Category Archives: Scio10 Interviews

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Steve Koch

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2010. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Steve Koch to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, a town that embraces the University of Michigan’s Athletic and Academic programs (in that order probably!). I remain a huge fan of Michigan and, sadly, Detroit professional sports teams. My mom and dad adopted me when I was about two months old and raised my sister and me in this house. My parents were very encouraging of my love of science. I remember many trips with my mom to the bookmobile to get the science books that the driver had found for me in the library. It boggles my mind to think of what I could have learned if I had the internet and Wikipedia around when I was young! My dad was an audiologist and helped me with all my science fair projects and taught me to be a good experimentalist. One project I remember the best was when he brought home an audiometer and I tested the noise reduction capabilities of various ear plugs. He helped me with the title too and “Stick it in your ear!” won my 9th grade science fair. Yes, I am bragging about that.

Mr. Mastie was our earth science teacher in junior high school, but more importantly, he was our leader for Science Olympiad. He had a spectacular amount of energy and enthusiasm for science and launched science careers for quite a few of us, I’d expect. Richard Taylor, my physics teacher in 12th grade was another outstanding teacher that played a huge part in my career.

After high school graduation, I asked my friend Liz if she could ask her dad, Francis Collins, if I could work in his lab that summer. He said yes! So, my first research job at Michigan (where I did my undergraduate degree in physics) was in a genetics lab. I LOVED it and wrote a bit about it in a blog post, Assistant to Robot, Promoted to Robot. I worked in a lab every semester I was at Michigan, working for professors doing genetics (Collins), granular systems (Nori), atomic physics (Bucksbaum), and high energy physics. I also did an internship in non-destructive evaluation with Bill Ellingson at Argonne National Lab – probably the first time I saw my research in a lab produce results that people outside the lab were actually excited about.

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

After my undergraduate work, I went to the Cornell physics Ph.D. program. Why did I choose Cornell? At the time, Bose-Einstein condensation had recently been achieved. I was accepted at MIT and dying to work in atomic physics with the Ketterle and Pritchard labs. However, my best friend had already decided to go to Cornell for MechE Ph.D. At the time, it was a tough decision, but I finally decided that I was sure it would be fun to be at the same school as my friend, whereas it was less certain that I’d thrive in atomic physics or MIT in general. In retrospect, it’s clear I made the right decision. Nowadays, when I talk with undergraduates who are choosing graduate schools, I make it a point to discuss factors besides the science: distance from family or boyfriends/girlfriends, climate, etc. Cornell did not have any atomic physics, which I was in love with at the time. Even so, it still took me two years to realize that biology is the science I love the most. It’s so obvious in retrospect. But back then, I spent half a year in low temperature physics with Jeevak Parpia. The science and the experiments were very cool. And Jeevak was a terrific advisor. But I eventually realized that biophysics was where I belonged, so I switched to a single-molecule / optical tweezers lab.

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

I have a wonderful five-year-old son and a wonderful three-year-old daughter. One of my goals is to succeed at being a scientist to serve as an example for my kids. Without a doubt, for me it’s a huge challenge to switch mental gears between being a scientist and being a dad. And I can only imagine how much tougher this is for scientist moms. I need to get better at it. Last spring, I coached tee ball, which was surprisingly rewarding (and time-consuming). Before starting, I assumed I just wanted to have fun watching my own son play ball. But it turns out that I really enjoyed it when any of the children learned a new skill. And they were like sponges and got better every game, so it was a ton of fun and I will do it again next spring. If you’re going to click on one link in this interview, check out the photo of my son in the Wikipedia tee ball article. Looks like a great catcher!

The rest of my time is taken up by teaching and managing our research lab and talking science with the students in our lab. I have non-talents that impede my grant writing and paper writing. Definitely I am not passionate about those tasks. I love thinking up experiments, looking at data, thinking of data analysis algorithms, coding, and seeing unexpected and / or new results. So, I still have a strong passion for being an experimentalist. And the lab has really taken off since getting our first big grant a year and a half ago. We are having a lot of fun in the lab, but it also takes more and more time the better the students get at generating and analyzing the data…so it’s a bit crazy, and one of my goals is to survive. 🙂 What are my specific goals? For my lab, I want my students to learn a lot about their talents during their time in the lab. And I want them to succeed after leaving the lab and I want to get vicarious happiness from that. For my family, I want to show my kids that you can succeed while having fun. I will be happy whatever my kids do as long as they strive for excellence.

What’s the worst thing about being a professor?

