About Susan Roberta O Brien

I am a marine educator from Brazil, an Environmental Education Ph.D. candidate who is passionate about the fascinating world of ocean sciences, informal education, and capacity building for science communication. I am also a mom, just as passionate about experiencing nature through the curious and adventurous eyes of my two daughters. I am a diver and the ocean is where I feel most at home.

It is probably not a mystery to anyone who knows me, but I have a complicated relationship with the Make movement.  Make is, in my opinion, an fascinating form of free choice learning. It grew out of the (computer) Hacker movement and has evolved to include all kinds of do it your self kind of projects- from building your own 3-D printer at home to keeping bees.  If you have ever seen any old “Popular Mechanics” magazines, full of projects to do at home, you will have a sense of Make Magazine, which has been in publication since 2005.  From this beginning, as well as a very interactive and content rich website, a whole community has sprouted up around the world, with local Maker Spaces for regular meet-ups as well as annual Maker Faire events that have the subtitle “the greatest Show and Tell on Earth”. What Make realized, from their start with the magazine and website, is that people wanted more than a “Do it Yourself” (DIY) lifestyle- they wanted to come together in community and share skills and tools and a communal space to work on larger and group projects- more of a “Do it with Others” (DIWO) style. Currently, there are hundreds of MakerSpaces around the world and more Maker Faire events happening in places from New York to Eugene to Tokyo.

In the last few years, they have also started reaching out more deliberately to youth, with the MakerEd initiative (yes, they do work the “Make” thing a bit too much, even for my taste!).  Realizing that most young people do not have access to Make experiences or much in the way of hands on learning, they have taken this on, creating a system of mentor training, a summer Maker Camp offered through the Google Plus/Hangout platform with new projects every day for a month, as well as organizing Maker Faires to be family friendly events.  I think it is one of the most exciting things happening in learning right now.

So, back to my opening comment- why is my relationship with Make a complicated one? Well, in all honesty, I am not really a Maker- I just don’t have much of a desire to get in there and build things or interact with computers any more than I have to, so I sometimes feel like a poser.  I do knit and crochet, so can work the craft angle, and am getting more into the homestead lifestyle as I get older and my priorities shift around. But, I am a Make enthusiast! I have spoken about it, or presented posters at 4 conferences and counting and try to let people know about it whenever appropriate. A telling comment was at the AAPT conference this summer, when someone asked me what my relationship or role is with Make, and the first answer that came to me was, “well, I am a Make evangelist”.  I do want to get the word out and get people excited and involved in helping create these experiences for learners of all ages.

Thus, while I might never pick up a soldering gun, you will find me helping build this community in as many ways as I can. Keep your eyes open- there is Making happening everywhere!

Peace, Jen

The challenges of integrating the natural and social sciences are not news to us. After King, Keohane and Verba’s (KKV’s) book entitled “Designing Social Inquiry”, the field of qualitative methodology has achieved considerable attention and development. Their work generated great discussions about qualitative studies, as well as criticism, and sometimes misguided ideas that qualitative research is benefited by quantitative approaches but not the other way around. Since then, discussions in the literature debate the contrasts between observations of qualitative vs. quantitative studies, regression approaches vs. theoretical work, and the new approaches to mixed-methods design. Nevertheless, there are still many research frontiers for qualitative researchers to cross and significant resistance from existing conservative views of science, which question the validity of qualitative results.

Last week, while participating in the LOICZ symposium (Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I was very encouraged by the apparent move towards an integrated approach between the natural and social sciences. There were many important scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines discussing the Earth systems and contributing steps towards sustainability of the world’s coastal zone. Many of the students’ presentations, including mine, had some social research component. I had many positive conversations about the Cyberlab work in progress and how it sits at the edge of building capacity for scientists/researchers, educators, exhibit designers, civil society, etc.

