Life as an Extreme Sport

Dropping Expectations for an Unconference

There’s been a bit going around, where people muse on their expectations or hopes for the Science Online conference happening Raleigh at the end of this week. I’ve been thinking that I should do that – join the conversation, at the very least, and I’ve kept hitting against the wall of Don’t Know.

I really don’t know what to expect this week, because not only have I never been to Science Online, I’ve never been to an unconference-style conference. Which in itself is interesting, since I’m leading one of the sessions. (Look for musings on that later on tonight.) For now, I’m approaching that more like I would a classroom-based discussion, and hoping my teaching and improv skills aren’t so rusty that I’ll fall completely on my face. (Falling on my ass is acceptable.)

I suppose I should be nervous. My propensity for jumping into conversations can be useful on Twitter – it is, after all, how I got sucked into this whole thing to begin with – but it also leads me into talking with people who, if I stopped and thought about it for a minute, I would probably be at least slightly intimidated to talk to. (Typically by the time that part of my brain catches up to the rest of me, I just sort of ruefully shrug and go “oh,…yeah? Oh well.”)

I’m finding I’m not, though. I’m looking forward to meeting the folks I chitchat with through the day, join in eye-rolling at bad science, talk to about journalism and biology and science and writing and all those things. I’m hoping to take the chance to do some decent networking (something I actually tend suck at), and dip my toes further into the freelance waters, or at least get a better idea of how to. (Ideally I’d just eat Ed Yong‘s brain and gather the information that way – well, maybe; I’d have to confirm his age and eating habits to consider nvCJD risk – but culturally that’s frowned upon. Plus I think Ed’s still using it.)

It helps, too, that there’s something of a party atmosphere to this that I’ve not associated with most conferences I end up at; the liquid nitrogen OMG SCIENCE IS AWESOME beer floats on tap (er..canister?) for Thursday night caught my eye, and of course, lemurs. I get to go see lemurs. I’m seriously going to Kristen-Bell-meets-sloth a lemur.

I guess, then, my expectations are pretty simple: meet some people I know in another sense; squeak at some lemurs; have beer; and take my brain out for a walk, spending a couple of days having conversations about things I love to talk about. Anything beyond that will be serendipity—or at the very least, a pleasant surprise.