I don’t like how many jobs I have that I am not good at and how often I have to switch from one task to another. In graduate school, after completing my required courses, I loved being able to focus on a single task for 20 hours straight, and then come right back to it the next day. Especially if it were a computer programming / data analysis problem. Well, those days are gone and now I have to constantly switch from teaching to advising to grant writing to committee work to paper writing to friendfeed to… Yes, I know that’s reality for most of us, I’m just sayin’ I don’t like it. I also don’t like the pressure of having graduate students depend on me obtaining research grants for their livelihood. Not the kind of stress I thrive on.

What’s the best thing about being a professor?

By far it’s being able to interact with students – both in teaching and in the research lab. I’ve been here about four years, and have interacted with hundreds of students. I’d say I know close to a dozen very well and dozens remain in touch. I have one strong talent necessary for teaching / managing students, and that is that I get true enjoyment out of seeing students succeed, both now and later in their careers. I think that’s an essential talent for this career, which I fortunately have. Of course, I get to know the students best when they’re in our research lab. I have been so lucky to have many outstanding students contribute to our lab’s success. We’ve had some students in our lab who are now or soon will be in graduate school elsewhere—Diego Ramallo Pardo (Stanford), Caleb Morse, Pat Jurney (UT Austin), Nas Manole (UNM Med.), Linh Le (UNM), Brandon Beck. Currently we have four graduate students—Andy Maloney, Pranav Rathi, Anthony Salvagno, and Nadia Fernandez-Oropeza—and one undergraduate—Brian Josey. All of these students are carrying out Open Notebook Science, inspired by Jean-Claude Bradley and many others. And, big news: We just graduated our first Ph.D. student, Larry Herskowitz! And he even got a job already!!! The students are what I love the most, and I am continually regretting that I don’t spend enough time with them. Maybe 2011 will be the year I can fix that??? We’ll see…

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I think social networking is now a necessity for me and my students. I enjoy blogging but have not been able to keep it up consistently. For the past couple years, FriendFeed has been a wonderful resource—so many clever, dedicated, and supportive people to interact with.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you?

By far the best part of ScienceOnline2010 was getting to meet in-person many of the people whom I’d only previously known electronically. I had great conversations over lunch, dinner, and at the bar. By the time the conference was over, I had serious insomnia from so many inspiring ideas. At the time I blogged a little about them, along with some resolutions. It’s been over half a year now, and I’m happy to see that I’ve made progress on the resolutions, even if very slowly. I talk with the students in the lab frequently about how we can continue to make our lab notebooks better and easier to manage, and we’re making some progress. I’ve started a collaboration with a new library scientist at UNM, Rob Olendorf. So, hopefully within a year we’ll have figured out a lot about how our library can host our open data. Research in the lab is going really well and we’ve recently submitted two papers to PLoS ONE.

It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I will see you again very soon!

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Princess Ojiaku

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Princess Ojiaku to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I guess you could say that I was born into a scientific family. My mom is a professor of biology, and my dad was a engineer for some time. My sister and a significant portion of my cousins are all in science-related fields, so it’s almost like science is in my genes. All that home-grown science knowledge helped to push me along the career trajectory I’m on now, and instilled in me a love of science that I want to spread to everyone else!

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

I got my B.S. in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University and was fortunate enough to do two years of undergraduate research in a lab that really cemented my love for research. Even though I loved science and research, I wanted to take a few years off before committing to the long and hard road to the Ph.D. So I moved to Chapel Hill and took a technician position at the University of North Carolina. While there, I started reading lots of science blogs and getting more into the idea of being a science communicator, as I felt that the public needed more people to make science less scary and more accessible. Working as a tech also afforded me more time to get into projects like starting a local girl band called Pink Flag and playing shows for the first time ever. In Fall 2009, I started a Master’s program at North Carolina Central University, and started up my blog, Science with Moxie where I blog about the intersection of my two loves, neuroscience and music.

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

Most of my time is spent between my research and classwork, my band, and keeping up regular posting on my blog. I also work occasionally on weekends as a museum educator doing science-themed birthday parties for kids. Some goals I have (since 2011 is literally right around the corner) are posting more often on my blog and doing some reconnaissance missions as to what sort of jobs are available for someone with a Biology M.S in science communication/policy/writing/education/advocacy in August when I graduate. (hire me!). I’m heavily considering going back to school too for a Ph.D., but I guess I just need to figure out what my upcoming Master’s degree can do for me first. Other goals are getting out my band ‘s first full-length record and writing lots of new songs. As for longterm goals, I want to stay involved in both science communication and music, so I’m looking forward to discovering all the different opportunities available to combine my love for both.