However, even in this meeting, over dinner conversation, I stumbled into the conflicting views that are a part of the quantitative vs. qualitative debate — the understanding of scientific process as “only hypothesis driven”, where numbers and numbers alone offer the absolute “truth”. It is still a challenge for me not to become extremely frustrated while having to articulate the importance of social science in this case and swim against a current of uneducated opinions about the nature of what we do and disregard for what it ultimately accomplishes. I think it is more than proven in today’s world that understanding the biogeophysics of the Earth’s systems is essential, but that alone won’t solve the problems underlying the interaction of the natural and social worlds.  We cannot move towards a “sustainable future” without the work of social scientists, and I wish there would be more of a consensus about its place and importance within the natural science community.

So, in the spirit of “hard science”…

If I can’t have a research question, here are the null and alternative hypotheses I can investigate:

H0 “Moving towards a sustainable future is not possible without the integration of natural and social sciences”.

H1  “Moving towards a sustainable future is possible without the integration of natural and social science”

Although, empirical research can NEVER prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that a comparison is true (95 and 99% probability only), I think you would agree that, if these hypotheses could be tested, we would fail to reject the null.

With all that being said, I emphasize here today the work Cyberlab is doing and what it will accomplish in the future, sitting at the frontiers of marine science and science education. Exhibits such as the wave laboratory, the climate change exhibit on the works, the research already completed in the lab, the many projects and partnerships, etc. , are  prime examples of that. Cyberlab is contributing to a collaborative effort to the understanding and dissemination of marine and coastal issues, and building capacity to create effective steps towards sustainable land-ocean interactions.

I am very happy to be a part of it!


And the Cyberlab is again “going abroad”….Field trip to Brazil anyone?

I will be presenting about my proposed research and the work of cyberlab at a LOICZ (Land-Ocean interaction at the Coastal Zone) Symposium in Rio next week. LOICZ is a core project of the international Biosphere-Geosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). The goal of LOICZ is to contribute to science development towards understanding the earth’s systems in order to inform and contribute to sustainable practices and educate the public about the world’s coastal zones.

As one of 8 young Brazilian social and natural scientists funded to participate, I will have the great opportunity to share my research project and the work of cyberlab,  to gain insights onto their global research program as it relates to the themes of the “Future Earth” Programme and contribute to discussions with the LOICZ Steering Committee. The Future Earth themes are:

1.Dynamic Planet: Observing, explaining, understanding, and projecting earth, environmental, and societal system trends, drivers and processes and their interactions as well as anticipating global thresholds and risks.

2.Global development: Knowledge for the pressing needs of humanity for sustainable, secure and fair stewardship of food, water, biodiversity, energy, materials and other ecosystem functions and services.

3.Transformation towards Sustainability: Understanding transformation processes and options, assessing how these relate to human values and behaviour, emerging technologies and social and economic development pathways, and evaluating strategies for governing and managing the global environment across sectors and scales.

Can you think of links/ associations between their themes and the various research works taking place within the lab?  The event funders agreed the work we do fits right within their mission and they are very excited to learn more about the potential for an interdisciplinary  research platform that the cyberlab represents. I have to say,  I was happy to see they are not only valuing the inputs of students/young scientists within their large discussions and initiatives for the Future Earth Programme, but also the inputs of social scientists and learning researchers as ourselves. I am very happy to be a part of this.

If you want to learn more about LOICZ visit   http://www.loicz.org/about_us/index.html.en  

Stay tuned for twitter posts from Brazil!


Our FCL group has been asked to participate in the mid-summer check-in for the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars Program. Members of our group will be giving a 2-hour seminar for the six undergraduate students participating in the program. The workshop will be about communicating sciences and outreach, and I have been helping with the planning process. Therefore, I have been thinking a lot about science communication and its often association to the “broader impact” components in research grants. What would be important to include in such a workshop to introduce the debate of science communication to these young scholars in the beginning of their careers?

If  science education needs some reform, how important is it for educators to partner with the scientists in order for such reform to occur? I think it is very important but mostly when  science outreach starts to be viewed as more than a voluntary activity with tangential benefits for scientists and has broader significance to them. Thinking interpretively, this will only be possible when outreach and science education opportunities accommodate their interests, time and talent. Sooner or later, every scientist will be required to engage in some sort of outreach, but the key here is whether the role they fall into is a role they feel comfortable with.

