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.

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George Orwell’s Rules on Writing

As I buckle down to several writing projects (including my thesis…GAAH!) its always helpful to go back and read some simple, but effective advice:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to
seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of
an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


These rules come from George Orwell’s essay: Politics and the English Language. These hold true if you are writing political essays to scientific articles.  His suggestion for figuring out how to follow these rules:

“A scrupulous
writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

I know I have a hard time writing while following these rules; but to break a bad habit such as bad writing, one must practice.  I suggest reading the full article.  It’s floating around the internet.  Find it and read it to help save yourself and the English language from bad writing.  I know I am trying to save you from my bad writing. Thank me later

 

P.s.  IF you don’t know who George Orwell is or isn’t, then check out his info.  These writing rules actually come from an article that rails against misused language for political rhetoric.  As the political season starts to warm up, it might be a good read for a consumer of writing and political discourse as well as any writer.

P.s.s Here’s the link to an online version of his article. And then go and read 1984.

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Memories of field work fade as writing takes it grip on the unsuspecting grad student.  Goodbye sweet field work.

Memories of field work fade as writing takes it grip on the unsuspecting grad student. Goodbye for now, sweet field work.

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.