The end (I hope) and the beginning

Both Laura and I defend next week, which is why the blog has been a little quiet of late. So, hopefully, it’s the end of our dissertations, and the beginning (or really, continuations) of careers working to create fun and engaging science learning opportunities for all. We both came into the program with a lot of years of actually doing outreach, with a little bit of experience in designing programs and even less in evaluating them. Now we’re set to leave with a great set of tools to maximize these programs and hopefully share the ideas we’ve learned with the broader field as we go.

So that’s set us to thinking about where we go from here. Now I have to build a broader research project that maybe builds off of the dissertation, but the dissertation was so self-contained, and relatively concrete in a way, that the idea of being able to do multiple things again is a bit daunting. I’m almost not sure where to begin! I will have some structure, of course, provided by the grant funding I get, and the partnerships I join. However, it’s important to think about what I want to achieve before I worry about the tools with which to do it – as always, start with the outcomes and work backwards.

It’s fortunate, then, that the lab group has started to discuss our broader research interests with the hopes of finding where they intersect in order to guide future discussions. We’ve been using prezi, creating frames for each sort of focus, then intending to “code” these frames by grouping those with similar topics and ideas. For example, one of my interests at this point is everyday scientist adults keeping current with professional science research developments, for purposes of using that information in their own personal and societal decisions, or simply for keeping tabs on how tax dollars are put to work, or for any other purpose they so desire. So, I’m interested in the hows, whens, and whys of everyday scientists accessing professional science information. This means I overlap with others in the groups working with museum exhibits, but also with people interested in public dialogue events, and in general, the affordances and constraints around learning in these ways.

As the leader of the group, Shawn has mentioned that this has been an exercise he’s used to think about his broader research goals as well, simply writing down his areas of focus, looking back at what he’s done over the past few years, and looking forward to where he wants to go. It also helps him to see what’s matched with his previous plans, and how circumstances or opportunities have changed those plans. I’m grateful to have this fortuitously-timed example of long-term goal setting and building a broader agenda, especially in such a small field where it’s likely that this is the largest group of collaborators in one place that I’ll have for a while. Hopefully, though, I’ll have my own graduate students before too long and maybe even other colleagues who focus on outside-of-school learning as well.

What sorts of tools do you use for figuring out long-term, broad, and somewhat abstract research goals?