Books you should read before you ever pick up a SciComm book.

SciComm is huge right now.  Some people might even say tremendous.

[Sorry, inappropes, I know.]

There is a wealth of knowledge beginning to be produced and absorbed and applied about science communication.  And the discussion that all of this is producing is truly a forward and positive direction for science practitioners.  But, there’s a problem in the way many of my peers, other students, I have encountered are approaching it.  They approach science communication like it’s a science.  But it’s not*.  I argue, especially after attending an interactive seminar on science communication by Dr. Tim Miller of SpokenScience.com, that by in large, science communication is an art (Art? GASP!).

We are trying to launch into it with methods and it just doesn’t do it justice. We need to know more of the theory behind it and more specifically, how communication feels. You can’t boil it down to an algorithm and as much as we want, we will never always get it right now matter how hard we try.  Communication is a dialogue that gets people intrigued with what you have to say by making them emotionally invested as well. Sometimes someone just doesn’t care either through apathy or just plain having a bad day. although there are ways to ensure success even in the face of an “mentally escaping audience.”

Dr. Miller pointed out that the most important transactions in our lives are still generally done face-to-face.  And I think this super important.  In light of a social media rant from one of my friends, most people don’t know a scientist, or at least the don’t know they know a scientist.  There is the #actuallivingscientist tag, but I think that the most effective way for scientists to make people more aware of science is through face-to-face contact.  In the street, in the bar, at the grocery store, at a panel event, wherever.  We should still do all those other things like blog posts and social media, and articles and interviews, but face-time is still the  .

Full disclosure, before I ended up in the trajectory I am in now, I was heavily involved in the theatre and got a dual degree in both Anthropology and Biology.  The theatre and anthro really helped me gain an appreciation for narrative and the importance of the emotional, random, improvisational, and chaotic nature of effective communication. There are some books I read before I ever picked up a science communication book. The lessons gleaned from these helped me understand and retain the lessons I am relearning for my newest journey.  Even if you have read every scicomm book there is, there is still reason to read these too.  It’ll only help you get better.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books on communication:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
    • My Dad, was a mechanic for the Air Force. But once he returned from Vietnam, basically decided to make his own schedule and from that point on has been successfully self-employed.  As I was about to leave for college he told me to read this book, because “No matter where you work or who you work for, you will always be selling YOU.  You must sell you in the interview, sell you in the day to day workplace, and sell you to your bosses, coworkers, and maybe eventually employees.”  Great advice from a great man (although I am a bit biased on that one).  If there is only time to read one book on this list, make it this one.
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
    • Like Star Wars? How about Lord of the Rings? Maybe you like murder mystery instead?  Well the thing they all have in common is the Hero’s Journey.  Campbell was a visionary that described the monomyth and the underlying narrative structure of much of human storytelling.
  • Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer
    • His manual for creative writing is mainly geared for scifi & fantasy, but it is so wonderfully illustrated and informative (with exercises!) that this is a great tool for storytelling.
  • On Writing by Stephen King
    • A more general memoir on the craft of narrative.  It’s kind of a classic.
  • Poetics by Aristotle
    • During the workshop, Tim mentioned that the idea of the realms of science and art being two separate worlds is a recently new phenomenon. But they didn’t necessarily start separated and don’t necessarily need to be now.  Some of the forefathers of science were also the forefathers of art. This is a great example of that notion.

I hope this short list** of texts pull you out of your comfort zone a little.  It will make you a better science writer to have these in the background and as resources. It will also give you some good context when you do start picking up scicomm books.  Remember, it all fits in with the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (ecology nerd joke alert).


* I think, however, that there is actually great benefit to be gained out of this pursuit.  We should study the idea and process scientifically***.  But it isn’t the end all be all approach; it won’t get us all the way there.  It can’t be truly understood through the process of science.  Using a formula to assemble parts that have been derived from studying communication will only get you part of the way.  It may work, but then again, it may fall flat on it’s head if the user can’t read an audience or hasn’t practiced or hasn’t….well you get the picture.

**I would also like to include The Elements of Style, Strunk ; On Writing Well, Zinsser; and Bird by Bird, Lamott, but you have to stop somewhere.

***After you have read the books in this list, I suggest using a great transitional book into science communication by Randy Olson named Houston, We Have a Narrative. Randy actually does wiggle out a fairly simple formula, and after I read this book, I found structuring my stories much easier.

hafoIXK.gifMy work here is done.

Now that you have your current position, its time for you to look for your next job!

So now you are graduated, or an intern at some park, or maybe you landed a coveted paid position, or dun dun dun…. your are finishing your graduate degree (like me).  Now what?  Unless you have a permanent position its time to start looking for a new position. Seriously.  Hopefully I will be able to help you out.  Below will be a list of some of my favorite resources.

But I just started you say? I have five months you say? I can find something later you say?

