ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Robin Lloyd

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.

Today I chat with Robin Lloyd (Twitter), editor of Scientific American Online and thus a colleague I work with closely every day.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I’m a sociologist who left academia and fell into science writing as a second career via a stint as a temporary receptionist at a news wire service in Los Angeles. My boss at that job learned that I had a Ph.D. and figured I might be able to fill-in for the woman who wrote a daily list for clients of the next day’s press conferences. She had carpal tunnel syndrome and never came back. After a couple years of doing her job, answering phones, making coffee and photocopies, and learning how to write simple, useful sentences, I asked for and grudgingly was given a real newsroom job.

My editors sneered at my academic background (probably, rightly so) and figured they could punish me by handing off all science stories to me, ranging from physics to economics findings, daring me to understand them because I had a Ph.D. in something or other. So I started this science writing phase in general assignment journalism (cops, courts, celebrities, city councils, school boards, bird ladies and barbershops) before I got to cover science much of the time.

Then I received a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and became CNN.com’s science writer in 1999, which I soon ditched to become Employee No. 35 at Lou Dobbs’ Space.com. To survive the dot-com crash, I fled after a couple years to a good media relations job that allowed me to learn and write about paleontology, biodiversity and systematic biology at a world class natural history museum for five years; then I got back into full-time science journalism at an online-only network of science web sites where I’d been moonlighting while at the museum. Now I’m on the news editor on web side of things at Scientific American. I’ve been very fortunate.

My favorite project lately is a feature I wrote for Scientific American on mobile phone-enabled socio-economic programs designed to advance the well-being of women and youths in the developing world. I could write about robotic space probes and fossils all day, but I really enjoy my job–editing daily online science news and features for Scientific American.

My goal is to be helpful, advance science communications and rational thinking, promote peace and harmony, take care of my boyfriend, cats and worms (composting), paint the kitchen and organize the basement.

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

Blogging, clear writing, Twitter.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? Do you find all this online activity to be a necessity in what you do?

I blog occasionally for Scientific American and I think of blogs I’d like to start all the time but I’m consumed these days with editing others’ work. I find Donna Haraway’s, Neal Stephenson’s and John Varley’s concepts of cyborgs helpful in integrating my online activity into a coherent whole. I use Twitter every day, usually for at least an hour total. It’s invaluable. Facebook is becoming a mini-Twitter for me, less of a social network, more informational.

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?

The first science blog I paid much attention to was John Hawks’ blog. My favorite blog is Polite Dissent’s Medical Reviews of “House”.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you?

The best aspect of Scio11 was meeting science bloggers in person who I’d been following on Twitter and learning that not all non-scientist bloggers want to be journalists. I gained a lot of respect for science blogging and its diversity, and I made new friends. I think the conference was very smartly organized — not sure I can think of how to improve it. No plastic bottles?

Thank you so much for the interview. I’ll see you next time I am up in the office!

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