Serious in 2016 -> 2017?

I’ve written more for other blogs and publications this year than I ever have.

It was enough to successfully apply to the NASW, the National Association of Science Writers, which I am proud of. (I also joined the DC Science Writer’s, but that’s a membership fee alone).

I followed a science communication/science writing/science editing track this year as well. I attended the AAAS meeting and met a lot of people into science communication. I listened to reporters and scholars on communicating science, what impedes it (lack of incentive/money, in large part), and how to listen to people and get people to listen to scientists more (yes, it can be a two-way street).

I got to meet Joe Palca, NPR’s science correspondent and that’s been a fantastic contact to make.

I did my digital communication activities again this year and even did some things on Youtube this year (interviewing people) at the Plant Biology conference in Austin this year, stepping away from my science and just focusing on broadcasting/conveying the things going on at the conference, writing a blog post for each day of the conference. It’s intense for this introvert, but would do it again.

I attended part of the Science Writer’s meeting and got to meet/see some real science writers. A few weeks later, I attended Sci Comm Camp in Malibu and met even more great science communicators and writers (that I still need to do a better job of keeping in touch with).

Then there’s the podcast I started with friends, Recovering Academic, that seems to be going well, at least we’re building an audience it seems.

I’ve even been editing articles and posts for a few places (and will be doing more in 2017 – is it odd that I feel like I need to keep the places I’ve been editing for a bit secret?).

I also finished one of my projects in lab and it got published.

I’ve been pitching my work more places as well (& getting mostly rejected). But I did get a byline with the Royal Society of Biology blog this month.

And of course, continued to write on The Quiet Branches.

In short, I’ve been taking myself seriously. (yes, I cited this post by Sarah Cooper before).

It all feels very chaotic, and it certainly hasn’t been linear, and there’s still the pesky thing of actually finding my first full time paying job beyond academia.

Then I saw this Tweet, yes, also from Sarah Cooper – her voice has worked for me this year):

As an over 32 year-old that I think has been working hard to “make it” in this world (& I do have a beyond generic definition for myself of what that would mean). And at the end of 2016, I do feel like I’d like to be able to take a step back and not give up, exactly, but rest more. Take care of myself more (because to do all the above, it has taken a toll on taking care of myself).

Another concern with the all the things I’ve done above is something I’ve been thinking about since I’ve been reading, and just finished, Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game.

Am I conning myself? Is my dream of being in the science communication world something where I’ve pulled the wool over my own eyes? Should I give up and get out before I’m too much further in?

Self-made work of words to theme my 2017 (I keep it on my phone lock screen).

I’ve been aware of just how hard it is economically to make it as a writer alone. And that the career of the future is one where we’re all wearing many hats…the Uber driver-programmer-independent scientist, for instance. So in that sense, I don’t think I’m really fooling myself. However, as I enter 2017 and will have to find a new full time job, that the time I’ve dedicated this year, of taking myself seriously, pays off.

And that the skills I do have are valued somewhere.

Here’s to a prosperous 2017,





What is the purpose of Brakes?

The intuitive answer is so we can slow down and stop.

Less intuitive is that brakes let us go fast. The better the braking system, or the more trust in it, the faster it’s possible to go (credit to Sarah K. Peck for this idea).

While literal brakes operate this way in cars and other vehicles, permitting slowing down and going fast, the brakes in brains don’t work the same way.

I’ve been thinking about brakes in my life and how I might ease off of them to go fast- possibly achieve flight, basically thrive– career-wise and personally.

I wrote two articles about mental health in the last month. One for Bitesize Bio and one for the The National Postdoc Association Newsletter that will be out sometime this summer. It’s what I’ve written about for years here, and it is good to see that I can write for platforms that get a wider readership than a personal blog.

I’ve maintained my writing on The Quiet Branches as best I can with one of my more ambitious posts published last week. And doing it has lead to opportunities for me, and I really like doing it still, though my feeling is research is still a challenge. I read other science bloggers/writers and am constantly impressed- and I’m not comparing myself to the best/most successful science writers I know of- Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and Jennifer Ouelette, for instance. I still haven’t joined the NASW. Or the Genetics Society of America, or many of the several other professional societies I might be a member of.

