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. Science communication is an underrepresented field of journalism that I’m excited to explore and produce content for through this internship.