ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Helene Andrews-Polymenis

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 Helene Andrews-Polymenis 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?

Sure, I’d love to. I grew up in a small rural community in the Pacific Northwest, and have lived both in the northeast (Boston for 10 years) and now in the southwest, where I live currently. My husband is Greek and my mom is German and so we travel frequently to Europe. I am part of a 2-academic science career couple, my husband and I are both tenure track faculty in the life sciences. I have two daughters, who just finished 2nd and 6th grade, both born during my academic training. As you can imagine, we have quite a crazy life.

I study infectious diseases, and am most interested in those questions at the intersection of human disease, animal health, and public health. I am currently Associate Professor in the Department of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis at Texas A&M. I finished my Ph.D. in molecular and microbiology in 1999, finished veterinary school in 2001, and began my faculty position in 2005.

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

I had quite a long academic training, if you count up my years in graduate school and in veterinary school. Throughout my academic training I did not think that I would have an academic position- I’m not sure what I thought I would do with all that training. It wasn’t until I was doing my postdoc that I realized that a faculty position might be in my future, and that my combined expertise in veterinary medicine and bacterial pathogenesis allowed me an ability to cross over multiple fields and look at the problems I was interested in in a different way than many other scientists might. I currently work on identifying genes necessary for acute systemic infection, and for persistence of Salmonellae in the gastrointestinal tract in natural hosts of disease. I use (and sometimes develop) animal models.

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

Well, in addition to my job I am raising two daughters and this takes most of my time. However, on the side I am also interested in science communication and discussion. I maintain a blog that discusses lots of issues of the working of science, grantsmanship, academic faculty issues, and women’s issues. In addition, I am currently involved in a project I am very excited about: the development of a site called The Third Reviewer, along with the founder of this site Martha Bagnall and a third colleague of mine, Corrie Detweiler. The Third Reviewer is an online site where recently published articles from multiple journals relevant to a given field are aggregated and where open, honest, anonymous discussion of this literature is fostered. I think this site has the potential to change the way that scientific discussion happens in very important aspects.

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

I’m interested in the changing face of science publishing- so how and what new media will be used to communicate science now and in the future. Science has very ritualized methods of communication- the peer reviewed article, the review article- and the format, accessibility and communicability of those are changing with the development of new media. I am also interested in how the discussion of scientific literature can be moved out of individual labs and small venues, into a broader framework on the internet.

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?

I blog and tweet under a pseudonym – and this is just something I do for fun that I hope hits an audience that will find it useful. I use Facebook in my personal life, and have just started to use it to promote individual projects in my professional life.

So far all of this online activity is something that I do for fun, but in the end it is all related to my real-life job. I hope that in the future, perhaps for faculty coming after me, these activities will be seen as mentoring activities (my blog), or innovative educational techniques (The Third Reviewer), methods etc.- and will be formally considered in materials used for promotion of faculty.

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?

Actually, I discovered Science blogs through you Bora! I noticed that someone other than my mom was visiting my family blog, where I occasionally wrote about my career. That someone turned out to be writing at ‘A Blog Around the Clock’, and that realization was what prompted me to begin writing my own blog about all of the issues I was facing as a woman with a family in science. As for the blogs I love – well, I particularly like yours, Drugmonkey, the White Coat Underground, Zuska, Mike the Mad Biologist, and about 10-12 others.

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?

I loved attending ScienceOnline2010 for the very interesting people, and the very interesting MIX of people. I was surprised to see a few faces I already knew from other parts of my scientific life, but the mix of science journalists, scientists, bloggers, librarians, programmers etc., was quite remarkable at this meeting.

It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.