Had an interesting conversation today. The content of the conversation and the person I had the conversation with is unimportant for this post. It turned out to be a good discussion, and I imagine in the near future I’m going to learn a lot about the topic discussed. But first, I had to open up.
You see, the discussion started with me going on the defensive because my position was being attacked and ridiculed. So much so that I felt that I was personally under attack. My experience is that when someone’s position is attacked, they will more then likely go on the defensive, close up, and not be able to listen to the other person’s point of view, let alone change their mind. All the person ends up doing is defending their own position because it’s under attack. The harsher the attack, the more personal it is, the more you end up defending your position instead of opening up to the possibilities and having a nice lively discussion.
We see it all the time in politics to be sure. Instead of having constructive, lively discussions on the issues, the one side goes on the attack causing the other side to go on the defensive. Nothing gets accomplished. And when it turns personal, it becomes even worse. Not only is the position attacked, but the person as well. You’re busy defending your position and yourself.
And it took me a while to realize that I had closed down. Instead of listening to what the other person had to say, I was searching for the right weapon to fend off the attack, even coming up with “facts” to support my position. But once I realized what I was doing I was able to open up, listen to what the other person had to say, request research articles that I might be able to learn more, potentially grow as a human being, learn something new, and potentially change my position.
There is not one single issue out there that I am 100% on. I have a position, and I can discuss my position. But I’m never 100% positive that I am right. I mean, how could I be. For example, if I have my numbers right, 90+% of scientists are 95+% sure that global warming and global climate change is a critical issue and is human caused. But hey, there’s still that ~5% probability that we could be wrong. Highly unlikely, but possible. The world is a big place with many complex systems interacting together to create our world. And we understand such a small part of that interconnectedness. So how could we possibly be 100%. How could I be so absolute in my positions. I try to approach discussions, debates, conversations in such a way that I will speak to and promote my position, but there is a distinct possibility that I could be wrong. And I’ll be the first to admit it.
So let’s have a lively, constructive conversation on the issues, grow in our understanding and the various perspectives, and be open to the possibilities.
The Art of Communication
Yeah, I know. There’s been plenty written on this topic over the years. I personally wish the art of communication were taught in at least high school. I wish nonviolent communication were taught in high school.
Here’s my philosophy … everyone wants to be heard. Everyone. Not just you. Not just the team lead. Not just the meeting organizer. Not just the professor. And everyone deserves the chance to be heard completely.
The key, in my opinion, to successful communication is … listening. It’s not good enough to just hear someone talking, but to hear what they have to say. It’s not fair to the talker or the listener. That’s what I mean by being heard completely. Listen, don’t interrupt. Sometimes it’s even good to say back to someone what it is you heard them say, just to verify its accuracy. That’s always good in relationship conversations. Don’t think about how you’re going to answer, or what you’re going to say in reply. Don’t even need to react to what they’re saying. Just listen to them, hear them, and try to understand them.
There are some who love to hear themselves talk. They just talk and talk and talk. They interrupt. They don’t let people finish what they have to say. And they make it difficult for people to get a word in edgewise. They make it really difficult for others to be heard, let alone be heard completely. This is unfortunate, whether in a classroom or a meeting room. Hey dude, it’s not all about you.
In an academic environment, yes, there is a teacher, or professor, or TA, who’s job it is to teach. But there are students who want to learn, they want to ask and answer questions, they want to express opinions, they want to convey ideas and thoughts. Just think how rich the conversation would be if everyone had a chance to be heard.
Meetings are my big frustration. Meetings are between 2 or more people. Not just one person. More then likely, everyone in that meeting is very busy, has a lot to do, a lot on their plate. I know I do. And I know that I want to get that meeting over with in as efficient a way as possible so that I can get back to work.
I will be the first to admit that I am not the best at meetings. I am easily distracted and sometimes end up pulling others into my distraction … SQUIRREL. And I promise that I will work really hard at that.
For project meetings, I am very interested in finishing the meetings as quickly as possible, not to take up everyone else’s time, and even try to finish up early. I promise that I will not discuss things in meetings that not everyone needs to be a part of. Not everyone needs to discuss every aspect of every part of the project. So if just 2 or 3 people out of 10 need to discuss something, they can take it offline and discuss it where they aren’t wasting everyone else’s time.
In a recent meeting there were quite a few questions asked during the meeting. I personally felt that just asking those questions was good enough for the meeting. Jot down the question, make sure you know who needs to participate in the discussion and answering of the question, and move on. No need to discuss the actual questions in the meeting. That’s definitely not the case in every meeting or for every question. It was just that in this meeting, which usually lasts a little over an hour on a good day, the questions were being asked, and then discussed and answered by just the 2 people who needed to participate in the discussion. The others in the meeting, including me, just did something else, like actually getting word done for the project.
So here’s my check list.
- Talk only when it’s your turn to talk. Don’t hog the entire conversation.
