Web Science goes Down Under

Melbourne – RMIT University

We arrived in Melbourne on Saturday evening. On Sunday a few of us visited the lively streets of Melbourne to get some sun, street arts, and diverse food to overcome the jet-lag. We refuged in coffee shops to benefit from the countless flow of coffee and decent Wi-Fi. On Monday, we headed to RMIT where Professor Susan Halford was presenting her work, “Speaking Sociologically with Big Data: Symphonic social science and the future for big data research”. The event was hosted by DERC, the Digital Ethnography Research Centre, and the audience came from three Universities across the City. Dr. Ellie Rennie, Associate Professor at RMIT, and some of the PhD researchers took us to a nearby rooftop bar for drinks and the darkest, noisiest restaurant in Melbourne for dinner afterwards!

We spent the morning of Tuesday practicing our presentations at RMIT giving feedback to each other, which was super helpful for all of us. It was nice to meet again those who we had presented the day before and finding out where everyone’s research interests and experiences lie. They were really engaging, asking interesting questions and made thought provoking suggestions for our work.

On Thursday, whilst waiting for our flight to Canberra we killed time with a brainstorm. It was short and I can’t express how helpful it was to bounce ideas around. I think everyone should just grab a couple of people once in a while and discuss where their thinking is at because those extra opinions can make all the difference.

Wollongong – UOW

Katina Michael went above and beyond hosting our time in Wollongong even scheduling in sightseeing (you can read her blog about the day here).  We arrived at UOW early morning with just enough time to catch some sun and see a bit of the campus before Susan presented her work at the Smart Infrastructure , this time to a more technical focused audience. You can hear recording here.

We enjoyed lunch in Gerroa (Barramundi dishes for all) that overlooked a beautiful 7 mile beach which we strolled along afterwards, then ventured to Gerringong where we were staying the night but also to the Bowlo. Yes, you read correctly. We were presenting in a bowling club. Amazingly they offered us a room with a projector which couldn’t have been more ideal. Slightly over running we finished so late (well, late for out here we soon discovered) that everywhere available to eat nearby was shut so we ended up in a Dominoes in Kiama! We all commented how it was great being able to present our work a second time to apply earlier feedback from each other and RMIT students.

Canberra – Brave Conversations

After Saturday and Sunday dinners in the capital networking with academics from ANU, University of Canberra and others from industry and government we finally made it to Monday for the main event. Brave Conversations – a two day event to discuss the changing relationship between humans & technology. You can read about the conference in more detail here (Link to WST blog posts). It was a new format for us all, with mini round table conversations, panels, debates and fishbowl discussions. Some elements worked better than others but it was a great learning curve. One thing it was brilliant for was bringing people together which Anni did wonderfully. We met people from so many different backgrounds and roles, networking was not a problem at all. Some initial outputs are here:



Chira – Being in the first year of my PhD I found it most beneficial talking to other students and academics with more experience. Not only was everyone really helpful with recommending articles and work I should read, but the feedback was constructive with useful pointers to where I should direct my focus next. Our day in Wollongong, Gerroa, Gerringong and Kiama was by far my most memorable. First time driving abroad, beautiful beaches, blowholes, a real taste of authentic Australia (no, I’m not talking about the Dominoes because everywhere else had shut around 8pm) and simply being out of the city.

Faranak – Being in the third year and approaching the time for writing up my thesis, the biggest benefit for me was the opportunity to present my thesis and receive feedback. Presentations involved summarising and narrating my whole thesis in a vocabulary suitable for a range of disciplines. When we rehearsed our presentations to each other and to other researchers, I received some invaluable feedback that helped me polish the arrangements and order of things to achieve this.

Jack – Spending several days in Melbourne at RMIT was one of the highlights of the trip. I met a couple of PhD students and academics at RMIT with similar intellectual interests to mine. We spent a lot of time together helping each other out, sharing insights and resources. I also liked the fact that we were in Melbourne for a few days, which meant we could get a better feel for the rhythm of the city and embrace its culture.

Rob – The next best thing to having a break from thesis writing and after surviving the fastest elevator trip in the Southern Hemisphere, I found myself completing a chapter whilst sitting in the observation lounge of the Eureka Skydeck, 285m above the busy streets of Melbourne. A day later found us booking into the impressive University House at the Australian National University in Canberra, along with some very noisy birds. Setting off early we arrived at the University of Wollongong in plenty of time for lunch and a presentation then a drive to the amazing beaches of Gerringong and Gerroa – without a board! This lack of board was made up for by being lucky enough to have excellent travelling companions and meeting with folks having a wide variety of academic interests and backgrounds. Of huge benefit to me, there is nothing like trying to explain your research concisely to experienced academics when trying to write a conclusions chapter.

Susan – This was a very diverse and demanding trip, full of opportunities of all kinds and for all of us! Being able to present the same paper to two very different audiences in the same week was great, especially as the paper focusses precisely on how to bring social scientific and computational approaches to big data analytics. For me the highlight was seeing Chira, Jack, Faranak and Rob present their work so brilliantly, show-casing just what it is that Web Science can do. Our hosts on were bowled over (and not just in Gerringong). It was a pleasure and a privilege to travel with you all.

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