December 3, 2018

Think “Slack” for research groups and the AGU Fall Meeting

Posted by Laura Guertin

The upcoming AGU Fall Meeting makes this the perfect time to alert everyone to Slack as a possible tool for keeping connected with your students or other networks in attendance at the meeting and beyond.

I’ll start this post with “You’ve Probably Heard of Slack” – a video produced by Slack, which defines itself as “a collaboration hub—a virtual office where conversations happen, decisions are made, and information is always at your fingertips.” This video was published a few weeks ago, so there may be some features that will be new to those already using this platform (additional helpful overviews of Slack are available on the Slack YouTube Channel).

My IST colleagues have been using Slack for years, collaborating across faculty and with students in their courses. The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article in 2015 titled “Slack: When It Makes Sense to Use It.” But has Slack found a place in the Earth and space sciences? Dr. Brian Romans (Geosciences, Virginia Tech) asked that very question earlier this year:

It turns out that Nature News had already published a detailed article filled with examples for using Slack, from monitoring experiments to creating laboratory to-do lists.

One other interesting piece in the Nature News article is the use of Slack for conferences: “The last channel, Sullivan says, is for conferences — a place for attendees to discuss talks, posters and social outings without clogging other feeds, and to keep interested lab members up to date about what’s happening. Another benefit: Sullivan can update her presentations on the go. “I could be in an airplane at 35,000 feet and people are giving me figures for my talk,” she says.”

I myself had not taken the dive into the world of Slack until it was the foundation of communication for OCEANDOTCOMM, held at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in March 2018. Imagine if you will 37 scientists and science communicators scattered throughout the LUMCON facility, all working on individual science storytelling projects. How could our host site keep up communication with everyone scattered across the labs and in the field? The LUMCON organizers were smart in getting the attendees used to using Slack before arriving, having channels to coordinate transportation and general announcements and updates. During the workshop, channels were developed for individual themes and projects, the sharing of photos and resources, and on-the-fly workshops such as science sketching. The conversations then continued after the workshop as collaborations further developed and products were being disseminated. For me, the use of Slack was a home run for OCEANDOTCOMM.

For those attending the AGU Fall Meeting in teams and/or with students, I urge you to consider Slack as a way to send messages and reminders, share “ah-ha” moments across your group, and coordinate meet-ups for touching base with one another. These touch-points of communication can really enhance the conference experience.