Who’s who in the Zoo – Sam Blickhan

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet Dr Sam Blickhan who leads the development of new Humanities projects here in the Zooniverse. 

– Helen

IMG_9388 - Samantha Blickhan

Name: Sam Blickhan

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago IL, USA



Tell us about your role within the team:

I’m the IMLS Postdoctoral Fellow and Humanities Lead. I started in March of 2017 as a Postdoc, and started to take on more Humanities Lead duties in 2018.


What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

Before coming to the Zooniverse I was a student. I did my undergrad at the University of Iowa, studying Medieval English Literature and classical Voice Performance. Then I did a Masters in Musicology at Oxford, and went on to do a PhD in Musicology at Royal Holloway, University of London, writing about the palaeography of medieval music notation. I’ve always been interested in technologies of writing and the development of language, as well as digital approaches to research and teaching, so being able to work on transcription projects with Zooniverse is a really great way to continue that academic work in a not-so-traditional format.


What does your typical working day involve?

Always coffee. Depending on what I’m working on, my day could involve communication with research teams, project planning/design/development with my Zooniverse colleagues, grant writing, data analysis, preparing conference papers & presentations, professional development, and/or researching & writing articles. It varies quite a bit from day to day, which I love — I never, ever get bored, and I get to meet lots of interesting people!


How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

Zooniverse is as much or as little as you want it to be; a way to relax, to learn, and engage with others.


Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

When I was in grad school I used to volunteer on Seafloor Explorer as a way to relax — I felt like I could turn off the part of my brain that was doing lots of critical thinking, while still doing something productive and interesting. The first project I was actually a part of developing was Anti-Slavery Manuscripts.


What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

I’m lucky to be able to travel regularly for my job, and I love meeting people from other platforms and/or institutions and learning about how their crowdsourcing projects work. I was part of a panel discussion at the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) in 2017, and got to meet some people who have been doing really amazing work for a long time. It was exhilarating to be able to have conversations about public research methods and access to archival materials and data, and learn from these larger communities of researchers and advocates, as well as show them what tools and opportunities for research we at Zooniverse have to offer.


What are your top three citizen science projects? 

SCOTUS Notes (www.scotusnotes.org) is one of my favorite new projects. I’m a bit of a politics junkie, so reading the Justices’ comments can be a very interesting look at the thought processes behind these Supreme Court decisions. I think that the American Soldier project (https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/tkotwim/the-american-soldier) is also incredible. The soldiers’ responses to the questions are often very moving and powerful to read. Outside the Zooniverse, I’m a big fan of the Colored Conventions Project (http://coloredconventions.org/) — I was lucky enough to meet some of their team at a conference last year, and they do an incredible job of engaging their community in a positive way, and reminding the public how important it is to keep re-examining history and working to create space for those who have been overlooked. I’ve learned a lot from listening to them and watching their work.


What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

Look at as many other projects as you can! Really spend some time classifying, but also try to get a sense of what the volunteer and research communities are like across projects. Reach out to other project owners, as well as volunteer and Talk moderators, and ask about their experiences. It’s hard to anticipate what it will be like to run a project if you haven’t yet participated in one. Learn by doing!


When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

Since it’s summer, I’m probably outside running, biking, or on a patio with friends. I love to make things and enjoy knitting & embroidery in particular. Music is a big part of my life, too — I go to lots of concerts and play music with friends whenever I can.


You can follow Sam on twitter @snblickhan

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