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

I love the complete democratic nature of the internet and the fact that anyone can sign up for their own personal electronic pulpit to reach out to interested minds about anything and everything, and do it as anonymously or as publicly as they like. Another thing I love about the Web and the blogosphere is just the fact that people step up to debunk incorrect information or things that need further study in order to be respectably claimed. The most recent and awesome example of this in the science blogosphere was the whole arsenic bacteria thing in which many independent science bloggers managed to critique and electronically peer-review a hot-off-the-presses scientific paper. That whole incident just amazed me because in this age of open and accessible information things like this can be quickly called out by a network of awesome professionals. I think it’s an exciting time to live in when information is disseminated and then processed so quickly, independently, and simultaneously. In my little nerd girl future fantasy, it’s bringing us just a little closer to the ideal of something resembling “absolute truth,” or at least what we can collectively understand of it.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging keeps me on my toes in the latest of what’s going on in the science world. Researching and writing on topics that are just slightly out of my field helps me become more knowledgeable about my field in particular and better at analyzing thing in general. I feel that Twitter is kind of invaluable for discovering what’s hot in current science and for finding things to blog about. I follow a lot of science-related people on twitter who constantly tweet links that jog the mind and inspire my writing (including this guy named @BoraZ!). So I feel that social networking and reading links that other people post are essential to keeping my blog going with cool and exciting topics.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I first discovered science blogs via subscribing and reading Seed Magazine as an undergraduate. When the ScienceBlogs network started, I would read the blogs on and off. I got more into reading science blogs right before I started my own blog. SciCurious’ blog posts were always the ones that I looked forward to reading the most, and she is definitely a huge inspiration for my own neuroscience blog. I hope my posts are at least half as fun as all of hers are! Someone else cool I got to meet at the conference last year was Joanne Manaster who makes really fun science videos. There are so many creative people doing so many awesome things for science and meeting her (and so many others too!) reminded me of that.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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 part of ScienceOnline2010 was just getting to mingle and meet so many people in the science blogosphere whose blogs I had been reading for literally years. It was a bit surreal having so many people I admired in one location, all interacting with each other. The whole conference felt so innovative and futuristic from the stream of #scio10-tagged tweets on the screen in the lobby to just the topics being discussed. I think I just took all the enthusiasm and energy of all the people there back to my blog, so I could start carving out my own little contribution to this web of science communication online.

Thank you so much for the interview. And I’ll see you again in two weeks at ScienceOnline2011!

ScienceOnline2011 – introducing the participants

As I do every year, I will do a series of posts introducing attendees/participants of ScienceOnline2011. You can find them all on the list, but it may help if you get them in smaller chunks, focusing on a few at a time.

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer and a paleontology research associate at the New Jersey State Museum. He has written articles on paleontology for a variety of popular and academic publications – from the London Times to Evolution: Education and Outreach – and he presently blogs at WIRED Science’s Laelaps and Smithsonian magazine’s Dinosaur Tracking. His first book – Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature – has just been published by Bellevue Literary Press. I interviewed Brian twice: in 2008 and just last month so you can see how much his life has changed in the meantime.

Martin Robbins is a scientist and writer. He blogs at The Guardian, runs The Lay Science group blog and he tweets as @mjrobbins. And I interviewed him recently.

Kaitlin Thaney, formerly of Science Commons, is the Manager of External Partnerships at Macmillan. She blogs at Kay and tweets as @kaythaney.

Danica Radovanovic is a Social Web researcher and practitioner based in Oxford, UK. She can be found blogging at Digital Serendipities and tweeting as @DanicaR. I interviewed Danica last year.

Lou Woodley is the Product Manager at the Nature Publishing Group which means she runs the Nature.com blogs and the Nature Network Blogs where she blogs at Of Schemes and Memes. On Twitter, she is @LouWoodley.

Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove is a scientist and artist in Winston Salem, NC. She teaches biology at Forsyth Technical Community College. See my interview with Tanja here.

Djordje Jeremic, Tatjana’s son, is also an artist. He is a student at North Forsyth High School and he blogs at Paper Disciple’s Blog. I interviewed Djordje last year.

James Hrynyshyn is a Freelance Consultant and journalist in Saluda, NC. He blogs on Class M and tweets as @hrynyshyn. James did a Q&A for my blog back in 2008.

Ivan Oransky is the Executive Editor at Reuters Health and teaches medical journalism at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. He writes on two blogs – Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch – and tweets as @ivanoransky. Read Ivan’s blog interview here.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Kelly Rae Chi

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. As the next one – ScienceOnline2011 – is quickly approaching, I hope you enjoy these Q&As with past participants. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Kelly Chi to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I’m a freelance science writer based in Cary, North Carolina, but I spent most of my life thinking that I would one day become a scientist. It turns out that I am terrible at experiments. Although I realized this during my first year of graduate school, I kept going – for three years on the PhD track, stubbornly – with the thought that one day it wouldn’t matter that my hands shake during rat brain surgery. And I could be a professor, think of new experiments, write papers and teach.

