If there’s one thing I learned at ScienceOnline2011 (a gathering of journalists, writers, and scientists), it’s that science communicators should tell stories, not just facts.
Us scientists sometimes have blinders on—facts are what we need, want, and crave. A ‘gut feeling’ certainly won’t pass peer review. But oftentimes it is a gut feeling that leads to those spectacular discoveries, producing the most captivating papers (or, alternatively, cool papers come from some rich dude throwing sh*tloads of money at something **coughCraigVentercough**).
My first year of contributing to Deep-sea News has been somewhat of a whirlwind (understatement of the century!!), and I realized that I haven’t yet told my story as a scientist.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what made me want to pursue a career in science. In high school, I knew I was good at debates (I liked the passion of arguments); I was thisclose to studying law, but decided to pursue biology because I was much more attached to the subject matter. I LOVED AP biology, was on the science team, and had an amazing science teacher (shout out to Mrs. Pauline Allaire-Adams!). Plus, my response to all DNA-related topics was “That’s fucking AWESOME!”. After pouring over career websites and talking to scientists, I decided in high school that I would need (and wanted) a Ph.D. if this was going to be my career. Yes, I’m that much of a planner. I’m also the different coloured post-it notes for different to-do tasks kind of person.
I applied, and was accepted to, a biology degree program at King’s College London where I would get a solid yet diverse foundation in basic biological principles.
At this point I will cue a mental montage to signify time passing from high school to Ph.D. applications: Tearful hugs at the airport, dramatic moments of staring with poignant guitar riffs in the background, and the occasional upbeat scene of group laughter with slow motion jumping at the end.
Ok, now it was time to apply for Ph.D. programs. Choosing the topic of your thesis is a very personal decision—at least, it was for me. I wanted my thesis to reflect my persona as a scientist, be a testament to my diverse skill set, and set the stage for my long-term research goals. I also didn’t want to spend years taking grad classes and doing rotations, so I had my eyes set on a Ph.D. course in the United Kingdom.
I had four requirements for my Ph.D. 1) I wanted to live in London 2) The project must involve deep-sea ecosystems (because they’re fucking AWESOME), 3) I didn’t want to work on overstudied and/or charismatic species. (I have a deep-seated hatred of vertebrates, especially dolphins), and 4) I must be trained in molecular biology.
All of this led me to a position advertised at The Natural History Museum, London, under Prof. John Lambshead. The project was going to utilize integrative methods (taxonomy AND molecular work) to investigate deep-sea nematode communities from the sub-Antarctic. Ph.D. SCORE!
Three years of hell later, I emerge newly Doctor-ious. Having visited the University of New Hampshire during my Ph.D. and knowing that UNH was at the forefront of high-throughput sequencing research on nematodes (an emerging field that is fucking AWESOME!), I worked my magic to sneak in as a postdoc.
What is the moral of this story? On the surface, any given scientist appears to be tightly pigeonholed into his or her own extremely specialized corner. It can be baffling to wonder how they ever arrived there. Ten years ago I would have laughed if someone predicted I’d be a taxonomic whiz and molecular ninja of microscopic worms. But that’s exactly where my windy path has led.