ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Taylor Dobbs

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

We are starting the series with Taylor Dobbs.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I am an undergrad journalism student at Northeastern University. I have very little science background, but I’m fascinated by the way technology can influence the dynamics of society. Cell phones, the internet, and – more recently – Twitter and smartphones – have dramatically changed the way society works. I’m interested in following how these types of changes progress and unfold in the future.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

My career trajectory is only up from here. I have literally never been paid for any journalism or science that I’ve done. The most recent interesting development: I’m trying to sell my first story. I’m hoping to be able to pay for a haircut soon, so the sooner the better. I’ve been mostly working on class assignments, but I’ve stumbled across an interesting story about health care fraud. Mostly, I’m covering the unfolding WikiLeaks story at my blog The World Exposed.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Most of my time goes into school and The World Exposed. My passion is really in what I’m doing online with my blog and as web editor for my school’s newspaper. My goals: get paid. As much as I love journalism, I’m in this to make money and support myself. I’m hoping that the work I’m doing at The World Exposed and with the school paper will help build my resume to the point where someone will pay me to do this stuff.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

The web has the amazing power to make science interesting to everyday people. As someone who isn’t as passionate about science as many of those at Science Online, I admit (with some shame – I know this stuff is important) that I have a lot of trouble reading about science. With interactive models, infographics, videos, and conversational technologies (such as twitter and blog comments, to name some basic ones), the web has the power to make science much more accessible. A great example is Hans Rosling’s 5-minute video on the last 200 years of the socioeconomic history of the world. If someone asked me to read an essay about that, I would… not. But the video was interesting and amazingly cool to watch, and I learned along the way. That is the power of the web:

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

If there was no net activity in what I do, I wouldn’t have been at Science Online. My primary focus right now is a blog, and twitter is a close second. The two go hand-in-hand. It started off with my just tweeting heavily about WikiLeaks. From there, I realized I could assemble some of the best things I’m reading online into a themed narrative on my blog. I still tweet about it, but I also blog. There’s no point in doing anything with your career online without going in head first. People love the internet because it’s a conversation, so that’s what I use it for. I ask questions, go back and forth with people about their thoughts, and it ultimately becomes a gain for all parties.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I discovered science blogs through my dad, who now blogs for Wired but had been in a few places before that. I visit his blog and Jonah Lehrer’s the most. There are no blogs I follow religiously, but if I see that people are all a-twitter about any given post, I give it a look.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

The best aspect for me was being in a group of people with the experience and know-how of veterans in the journalism world but the enthusiasm of a startup. I loved being able to converse with people who said anything other than “You’re going into journalism? In this economy? I hear underwater basket-weaving majors are making more money these days. You’re screwed.” More than that, there was no feeling of competition. It was a collaborative effort to make everyone at the conference better at what they do, and I really think it worked.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

Everyone at the conference was doing their own thing and doing it well. Nobody showed up in a private jet or a Lamborghini (that I know of), but nobody showed up unhappy either. What I took away is that you really can get by doing what you’re passionate about. I always here people say “Do what you love and worry about the money later,” but with the exception of pro athletes some other professions, I never saw proof until Science Online.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.

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5 responses to “ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Taylor Dobbs

  1. Pingback: Bora Zivkovic interview with Taylor Dobbs « Taylor Dobbs

  2. Thank you! I’ll work on paying for that haircut, then start saving for next year.

  3. Those underwater basket-weaving majors think they’re sooooo big time.

  4. Pingback: ScienceOnline interviews | A Blog Around The Clock

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