During graduate school, I started writing for the college newspaper and realized that I loved writing about science. Short-term deadlines fit me perfectly, I also learned. So I left my PhD, got a master’s and started the science and medical journalism program at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2006.

Leaving my PhD was really difficult for me, not only because I hate the idea of quitting but because it seemed risky to pursue an entirely new career path. But since that time, I’ve learned that there are a whole bunch of writers and editors out there who are also just like me.

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

I wish that freelancing offered more of a career trajectory, but in the past several years I have focused on getting (and keeping) clients and trying different sorts of writing and editing.

While pursuing a master’s at UNC, for example, I worked with the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center on an exhibit for kids called Zoom In, which tackled diverse topics like cystic fibrosis and outer space. The best part of this project was working with a team of educators and designers. We got paid to talk about mucus– who wouldn’t love that?

Last year, I got my first long-ish feature, ‘Disappearing before Dawn,’ published in The Scientist magazine. That became one of the most popular articles on the website in 2009, and that’s probably because you linked to it, Bora. In 2009, I also wrote a small book that I refuse to call a booklet for London-based NGO International Institute for Environment and Development that appeared at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

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

Besides the usual freelancing, I’ve been taken a position at Medscape Medical Students as a freelance clinical editor. My goal, for the next six months, will be to help build the website’s blogs, columns and discussions. This content will, I hope, help medical students survive rotations and choose their specialties.

I also manage editorial content for the Amgen Scholars Program website. It’s funded by the Amgen Foundation, and the program gives undergraduates the chance to do scientific research at one of more than 10 host universities across the U.S. and Europe. As part of this work, which is through my client Faculty of 1000, I encourage students to blog about their research experiences in the Program’s private online community. I’ve been able to meet and interact with some really bright and talented undergraduates. These kids are great. They sometimes make me feel old, but that’s okay.

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

Like many of my writer friends and colleagues, I care about making science accessible to people. Most of my work is geared for somewhat specialized audiences, like physicians or scientists or students, but these folks are everyday people in many ways. I try to assume that they won’t have the time or willpower to unpack a mess of jargon. That said, I like knowledge for its own sake, so sometimes jargon will nerdily make its way into my writing. I’m lucky to have patient editors who remind me to fish it out.

Related to the Amgen Scholars and Medscape Medical Students work I’m doing, I am also deeply interested in building online communities and helping make them better somehow. With this goal in mind, I plan to attend ScienceOnline 2011 and absorb as much as I can. Because building communities is not easy, and I need all the help I can get.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I have to admit that I spend more time finding and encouraging others to blog than I do blogging. Motivated by my own hypocrisy, I started a website and attached a blog to it. Besides posting and linking to my own articles, I hope to find time to write about science and health tidbits that interest me. Luckily, no one reads my blog yet (except for my mother and my friend Penny), so no pressure.

I do use Twitter and Facebook, but I find myself posting for different audiences. On Facebook, it’s my family and friends. On Twitter, it’s my colleagues and people who are too interesting to ignore. Most of this online activity is a net positive, I’d say, because it has given me story ideas and the ability to procrastinate in the most productive way possible.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, because it makes me feel technologically challenged, but for me the coolest part about the conference was the undercurrent of chatter on the #scio10 Twitter feed. Attendees used Twitter to sum up the presentations, ask questions, make wisecracks and agree or disagree with the presenters. All in real time. I have to admit that before this conference I avoided Twitter because I thought of it as a giant time suck. Now I think of it as not only not a time suck but, at least in a conference setting, as a way to understand the same presentation through someone else’s more experienced eyes — like internet-o-vision. The experience was kind of a revelation for me. Twitter’s also great for networking: when I started tuning into the conference-related tweets, I got introduced to many attendees in a short amount of time.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. And I’ll see you in January!

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Marla Broadfoot

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. As the next one – ScienceOnline2011 – is quickly approaching, I hope you enjoy these Q&As with past participants. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Marla Broadfoot to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I live in a big old farmhouse in Wendell, a little town east of Raleigh. My husband’s great great great grandfather Dr. Henry Avera built it in 1870-something, so the house has been in the family for nine generations. I’m more of a city girl myself, but it has grown on me, high ceilings, cold winters, busted plumbing, mice, and all. I love doing my interviews from my antique desk, looking out at our resident groundhog as she suns herself in the yard. It’s not such a bad place to muse and write.

