From Viruses to Viral Video: Interview with Anna Kushnir

Anna Kushnir was one of the first bloggers on the Nature Blog Network, she writes a personal food blog and recently started running the JoVE blog. We first met at the Science Foo Camp last August, then at the Foodblogging event in Durham, then at the Millenium conference at Harvard, then at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago, where Anna was on the Student blogging panel–from K to PhD.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
At least for the next three months, I am a Real Life graduate student in the Virology program at Harvard. My dissertation work focuses on the effect of cellular stress on HSV-1 transcription, with the hope of contributing something, no matter how small, to the puzzle that is HSV-1 latency and reactivation. I will be defending May 6. I expect to exhale sometime around that date.
My background does not differ much from my present. I started working in a Virology lab at 17 (at the NIH) and it stuck. I have worked in Virology ever since.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Anything but a Virologist. Twelve years is quite enough, thankyouverymuch. Ideally, when I grow up (which I hope won’t be any time soon) I will work somewhere at the intersection of science and the web. While I am way past ready to give up bench work, I do not want to walk away from science as a whole. It’s just too cool. I would like to work with new kids on the science communication block, such as JoVE (pardon the plug), Nature Precedings, and the like.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I read pretty much every blog on Nature Network, with a couple of my favorites listed below. I started reading Shelley Batts’ blog religiously after the conference. I am a huge fan of her writing.
A Blog Around the Clock, obviously
Bug Girl’s Blog
Mind the Gap
The Scientist
Retrospectacle
The Daily Transcript
Neurophilosophy
You have a science blog on Nature Network, a food blog, and are now running the JoVE blog – how are those three different in the way you approach writing your posts?
My food blog lacks a filter. It’s made up of thoughts and inner monologues that leaked out onto my keyboard. After I started the science blog on Nature Network, I realized that I needed a focus (and fewer expletives). That focus, very quickly and naturally became the culture of science. I find life in science to be so different from the rest of the working world that it deserves comment (if not tranquilizers). The JoVE blog aims to be more of a resource for scientists, an additional tool to help them with their research and with coping with the multiple stresses and demands of science life. The three blogs are related only by my voice and my skewed view of the world.
You have attended Scifoo, organized the Millennium conference, now attended the Science Blogging Conference. And you blog for JoVE. Can you trace for us your history of interest in the way Internet and the Web are changing the way science is published, communicated, taught and done? Where is it all going next?
Coming from a conservative, hard-core academic background, I was woefully under-informed about the open access movement and all the intricacies of the current model of scientific publishing. SciFoo really opened my eyes in that respect (and a few others, to tell the truth). I learned a whole lot more about it by helping (helping! – there were five of us) to organize the publishing conference. I think that open access is only the first – but important – step. The internet, fueled by open access journals, has the potential to make science accessible to everyone in the world (as opposed to a small and self-contained group of academic scientists) and to bring scientists together in a more collaborative environment.
There is great potential for greater communication between scientists, through discussion of manuscripts on pre-print archives such as Nature Precedings, papers on PLoS ONE and of course, science blogs. I hope that those are only the first wave of innovations in science publishing. As academic scientists become more and more comfortable seeing the web for the bottomless resource that it is, they will find that the online scientific community and online resources can do wonders for the rate of progress of the research in real life. And as any grad student will tell you, speeding science along is a very good thing.
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At the Conference, keynote speaker Jennifer Ouellette said that she considers her blog her “writing lab.” In your session, you said that writing your blog helped you figure out who you are and what you want. So, is blogging for you more than a writing lab and more of a “life lab”?
It is definitely more of a life lab for me. Blogging helped me find my voice and once found, to accept the fact that I am not meant to be a bench scientist. I like talking about science and the sense of community that blogging has to offer. I have never felt so much a part of something until I started blogging. This may come as a shock to some people (does sarcasm travel well over the internet?), but Harvard is not exactly renowned for its collaborative environment. I found it instead in blogging.
Is there anything that happened at the 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I feel like a bit of a broken record, but I want to emphasize again how happy I was to walk away from the conference with the feeling that I belonged. That feeling is new for me. I have never been the belonging type. I was the sulky alternateen girl in high school who shopped in thrift shops and worshipped Kurt Cobain. I am not used to being a part of something. Now I am, and I love it. I want to promote that community as much as I can through writing on my blog(s) and reading – and importantly! – commenting on other blogs.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Thank you so much for a wonderful conference, Bora! It was a treat.
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Check out all the interviews in this series.

3 responses to “From Viruses to Viral Video: Interview with Anna Kushnir

  1. Holy cow! I’m named in pretty distinguished company there!
    *blush*
    BTW, I am really enjoying this series.

  2. Nice one fellow JoVE ‘ScRussian’ blogger AK.
    @ bug girl, your blog is on our JoVE blogroll so am off to check out your blog.
    Whooooosh……

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