ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Kate Prengaman

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 Kate Prengaman (homepage/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?

Hi! Thanks for having me! Right now, I’m writing to you from Madison, Wisconsin, where I am working on my MA in science journalism. Although I’ve been interested in a science writing career for awhile, last year was the year I finally decided to put my goals into action, come back to school, start blogging, making connections, and figuring out where I want my future to take me.

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

Well, I have a BS in Biology and Environmental Science, and I worked for a few years as a field botanist on a bunch of different projects; from endangered species demography in Florida to vegetation mapping of national parks in Alaska and the Mojave desert. Since I returned to school, I’ve been writing about ecology and conservation (my passions) but also about technology, energy, mental health, and food. I’m really fortunate to be working as a research assistant for Deborah Blum as well.

Currently, my coolest project is working with cartography and data visualizations. I used to do a lot of data management and technical mapping (GIS) for my previous job, and I was excited to discover that those skills carry over into science communication. So, I am teaching myself to use Tableau (a data visualization software program) and build maps that tell stories. It’s really fun.

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

Right now, my primary goal is navigating though the world of science writing to figure out where I want to take my career. There are so many more options and opportunities in this field that I had imagined, and attending ScienceOnline2012 and talking to people about their work played a huge part in opening my eyes to the possibilities. Beyond that, my goal is to find a way to make a living talking to interesting people about fascinating science, and then telling those stories.

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

The best part of of the online science communication community is that it’s truly a community. I’m very new, but it’s inspiring to see so many smart and funny people discussing all kinds of science and its implications across the web. Personally, I am especially excited at the moment to be learning how to use the interactive potential of the web to create ways for people to truly experience information, like the Tableau program I mentioned earlier. I’m so excited, in fact, that I just moved to a self-hosted website so that I could incorporate these graphics I’m learning to make into my blog.

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?

As a beginning science journalist, I feel like blogging a great way to get my name out there and a great place to explore and develop my own writing. Although I was initially a skeptic, I must admit that I love twitter. I follow all of the journalists that I admire, and all day long, my twitter feed is full of excellent science writing, interesting news, and occasionally, cute baby penguins in sweaters. I try to limit my twitter access when I need to focus, but I check in throughout the day.

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?

This is hard to admit, but I didn’t really follow any science blogs until I started graduate school last year. In my defense, I spent most of my time living in the desert with a tent and no cell reception, so I just didn’t have much time to read online. I would read the NYTimes every time I checked back into civilization, and that was it. I read a lot of science books, though. Now, I’ve done a 180, I have so many favorite science blogs that it’s hard to choose. I love the literary voice and strong story-telling at The Last Word on Nothing. I think Superbug is a great example of how many stories you can find, even on a relatively narrow topic. I’m a bit afraid of specialization, but I appreciate that example of how to do it so successfully.

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?

For me, the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 was how open everyone was to talking about their experiences, positives and negatives, as well as just the extreme amount of friendliness. I went only knowing my adviser and one classmate, and came home knowing so many amazing people. In some ways, it’s made my life harder, I have more blogs to read and more tweets is my feed sharing more awesome things to read, but overall, it’s just been so inspiring. It makes me want to be better at what I do, so I can be a better part of the ScienceOnline community in the future.

Thank you for the interview. Hope to see you next year!

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