In their Fall 1998 newsletter of the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society, Rodger W. Bybee and Cherilynn A. Morrow (1998) talked about “Improving Science Education: The Role of Scientists” and reported on a matrix that sorts out the roles scientists could or do play in science outreach. Such roles were classified in the formal and informal educational settings and they fitted in one of three categories: Advocate, Resource, and Partner. For example, if a scientist assumes a role of advocate within an informal education setting such as a science center, he or she could perhaps participate on the board and participate in decision making. On the other hand, if a scientist choose to be a resource, he or she can review science content in exhibits or programs, give a talk at a science center, etc. As a partner, a scientist would collaborate with the creation of a exhibit or program from the get go. Here is the link for this article:


This matrix on possible scientist’s role in outreach and science communication is an important resource for the proposed workshop. I think it is imperative for young scientists to understand the possibilities for involvement, the possible venues and the roles they may find themselves in someday. BUT I came to think that it is also very important that these young scientists can think about who they are and how their talents can best fit within the matrix. Are they advocates, resources or partners? regardless, they need to feel comfortable in their roles in order for them to effectively contribute to a science education reform.

As the next crop of scientists graduates from universities, what role will they see themselves playing within science outreach and communication? Do they see themselves in a outreach role at all? motivations should not only be external such as a requirement of a grant funded project but should also be internal such as relevance and usefulness within the scientist work scope and interests. Below is some more food for thought in the subject:

Thiry et al 2008

Halvesen & Tran 2011

Larsen et al 2008

MarBEF article

Thiry et al. 2008




Hi all!

I have  been doing some readings for my Advanced Qualitative Methods Class and run into some interesting remarks about the challenges of  qualitative data analysis. I though I would share this with you. If you are still to dive into data analysis for your projects, I think these are good references to have as they offered many strategies to cope with the challenges of analyzing qualitative data.

The readings brought forth the idea that the steps and rationale of qualitative data analysis is often obscured in research reports.  There is no widespread understanding in the field as to how qualitative analysis is to be done. Can there ever be such an understanding? Given the very nature of qualitative analysis, no single cookbook is possible, but some strategies have been proposed by various researchers and have been proven helpful in aiding analysis of data.

Bulmer (1979) discusses concept generation, referring to previous work from other researchers who attempted to address the “categorization paradox” and the problem of validating concepts defined/used in qualitative analysis. The “sensitizing” concepts of Blumer, the “analytical induction” of Znaniecki, and the “grounded theory” of Glaser and Strauss are all, within their limitations, sources of insight for thinking about concept validation, as they bring forth the importance of conceptualizing in a way that is faithful to the data collected. I believe this was important to the development of inductive research in more rigid ways that allowed for appropriate generalizations.

Since then, other publications have emphasized the practice of qualitative data analysis and strategies to consider along the way (e.g. Emerson et al. 1995; Lofland et al. 1984; Weiss 1995).  Developments have been made in discussing concerns about data faithfulness and its interplay with the subjectivity of the researcher. I particularly like the Lofland et al.  (1984) definition of analysis as a transformative process, turning raw data into “findings/results”. Here the researcher is a central agent in the inductive analysis process, which is highly interactive, labor intensive and time consuming, and therefore requires a systematic approach to analyzing data in order to account for the interplay between the data and the researcher-produced theoretical constructs.  The authors suggest a few strategies to use while analyzing data, two of which I would like to elaborate on here: normalizing and managing anxiety and memoing.

I have read many qualitative methods materials and they all discuss the need for the qualitative researcher to recognize and be aware of his/her subjectivity in the course of preparing for, conducting and writing about a research problem.  Lofland et al. (1984) touches further on a point that I now believe to be key to subjective interference in data analysis, the issue of researcher anxiety.  At first it seemed to be an overstatement, but the more I read the more I found substance in the issue. Understanding a social situation is no easy task and requires an open-ended approach that can cause much anxiety as the researcher is confronted with the challenge of finding significance in the materials. Ethical and emotional issues come into play in the midst of making sense and organizing a rapidly growing body of data and they can negatively affect the research experience if not dealt with properly.