There are deadlines I have made at work, a conference I attended, The AAAS meeting, where I networked like a pro and even got a decent opportunity out of it for a new job, that may or may not pan out. I’ve had people send me job ads that might be of interest to me as well and I’ve applied to some of them even. Despite the last few weeks where I’ve felt pretty worn down and burnt out, this has been a year of accomplishment in many ways.

There’s a direction I’d like to take my career in- away from the lab bench and in the world of science communication, publishing, editing…the more I learn about that world, the more fascinated I get. It’s incredible that they are all a key part of translating raw results into final reports, write ups, releases, and popular articles, videos, and books for audiences beyond other scientists (though it’s for them too– who likes science….scientists– well, OK, we at least sometimes like science…OK, perhaps not even sometimes, but we do it because we believe strongly in studying the natural world to understand it and ideally make it a better place).

I just finished attending Beyond the Professoriate (#beyondprof) where there’s a lot of good advice for those PhDs and other academics seeking to make it out into the world beyond academia and broadening the career ideas/paths that PhD holders might take. And trying to get the idea into our heads that we have skills that are in demand out in the world if only we could speak the language of the employers that want them.

All of the above are mostly good things and here’s where the brakes come in. The brakes in my brain are keeping me going slow, from punching the accelerator. It’s like my parking brake is stuck in the engaged position.

I am slowly learning to speak the language of editors, science writers, and communicators/public information officers/digital communications professionals. I still have a long way to go I feel (but thanks to two opportunities this year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with an editor). Though I write my blog, I feel like it could be better. There are content marketing and design elements I’d like to implement, but haven’t. My blog is due for a redesign. I could track my numbers better, but still have an academic philosophy about that- namely that numbers aren’t the most important metric– does my writing resonate with one person and their day is better for having read it? Does it spur some new project whether I’m involved or not? Is it evergreen and there if someone wants to refer to it (i.e. is it an archive for someone to stumble across)?

I want to start trying to record audio clips talking about each new post as a way to play around with podcasting as a medium. I love podcasts, though I know it’s not a career unto itself for most people (in that way content creation is like many careers these days it seems- the middle is getting hollowed out and you are either poor and in the masses or lucky/good/fortunate enough to make it into the elite of the profession). I think about doing it. I have the tools to experiment…and yet…nope, haven’t done it.

It’s been a slow process and one that I seem to have the brake in place for. I’m trying to learn new skills. I’ve adopted R and tried to figure out how I can take advantage of some of the massive amounts of data available out in the world, but haven’t made much headway there yet– finding a hypothesis to test isn’t exactly easy. But I can do and more or less understand what an ANOVA is in R and plot some data, so that is good.

I have tried learning more about Illustrator, Photoshop, and other digital tools that I just really like (& can use and figure things out in, it’s just something I’d like to get better with). And yet, the brakes are there too. Time is limited. I’m exhausted at the end of the day and learning new things just doesn’t happen as often as I think it needs to. Again, it feels like the brakes are there.

In my personal life, well, I haven’t really been trying much…I’ve been focused on networking and trying to figure out what’s next for me in life– or perhaps more fundamental than that…figuring out how to network most effectively still.

Until I figure out where I’ll be living and what I’m doing, it’s really hard to create any sort of dating life. Of course, this is another instance where the brake in my brain feel strongly applied. I know most postdocs are married, have families, date, meet significant others, even in the face of career transitions and other life backdrops. but my brakes are firmly in place to not explore that part of life until my career is more figured out (of course the question is, when will that be- more and more the answer is seeming like “never”, so may as well start trying now, right?).

I had the honor of curating the @realscientists Twitter account in March. And as a social media experience, it was intense and immersive. One of the things I started that really took off was #AcademicSelfCare, which echoes some of the things in the mental health articles I wrote about how academics seem to take terrible care of themselves.

I try to take time to take care of myself, but that has been harder and harder to do lately it seems. Injury and pain keep me from running far, time to join and make it to a gym are scarce, sleep has been elusive, and making decisions and moving forward rather seem more difficult. Cleaning, organizing life, focusing on the present, eating well…have gotten elusive as I try to spend all my time getting to what’s next, with my parking brake in place.

It’s spending a lot of my time in deciding rather than in doing– analysis paralysis? Distraction from real things? Some of this comes down to perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and the latter especially can feel like a weight that slows me down too often still (another form of braking- just weigh it down). Will I ever feel like I’ve “arrived”?

