ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Sarah Chow

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 Sarah Chow (blog, Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you please tell my readers a little bit more about yourself?

sarah chowCurrently, I am a PhD student at the University of British Columbia studying Pacemaker proteins. These are proteins that help make your heart beat. The main goal is to understand how these proteins are regulated by a molecule called cAMP, by measuring the thermodynamic properties of the reaction between cAMP and the Pacemaker protein.

Although my current research focuses on very small microscopic things, my undergraduate degree is in Kinesiology, which focuses on macroscopic portions of the body. I also have a certificate in health and fitness studies.

Understanding how the body functions macroscopically and connecting it microscopically is what brought me do my PhD research today.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far?

Out of high school, I wanted to be a Physical Education teacher as well as a track and field coach, because I had such great mentors in those fields. After doing a work study semester at the local science centre teaching children, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me.

I fell into research serendipitously. I casually mentioned to my anatomy teaching assistant I was interested in doing scientific research. She immediately introduced me to a professor within the department of kinesiology. Seven years later, that professor, is now, and still, my supervisor.

How did you first start becoming interested in Science Communication?

I have always been interested in communicating science, in fact, before switching from my masters degree to a PhD, I seriously considered applying to a Masters in Journalism Program. But, my research project was doing so well at the time, I decided to stick with it.

In August 2011, I attended the Banff Science Communication Program in Banff, Alberta, Canada and it changed my life. My classmates were a mixture of graduate students, science writers, science filmmakers, and science journalists. The faculty was comprised of veterans in their fields: two television directors from the Discovery Channel, four science communicators who have written books, worked as editors for Scientific American, created podcasts, blogs, and even hosted their own science television show. I ate, slept and breathed science communication for two-weeks. And within this short period of time, I created a podcast, a short science film, wrote a science article for the general public, and a website.

At the end of those two weeks, I was a science communicator convert. My heart told me, Sarah, this is who you are.

Why is science communication important to you?

I believe we have the power to govern our own path in life by making informed choices. Understanding how science is the basis of everything that surrounds us can help that process. The reason why I do research is not only to understand how the heart works, but in the bigger scheme of things, we all have this pacemaker protein in common. If that protein fails, not only is your life affected, but your surrounding loved ones lives, your community and your world is now changed because of this one little protein dictating the rhythm of your heart. Having people understand how and why science is so important and the global impact it can have on ones life is why I believe science communication is important.

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

My main goal is to finish my PhD degree by finishing up experiments and writing my thesis.

However, a lot of my time right now is dedicated to improving my science communication skills. I’ve been blogging regularly on my website, which is a mixture of podcasts, video, and writing. My website is more of an “online laboratory” where I can experiment with different styles of communication. I also podcast for Experimental Podcast, am editor for Science Seeker News, TV show co-host for UBCevents on campus and taking improv and acting lessons to improve my presentation skills.

I am also one of the co-organizer of ScienceOnlineVancouver, a monthly discussion series focusing on issues and topics surrounding science communication.

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

I am most interested in communication science via “transmedia”, using podcasting, video blogging and combining photos with audio clips to tell an engaging science story to the public. I really like to immerse my readers into my stories by engaging their sense by using sounds and visuals.

The web is useful because I can use sound, photos, words, movies, to create a three-dimensional story, which can be difficult via more traditional forms of science communication such as print.

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 and tweeting about my work helps me to better understand my research and break it down into easier bits for me to digest and drill into my brain.

In general, blogging, twitter, google plus and facebook are all different avenues to give me a voice and showcase my interest. Now is my voice being heard? That’s a different question. But it allows me to interact and connect with people who are interested and passionate about science and science communication. It helps me broaden my community, which would not be possible without social media.

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?

Being at Scio12 reminds me of the TV show series Cheers theme song:

Makin’ your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Takin’ a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

It’s a safe, encouraging and inspiring place to be to share ideas. It’s a community.

The best advice I got from Scio12 was from @DrRubidium and @davidmanly’s session. Just hit the damn submit button and don’t look back. (That may be paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I remember it.)

What do you do in your spare time? If you have any.

I enjoy running, biking, hiking and volleyball. Basically anything that keeps me outdoors and active. I also like baking and reading a good book.

Thank you! Hope to see you again in January.

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