The authors emphasized five anxiety-management principles for researchers to think about: 1) recognition and acceptance of anxiety; 2) Start analysis during data collection; 3) be persistent and methodical; 4) accumulation of information, at minimum, will ensure some content to talk about; 5) Discuss with others in same situation.   These strategies really addressed my worries regarding the process of data analysis. High emotions, fears, and wanting to quit are all part of anxiety reactions I have been feeling myself.  I believe starting early and being methodological and persistent are key strategies to deal with anxiety issues because it can assure you have time to address the challenges, make changes and not be so frustrated in the course of doing so.

If starting early, initial coding can be done in advance of starting focused coding, giving the researcher time away from the data that may needed to reduce anxiety. Early coding assures the possibility for early memos, which can help clarify connections along the way and assure persistence will prevail due to observable progress. I believe memos are the start of the  “transformative process’’ that Lofland et al. (1984) were referring to while defining data analysis. It is the bridge between the data and the researcher’s meanings, a first draft of a completed analysis where the interplay between data and theoretical constructs take place. Consequently, writing memos become necessary rather than optional.

Both Lofland et al. (1984) and Emerson et al. (2011) extensively discuss the memoing process. Operational memos are notes to self about research procedures and strategies. Code memos clarify assumptions underlying written codes. Theoretical memos record the researcher’s ideas about the codes and relationships. These are the memos that can take place even before coding starts, and that provide the basis for the “integrative” memoing that Emerson et al. (2011) refer to as they talk about identifying, developing, and modifying broader analytic themes and arguments into narrower focused core themes. Furthermore, while Lofland et al. (1984) explores the art of writing memos, Emerson et al. (2011) emphasizes the “reading” of memos, and the importance of reading notes as a whole and in the order they were written as beneficial to this integrative process of making meaning. This aspect added a fourth layer of subjectivity in addition to the layers of observing, deciding and writing about a phenomenon – the layer of reading and making sense of them.

In the course of doing so, the researcher’s assumptions, interests and theoretical commitments influence analytical decisions. In this sense, data analysis is not just a matter of “discovering” but a matter of giving priority to certain incidents and events from data materials in order to understand them in a given case or in relationship to other events.  This idea is interesting to me as I used to think of theoretical constructs emerging from the data in a process of discovery, and now I see it as a process of immersion. The researcher not only can immerse him/herself in the phenomenon being studied during data collection, be he/she is also immersed during data analysis as these inseparable subjective decisions shape the theoretical constructs. While I still think there is an aspect of discovery, it is somewhat created rather than naturally occurring.

In sum, there are several methodological attempts to clarify the logic of qualitative data analysis. However, the use of such guidelines and strategies are not very transparent in research reports and one may be left wondering about how the data analysis was actually done, how exactly the concepts came to be in a given study. Nevertheless, such methodological strategies highly emphasize the interplay between concept use and empirical data observation. Although a logical process does take place in analysis and it is indeed crucial to the systematization of ideas and formation of concepts, it seems to me this process is as logical as the researcher makes it within his/her sociological orientation, the study of substantive framework and the nature of the phenomenon in study. In this sense, nothing is really created but transformed through a logical theorizing process that is unique to the research in question.  Nothing is discovered by chance, qualitative analysis is rather an “analytical” discovery.



Bulmer, M. (1979). Concepts in the analysis of qualitative data. Sociological Review, 27(4), 651-677.

Emerson, R. M.; Fretz, R. I.;  & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine de Gruyter.

Lofland, J.; Snow, D.; Anderson, L. & Lofland, L. (2011). Analyzing Social Settings: a guide to qualitative observation and analysis. Wadsworth.

Weiss, R. S. (1995). Learning from strangers: The art and method of qualitative interview studies. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York.


In light of the recent posts discussing Positivism vs Interpretivism, Grounded theory approach, and the challenge of thinking about epistemology and ontology, I decided to use this post to continue the debate and share a few things I have been thinking about and doing, that I hope will help me making sense of the paradigmatic views and theoretical approaches that may eventually be a part of my research.

