Taking a few side roads

While I’ve written a few posts here recently, I’ve also been busy elsewhere and thought I’d share some of my posts that have come up on other blogs.

Over at Canadian Science Publishing:

1. What is a scientist?

A scientist is someone who wears a lab coat 24/7, right? Who speaks in a language the public can’t understand, and who’s a nerd to the nth degree. And of course they’re often male – such as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, or the inevitable geeky lab technician character like David Hodges on CSI, or Sebastian Lund on NCIS New Orleans.

Of the many initiatives underway to battle this stereotype and show what scientists actually look like, the This is What a Scientist Looks Like Tumblr is my favourite. It features pictures and bios of scientists of all genders doing everyday things like dancing, painting, hanging out with their kids, running…you get the picture. They’ve also started a new podcast called This is What a Scientist Sounds Like.

But why do we even care what a scientist is – what’s the impetus for getting it ‘right’? Many scientists argue that the term is bandied about loosely in mainstream media, with people calling themselves scientists – and gaining the associated credibility – when they’re not actual scientists. But who are the gatekeepers: who decides who is and isn’t a scientist? What does it mean to be a scientist, and why is that important for the public to know?

2. Women in Science Series: Dr. Christie Bahlai

Christie Bahlai has been interested in science since she was a child – though she didn’t see it that way at the time. “My parents were both high school chemistry teachers,” she explains. “But I just liked catching bugs and frogs to be my pets, and working with my grandparents in their garden. I grew crystals for my third grade science fair project, and in 5th and 6th grades I went to regional science fairs with computer science projects I did using the LOGO programming language.” She’d imagined being a computer programmer when she grew up, but as she began to realize the social consequences of being a girl interested in science, she gave up on some of those interests.

At the age of 13, Richard Preston’s ‘The Hot Zone’ caught her attention. “This was probably the first time I explicitly considered ‘scientist’ as a career,” Bahlai recalls. “It just captured my imagination. People were devoting their lives to systematically figuring out how to control a major epidemic. Science wasn’t just facts – it was figuring out mysteries, and using what you found to help people.”

That didn’t mean she automatically found her place in science. Bahlai started off as a physics major, but found it too abstract to maintain her interest and keep her motivated. “During my second summer of undergrad, I got a research job in an entomology lab on campus and everything started to click,” she recalls.

3. Twitter for Teaching

Twitter seems to be everywhere in science these days: scientists are urged to use it to promote their research and build networks, while controversial science-related topics generate ‘tweetstorms’, and researchers use Twitter to run funding campaigns for their research projects.

But did you know that professors are also using Twitter in the classroom?

4. Women in Science Series: Usha Srinivasan, PhD

When Usha Srinivasan, PhD, thinks of the characteristics that have served her best in her career, the words optimistic, fearless, and relentless are what come to mind. “I found career opportunities,” she emphasizes. “They weren’t clearly visible, ready-made roles. You must understand your passion, and seek organizations or companies involved in that work to achieve your desired career trajectory.”

Now a senior level executive at MaRS, Ontario’s largest urban innovation centre, Srinivasan manages their various entrepreneurship programs at regional innovation centres and campus-linked accelerators across the province. More recently she’s been given responsibility for the MaRS youth program: Studio [Y], and for their data program: MaRS Data Catalyst.

But Srinivasan started off far from her current path. Originally from India, her father was a doctor and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. This led her to the University of Bristol, UK, where she enrolled in their microbiology program with the intention of specializing in medical microbiology or genetic engineering.

And at the Canadian Science Writers’ Association:

1. To Communicate or to Excommunicate? Is that the scientist versus journalist question?

Despite many excellent examples to the contrary, science communication remains plagued by two overarching stereotypes that seem to pit scientists and communicators against one another:

1. Scientists often are terrible communicators; and,

2. Communicators often get the science wrong.

These perceptions are slowly beginning to change, however, as people realize that scientists and communicators don’t live on fundamentally different planets.

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