Thank you to the Geological Society of America for selecting me as their first ever Science Communications Fellow. It’s been so interesting to help determine what scientific articles in the four GSA journals might spark the media and the public’s attention, and be digestible to a lay audience. There’s certainly a fascinating story behind every article, but yes, some stories will catch on more than others. Geology can be hard for laypeople to see the relevance in. As part of the fellowship I attended the 2017 Annual Meeting in Seattle. What fun to be immersed once again in geologists (over 7,000 of them) and catch some of the buzz on the latest research. My role in helping write press releases for the meeting and talking with journalists covering the talks gave me a new perspective.
Every story needs a plot. Science stories are no exception. Facts and trivia are fun and compelling, but it is the storyline that can bring a science topic to life, especially for young readers. Science is sweat and tears, conflicts, controversy, and serendipity. One scientist’s accidental discovery, determined personality, or fresh perspective may just shift a paradigm. These “behind the scenes” glimpses of science helps a kid feel like an insider, with an appreciation for scientific process that they don’t get from a fact-studded encyclopedic approach. I think the human side can be the real “wow” factor, as in “wow, I’d like to do that, too. “
In the mid-1990s I picked up a freebie publication for backcountry skiers from a rack at the Seattle REI store. I tracked down the editor. Sure, he said, they could always use volunteer writers. The rewards were occasional pizza and beer, and seeing my name in print for the first time since I was 8 years old (when Jack and Jill published a one-paragraph letter I wrote about lighting Hanukkah candles).
Gradually, I began to balance my day job as a geologist at engineering firms with more writing. At first, most of my writing was geared towards outdoor recreation. Then, heeding the mantra “write what you know,” I eventually convinced Earth magazine to give me a try with a piece about the quirky mystery of the Mima Mounds, a strange landscape south of Olympia, Washington. My career as a science writer was off.
Years later I still can’t say what formed the Mima Mounds. But I do know that I love the immersion writing gives me into so many corners of the world. I don’t think I will ever get bored with it.