On this International Webloggers’ Day, we decided to turn our focus to the scientist-writers who make Oceanbites possible. Since I created Oceanbites.org in September 2013, I have been so impressed by the enthusiasm of graduate students all over the world who have contributed to the site. Below, I interview a handful of them about their thoughts on science communication and blogging, and we provide some recommendations for other blogs you should check out!
Question 1: Do you think it’s important for scientists to be bloggers?
“The job of scientists is to grow our collective knowledge through primary research. We do so by building on the work of others, and so come to understand scientific problems at a deep and nuanced level. I think sharing this knowledge to educate the public is both a responsibility that comes with the privilege of being a scientist, and only serves to add value and meaning to the work that we do largely behind closed laboratory doors.” — Abrahim El Gamal, UCSD Scripps
“I think it’s important for scientists to try an connect to the general public. Blogging is a great way to do that.” — Brittney Borowiec, McMaster University
“I am the first to admit that I struggle with communication; blogging has helped me learn to communicate better.” — Kari St. Laurent, Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve
“I think it’s very important for scientists to engage the public through communicating their research, whether that’s in the form of a blog, a science café, a science fest, a workshop, or anything else. Most of us are publicly funded, so it’s critical that we show people what they are paying for!” — Dina Navon, UMass Amherst
“Too often scientists don’t work on being effective communicators even to other scientists. Blogging is a great way to reach a broader audience and to hone those communication skills.” — Sarah Giltz, Tulane University
“Personally, I got involved with Oceanbites because I wanted to improve my communication skills; it’s helped my writing and it’s forced me to read and write outside my comfort zone.” — Annie Hartwell, University of Akron
Question 2: What do you find most challenging about translating scientific articles for online audiences?
“…keeping it short and engaging. In the days of Instagram and Twitter, most readers get fatigued after a few sentences (I’m guilty myself). How the study was conducted is particularly challenging for me. It can often reveal the integrity of the study; yet there are often many details regarding jargon, equipment, and it’s not the most exciting. Another thing is framing the article so that it is relatable to the audience (i.e. why should the audience care about what you’re writing about?)” — Megan Chen, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
“…trying to find a paper that 1) would appeal to readers 2) is reasonably within my field and 3) I can translate well can sometimes be a tall order! But I do what I can to satisfy all of those requirements.” — Dina Navon, UMass Amherst
“Jargon is very difficult to eliminate, not because I can’t explain the concept or rephrase, but because I often don’t realize I’m using it. When you’re so embroiled in a world and using its language, you eventually stop realizing you’re speaking a language others don’t understand.“ — Rebecca Flynn, University of Rhode Island
Question 3: What do you hope readers will learn from reading your posts?
“…the idea of science being an exciting, changing field of study – we don’t know things, which is why all of us are inspired to keep questing. Not everything is known; hardly, nothing is really known, and we’ve only scratched the surface (often literally) of the animals and processes that influence the ocean.” — Erin McLean, University of Rhode Island
“Ultimately, I hope with continued exposure to marine science and issues, people make decisions that support a healthy ocean which supports us!“ — Megan Chen, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
“I hope they feel the passion that scientists have for their craft, see the beauty that we find in science, and recognize science as an exciting field in which new discoveries are always occurring.” — Rebecca Flynn, University of Rhode Island
“I want someone to go ‘that was cool.’ A big problem in science, and academics in general, is making non-specialists care about what we do. If I can break down an article just enough so that someone can appreciate the findings and the work that went into it without being deeply invested in the literature, I call that a success.” — Britney Borowiec, McMaster University
“I think they get up to speed with the research that is happening now and they learn about the current state of our oceans.“ — Sandra Schleier — oceanbites en espanol translator, University of Rhode Island
Question 4: What have you learned from being an Oceanbites writer?