- Let other’s talk, be heard, and be heard completely. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t even do the “Mmhmm” thing, while they’re talking. Let them finish. Focus on what they’re saying, not on how you’re going to respond. Even if you disagree with them 100%.
- Only talk about what is relevant. Don’t talk about what you’re doing for another project that is unrelated to this project or class.
- Only talk about what the entire group needs to talk about. Take smaller conversations offline and include only those people that need to be included.
- Just because a question is asked, doesn’t mean it needs to be discussed or answered in the meeting. Again, take it offline and include only those people that need to be included.
- And the very most important point … listen. Hear completely what someone has to say.
Oh, one other thing, and something else that I’m going to work really hard at. Pay attention. Even if you have to pretend that you are paying attention. Don’t work on something else, don’t check email, don’t have your nose buried in your iPad, and take off those Google Glasses. I’ve heard people say that they are hearing what is being said while they’re working on something else … but I don’t believe it. Maybe it’s because I can’t do that. Look up, pay attention, and participate fully.
What if people recognized that words are just that, words. They are bits displayed on a computer screen in the shape of letters, or scribbles and scratches on a piece of paper, or vibrations emanating from a person’s vocal chords that are recognized as speech by the recipient, and so on. They are an agreed upon manifestation shared by a group of people to express thought.
And what if I could say the words “Happy Holidays” and it means that from the bottom of my heart I express my desire that you have a joyous and loving celebration of whatever your belief is of this season? My intention is to express my heartfelt hope that you enjoy this time of the year in whatever fashion you chose to celebrate it. The words are a simple, rudimentary manifestation of that intention, of that desire.
What if you could say to a Jewish friend “Merry Christmas” and, instead of that being interpreted to mean that I look to enslave the world by forcing someone to follow a particular religious belief system and that all other belief systems are wrong and anyone who follows said belief system should be taken out back behind the chemical shed and shot, that they interpret it instead to be a heartfelt desire from me to them to have a joyous celebration of their belief system, that I’m expressing my love for them and their family, that my intention is purely one of love.
What if a Jewish friend could say Happy Chanukah to you, and instead of you taking offense to that and thinking that they are trying to convert you to their way of thinking and belief system, that instead you interpret it for what it really is, that they are wishing you the love and joy that they share during their celebration onto you, that they love you and hope you too share in the love.
I am neither Jewish nor Christian, Muslim nor Buddhist, or anything. Yet I take absolutely no offense when someone says to me Happy Chanukah, or Merry Christmas, or wishes me a joyous Al-Hijira, or simply says Happy Holidays. Thank you for your well wishes!
So it’s not a War on Christmas, as some would say. It’s not an attack on any one person’s beliefs or intended to be negative in any way.
The words are simply a manifestation of the intention of wishing me the best. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I look at the meaning of the words and the meaning of their relationship with the person saying the words.
With that said, I hope you all had a wonderful, loving, joyous Winter Solstice, the re-birth of the physical sun as the days become longer, and the re-birth of the spiritual sun within you.
AGU Fall Meeting 2013 is over. THANK GOD! Well, to be clear, before I left for AGU I was really excited to be going. I was looking forward to the sessions, the posters, the talks, the collaborations, learning more, making new connections, and more. It’s sooooo much fun. And I loved being in San Francisco, at AGU, with sooo much to do and sooo much to learn. But, by Friday morning, I’m ready to go home. It is mentally and, for me at least, emotionally and physically exhausting. A great conference, but glad to be back home.
Presentations, Project and Prepare!
Wether an oral presentation or a poster presentation there are some very important things to remember. One of them, when you are speaking … PROJECT! Don’t talk to the microphone, talk to the person in the furthest corner of the room. Talk to the audience, not the screen, not your slides, not the session chairs, not the person in the front row. Talk to the audience. Repeat questions so the rest of the audience can hear, then answer the question.
Of course, it helps to have your slides in front of you. Unfortunately at AGU, the screen is to your right or left. Hmm … next time, I’m taking up my iPad with the presentation on it. Notes and all. Set up the iPad on the podium and only look when I have to. I like that idea … I’ll add that to my meeting prep notes.
So this means PRACTICE. Just writing your presentation isn’t good enough. You need to practice it many, many times. Make sure you’re within the time frame. Make sure your slides flow. Present to your family or friends. Or give a practice talk in the lab. There’s no reason why you can’t talk to the audience instead of presenting to your presentation (looking at your notes or the screen.)
Even if presenting a poster, practice. Practice give information about your work. Pointing out the main points of your poster, the key things you want people to take away after visiting your poster. Practice that.
This year at AGU we had what was called a flash mob, though it’s not what you think. Informatics folks were invited to gather at an informatics poster session. We started at one poster, moved on to the next poster, etc… Each presenter got to give a 5 minute presentation about their poster and their work. This would be a great practice presentation. The key is to make sure your audience understands the key points about your work.
