I’m deviating away from the recent burst of science posts to tell you a little bit about one of my side projects.
In the dizzy dash of trying to finish up my Masters this year, I unfortunately haven’t been able to do as much volunteer work as I like, telling myself that I must throw 150% of myself behind this thesis. Which is true – so many unforeseen obstacles have thrown themselves in the way of finishing, I need all the focus I can muster. While getting around obstacles is a fantastic exercise in problem solving and skill sharpening, it’s a reminder to me that this can’t be absolutely everything. Holed away in my office in a separate building from my labmates, with nothing but a pile of data and a lot of coffee, I realized how cut off from everything I felt, leeching my life force from the shaky internet connection that at least put me in touch with other human beings, albeit with digital interfaces.
Dramatic, I know. But I realized that I could easily turn what felt like my useless coffee break diversions into something a little bit more.
Many of you who are Twitter savvy will have heard of a project called Rotation Curation. This initially started with the government of Sweden handing its official Twitter account (@Sweden) over to a different citizen every week. This has since blossomed into a worldwide loosely linked grassroots project of nearly 100 different “rotation curation” Twitter accounts, each one run by a different person every week, and each account unique in the community it stands to represent (be it geographical or ideological).
I got to know the project through @PeopleofCanada, an account for Canada which, unlike @Sweden, is not affiliated with the government. I found this account through a professor in Vancouver who I already followed (@enniscath), who became the curator of @PeopleofCanada for a week. Not wanting to be left out of a week’s worth of her tweets, I decided to follow @PeopleofCanada myself. Watching her interact with so many Canadians and other users from different countries was fascinating, and by the time her week was up, I knew I was a permanent follower!
In the weeks since, I’ve seen users from Newfoundland, Ottawa, Toronto, and many other places take over and tweet about their day-to-day activities and interact with other users. But the one thing that stood out to me was that no matter where they were from, they all identified as “Canadian” – which is funny to me, because questioning “what it means to be Canadian” is as much a part of being Canadian as almost anything else. It’s that identity we collectively can’t quite put our finger on, and we’ll argue about until the end of time since no two Canadians are alike. Our vast geography splits us, and many hold contempt for other places (it’s REALLY hard to make non-Ontarian friends if you yourself are from Ontario, trust me ) but at the end of the day, @PeopleofCanada is exactly what it calls itself – voices of different people that have, at least at one point, called Canada home.
Rotation curation isn’t just a nationality thing. City accounts are cropping up everywhere! Just in Ontario, there was already one for Toronto and one for Ottawa. Not to be outdone by the big cities, I decided that London, Ontario should have one too. After all, the Twitter community in London is hyperconnected and overwhelmingly active. It’s never that surprising anymore when something from this city is trending Canada-wide. There are a lot of voices within this city. And really, it only takes 52 people curating to make the project last a year! Obviously to make it worthwhile it takes a lot more than 52 people, since interactions and connectedness are what the project is all about, but it doesn’t have to be big to get started.
So, one night after a long day of thesis-ing til nearly midnight, I came home totally drained, wishing I could do something with my life beyond defining features of the mouse genome that I feel only a handful of people on the planet would ever understand, let alone appreciate. That’s when it hit me – I didn’t have to wait around for someone else to start a rotation curation account in London. If nobody had done it yet, then the idea was mine…and if there is anything I have learned from graduate school in the sciences, it is that when an idea is yours, you bloody take control of it before it’s scooped and you’re left with nothing!
The next day I began setting up the account. First, I nabbed a Twitter handle – @PeopleofLdnOnt. Second, I started a WordPress blog to host information about the project. Third, I got a Gmail account to handle applications and Twitter notifications. Within an hour it was up! Not pretty, but up! Over the next month I spend my spare minutes and thesis-breaks building up followers by following people in the community. The response was positive! Several people commented on how they were excited to see how it panned out. I didn’t get one negative remark at all – something I definitely could NOT say about my thesis. So that was nice! I felt really encouraged by the people who asked for more info, who tweeted back, who started sending in applications. And today, March 24 2013, marks the end of our Week 1 with our very first curator. A huge success! Our second curator now has control of the account, I have a third scheduled for next week, and I am currently reviewing applications for future curators. As of right now there are over 300 followers, and it’s growing. Not bad for a smaller Canadian city project started by one chick in the midst of thesis writing.
And you know what? My thesis has since grown to 62 pages, and the rate that I’m getting data analyzed is way higher than it was before. So although all I hear is that I should be working on my thesis all day, every day, no time to sleep or eat, don’t even THINK about television or volunteering – I see now what really sparks my motivation. Connecting the community, giving a project back to my hometown, and taking control of an idea and seeing it grow into something I can say I achieved with the support of those who want to be a part of it – THAT’S achievement.
Science is fickle. I love it dearly, it fascinates me, it is what I want to put my life in service to, but it’s hard to find inspiration along the dark and lonely road of finishing a thesis. If I can create and set @PeopleofLdnOnt free, then I can finish this thesis knowing it won’t be the only mark of my achievement. The qualification of holding a degree isn’t – and shouldn’t be – everything, it’s what you do along the way that makes it count.
Check out @PeopleofLdnOnt on Twitter, and see peopleofldnont.wordpress.com for more information.