Too bad. So sad.  Start looking now. That awesome thing you got going now is gonna run out and you better know what happens next. There are only a couple options and I have tried most of them.  It’s either get more education, find a new job, or get out of the game.  I assume most of you don’t want to move on and get a desk job or flip burgers after all that hard work, so that leaves the options of jobs, internships, and more school.  And as you progress in your career some of these really don’t work either (but that is a subject for a later post).

I am going to break it down the resources into three categories: 1) My Favorites, 2) Gov’mnt, and 3) Other Good Stuff.  If I miss your favorite or great resource, I would love to know where you look for jobs.  Leave the links in the comments so everyone benefits!


My Favorites

  • First and foremost for me is: Texas A&M Job Board.  This place has it all, from unpaid internships to tenure professorships.  I got my first job from a listing here. And my third, and fourth. I assume my next position too.  I got the chance to work overseas and across the west.  It is updated frequently.
  • Ecolog: the best list-serv I know about.  It has a lot of stuff from internships, jobs, grad positions, and random other ecology related posts.  This is a great resource, just make sure that if you subscribe, sign up for a daily or weekly digest, otherwise your inbox will get bombarded.
  • The Society of Conservation Biology job board is another great place for every level of jobs in conservation biology.  It has had a facelift since the last time I used it and the interface looks great.
  • OSNA job board or the Ornithological Societies of North America job board.  Even if you aren’t into birds (yet) it is a great place to find opportunities. I originally started as a marine biologist but I got a lot more call backs (and offers) about jobs working with birds.

 Gov’mnt

  • USAJOBS of course.
  • But for us mere mortals (myself included) that have a hard time navigating government applications there is: go government. It is a nonprofit that helps people navigate USAJOBS.  Worth looking at.  From my first impression it has great resources that help you create a federal resume, find agencies hiring students, veterans, and persons with disabilities. Caveat: I haven’t had to use it yet, but plan on using some of its tips in the very near future as I myself start applying for the next round of employment.
  • Many wildlife refuges, parks, national forests, and other agencies will post internship positions on their respective pages.  So if you have an area you are interested in troll the web for there individual job pages.  Its often worth the work since most people are lazy and won’t do the extra effort like you are going to do.  Because you are going to do the extra effort right? RIGHT

Other Good Stuff


I hope this helps someone out there and like I said, leave other job boards and links in the comments so everyone can benefit!  That way people can find there way to jobs and degrees they love.  And end up getting to play and work in a place that makes you happy.

Happiness is working and playing somewhere you love.

The author happy as a clam near 9000 ft. in elevation during an old field season.

New Grad Student Advice and Resources I wish I would have known about…

As a new school year starts up and rears its ugly head of opportunity, I wanted to put out some info for new students that I wish I would have found earlier (or that someone else had pointed out to me). For now it is going to be a small list of resources already available. I might get into more specific resources and articles later that others might have found as useful as I have. But today we stick to the short list. Although there are multitudes of lists and resources out there for new graduate students, I feel like it is necessary to create another list. It is a meta-list of such lists.

And by no means is this list comprehensive, but it should be a good start for students looking for answers to common questions or just looking to fall through the rabbit hole and lose some time procrastinating while feeling like they are getting something done. This might get broken up into a couple posts where I will end up discussing not just these resources but more specific articles and books that students might benefit from reading. I am hoping this might end up a separate permanent page on my blog for easy update and reference.

Hope it helps some folks out there. I know the resources I present here have really helped me.

Part 1:

Here are some great resources from people that have already accumulated a wealth of resources:

Dr. Hall of Indiana University (where I attended undergrad) has a wonderful (and it’s pretty) lab webpage [http://www.indiana.edu/~halllab/grad-student-resources.html] with resources on the following:

  • Advice on Being a graduate student
  • The transition to becoming a professional
  • Grant writing
  • Getting a job
  • Advice on writing
  • Poster and presentation advice
  • Thoughts on reviewing
  • Teaching advice
  • And lists of other websites of resources including:

The webpage of Dr. Baskett of U.C. Davis [http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/baskett/links.html] has an incredible amount of resources that you should check out, including stuff on:

  • Science writing
  • Authorship
  • Peer Review
  • Grant writing
  • Science careers
  • Presenting and assembling talks and posters
  • Teaching

There are a couple blogs with compilations of “How-To” or “Advice” posts that should be consulted for loads of info too:

Dynamic Ecology’s compilation – a project of Dr. Fox of the University of Calgary
https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/advice-compilation/

eco-evolutionary dynamics – a collaborative blog about ecology and evolution and this is the latest (as of writing this) post in the their “How to” series:
http://ecoevoevoeco.blogspot.com/2015/08/how-to-be-postdoc.html

Previous “How to” posts on this blog:
How to pick a study system
How to do statistics
How to write/present your science
How to choose a journal (+ part 2)
How to be a reviewer/editor
How to get into graduate school
How to succeed in graduate school (+ part 2)
How to respond to reviews


One of My PI’s, Dr. McIntyre of TTU has a good page [http://nancymcintyre.weebly.com/] with many resources on more specific subjects she is teaching, like:

Landscape ecology: http://www.biol.ttu.edu/faculty/nmcintyre/Landscape%20Ecology/default.htm
Ornithology: http://www.biol.ttu.edu/faculty/nmcintyre/Ornithology/default.htm
Community ecology: http://www.biol.ttu.edu/faculty/nmcintyre/Community%20Ecology/default.htm

But more importantly across these pages they have career link websites, citizen science info, and, other info that could be useful.