I remember at a conference a while ago someone who was presenting during a session saying, “I use Linux, I don’t understand Windows”, regarding the fact that their presentation was being run on a Windows machine. Something similar happened at AGU this year.
If you know computers, then they are fundamentally the same. Mouse, keyboard, screen, CPU, memory, disk, etc… There’s menus for applications whether you’re on a Mac, a PC, or Linux. When you run a presentation, it’s basically the same. You run the slideshow, and you either use the arrow keys to move between the slides, or click through. There … DONE.
But this person was convinced that there was a HUGE issue because they knew Linux, not Windows. And they convinced others that that the presentation wasn’t going to be that great, I think.
With that in mind, read the information about presenting at a conference. Whether a poster presentation or oral presentation, follow their guidelines, follow their suggestions, be ready. Make sure you’re slides will run on their system, that you’re using the right software, and so on.
Your area of study is not the focus of everyone else’s study. I heard a gentleman, after a good talk, say that the focus of the presenter’s study should be “The Cloud”. Great … you go off and study the cloud, big data, whatever. I’m happy there’s people who are wanting to do that. Very exciting. Sounds like you are very passionate about that. I’m not. And neither was the speaker. The speaker had a very good response to the gentleman. “Yes, it is a very important topic, but that’s not my focus.”
We’d all love to have everyone interested in our work, and we might have opinions about what is important. I think documentation is really, really, really important. I think everyone should participate in data entry, even if it isn’t the most exciting aspect of research or science, I believe it’s vitally important. Without documentation and data entry then you might find yourself isolated. In other words, you and maybe a few others will understand what you’re doing and why. I believe we need to engage other scientists and researchers, but also educators, students, policy makers, and so on. So making sure your research, your data, your processes, your software, your reasoning, your findings, are documented, that you’ve entered your information about your work, I believe that that is important and everyone should do it. Should be part of everyone’s work. See my blog post http://jollybill.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/document-document-document/
But I’m not going to assume that this should be everyone’s focus. And I know for a fact that it’s not popular.
And there are plenty of areas of research. Not everyone can work on the same area. There are people who need to research global climate change, there are people who need to research the impact of global climate change, and there are people who need to research what we can do to eliminate the human impacts on global climate change. Ocean sciences, solar sciences, terrestrial sciences, geophysical sciences, biological systems, ecological systems, and so on. Too many to list here. Lots to do, and plenty of people to do it. Unfortunately, the funding is getting a little tighter.
Practicing what we preach
Okay, maybe preaching is a bit strong of a term, but you know what I mean. The Tetherless World Constellation is all about semantics. It’s all about very expressive representations of many different concepts and relationships. We have projects related to ecology, earth and environmental sciences, health, first responders, linked open government data, web science, information technology, social sciences and social media, and much, much more.
So do we think we should have a rich representation of the lab and all that we do there? Presentations, publications, talks, courses, people, projects, organizations, software frameworks and components, semantic tools, the lab infrastructure and inventory, people’s skills … Everything, right?
The answer is yes, we should have that. We do have quite a bit of that going on already, and there’s more that we can do.
So imagine next AGU when we have 6-7 people attending again with a dozen or so presentations. Imagine that each of those presentations has a URI, and that each presentation has a QR code in it somewhere, resources slide for a oral presentation, on each of the posters. Someone scans that QR code and browses to the URI, and gets a nice display of the presentation, including citation information, author list, event information, related information such as projects, research areas, and concepts. And, of course, a way to download that document. Or if they use a tool to pull back RDF from that URI and get the document description, then our work becomes machine readable as well.
Oh wait, we already have that. Unfortunately there were only a few presentations with QR codes this AGU. And I messed mine up by using the Drupal page URL instead of the document URI. Oops! So maybe next year we could do this? Again, guess I’ll add that to my meeting prep notes. Make sure everyone has a QR code for their document URI.
So we do have some representation of our work, but there is so much more to do. Software tools and packages that we’ve developed, our lab infrastructure, better descriptions and bios, more concepts that we can tag things with, smarter ways to represent this information visually, cool graphical visualizations of our lab. Ahhh … so much exciting work yet to be done. This field of study is quite fascinating, and quite fun.
The Tetherless World Constellation was well represented at AGU Fall meeting 2013. The event page, http://tw.rpi.edu/web/event/AguFallMeeting2013, lists all of our presentations, talks, and posters. Everyone who gave oral presentations … great job. Thanks to Evan Patton for stepping in at the last moment and presenting at two oral sessions and one poster session. Thanks to everyone for helping to staff the Academic Booth that we had set up in the exhibitors hall. And thanks to Professors Peter Fox, Deborah L. McGuinness, and James Hendler for giving us the tools and know-how to have such a great presence there.
And a lot of great sessions to attend this year on a wide range of informatics topics. Semantics, provenance, data stewardship, and more. I learned a lot this year to be sure, all the great projects going on out there surrounding earth science informatics.