All of the REU students just finished presenting their final work at a poster session at OIMB. It was interesting for me to see the projects everyone has been working on, especially now that I have a better understanding of what the process of a science project is like.
During the session I was able to have some interesting conversations about science communication with people who are more on the science side of things.The line on my poster that attracted the most attention was: “Scientists are just people who practice science.” It seems like such a simple take away, but with all of the misconceptions and stereotypes plaguing science and scientists, it can be a difficult lesson to learn.
It was mentioned to me that I may have had so much success engaging with the marine biologists on the cruise because of the embedded expectation of outreach in that field. Other fields of science may place a greater value on using high-level language and not reaching out to the general public for various reasons. If I had attempted to engage with rocket scientists, maybe I wouldn’t have had such a positive experience.
While communication practices in each field and individual people may vary, the same goes for every other field that journalists engage with. From my perspective, some people want to talk and some don’t and that’s just the way it is.
All that being said, I don’t think that the lack of journalists involved in science communication is caused by a lack of scientists wanting to talk about their life’s work, but rather the label of “science communication.” It’s likely that many journalists get scared off by the word “science” and automatically assume that science communication requires a special skill set.
A science communicator is just a more specific title for a journalist. Whether you’re covering a public event or writing about the research done in a lab, you’re going to be asking the same types of questions: why is this happening? What is the goal? Why should people care about this goal? Those basic questions can be applied to any story, including ones about, you guessed it, science.
As the world around us changes, it becomes harder to avoid science. While some people still put in the effort to act like proven studies are full of false information or that the world’s problems don’t affect them, I believe that science has to become a more integrated part of our society for our own good. So, whether I call it science communication or journalism, I’m grateful that I was able to have this experience and recognize the importance, and fun, of telling these kinds of stories.
I finished my first draft of my final story and I kind of hated it. There was no core element holding it together, so it read like timeline of what happened during the cruise. If I was general reader, I wouldn’t get past the first paragraph.
Fortunately, Kelly and I were able to talk it through and figure out what was missing. As I was writing the first draft, the focus of the story shifted and I realized that my original plan of writing two separate stories was complicating the process rather than simplifying it. Instead of struggling against the rules I had set for myself, we decided that it makes much more sense to change them.
It’s quite easy to get tunnel vision with your own work and become too attached to the plan you made. When you’ve been staring at a word document for days, trying to make a story fit into the outline you’ve prepared, you need that secondary person to bring in a different perspective. The new plan is to write a single story from my perspective about the cruise, focusing on what makes these people excited to spend 10 days sleep deprived and seasick on a research vessel.
In other news, I made my first poster! Next Wednesday is the REU poster session at OIMB where all of the REU interns will present what they’ve been working on this summer. When I was planning my poster, I had a hard time fitting it into the scientific format. Again, it took an outside perspective (Kelly) to help me escape my tunnel vision and realize that I should create a poster that fits my project, not fit my project to the poster.
After designing the content and flow of my presentation, I realized that my journalism poster had many parallels to the scientific poster, just with different headings. The poster is basically showing the outcome of an experiment on myself (joining a research cruise for the first time), highlighting the methods and process (what I did throughout the cruise) and sharing the results (how my perspective of scientists and the scientific process changed).
The lesson this week is that getting too preoccupied with the rules can stifle the creative content that people will enjoy. As I start the next draft of the new story, I plan on doing whatever feels right and adding in the rules later.
It never occurred to me that the most difficult part of this internship would be actually writing the story. Creating a story is the only part of this experience that I have a lot of practice in, everything else—going on a ship, learning about jellyfish, documenting a process through photos—is completely new. I had assumed that once I went on the cruise and collected all of my information that the story would flow right out.
Realistically, there is so much content that it’s incredibly difficult to strip it down into what’s important and engaging for a general audience. In most of my previous work, I’ve dealt with a much smaller topic or had constraints on an assignment that made the process much simpler. The amount of options I had for this story was overwhelming because there were so many different avenues to explore.