Like I said, I hope this helps some folks out there as school starts up and new students are wondering around looking for guidance. There are some great resources listed above. Just don’t go too far down the rabbit hole or you might end up being the one saying, “I’m late for a very important date!” (cheesy but it couldn’t be helped).

Telecoupling and the IALE World Congress Part 1: What is landscape ecology?

That title, if you aren’t a landscape ecologist, might appear to be a bunch of mixed up words and random letters.  I will get to telecoupling in a later post so bear with me while I explain what IALE is. It’s the International Association for Landscape Ecology.  This is a professional society that tries to further scientific study in the field of landscape ecology.  That’s now the third time I have mentioned that phrase.  Many of you out there might wonder what it is.  If you are thinking that it means the study of how to landscape stuff, you’re wrong.  But don’t worry, because it is exactly what everyone that I talk to on airplanes and at bars thinks it is too.

So what is landscape ecology? Well it’s a little hard to describe.  I kind of think it’s like art in the way that you “know it when you see it.”  Here is an attempt though from the professionals:  IALE describes landscape ecology as, “the study of spatial variation in landscapes at a variety of scales.”

Okay… so that did not help much.  You are sitting there on the plane next to me thinking, “This guy just said some key words that go together and it still sounds like fancy landscaping to me. I don’t really care anymore.”  And that is because I have not done my job properly.  Lets try again.

A biologist’s job is to study life.  There are microbiologists that study cells and bacteria and things like that.  There are wildlife biologists that study, well, wildlife.  There are geologists that study the nature of the planet itself: how it formed; how minerals and rocks are formed and behave; and things of this nature.  Botanists study plants.  Ecologists study how all of the communities of life (single-celled life, plants, animals and everything in between) interact with each other and how they interact with all the non-living stuff (water, air, soil, sunlight, temperatures, fire, etc…).

Landscape ecology is, if nothing else, interdisciplinary.  It takes all of those things you just read in the previous paragraph and tosses in a couple other things like urban planning, ecosystem services, geography, and even more.  Again from the IALE website, “The conceptual and theoretical core of landscape ecology links natural sciences with related human disciplines.”  To me landscape ecology mashes these things together to try and understand how the distribution of a specific thing across the landscape influences other things and processes.

Picture taken by Joe Drake.

This picture really captures the idea of scale, disturbance, and the effect of human processes on natural systems. These are all parts of landscape ecology.

I like examples to try and explain things.  The following are all examples of what could be covered by the concept of landscape ecology: trying to understand what causes the spatial pattern of different types of forests; trying to understand how the spread of city sprawl will influence agriculture or wildlands; and simply trying to understand why cities, forests, rivers, lakes, deserts, and the other features of the landscape are where they are.

Other areas that landscape ecology covers includes trying to understand how the patterns of living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) parts of ecosystems influence processes in the landscape.  Take this question for example, why are wild fires becoming more frequent and dangerous across the United States?  Related to these types of questions are another area of study under landscape ecology: trying to understand how humans are changing the patterns, processes, and natural systems of the landscape.  And what does it mean for the landscape (and some may argue more importantly what does it mean for us)?

One more big area of study within landscape ecology is trying to understand how scale and disturbance impact the landscapes and the players in that landscape.  Differences in the scale of a disturbance can make a big impact on natural systems. A little fire could be a good thing for a forest, but too much fire across too big an area might end up breaking down the natural systems that organisms rely on.  Sometimes, however, the findings are that you can get away with doing a lot of some activity without too many problems occurring.   Or landscape ecologists might find that even a little bit of another thing has serious and irreversible consequences for animals, plants, and people.  A good example of this type of thing is looking at the difference in ability for animals to inhabit a landscape that is being disturbed by different levels of logging.  Another example would be trying to figure out how the development of new suburbs are going to impact the ability for groups of animals to move between habitat patches?

This is just the most basic of intros.  Hopefully, if you were sitting on the plane next to me, you have not decided that risking death by falling to the earth via an escape through the exit row cabin door is better than listening to me any longer.  If you were at the bar listening to me and have not yet tried to drink enough to forget what I have been saying, there are some good places to find more info.  The webpage for IALE is here.  If you are interested in knowing more, I suggest the Wikipedia page on landscape ecology.  I don’t have time to go over the origin of the this discipline but it is interesting.  Some of the key players in the development of landscape ecology are Alexander von Humboldt, Carl TrollRobert MacArthur, E. O. Wilson, and John Wiens among many others too numerous to mention here.

Next time will be about me and telecoupling. So I guess it will be about you too.  So deal with it.