“How to communicate to a broader audience, which has in turn inspired my entire career path based on outreach rather than academia. Academia is preaching to the choir, but outreach is reaching a broader audience.” — Erin McLean, University of Rhode Island
“How to read an article… and digest the big picture without getting caught up on the details, also being more direct in my writing- saying what I want in fewer words. Also, I’m getting over the idea that I can’t write.” — Annie Hartwell, University of Akron
“Patience and perspective. As scientists, we often get caught up in our own specific fields and forget what is and isn’t common knowledge and we can get annoyed when people don’t get what comes easy to us. Having an editing process allows for my writing to be read by someone who doesn’t have the exact same background as I do and allows me to see my work from different perspectives. I will often try to step outside of my comfort zone and write about something I don’t know as much about, it is a great way to really dig into a paper and learn something I may not have otherwise.” — Gordon Ober, University of Rhode Island
“I’ve learned that scientific writing and creative writing do not have to be mutually exclusive. Scientific writing does not have to be dull and lifeless. We can infuse it with life, energy, and humor, and we should do so when communicating science with a broader audience.” — Rebecca Flynn, University of Rhode Island
Question 5: What is the most rewarding aspect of writing for Oceanbites?
“I have benefited greatly from monthly practice writing and editing pieces about new topics.” — Sarah Giltz, Tulane University
“I really enjoy branching outside my discipline and learning about the work of others by challenging myself to convert the original journalese into something interesting, relatable, and fun. I can only hope that my efforts inspire others to lean into science.” — Abrahim El Gamal, UCSD Scripps
“…through Oceanbites, I’ve met some amazing people from around the globe that I never would have met otherwise. I’ve met up with Oceanbites writers at conferences and other events, which is great networking and a great support system of young oceanographers with different backgrounds and expertise.” — Kari St. Laurent, Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve
“It’s definitely refined a few rougher edges of writing, especially writing clearly and concisely (which is NOT something you see in a lot of journal articles).” — Britney Borowiec, McMaster University
“I love being part of the Oceanbites community, sharing ideas and working with other writers to improve ourselves as science communicators. Plus, there’s the joy of knowing that out there in the world, there are people that enjoy learning from our posts. One of my most exciting moments was when I was telling a co-worker that I write for a marine science blog called Oceanbites and she told me that she reads and loves our blog. Our reach is limited only by access to the internet… so many people can potentially learn about marine science through our blog.” — Rebecca Flynn, University of Rhode Island
“When you hear ‘I thought that article was so cool’ or ‘I’m using the Oceanbites blogs in my class to teach my students’ (I love hearing that, I think it’s a big high five for the entire Oceanbites team).” — Annie Hartwell, University of Akron
“I love knowing that the work we all do is diffusing out into the wider world, and that I’m a part of that process. I’ve also gotten exposure to many scientists who aren’t directly in my field of research and it’s been a lot of fun learning more about what they do.” — Dina Navon, UMass Amherst
“The most rewarding part is seeing people get excited about something that I am excited about. I write about things that interest me, and when I see people comment, share, retweet, etc. that is a great feeling.” — Gordon Ober, University of Rhode Island
Question 6: What are your favorite science/ocean-related blogs and magazines, besides Oceanbites?
And with that, we’re back to our normally scheduled programming of daily blog posts! I sincerely hope you’ve been enjoying reading Oceanbites, and that you enjoyed this glimpse into our writers’ thoughts on the project. Interested in becoming an Oceanbites writer yourself? Our next call for application will be coming up in August-September 2016. Check out the info here to learn more about the application process.
I am the founder of oceanbites, and a postdoctoral fellow in the Higgins Lab at Colorado School of Mines, where I study poly- and perfluorinated chemicals. I got my Ph.D. in the Lohmann Lab at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, where my research focused on how toxic chemicals like flame retardants end up in our lakes and oceans. Before graduate school, I earned a B.Sc. in chemistry from MIT and spent two years in environmental consulting. When I’m not doing chemistry in the lab, I’m doing chemistry at home (brewing beer).