I was a research scientist before I was a writer. I had always thought I wanted to be a scientist, until I was one. The way it was laid out in textbooks, science was a beautiful and surprisingly simple thing. But once I delved deeper into the discipline, doing research of my own, I found that nothing was as simple as it seemed. Take that elegant DNA double helix that Watson and Crick first described. It doesn’t always look that way – often it is twisted like a rope, and sometimes it is completely reversed!

Not that I detest complex topics – actually, some of my favorite things to write about are the most basic of basic sciences, which are hardly ever simple. But I did feel like every time I attempted some feat at the bench, the complexities of the science made it take ten times longer than I thought it should. Some people embrace those complications, delving into every detail of the problem they are working on. But I was just too impatient for that. I wanted answers, and I wanted them right away.

I found myself enjoying reading up on the science, presenting the science and writing about the science more than doing the science. I dabbled a bit in science writing, creating a couple of pieces for American Scientist and Endeavors, the research magazine at UNC, where I was in graduate school. I enjoyed the writing immensely, but wasn’t sure I was willing to jump off the track that I had laid out for myself so many years before. So I applied for a very competitive fellowship in clinical molecular genetics at the National Human Genome Research Institute. There was only one spot available, so I figured if I got it that meant I should stick with research; if I didn’t, then clearly writing was my new path. Well, I got it, and once I got over the boost to my ego, I realized I would have to keep doing research. I loved the fellowship, even though there was a huge learning curve as I was one of only a few PhDs in a group of MDs. And then there was that week where I thought I had Marfan syndrome (which Abraham Lincoln may have had) because I could reach around my back with one arm and touch my belly button (I learned in class that was one of the signs of the disease). Turned out it was just part of the hypochondria that sets in after reading up on clinical disorders for hours at a time.

But the research still frustrated me, so I finally admitted to myself (and my mentor) that I was going to take the leap and leave research altogether. I finished my fellowship, passed the boards (a qualification I never used) and let my country mouse of a husband “drag” me down to this quirky old home. I wrote for Duke full-time for a little over a year, most of which it seems I spent pregnant, and then left to pursue freelancing and motherhood. Now I spend my time switching between two completely different worlds: one, where I am often alone on my computer translating scientific jargon and the other, where I am being jumped upon by one little body or another. Both jobs are fun and challenging, though in completely contradictory ways.

I love the concrete nature of writing. I am no longer working with molecules too tiny for the eye to see – I’m manipulating words that I can see transform into something real and telling right there on the page. I love it that I don’t have to hear about the failures or pitfalls of science – no colony contamination or troubleshooting PCR conditions make it into my articles. Because of my stint in research, I have a strong admiration for scientists and the dedication it takes to succeed in the discipline. I also think I can be even more critical of the work I report on because I know how science is done, how it can be manipulated even unintentionally, and how it is ever changing.

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

Over the last year and a half I have been working on a series on Women in Science for the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Many women go into science, but just like me, leave around the time of starting their own lab. Russ Campbell at the BWF, God bless him, gave me free reign to completely delve into the problem of why more women don’t make it to the high ranking positions in academia. I pored over the literature and talked with about twenty researchers at all different stages of their careers. The result was a four-part series on a variety of topics from equity issues to mentoring to the biological clock to institutional biases. I found that outright discrimination may be mostly in the past, but subtle biases still exist, and accumulate over time, putting women at a disadvantage for awards, tenure and promotions. And men aren’t solely to blame – women and men alike tend to undervalue the contributions of female scientists. So we may have come a long way, baby, but there is a long way yet to go. Russ and I are putting the four articles and just as much supplemental material into a mini-novella of sorts that we are going to distribute nationally to continue to raise awareness about the issue.

I have also become interested in the idea of translational medicine. According to one statistic, it takes about 17 years to turn a mere 14 percent of research findings into changes in care that benefit patients. To me, that just seems too little too late. When I was in graduate school, I discovered a sort of cure for beta-thalassemia, a Mediterranean blood disorder. Essentially, I obliterated the disease in a Petri dish, published my papers, and then graduated. Patients were contacting me to find out when the treatment would reach them, and all I could see were the nearly insurmountable steps before it would ever get there. I have been writing a number of articles about a large national effort underway to cut down on those steps, and to make those that must remain at least a little less daunting. Right now I think the public is hungry to see some return on their investment. I read somewhere that it is the National Institutes of “Health,” not the National Institutes of “Scientific Publications.” Clearly the bar for success as a scientist has to change.

Another thing I have particularly enjoyed doing is creating an “Ask a scientist” series for the SciTech page of the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer. The series explores relatively basic questions that many of us may have heard about but only have enough knowledge to be dangerous. Topics like “What is ozone?,” “How does chemotherapy work?,” and “Why does Thanksgiving dinner make us sleepy?” The scientists I have talked to really revel in the opportunity to revisit old topics and allay some common misconceptions about science. A lot of the questions are inspired by my kids, who like all kids are innately curious and always want to know more. Plus I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from adult readers, asking for more details and suggesting new topics.