Research design has been a challenging task nonetheless very meaningful process to me, because I am having the chance to dig deep inside into who I am and the personal values, beliefs and goals I carry with me. To start such reflection I referred back to writing exercises, a piece that I remember was topic of the first lab meetings I participated as a member of the group, and that inspired me to find ways to apply different kinds if exercises to research design. As a result of that and of the ongoing advanced qualitative class I am taking right now, my computer file folder entitled “Memos” is growing very quickly as I go through the process of writing my proposal and thinking about my research design.

I am using many forms of memos. I got myself a research “journal” that I am using to register the “brilliant” ideas I come across one way or another during this process, not only ideas for  research goals/ methods/ questions, etc… but also epiphanies  on concepts, theories and how I am making sense of them as they apply to my research. I am carrying it with me everywhere I go because, believe me, ideas pop up unexpectedly in very strange situations. The goal is not to loose track of my thought process as it evolves into a conceptual framework for my research. Saying it bluntly, I want to be able to say clearly why I choose the approach that I choose for my design and how I justify it.

To start this search for my own clarification about where in the world of qualitative research I sit in, which I assumed would inform my methodological choices, I wrote my first memo as a class exercise – a “Researcher Identity Memo”.  It may sound very “elementary” to some of you, but I saw this exercise as opening the doors of my own path through understanding why I seat where I seat right now,  how I came to be here, and where I can potentially go. The memo was a reflective exercise about past experiences in life, upbringing, values and beliefs that I may see connected to the topic of research I choose to investigate, how would I predict that as facilitating or imposing challenge to my work as a researcher. This turned out to be 6 pages document that brought out 3 personas in me that equally influenced my decisions. The educator, the scientist, and a concerned citizen of this world. The synergies between the values, beliefs, experiences, goals and interests of each got me to decided on my research topic (family “affordances” to learning at the touch-tank exhibit at HMSC).

This actually made me rethink my research goals to identify personal, practical and intellectual interests as they combine to answer the “so what?” of my research idea. In fact, “the evolution of my research questions” is another ongoing memo I am working at as my questions emerge, evolve, change, etc. I also have a mini notebook on a key chain attached to my wallet for when those revealing moments happen as I have dialogues with other professional like yourselves or want to write a quick reference to look at later. I think the practice of writing these memos is helping me untangled bits of theoretical debates that I am slowly making sense of , and that are helping me se where I sit.

Now if you are not too fan of writing, if you avoid writing exercises like the plague, Laura suggests to use alternatives ways of registering this moments. She told me she used her phone to record a voice memo the other days. How you do it is not the key issue, but I think it is important that you find a way  that works for you that you can register the evolution of your thought process. Going through a few conversations with Shawn during our weekly meetings, he articulated an approach he thinks I seating on right now for my research. he bursted out these big words together that I am still trying to work trough but that emerged smoothly and almost instantly out of his mind. He called it “Neo-Kantian Post-positivist and Probabilistic Theory of Truth”. I hope he wasn’t tricking me :). Here is the way I see where I stand right now in my less eloquent philosophical terms:

1. Departing from axiological views, I am interested in explanations and descriptions of real meaningful events, why and how questions.

2. Therefore, I am moving from “data to theory”, through inductive questioning

3. As for what is the nature of reality? (ontology), I think I compromise in between objectivity and subjectivity, is there a possible inter-objectivity or inter-subjectivity?

4. As for what counts as reality? (Epistemology), I tend to associate with Social-Cosntructivism.

So,  I using the following schema as a wall decoration in my research room:

Epistemology – Social-Constructivism; Theoretical perspective/ Approach – Interpretivism; Suited Methodology: Grounded Theory.

However, I see myself as open to new topics, ideas. So I am adopting a paradigm but it does not necessarily mean that I will completely oppose combining aspects of other paradigms. I read in a piece of literature once that “sometimes we need a little constructivism, and sometimes we need a little realism”. While I oppose to think radically about it, I do think that it is important to use existing theories critically, and if  you are to be critical you are open to testing (hermeneutics). Here is were I seat in conflict between objectivity and subjectivity, qualitative and quantitative values, and that is why I intend to use mixed methods

I don’t know if this links perfectly to the definition of the approach Shawm saw me taking, But boy, I am happy to be going through this discovery process right now, and memos are really helping me along the way.