ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Jessica Morrison

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Jessica Morrison (blog, Twitter).

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 background? Any scientific education?

Hey there. I’m a Ph.D. student in Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. You all know we have a football team, but everyone always asks, “So where is the University of Notre Dame?” It’s in South Bend, Indiana, about 90 minutes east of Chicago. I live in the Midwest for now, but my heart will always be in the South.

I have a B.S. in geology from Middle Tennessee State University, and I’m about a year away from completing a Ph.D. in actinide geochemistry. What’s this mean? I synthesize inorganic compounds featuring our radioactive friends on the bottom row of the periodic table. This basic research has broader implications for nuclear fuel storage and environmental remediation.

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

It’s hard to call it a career so far. I’ve basically been a student my entire life. The type of student has changed dramatically though. I started college as an advertising major. Don’t hate me yet! I was into art, and I wanted to make money. I was 18. I quickly switched into journalism, and just as quickly fell in love with geology. Fewer than 7 years later, I’m ABD in a science Ph.D. program.

The most exciting aspect of my graduate work is that I work with radioactive elements. My dissertation work involves both uranium and its periodic neighbor, neptunium. The folks in my lab take special precautions while working “hot,” it’s completely safe…and no we don’t glow in the dark!

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

For about a year now, I’ve been writing about science as often as I can. I discovered early on in graduate school that I had not actually left journalism behind when I fell in love with geology. When I finish my degree at Notre Dame, I hope to chase a career in science journalism. I’m currently a semi-finalist for a science media fellowship, and I’ve been applying for media internships . With any luck, this summer I’ll be interning at a newsroom near you!

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

I haven’t always been interested in science. Throughout primary and secondary school I preferred art, literature and history. I’m still completely in awe that I can be a scientist…and I want to share that with other people who have no idea this is even possible.

Now that I’ve become a part of the science writing community online, I am blown away by how connected we all are. The Web allows us to become lampposts throughout the world that cast a science-y light onto our surrounding. We’re sucking them into our science jet engines…mwahaha. [Aside: Yeah, metaphors, I don’t know.]

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

Blogging doesn’t factor into my actual paid work…yet. I blog personally at, and I occasionally contribute to the Scientific American Guest Blog. I also participate actively on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I absolutely would not be as successful as I am now without the science writing friends that I met through Twitter…starting with @stevesilberman and then @BoraZ. Thanks guys!

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 first discovered science blogs through @stevesilberman. He’s a serious force when it comes to posting science news. I don’t spend as much time as I would like reading science blogs, but the big ones pop up on my radar almost every day.

One of my favorite pieces of work on a science blog was @edyong209’s post containing the transcript of Robert Krulwich’s 2011 commencement speech to the Berkeley School of Journalism. I’m obsessed with the idea of becoming a journalist, and while I flail about, Krulwich’s words remind me to keep flailing until I do it well.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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?

Going to ScienceOnline2012 was like going to a family reunion…even though I’d never met anyone there. I made new friends, met old ones and spent a lot of time marveling at just how much @David_Dobbs looked like a real journalist. [Aside: I’ve played “Spot the Geologist” many times, “Spot the Journalist” was a totally new experience.]

Through #scio12 I also met a bunch of people I’d see again at AAAS 2012. I went to AAAS with press credentials, an experience that blew my mind. I’ll be honest, I’m terrified that I’ll somehow miss registration for ScienceOnline2013. If I were to have a recurring nightmare, this would be it.

Thank you for the interview. Looking forward to seeing you again next January!


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