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

Honestly, most of my time is taken up by my two little rugrats, Marilyn age 4 and Viola “Vi” age 2. I remember when Vi was just a baby I flew to Seattle to cover a meeting for aids2031, a group of all these brilliant researchers from around the world who were trying to cure HIV. I was immersed in highly technical discussions and worked 12 hour days practically every day that week. Yet I got more rest than I had in a long, long time. Being a parent is definitely the most exhausting thing I have ever done. Personally, I find writing more exhilarating than exhausting. I know it sounds trite, but sometimes it really feels like a hobby I get paid to do. I frankly don’t have time for any other hobbies – a little yoga, a little reading, but if I have free time, I write, because that is what I love to do. So I guess with regard to my career, my goals are quite simple. To keep getting paid to do what I love to do, for people to read my work, and for it to make them think, perhaps even look at the world a little differently than they did before. But I guess when it comes to what matters most in my life, it is that I raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. Let them save the world.

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

Practically every major issue facing the world today – global warming, the economic crisis, universal health care – has some aspect of science within it and will likely require the critical thinking and technological advances of science to solve. I personally think that science communication is an excellent vehicle to educate the public, not necessarily so that everyone can name the four bases of DNA, but more so that people can see how science can change their lives. I have always thought science was incredibly cool, and I want to impart that same excitement to those around me. My focus is on biomedical research, so I am constantly trying to explain how even the most basic research can have far-reaching implications (yes, I think fruit fly studies in France are worthwhile). But I also think it is important not to make false promises about the speed with which science is likely to progress or blow the effects of small studies out of proportion, no matter how sexy the question being tackled. That is a risk that has increased as so many dedicated science reporters have been cut from staff rooms, but hopefully the burgeoning number of independents reviewing and writing about science online can pick up the slack.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I read fellow NASW member Tabitha Powledge’s blog break-down every week. I use Twitter mainly to pick up on interesting topics in science and science journalism that I might have missed through (more) traditional channels. And I use Facebook almost entirely to share the cute or horrifying things my kids did that day. I enjoy having social media in my life, especially considering that on the days when I am working it can be the only social interaction I get. But I don’t dedicate a lot of my time to it – I mostly lurk on the sites and read a little, rarely posting myself.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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 didn’t get a chance to attend many of the sessions, so I hope I will have the opportunity to go to more of them this year. I enjoyed hearing Michael Specter talk, particularly the discussion afterwards on how a journalist knows when they have talked to enough experts and done enough research to do a particular story justice. I have grappled with that same question myself, sometimes wondering if I should include the other side in a story even when that other side represents a small minority of scientific opinion. I recall one of the participants saying that scientists do the same thing as journalists, accumulating data until they think a story is complete and then submitting it to a particular academic journal. I guess scientists and journalists aren’t all that different, we just have to use our best judgment in how we present our work and the work of others.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope you willl be there again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Anne Jefferson

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Dr. Anne Jefferson to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I’m a hydrologist – meaning I study water – and an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My pursuit of groundwater and rivers has taken me all over the country from my childhood in Minnesota, east to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for my undergraduate degree, back to Minnesota for a MS, out west to Oregon State University for a PhD and post-doc, and now to the south. My interaction with on-line communication has similarly meandered; I learned HTML and created a website as a high school student but only came to science blogging a few years ago.

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

I’m fascinated by the way that surface water, groundwater and landscapes interact at all timescales, from a single rain storm to millions of years. What controls whether a rain drop ends up running over or through the soil into a stream channel within hours to weeks versus sinking down and becoming groundwater that spends years to centuries underground before maybe emerging in that same stream at a spring? How does that partitioning of water between surface and ground affect the way landscapes erode? And how does that partitioning affect the hydrologic behavior of streams and their sensitivity to floods, droughts, and climate change? Those are the sorts of questions I began exploring in the geologically young volcanic rocks of Oregon and I’m now trying to translate to the old, fractured crystalline rocks of North Carolina. Plus, Iiving in the rapidly growing Southeast, I’ve begun asking how human landscapes overlay on natural hydrologic processes. I’m really excited about a project I’m working on with a stream biogeochemist and ecologist to look at how stormwater management practices affect the hydrology, temperature, and ecology of small urban streams. (Come work with me on the project!)