I don’t think this is a science communication specific challenge, but a challenge created by my experience level. It takes a significant amount of skill to take a large topic and break it down into the most salient, interesting parts. Going into this internship, I had no concept of what to expect, so I didn’t have a plan on how to break down the topic. It was only after I experienced the cruise and collected a massive amount of information that I started breaking it down, but at that point it’s very easy to lose your perspective of what’s important to an average reader because you’re so entrenched in it that everything feels important.
I just finished the first draft of the primary story and there are significant edits to be made. Though it’s unbelievably rough and needs some work, having the draft complete means that the most difficult part is over. Once the structure of the story is laid out, the crafting can begin.
This week has been more of the same: organizing, editing, vomiting (words, that is), digging through notes, re-editing, etc. So, instead of repeating the last blog post in different words, I thought I’d reflect on some things I learned about the impact gear has on photographs, with some comparison before and after editing photos sprinkled in.
In preparation for the cruise, I figured I needed a DSLR camera with a couple lenses, a good mic, and a tripod. While this was a great starter kit, I would make quite a few tweaks if I were to go on another cruise. For starters, using a tripod on a close-quarters ship where there is constant action is a bit ridiculous. By the time I had set up the shot, the action had moved somewhere else and I had missed a scene of the sequence. Sure, I used the tripod to film a couple context scenes—like a single shot video of the MOCNESS being deployed that I can use for my own reference or post alongside a story—but ultimately, it was a clunky piece of equipment that I rarely reached for, but that I still had to load on and off the ship.
I talked to Mark Farley, the videographer on board, about my frustrations with the tripod and he shared that he also brought a tripod on the previous winter cruise before learning the same lesson. This time, he brought a gimbal—a piece of equipment that can keep a mounted camera parallel to the earth. Essentially, regardless of how bumpy you walk or how unstable your ground is, a gimbal can get a smooth shot that won’t leave your audience nauseous. It was comforting to hear that someone of Mark’s professional level went through the same process I was going through when it came to using the right gear. That got me thinking more about Mark’s kit and how it was specifically tailored for his purpose.
Mark uses a Sony camera that has a small body and an inaudible shutter. This set up allowed his picture taking technique to be very casual; he walked up to people in the lab, peered over their shoulders, saw the shot he wanted, extended his arm to get the camera in the right spot, and then used the large digital display to line up his shot. The whole process would take seconds and no one even noticed the camera was there.
On the other hand, the Canon 5d Mark ii I was using—a great camera—has a loud shutter click and most settings force the photographer to use the viewfinder rather than the digital display to see what’s being captured. This resulted in me having to stick not only my large camera in people’s space to get the shot, but my head as well because my eye had to be glued to the viewfinder. Additionally, once someone heard the shutter sound, they knew they were being watched and would change their face, posture, action, etc. from something authentic to something posed.
As someone whose primary medium is paper and pen, I hadn’t fully considered the discomfort and obtrusion that a camera can bring. If someone isn’t accustomed to being interviewed, all a journalist has to do is turn the interview into a conversation and the discomfort fades away. If someone isn’t accustomed to having their picture taken and is uncomfortable, you can’t remove the camera and take pictures with your eyes instead, the camera has to be there.
The realization that a camera can get in the way of getting a good photograph entertained me for a while before it was time to get back to my word vomit.
This time last week I was on a ship, watching as chief scientist Bob Cowen tried to wrangle science equipment back onto the deck, fighting against the wind and the waves. This week I’ve been sitting hunched in front of my computer sorting photos to edit. It’s been a pretty dramatic change of pace, but one that has allowed me to absorb and put into perspective what I experienced aboard the RV Sally Ride.
It took me a couple days into the cruise to realize that the experience I was having was pretty rare—a very limited amount of people get to participate in the type of field work I was immersed in. But once you’re in that environment, it starts to become normalized and things that you originally thought were super exciting and unique turn into your daily routine.
