This week we hear from Lou Woodley, our co-organiser from nature.com, on how she got involved in Science Online London, and what she hopes to bring to the event this year.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where on the path are you and where are you currently headed?

My current role is the Communities Specialist for nature.com which basically means I’m involved with all of our people-focused online projects. They include everything from blogs (both by independent bloggers and members of Nature Publishing Group (NPG) staff) to our social media activities. I’m also involved with organising “offline” meet-ups to discuss science online such as SOLO and Science Online NYC (SoNYC). I’m really lucky to be able to do something that happily blends my passions for people, science, education and technology.

When I started working at NPG, I was involved with our virtual home in Second Life where we hosted virtual conferences and built an entire area intended as an educational exhibit for Charles Darwin year. I helped design and create an interactive educational game where players could learn about Darwin’s theories and end up on a Second Life scale replica of the HMS Beagle.

The latest project that I’m enthused about is Science Online NYC (SoNYC).This is a monthly discussion series in NYC that I’m organising with John Timmer from Ars Technica and Jeanne Garbarino and Joe Bonner from Rockefeller University. We aim to provide a regular opportunity for anyone interested in debating the issues involved with communicating and carrying out science online. We launched on Wednesday 20th April and are hoping to share footage of all the events online so as many people can benefit from the discussions as possible.

 Tell us a bit more about any interesting previous projects you’ve worked on.

While I was studying at Cambridge University, I co-founded and was then Managing Editor of BlueSci, the university’s termly popular science magazine. We wanted to create a termly way of sharing what people across the university were working on so that anyone could find out more. I realised that I absolutely loved the 360 degree view that role offered – as Managing Editor, I did everything from writing, page setting, and hand-delivering issues to helping obtain advertising and trying to link up with other outreach activities across the university. This helped me to realise that I enjoyed helping people talk about science much more than I enjoyed lab work and that I wanted to do more of that next.

How “online” is your day-to-day life? Is there anything specific online that you wouldn’t like to live without e.g. favourite tools, blogs or websites?

I live online! Arikia Millikan wrote a great blog post last year about how she sleeps next to her smartphone and wanted a Google implant – in my case, I think it would be a Twitter one! I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis, not just the NPG ones, and am especially interested in the psychology of online behaviour and more broadly in education – issues such as how can the online environment be used to make learning more inclusive.

Do you write a blog yourself?

Sort of. I do enjoy writing but have always been more keen to facilitate sharing other people’s writing than promoting my own and I spend a lot of time these days reading other people’s posts. Various conversations in the past year have made me consider writing more of my own material, but I’ve not been very good at prioritising this.

I do contribute some of the posts to the Nature Network editorial blog and I was extremely fortunate last summer to form part of the English blog team at the 60th anniversary of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting. The whole week was a phenomenal experience – from being surrounded by promising young scientists from around the world on a fairytale island to interviewing the Nobel Laureates themselves. The schedule was really packed though, and I was up writing at 2am more than once that week!

How did you get involved with Science Online London?

I first got involved with Science Online London in 2009 (the 2nd event) when Joanna Scott and I broadcast the event in Second Life so that people who couldn’t attend in person were still able to follow along. Dave Munger had been scheduled to speak in London but was having passport issues and so he gave his talk from within Second Life. We broadcast this live to everyone at the conference in London by projecting the Second Life lecture theatre onto the walls of the one at the Royal Institution. This was really successful – it made a great bridge between the online audience and the real life audience, something that can be hard to pull off with a partially virtual conference.

Last year I was one of the co-organisers of the conference and learnt a lot about just how much work is involved in putting such a big event together. It’s not just inviting speakers – there are all the behind the scenes tasks from arranging catering and sponsorship to printing out name badges and stuffing swag bags.

What was the best bit about last year’s conference?

There were lots of aspects I enjoyed about last year’s conference – I’m always eager to hear thoughts on blogging from key thinkers such as Ed Yong and Alice Bell, who participated in some thought-provoking discussions. It’s also interesting in retrospect that Evan Harris’ appeal for scientists to speak up in matters of science politics felt like a call to action that resulted in the Science is Vital campaign.

Finally, aside from the main talks, one of my personal highlights was standing on the rooftop of Mendeley’s offices where we’d had the Saturday night BBQ event and watching the International Space Station pass overhead, with live narration from Karen James. I was aware of Karen’s enthusiasm for and knowledge about space via Twitter so it was awesome to be able to share the experience in person.

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s conference?

We’re hoping to shake up the conference format a little this year. We want to keep some of the familiar sessions for the first day – a keynote, some panels and the opportunity for attendees to get involved in presenting themselves in the breakout sessions. However, for the second day, we’d like to experiment with a more hands-on format – giving us all the chance to learn some more practical online skills and come away with something we’ve actually “done”. Stay tuned for more details on what exactly this is going to involve 🙂