ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Tracy Vence

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 Tracy Vence (LinkedIn, 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?

Thanks for having me! It’s truly an honor. I am a scientist-turned-journalist in the sense that I studied biology as an undergraduate and journalism in graduate school. I’m now at GenomeWeb in New York, where I cover genomics research and related news for a monthly magazine called Genome Technology, and also curate life science-related stories of interest from around the Web for The Daily Scan and GenomeWeb Careers blogs.

I grew up a kid obsessed with science — entering robotics competitions after school, attending microbiology camp each summer, and taking apart just about everything I could get my hands on to figure out how it worked.

Naturally, I spent plenty of time in the lab as an undergrad, where I did independent research on aggressive behaviors in the water strider Aquarius remigis. I was fortunate to have linked up with two very supportive advisers, one of whom guided my A. remigis project (and gave me unrestricted access to all the gadgets, reagents, and Drosophila cultures in his lab), and the other who invited me to join his inaugural graduate-level science writing seminar. It was in that class I first learned about science writing: The Career. Before then I’d never considered the prospect of reading and writing about science for a living. Soon enough, I was sending off applications to J-schools.

Today, I’m still a kid obsessed with science. I still want to know how everything works.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present? What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

After a hard news-intensive graduate program and a couple of internships with local newspapers, I was ready to dive back into science once I had earned my master’s degree. Post-grad school, I worked as a Web intern for the journal BioTechniques, where I covered a variety of life science news and got my first experience writing long-form features on topics like open science, database annotation, and federal funding trends.

Now, at GenomeWeb, I produce both hard news and more in-depth features on genomics research, policy, intellectual property, and more. One of the greatest perks of the job is traveling to conferences to soak in the newest research, attempting to digest all of the advances in a fast-paced field. It’s an exciting time in genomics, to be sure. There’s never a shortage of great science to bring up at the dinner table, nor of great science that should probably never be brought up at the dinner table (here I more or less refer to fecal microbiota transplants, which by the way, I find fascinating).

Speaking of gut flora, microbiome research is a current interest of mine. I look forward to putting my academic studies in clinical nutrition to use for future reporting endeavors on advances in that field.

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

It has been great to track what the ‘net has done for things like DIYbio and citizen science, and it will be interesting to see what it does for those and similar projects in the future. I’m also really interested in online education and outreach — specifically, how to engage children and foster an early interest in science.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites?

Blogging is now part of my day job, but reading blogs has always been indispensable to me as a science writer. Increasingly, social networking is becoming a critical part of my job, as well — primarily through Twitter (I’m new, but have been tweeting on behalf of GenomeWeb, here, here, and here for some time).

Before I began blogging, myself, I followed several science blogs, many of which I still check daily. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting the talented scientists and journalists behind some of those blogs through events like Science Online, society meetings, scientific conferences, and the like.

As a journalist, I also like to keep a close eye on projects that focus on the future of media — scientific and otherwise. The Knight Science Journalism Tracker, the Nieman Lab, and Jay Rosen’s Twitter feed are representative of my go-to sources for such.

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 have to say, it took me a few days to fully deconstruct all that I’d heard and experienced at #Scio12, both in and out of the sessions. And then David Wescott came out with this post, describing his “conflicted take,” which really resonated with me.

That some scientists face a lack of support when it comes to communicating their work was not necessarily news, just something I had never really given much thought before.

There was some talk about how to support scientists who wish to communicate their work in the comments at David’s post and in parallel discussions on Twitter, and several pitches at the Scio13 planning wiki appear to accommodate that need. I look forward to participating in those discussions in person come January, online in the meantime.

With that said, it never ceases to amaze me how much time truly smart people are willing to give me to explain their science and the issues surrounding it. Chatting with remarkably talented researchers is, by far, the greatest part of my job, and I could not be more thankful for it.

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

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