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 Elizabeth Preston (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?
Thank you! I live in Chicago now, though I grew up in Syracuse and went to college in Massachusetts. In college I double-majored in English and biology, a combination that seemed to really distress people when they heard it.
I had some great biology professors and lab work opportunities in college, and wrote a senior thesis on the evolutionary genetics of malaria resistance in humans. But I found I didn’t want to stay in the lab forever. Enough PCR is enough.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Right after college I was lucky enough to get a job I was totally unqualified for, as an assistant editor for the children’s publishing company that produces the magazines Muse and Cricket, among many others. Less than a year after that, some unusual circumstances left me running Muse on my own. It was, let’s say, a very steep learning curve for a while. (How do I assign deadlines? When are commas used in Chicago style? What are permissions?)
Over time, as I found my footing, I was able to start having fun with the magazine. Muse primarily focuses on science, but has always included stories about history and culture too. (It also has a silly streak and a bit of a sassy tone, which is fine with me.) What’s amazing is that I can really make the magazine my vision each month. I experiment with different kinds of articles, I make jokes, I wrap up this package of things I think are interesting and then send it off to a whole bunch of excited kids.
That’s not to say it’s all fun and fan letters. You can find me smashing my face against my desk on most days. But there are rewards. I also do a lot of writing for the magazine myself–partly because it’s free and I never complain about my edits, but also because I enjoy it. And in 2010 I started my blog, Inkfish, as another outlet for what I wanted to write.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
A lot of my time outside of the office goes to my blog. I’ve also done some freelance writing, and I’m looking to do more. I’m excited about writing for different audiences and reaching people who might not think of themselves as sciencey. I want to pop up in someone’s favorite magazine or website and share a compelling enough story that they don’t realize they’re reading about a subject they normally wouldn’t.
I also write poetry, which has always embarrassed me to admit. But in the past couple of years I’ve started actually trying to get published in that area, and I’ve had a few successes, so maybe it’s OK to tell people. If anyone’s looking to thicken their skin, I recommend submitting to literary journals. They’ll reject you immediately with a nice note, reject you slowly with a form letter, lose your submission for nine months and then find it again and reject you. One magazine I submitted to folded while I was waiting to hear back, so I put that in the “not a rejection” column.
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 started following 80beats and ScienceNOW a few years ago. I write a monthly feature in Muse called “Bo’s Page,” which is a set of 6 or so quirky science news stories summarized very briefly. (There’s also one made-up story mixed in, and the game is to guess which “fact” is false. The answer is at the bottom of the page.) These two blogs gave me a lot of material for Bo’s Page. But there were so many more of these interesting items than I could use in the magazine; I found that I was always regaling my friends with these tidbits, whether they liked it or not. This was part of what led me to start my own blog. It was an outlet for stories I wanted to share but didn’t have space for in the magazine–not to mention stories on, say, insect genitalia that aren’t as appropriate for the 10-to-14 crowd.
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?
My blogging is currently separate from my work, in that it’s not tied to Muse and I don’t get paid for it. But it is a large part of what I’m doing these days.
When I joined Twitter in the summer of 2011, it was kind of revolutionary. My blog audience started growing quickly, and I found this great community of science writers and communicators. They were so welcoming and enthusiastic (present company very much included!) that I decided I had to sign up for Science Online 2012.
Google Plus still confuses me, though.
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?
I told my friends and family when I came back that this conference was like the mothership. I couldn’t believe I was meeting all these smart, creative, talented people who are passionate about the same things I am. It inspired me to work harder at what I’m doing and gave me faith that that work will take me to interesting places.
Thank you for the interview. Looking forward to seeing you again next January!