ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Katie Cottingham

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 Katie Cottingham (Twitter, LinkedIn).

Welcome to Blog Around the Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where you are coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background? Any scientific education?

I was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in its suburbs in Maryland, but I’ve also lived in various towns in New Jersey and New York over the years. I’ve been a science geek all my life, reading Scientific American and Discover as a kid and bugging my family with what I thought were cool science facts. I don’t really know how that all started—none of my family were in the science biz. I wound up in a “science and technology” program in high school, majored in biology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and earned my Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University. While at Hopkins, I used biochemistry, cell biology, and molecular biology techniques to study cell division. Then, I did a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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

While in grad school, I realized that I didn’t want to work at the bench, though I still loved science. Actually, writing my thesis made me realize that I loved writing about science. After that, I looked for opportunities to do just that. As a postdoc, I wrote for and edited an NIH newsletter as a volunteer, then applied for science writing jobs.

I worked for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS; publisher of Science) on their GrantsNet and Science’s Next Wave websites, writing about how to get funding and about science and non-science careers for researchers. Next, the writing bug took me to the American Chemical Society (ACS), where I was a journalist writing about chemistry methods and proteomics. I freelanced for a while, then returned to ACS, where I am now the senior science writer in the Science Communications group in the Office of Public Affairs. So I guess I’m a scientist-turned-journalist-turned-communications professional.

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

I’m really enjoying Twitter these days. And my related goal would be to try and keep up with my Twitter feed—but I’m failing miserably at it! My latest strategy is just to jump in for a while, absorb what I can, then jump back out.

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

Again, I would have to say Twitter. It’s amazing how some people can be so poetic and impart so much scientific information and wisdom in just 140 characters. I’m so jealous!

How does (if it does) blogging fit 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?

I haven’t blogged yet, but I may start soon at ACS. I wanted to wait until after attending the ScienceOnline unconference so I could learn a little more about blogging before actually doing it. I also tweet now and then as @acspressroom, especially during our ACS National Meetings, which we hold twice a year. However, a colleague of mine is the primary tweeter. I haven’t gotten into Google Plus, which looks to me like another Facebook, and I only visit FB for personal use right now.

I find that my personal Twitter account, @medbiochem, is my most useful online venue. I learn so much from reading tweets from the people I follow there that I can then incorporate into my work life as a science communicator.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline 2012 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?

The best aspect of ScienceOnline 2012 for me was meeting several of my Twitter “idols” and fellow science writers. I especially enjoyed the session on Blogging the Mel Brooks Way, run by @davidmanly and @DrRubidium. I picked up lots of little tips on blogging from them. It was also interesting hearing from researchers in various sessions. When I was in research, the Internet was just being born (I’m dating myself here). Now, some researchers are embracing social media and making full use of it, while others are afraid of saying something that will come back at them, especially at tenure-decision time. I had no idea that scientists’ use of these Web forums was so complicated. That was eye-opening. My only suggestion for next year would be to keep up the good work! It was a fascinating and inspiring time!

Thank you for the interview!


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