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

My job consists of a wonderfully stimulating mix of research, advising graduate students, and teaching. I sometimes think that each of those activities is enough for a full-time job – but they are all part of one pre-tenure assistant professor job description! My goals are to do and teach good, interesting science with my students and help them succeed, because I know that in their success lies my own. I’m also the single parent of an energetic three (and a half) year old, so my second shift involves learning dinosaur paleontology and explaining viral versus bacterial illnesses in non-technical terms.

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

I’m interested in how the Internet can serve as an important community and resource for individuals who might otherwise feel isolated or disconnected from others like themselves. This might be the lone geologist in a physics department at a liberal arts college, it might be a Latina hydrologist in the northwest, or it might be a woman graduate student struggling to figure out how she’s going to combine her plans for an academic career with her desire to have a family. I teamed up with Kim Hannula, Pat Campbell, and Suzanne Franks to look at how women geoscientists use blogs for mentoring and professional development, and we published a paper summarizing our findings and recommendations for the way we could improve the potential for on-line communities to support diverse geoscientists. (You can read more about it – and the open-access paper here).

I’m also interested in how the Internet, and science blogging, can create opportunities for informal, life-long science education and supplement the traditional science classroom. When I write posts for Highly Allochthonous, I’m trying to write for the non-scientist, or at least non-hydrologist, who is interested enough in water or geology to Google the right keywords over her morning cup of coffee.

But the person I picture in my head is the middle or high school science teacher who is looking to go beyond the textbook and bring richer context into her teaching or learn more about earth science to be able to do a better job answering inquisitive students’ questions. Having worked with science teachers in the past, I am acutely aware how few resources are available in many schools, and that’s part of why I’m so thrilled to be helping out with the DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive through our Highly Allochthonous Earth Science Challenge.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging, tweeting, and reading blogs and twitter actually helps me stay somewhat up-to-date with the scientific literature in a much broader sense than if I were solely reading journal articles. I’m also increasingly finding that blogging affects the way I teach. For example, this semester I’m teaching a seminar on climate change science that meets a university communication requirement, and I’ve had students do critical analyses of news media reporting on climate change. My choice of that assignment and my approach to doing it has been heavily influenced by discussions I’ve seen and participated in on blogs. I think some on-line presence, even if it is just a well-crafted and up-to-date web page, is a necessity for a young academic, so that people reading your articles and prospective students can find out more about what you do. But beyond that I think there are corners of academia that view online presence as a distraction. I just hope that my tenure committee will see that my online activities are not detrimental to my research productivity and are instead a valuable form of outreach. I’ll let you know in a couple of years.

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 reading science blogs in about 2006, but didn’t start writing at Highly Allochthonous until 2008 or so. The geoblogosphere is a great, tight-knit community, so it’s hard to pick favorites, but if you forced me to pick one, I’d go with Eruptions by Erik Klemetti. Erik and I actually went to grad school together at Oregon State and it’s been great to reconnect through blogging and to feed my volcano addiction with his frequent updates and always gorgeous photos. At the Saturday night banquet, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the Deep Sea News crew, and making their acquaintance was certainly a highlight of the conference.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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?

There are two particularly memorable parts of ScienceOnline2010 for me. First was the realization that despite the vastness of the science blogosphere I knew, it was only a small part of online science communication efforts – which range from open-access publishing to podcasting and beyond. The second memorable part of ScienceOnline2010 was the session I moderated on “Casting a wider net: Promoting gender and ethnic diversity in STEM.” We had a great unconference-y discussion with lots of thoughtful contributions from the audience. Among the points that stick out in my brain were discussions of the challenges of continuing mentoring relationships beyond the time a student is in a particular program and of spot-lighting the work of minority scientists without forcing them into being role models or spokespeople if that’s not what they want to do. I find these sorts of discussions from diverse viewpoints incredibly helpful as I continue my on-line and off-line efforts to increase the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the geosciences.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Morgan Giddings

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Morgan Giddings to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?

I am presently situated geographically in the center of North Carolina, specifically the Triangle area. If someone has already done it, then I’m bored with it. If the answers are already known, then I’m looking somewhere else.

My scientific background combines degrees in Physics, Computer Science, and a PhD focused on bioinformatics from UW Madison. After that, I got introduced to proteins and proteomics, and ever since have been tinkering with systems and approaches for combining proteomics, genomics, and computing to do hopefully useful things like helping to annotate the genes on the human genome.

My philosophy is that academic science has boxed itself into a bit of a corner with the direction it’s been headed. The “single pathway or system” focus that worked so well 20 years ago no longer works. We are in the era of “integration” but nobody knows how to do it. I am working on a book that touches on this.

