic lifecycles across heterogeneous corpora, including not only scholarly and scientific literature, but also social networks, blogs, and other materials. While the growth of large-scale datasets has enabled examination within scientific datasets, there is little research that looks across datasets. The team will analyze the importance of various scholarly activities for creating, sustaining, and propelling new knowledge; compare and triangulate the results of topic analysis methods; and develop transparent and accessible tools. This work should identify which scholarly activities are indicative of emerging areas and identify datasets that should no longer be marginalized, but built into understandings and measurements of scholarship.

I’m extremely excited about this G.A. position! It will allow me to study, record, and understand communication, connections, and behavior in social network sites (SNS) using a different set of tools and theories and it will allow me to make use of my semester AI’ing with Dr. John Walsh on his S657 Digital Humanities course and my past five years of experience working in the digital humanities (DH) realm and developing/designing DH websites and tools for the Chymistry of Isaac Newton project, TILE, and other projects.

It’s an ideal opportunity and I’m so lucky that I asked to audit Dr. Sugimoto’s Ph.D. version of her Scholarly Communication course.  I was interested in the scholarly communication beforehand after examining how Erving Goffman was cited in a subset of information science (IS) literature (a large portion of the discourse simply cited him ceremoniously). I became quite involved with and interested in the subject of scholarly communication as the course progressed. The course and discussion opened my eyes to vast possibilities outside the simple “citation count” and I became quite interested in the discourse. Later Dr. Sugimoto approached me with the possibility of working together and I jumped at the opportunity.

I came to the project with both excitement and fear, fear primarily because I felt a bit out of my comfort zone as the scholarly communication discourse was still relatively new to me. The other faculty and students working on the project have been fantastic and I’m positive I’ll benefit in a variety of ways from the experience. The fist part of my assistantship will include working with a small group of Ph.D. and masters students set with the task of examining network characteristics of the DH community across a variety of sources including various social network tools/sites, journals, books, and listservs, to name just a few. Some in the DH community have visualized and discussed characteristics of the DH populace (Cleo, Melissa Terras, and Alex Reid, to list just a few) and our group hopes to add to this picture by examining other sources for characteristics common to the DH community.