ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Jonathan Eisen

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Jonathan Eisen of Tree Of Life blog (and Academic Editor in Chief of PLoS Biology) to answer a few questions.
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?
Jonathan Eisen pic.jpgI am an evolutionary biologist interested in how organisms invent new functions. In particular I am interested in what causes differences in this “evolvability” between organisms. Or, in other words, the evolution of evolvability. I study this mostly in microbes, because, well, microbes rock.
I was born in Boston, MA and grew up in Bethesda, MD.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
In terms of background – I have always been interest in microbes and their evolution. Though I do not remember, I even wrote an essay on this in 9th grade.
In college (Harvard) I was originally an East Asian Studies major but switched to Biology after coming to my senses. I worked in multiple labs as an undergrad, first studying hummingbird circadian rhythms, then plant physiological ecology, and then found my true calling by working in a lab studying deep sea organisms and the microbial symbionts that live inside of them. I liked it so much I worked in the lab after graduating.
I then went to grad school at Stanford, originally to work on butterfly evolution, but then came to my senses and switched to working on how microbes protect their genomes from mutations (and in particular, why the mutation rates and patterns varied within and between species).
After getting that PhD thing I moved to The Institute for Genomic Research, where I was for eight years, and there I worked on sequencing microbial genomes and also on developing computational methods to study the evolution of microbes via analysis of their genome sequences.
Finally, I moved to where I am now – UC Davis. I moved here b/c of many things: (1) they have one of the best evolution and ecology departments in the country (2) my wife is from Berkeley and Davis, (3) we wanted to be closer to family in N. California (4) I like small towns that are obsessed with cycling (like Davis).
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
(1) I want to create a full and complete field guide to microbes.
(2) I want all the worlds scientific publications to be free (really free, not just at no cost – free as in freedom, that is)
(3) I live for my kids, Analia (5) and Andres (3).
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I think the most interesting and important thing is accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and education through the use of a combination of tools (web included) as well as opening up the restrictions that have been historically placed on knowledge (e.g., fees for access).
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
All these have been very important in communicating with the broader world. I view all of these things as tools to experiment with. None are good or bad in and of themselves but all can be used to communicate science.
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?
Not sure when I discovered them. I think when I went to SciFoo camp years ago I really became aware of the potential value of blogging. My favorites come and go. I try to sample from lots of different ones and not read the same ones over and over. Just like with scientific journals and scientific papers, some are good, some are bad but most are a mix, with bad and good and everything in between. So I like to look around at different ones, more by topic than by author.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Well, I already blogged about this here (tongue in cheek post about what was bad at the meeting – this is really about what was good in case you can’t tell )
And I also wrote about what I learned at the meeting here.
The meeting was great, hands down.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.


2 responses to “ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Jonathan Eisen

  1. I would *totally* buy a field-guide to Microbes! Pleaseohpleaseohplease!

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