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Talk to the KAIST Open Mic
[ Issue 127 Page 12 ] Saturday, December 28, 2013, 16:56:19 Dongsung Park dstompark@gmail.com

In the general public of Korea, a misconception seems to persist that scientists are men in white coats stoically glaring into immaculate beakers. Luckily for scientists, there are people like Professor Chihyung Jeon who wish to expose the humanity in the world of facts and logic. Recently, Professor Jeon held an open mic event in KAIST for a documentary he is working on, named Life of Scientist. Though some information can be found on its homepage (http://scienceculturedj.tistory.com) or on its Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/scienceculturedj), The KAIST Herald conducted on interview with Professor Jeon to find out the details.

Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?
I am an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy (STP). As a scholar in science & technology studies (STS), I examine how technologies are embedded in our personal relationships, social conditions, and political systems. I am generally interested in studying the human-machine relationship from social, political, and cultural perspectives. For undergraduate STP minor students, I teach the classes Humans, Machines, and Society and The Engineer’s Life.
We have heard that you are involved in filming a documentary. What topics does the documentary concern itself with, and what motivated you to do so?
I am leading a project called “Daejeon, A Laboratory for Science Culture,” in which my STP colleagues and graduate students are participating. The project is funded by the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity. In order to create new venues for conversation between scientists and the public and among scientists themselves, we have been conducting interviews with scientists in the Daedeok Innopolis. We are also organizing a photo and video contest “Life of Scientist,” which will help us understand better how scientists work and live. We welcome submissions from KAIST students, researchers, and faculty.
The open mic event was an attempt to extend the interview project to the KAIST community. Based on the interviews and this open mic event, we will produce a mini documentary, tentatively titled The Scientist. During the interviews, we asked several common questions: What is the most frustrating or pleasant thing about doing science or engineering?; What do you think science or engineering is?; What does it mean to be a scientist or engineer?; What would you like to ask senior scientists and engineers? By asking these simple questions, we hoped to discover the human dimensions of science and engineering. Instead of focusing on journal publications and technical products, we want to focus on the people behind them and considering science and engineering as part of a broader society and culture.
Why did you choose to do an open mic within the campus?
I wanted to collect fresh voices from the KAIST community about what it feels like to live as a scientist or an engineer. We often hear that scientists and engineers at KAIST are a homogeneous group of people, but I wanted to see the diversity of experiences and perspectives of the scientists from different disciplines, age groups, nationalities, and genders. The open mic was a great opportunity for doing just that. At first, we were worried if students would be interested in speaking in front of a big camera, but many students and even some faculty shared their views and experiences with us. Standing behind the camera, I was at once surprised and pleased to hear what they thought about science, scientists, and society. They were humorous, serious, and moving.
Who are the documentary’s target audience, and is there a special message you wish to convey to them?
The mini documentary is for anyone who is interested in science, people, or the world they make possible. That means all of us. I do not have a specific message for the audience. If anything, however, I would like to show that scientists are people. They do not just work in labs; they also live in political, social, and cultural spaces. Like everyone else, scientists live their lives as citizens, consumers, and employees. It is difficult to separate their scientific life from their personal and social life. How they view and live the world affects how they create their knowledge about nature and vice versa. If we want to encourage scientific research and development, we also need to nurture their life inside and outside the labs. I hope our project will be helpful in making the connection clearer and richer.
Could you give the future scientists and the general society a comment about the direction and prospects?
The KAIST members who participated in the open mic event made much more vivid and thoughtful comments than I would do for future scientists. They talked about the difficulties in research and personal lives as well as hope for a better future of science and society. Each of their statements could serve as a good discussion topic for a class in science and technology policy. I hope we - scientists and non-scientists - listen to them and generate serious discussion about those issues. I would recommend that you watch our mini documentary when it becomes available.
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