Importance of meatspace – session at Science Online 2010

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This is long-overdue report of the session on science freelancing and science coworking at Science Online 2010 that I’ve co-moderated with Brian Russell from Carrboro Creative Coworking.

In the first part of the session I described shortly my journey from being freelance scientists (posts documenting ca. a year of being freelance scientist: Freelancing science – today and tomorrow and End of freelancing as a scientist (for now) ) to being head of virtual research institute (or rather virtual contract research organisation).  Then Brian introduced everybody to the concept of coworking and how it works for IT projects. He pointed out that one of advantages of coworking space is a real community forming around, without much of an intervention or moderation.

In the second part, inspired by Bora Zivkovic‘s ideas of science hostel (see his blog posts: Co-Researching spaces for Freelance Scientists? and What’s an office for? ) we went on discussing how much of organizational freedom can be applied to research institutions. It turned out that many people agreed that under certain conditions (for example no pathogenic wet lab work) one could do research in coworking space in majority of fields. Of course, some fields are more suitable than others (for example field work, or theoretical/computer work), but everybody seemed to agree that there’s no real obstacles to have science hostel for any kind of research. Also Bora pointed out that such hostels should be organised around equipment instead of research area, so the people from different fields can talk together and exchange ideas. Finally, Trevor Owens (community lead for Zotero project) had a cool idea of making CraigsList of unused (and available to use/rent) lab space.

During the discussion I was putting down major ideas into this mindmap available at MindMeister.

I think the major take-away message from this session was that people are surprisingly open to new kind of organization of research process. I don’t think any such initiative would run into a problem of convincing few researchers to at least try. Research parks, science hostels or virtual contract research organizations – all of these were seen as obvious solutions to certain (but not all) issues we face in our typical academic environment.

Of course the main obstacle to such ideas is the funding which is relatively simple in the first example (research park) and not that simple in others, but since the funding is an obstacle to many other good ideas, it wasn’t discussed at all.