Now that I’m back on land and returning to “normal life,” I’m able to get back to that initial perspective of recognizing the cool things that happened on the ship. Instead of prodding pyrosomes and working on my sea legs, I’m going grocery shopping and packing up my apartment and recognizing that my time on the cruise was pretty spectacular. I’m really grateful that I’ve easily returned to an awestruck mindset in which I can recognize the unusual and intriguing aspects of what I experienced because that’s how I can write the most accessible story for a general audience.
The real struggle now is editing down 10 days filled with action and excitement, failure and triumph into a single piece of writing. I’ve been getting caught up in the terrible trap of editing as I write—starting a sentence and then immediately deleting it because it’s not quite right—which has left me with fragmented bits and pieces of narrative and exposition. After meeting with my journalism mentor, Mark Blaine at UO’s School of Journalism and Communication, we decided that it’s time for a vomit draft.
I’m hopeful that once I “vomit” all of the words in my head onto a page, I can have a clearer idea of what absolutely must be included in the final product and what will remain as a fun story to tell at dinner parties.
The first couple days of the cruise felt like a false start, but transiting to Trinidad Head off the coast of Northern California two days early acted as a reset button.
The plan to head south early stemmed from some weather that was threatening the Newport stations. During the 21 hours of travel, the team was able to work on the MOCNESS sensors, which had stopped responding, not allowing any physical sampling to be done off Newport. The main lab table turned into a work bench with the chief scientist, a resident technician, and several engineers huddled around the MOCNESS’s electrical guts. Everyone who wasn’t actively helping seemed to instinctively clear out of the work space, not wanting to add any more stress to the room.
It’s in hindsight that I can recognize how disconnected I felt from the process at the time, because there wasn’t much process to speak of. Every hour some new frustration was popping up and the regimented collecting and testing I had expected hadn’t started yet. It wasn’t until day four of the cruise, the morning we arrived in Trinidad Head, that the amount of practiced science happening started to outweigh the time spent on repairs.
Once the first California station went well, things started moving fast. The original plan was to spend four days off of Newport, alternating ISIIS imaging days and MOCNESS sampling days, then repeating the process in Trinidad Head. The reality was that we lost two days of sampling in Newport and if we wanted to complete all of the cruise objectives, we had to double down. It was time to fit four days of work into two at Trinidad Head so we could loop back to Newport with three days left to collect data.
Suddenly, the labs switched from a handful of scientists roaming around looking for things to do, to seemingly double the amount of people all rushing to put the protocols into action. Each station’s samples had barely been processed by the time we reached the next, throwing everyone from first to fifth gear.
But the chaos was welcomed with open arms and everyone acclimated to the new pace almost immediately. As the rhythm was set, I started feel more grounded. This is what a research cruise is like.
We’re currently sitting back at the Newport dock as I’m writing this. Much more has happened in the last week than what I’ve written, but processing it takes time and perspective that I’ve yet to gain. One thing is for sure: I have no shortage of material for my final story.
Greetings from the sea!
I’ve already learned a lot from the short time we’ve been on the ship, my first lesson being that I severely underestimated the power of seasickness. I spent the first day getting sick in various places on the ship and wobbling back to my bunk for some rest. Fortunately, Mark Farley, the videographer on board, has a cardboard box full of seasick medication where I was able to find some more effective drugs than what I brought.
After the first day being a bit of a wash, the second day I learned that things go wrong and it’s just par for the course. There was a series of mechanical issues with ISIIS, imaging equipment that trails behind the ship, to start off the day. After that bug was solved, MOCNESS, an oversized rack with nets that collects physical samples at various depths, started to lose contact with the software, making that two main pieces of scientific equipment that are malfunctioning.
The status of the equipment can change moment to moment, so a few “what if” plans have been made. As I’ve watched the people around me having to stop and adjust their plans, it’s helped me do the same. Though we haven’t done much sampling, there have been minimal pyrosomes showing up in the underwater footage. It’s possible that my original idea of covering the excessive amounts of pyrosomes and their effect on sampling might no longer be applicable and I, too, will have to adjust my plans.
