And now for something completely different

Remember that first day at a new school? That was me this week. Photo by r.nial.bradshaw, CC.

Remember that first day at a new school? That was me this week. Photo by r.nial.bradshaw, CC.

After I finished my 5-year Bachelor’s degree in Biology last year, I had a revelation:

I didn’t want to do science. I wanted to tell people about it.

Thus began my science communication journey. Where are the jobs? Are there jobs? What kind of education do you need? Do I really need to go back to school? Are you sure, because I just finished school, and I don’t want to go back!

I decided that I did need to go back to school. If I wanted to work in communications I needed some hard lessons on how to write things that people will read. Goodness knows I didn’t learn that in Biology! Journalism was suggested over and over as a great way to get those skills. So, with no further ado, I signed up for a 2-year journalism program at a local college.

I’ve been told that college is VERY different from university. However, biology is also VERY different from journalism, so I have too many variables to make a true comparison.

Darn, I’m still doing science, aren’t I? I thought it would be fun to look at some of the similarities and differences so far between my biology and journalism education. Here goes:

1. Specialist vs. Generalist

In biology I was trained to be a specialist. My first year courses had titles like ‘Organismal Biology’ and ‘Plant Science’, but by third year I was taking ‘Taxonomy of Ontario Plants’ and ‘Animal Behaviour’. I was in the honours stream, which meant I was being groomed for grad studies. I did a research project and became an expert on orange testicles in fruit fly sex. As you can imagine, there are not a lot of jobs that require this kind of expertise. Biology did teach me great research skills, and a sense of curiosity about how the world around me works. However, the idea in academia is to be a specialist, and to know a lot about a little.

In journalism, we’re trained to be generalists. It’s fine to have favorite topics, but we have to be prepared to cover anything and everything. That could mean local news, sports, politics, economics or celebrity gossip. Being trained as a generalist was a new idea to me, but I like the challenge. Forcing myself to read the sports page will be difficult, but it can’t be much more difficult than Organic Chemistry, right?

2. Photos!

This year I have a photojournalism class, and I’m a little nervous about it. We’ll learn how to use all the manual settings on an SLR digital camera. We’ll also learn how to convince people to let us take their picture, which I imagine is more difficult than the technical side of things.

Buying an expensive camera was a stressful experience. Looking at the owner’s manual is overwhelming. New technology often has this effect on me, but as a journalist I’ll have to learn to keep up with changing technology. I might as well start now.

Then I remembered that I had used strange, expensive tools to take photos in biology too! My first-year lab coordinators were really keen on us taking photos of what we were seeing under the microscope. They taught us all about focus and exposure. Of course, photographing fly testicles also taught me about white balance and finding the true colour of something. The difference is that I didn’t have to buy these microscopes, or carry them around with me!

I’m sure I’ll make many more comparisons as the school year progresses. I am very excited to be learning something completely different. However, due to a heavy workload I’ll reduce my posts here to once every two weeks. Wish me luck!

Birds of a feather: Twitter tips

Twitter has a steep learning curve. Embrace it! Image by Bernard Goldbach, topgold. CC.

Twitter has a steep learning curve. Embrace it! Image by Bernard Goldbach, topgold. CC.

This weekend I’m in Toronto at the Canadian Science Writer’s Annual Meeting, so I won’t have much time to blog!

In the spirit of science communications, I’ll share some Twitter tips I picked up from the last conference I attended, the Science and Technology Awareness Network Annual Conference.

In April I adopted twitter as a networking tool, so I’ll use the tips from the conference to evaluate how I’m doing so far. Here goes nothing!

1. Twitter is a real-time platform, so don’t be afraid to repeat your tweets in case people missed them the first time.

Me: I’m deathly afraid of repeating posts. I have too much Facebook in my blood.

2. Magic formula for maintaining a following:

a. 60% of posts should be links related to your passion
b. 30% of posts should promote others, and be conversations with others
c. 10% of posts should be self-promotion. If you do too much, you will annoy people!

Me: I’m really good at retweeting links that I’m passionate about. There are so many cool science writers on twitter with awesome things to share! I’m also good at using twitter to promote this blog. However, I need to work on replying to people’s posts and joining discussions. Putting yourself out there can be hard, but it definitely gets people’s attention!

3. Don’t worry about the numbers! That’s not why you’re doing this. Post on social media because you want to share.

Me: I do get that little rush of oxytocin to the brain whenever I get an update or a new follower on twitter, but I don’t make a huge deal out of it. Views of my blog are another story entirely, probably because my blog is a lot more work than twitter. I’m trying to limit checking the number of views of my blog to once a day, because any more than that is not a good use of my time. Also, my logical-mathematical brain likes all the numbers and statistics that WordPress presents you with. I’m sure Twitter also has fancy stats applications, but I will stay far away from them!

4. Let your personality come through! People want to connect with other people on twitter, not with emotionless content curators.

Me: My personality came through more strongly when I first started tweeting. Instead of retweeting I would compose my own tweets. However, retweeting is much easier than thinking of clever things to say, so now I mostly retweet content. I need to go back to writing tweets from scratch!

5. All of your posts don’t have to be about science! Show your personality with other interests.

Me: Most of my posts are about science or science writing, but I occasionally post about events in the City of Ottawa. Some people think Ottawa is a boring government town, but there is so much to do here. You just have to find it!

6. Remember that the content you post is a product. Only say things you would say to someone’s face.

Me: The anonymity of the internet can sometimes lull us into a false sense of security. In fact, anything you post on Twitter is visible to the world. I always think before I post or retweet, and I’m usually pretty good at remembering that I’m posting to the world.

7. Have a personal social media brand unrelated to your place of work. You may not work there forever!

Me: The advantage of unemployment is that I don’t have this problem. My Twitter brand is all me! It just needs a bit more personality, is all.

I hoped those tips were helpful. I’m still learning about Twitter, but I’ve already connected with some cool people. I would certainly recommend it as a networking tool for students just starting out in the real world. It’s also a great place to find potential employers that you didn’t know existed. Happy Tweeting!

Learning to talk science

My name is Amelia, and I am a recent university graduate gazing at the world work and wondering where I will fit best. My training is in biology and anthropology,and I have recently become interested in how these two fields intersect. I am also interested in communicating science to non-scientists in ways that are both accessible and provide useful information. Communication skills were largely glossed over in my biology degree, so I am hoping that this blog will help me practice writing about science. This is also my first time blogging, so I expect it to be a learning process.  Image

Oh, and I’m also an artist, which would explain why I’m sitting next to examples of my artwork in this picture. I’m sure my artwork will find a way to sneak into this blog too.

The title of this blog “lab bench to park bench” links scientific research to things we see every day and take for granted, like park benches. I hope to demonstrate that these worlds are not separate, but overlap in wild and wondrous ways.

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August 2020


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