Mid-career I had a realization that we scientists are horrible marketers for our work. I had this realization after co-founding a sustainable lifestyles bike shop, and trying to apply my “academic scientist” mentality to selling bikes. It didn’t work. After re-programming myself to market better, I realized that this also applies to everything I do in running a science lab.

That is the basis of my book “Four Steps To Funding” and another upcoming book, “The Golden Ticket in Science”.

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

I started in computer science and physics, then jumped ship as I started pursuing a PhD in computer science. I realized that pure computer science was a bit too dry for me. I joined a lab developing DNA sequencing technology, fell in love with combining computers and biology, and never looked back. After developing software for interpreting DNA sequencing data, I moved onto the harder problem of interpreting protein data from Mass spectrometers (so called proteomics). That opened up a lot of interesting projects, including:

– Contributing to a deep annotation of the Human Genome using protein/proteomic data

– Modeling bacterial systems with “agent based models” to uncover the basis of behaviors like chemotaxis and competence switching

– Developing methods to find posttranslational modifications on proteins from mass spectrometry data

– Examining the mechanisms that lead to antibiotic resistance in the bacterium P. aeruginosa

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

My time is split between standard academic duties, and my true passion, which is figuring out the “meaning of life” and writing books about it.

After I finish my next book on science careers, I’ll move onto my most ambitious project, which is a book that ties together consciousness, evolution, computing, and creativity. More on that when the time comes.

I also spend some fair bit of time helping scientists advance in their careers through consulting and training on things like how to get more grants and less rejections.

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

I love blogging and writing. I love giving talks, and figuring out how to convey a message to an audience for the maximal effect possible.

This is why I think “marketing” is so powerful. Marketers have studied how to convey effective messages to people for as long as there have been goods to sell. In particular, the last 100 years have seen many studies of human behavior in the context of how we receive (or don’t) messages.

While some might only associate marketing with nefarious purposes, I take the strong view that it is a value neutral activity. You can use it to promote bad things or good things.

Since most science is good to some extent, I believe that applying marketing could more effectively convey the value of science to other scientists, and the rest of the populace.

Considering that science funding is ever more in doubt, this couldn’t come a moment too soon. All of us scientists should be out telling people what benefit science brings to their lives, and doing so in the most effective way possible. I believe that if we don’t get our act in gear on this point, then science funding will continue to dwindle.

Hence, I am well on my way to becoming a definitive go-to resource on how to “market” one’s science, whether it is in writing a grant proposal, or talking to a member of congress.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I use blogging both to report on some of my science work, as well as to opine about matters related to “science marketing” and science careers. I use social networks to achieve further reach for some of the ideas, but frankly, I don’t have enough time to do that with regularity.

I find that the blogging (both my own and others’) is essential for forward progress, particularly in discussing matters that don’t get published in journal articles – like how to grow and manage a lab, or how to get a grant funded in a competitive environment.

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 discovered them through tweets by Bora Zivkovic, sometime in 2009.

I like A Blog Around The Clock, and a wide variety of other science blogs. I’m more focused on finding blog-posts with relevant content than following specific blogs.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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 realized how far I have to go in conveying the notion to my peers that we, as scientists and science communicators, must up our game on “marketing” our work. For example, I attended a session on how to get published with several authors. While it was clear that the authors were ahead of most of the audience in “figuring out” the marketing game for their books, there is a lot of content elsewhere in the world on how to do this successfully that hasn’t filtered into the science community. It was also clear from the questions that were asked by the audience that everyone is still stuck in thinking of book publishing in the traditional model of: get an agent, have the agent find a publisher, then have the publisher publish, promote, and distribute the book.

But things are rapidly changing. For example, e-books are a great alternative to the above model that provide a lot more flexibility to the author (and potentially profit, too). And there are lots of ways to self-publish a physical book as well, without having to go through a “gatekeeper”.

After having self-published my first book, I’d never do it any other way. I can see going with a publisher only if/when I’ve sold enough copies and had enough feedback that I really have strong evidence that it is a concept worth producing thousands of copies of.

In fact publishers are going towards this model as well. They prefer taking successful self-published titles, because it reduces their risk.

But the key to self-publishing is understanding how to market one’s work. Anyone who tries to self publish without understanding that will fail.

So the options for those who wish to publish their ideas in a book, without having to do any promotion or marketing, are becoming very scarce. This means that everyone needs to better learn to market their ideas. By marketing I mean “making the content and message relevant to the audience.”

I’d like to see more discussion on this point at a future conference.

The other thing I notice is that the people who attended the conference are the leaders in science communication. Many scientists are mostly (or completely) oblivious to the rapidly changing nature of science communication. I believe it will be important to spread the message more widely to working scientists as to why modern science communication is so important. I think that the conference could play a role in that.

It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

Thanks for the opportunity!