Fortunately, I have time. We’re only on our third day, so there is still time to shoot the action that’s going on throughout the cruise. As of now, the new story forming is one about the adaptability of scientists at sea.
It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced such a dramatic learning curve—I forgot how mentally exhausting it can be.
Most of my days during the first week were spent in the Sutherland Lab on the UO campus, reading papers about jelly research and familiarizing myself with the lab space. I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I was dead on my feet when I got back home every day. I had just come off the end of term where I read and wrote until my eyes hurt for nearly two weeks straight, so why was a few days of light reading making my brain feel like incompetent mush?
It clicked when Dr. Sutherland sent me two papers to read side-by-side—a paper she wrote about Pyrosome population in the Northeast Pacific Ocean and the accompanying story by Jim Barlow, director of science and research communications at UO. I read through the scientific paper, stopping to google terms and reread sentences where I only understood the connecting words like ‘and’, ‘it’, and ‘the’. After finishing with a 20% comprehension of the topic, I read Barlow’s story that cited Sutherland’s piece, in addition to the interviews he had with her and other experts. I glided through his story with ease, taking in the information the way my brain is accustom to: through narrative.
I had been surrounded by literature, and people, that communicated using a different dictionary than my usual peers and it took seeing the translation from research paper to journalism story for me to realize that. At first it felt silly that it took me so long to figure out that the difference in language was causing me trouble given that the core of my internship is to learn how to translate scientific speak into a narrative driven story for a wider audience, but my struggle ultimately highlighted the work it takes to become that translator.
I’m grateful that I had my little epiphany prior to visiting OIMB on Monday and Tuesday, or I think I would have pulled out my hair from trying to understand the scientific chatter that flows seamlessly from the lab to the lunch table. The collection of shingled buildings feels much more like summer camp than a research institution, except craft tables are replaced with seawater tables and dinner conversation includes jokes about identifying appendicularians, a filter-feeding jelly with a tadpole-like shape, that flew right over my head.
After several days of being completely out of my realm, I was able to meet with Marquis Blaine, a UO professor in the School of Journalism and Communication, and have a grounding conversation about the content I’m going to produce over the summer. We talked about how to approach the research cruise I’m embarking on with the lab come Monday and the importance reminding myself of my objectives when the hustle and bustle on the ship inevitably leaves me scattered.
As for now, I’m packing my bags for the cruise and writing notes for myself all over my apartment not to forget my camera charger and seasick medication.
I am a third year journalism student at the University of Oregon with a focus in traditional written journalism and interview techniques. I’ve coupled my major with a minor in computer technology because I enjoy the crossover of analytical and imaginative thinking that the field brings. As I’ve pursued this path, I’ve found myself feeling forced to choose my identity as a science person or an arts person. Once I chose to study journalism, STEM, something I pursued with a passion during my lower education, was suddenly removed from my curriculum and labeled as something that other people did. The concept of STEM and the arts being mutually exclusive pursuits has created a gap between scientists and communicators, one that has caused a strained relationship between the two fields and limited the availability of engaging science communication—a disservice to everyone.
When I saw a posting for an internship with the direct focus of bridging that gap, I was immediately excited. Working with Dr. Kelly Sutherland, a professor of biology at UO, and Mark Blaine, a School of Journalism and Communication professor at UO, will place me at the intersection of journalism and scientific research and allow me to navigate an area far outside of my comfort zone. I am excited for the crash course I’m going to receive on marine biology and the challenge of translating what I learn to a broader audience. Ultimately, I hope to produce several multimedia stories about the research conducted at OIMB and the people who are behind it.
I am a third year journalism student at the University of Oregon with a focus in traditional written journalism and interview techniques. Science communication is an underrepresented field of journalism that I’m excited to explore and produce content for through this internship.