Am I still moving in a direction and not drifting? I don’t know. Some of the issue is that I’ve been doing the things I have been doing and haven’t had much chance to step back and think much. Enforcing reflection time would be a good thing, and something I need to do more often. And perhaps say “no” more.

There’s more to say, and yet I am also self-conscious about going on and on…



Writing Prompt Omnibus

I’m behind. Other writng has taken precedent. Going to spend the next few minutes trying to catch up with all of Sarah’s writing prompts I’ve missed so far and write *something* for them. I need to stretch my writing muscle more than I have, and do the writing I actually do need to do as well as the experiments, work, etc., as well as that self-care thing I tend to throw out the window first– and just doing something because I want to do has felt like a rarity lately and so I’m going to do this right before I head to sleep. Typos ahead.

11. You wake up one morning and, unbeknownst to you, your vitamins have been swapped out for a magical pill that gives you a secret super power. You reach for your daily vitamin and take it. Within a few seconds of swallowing, you start to feel a funny sensation…

What power does this new pill give you? How do you know? What does it take to discover it?

Appropriate to my life right now, the ability to slow down and speed up time in my own defined reference frames. In some ways, organizing the world into time bubbles is a step above managing an email inbox (something else I haven’t been great at).

I’d take the pill, and then reach towards the coffee grinder and upon touching it, focusing my attention that way as well as the urge to get my coffee made already, the grinding happens in a near instant. I notice the clock on the oven still registers the same time. Something weird is going on.

Being in a hurry, I am also able to boil water, pour them over the grounds and get my coffee ready to go while the oven clock has not ticked a minute yet. It all then returns to normal and I head out the door and get to work where I know I need to get organized and take my time. This attention seems to make everything around me go blurry while I am in my own little shell doing my task. Once it’s done, everything is back in focus again, and barely a few minutes have passed outside my own bubble.

12. When you walk outside, you start to notice something strange.

The seasons have shifted, and they no longer come in periods of quarter-years. Instead, the seasons begin shifting much more rapidly, changing each week, and then, changing every day.

How does this affect your life? What changes?

Nature has given into the go-go-go world of modern western life. It’s tragic and there’s no longer really time to apreciate each season, the flash by and repeat so quickly. But perhaps snow days are more common. That might be a good thing, the new weekend. When it’s winter, that’s the day off.

13. Today, write a letter to your 10-year old self.

Or, as an option: write to yourself, four years from today.

What would you say?

Dear Self +4,

I hope you’re there and have made that career transition and are actually a real communications professional.

And I hope the anxiety of your life has subsided.


you, 2016.

14. List all of the machines you use every single day, and how they improve your life.

Give them each a name (or give a few of them a name), and tell the story of where they came from. Talk about how they came into your life.

What do the machines talk to each other about when you’re not paying attention?

Computer, phone, tablet, Kindle. The content I consume and generate is like oxygen. They’re probably al horrified at how I don’t take enough time to keep the files as tidy as I’d like.

Car. A to B, occasionally to C and back. Reliable, freedom, but I don’t like to use it that often if I can help it.

In the lab, thermal cycler, centrifuge, incubators, fume hoods, stir plates. All have seen a lot more failure than successful experiments. They know how hard science is.

15. Write about the last time you told someone “no.” How did it feel? What happened? What was the result? 

Can’t think of a time when this happened? Write about someone you really want to say no to, and describe how you’ll do it. Be specific.

I do want to say no more often. No to social things that feel like obligations or ones that come up at the last minute (24 hours notice, at least, please).

Saying no to the things I don’t need, decluttering.

Saying no to my cat. I like him, but he really can’t keep poking me with his claws every morning.

16. You’re strolling through a city and you walk by an empty warehouse, construction site, or an abandoned barn.

Normally you would just walk by, but something about the building tempts you to go in and explore it. When you go inside, you discover…

A secret school. One where I can learn all the skills I’ve wanted to learn but never had quite the time for. There would be an extensive library.

17. They say that tears can help us cleanse our emotions, sinuses, brains, and even our immune systems.

When was the last time you cried? Write about it.

Were they tears of happiness, distress, sorrow, or relief? What was the nature of the cry? What was the result?

It’s been awhile. This is something I just can’t do in front of people. And rarely do I do it when on my own. Not that I dont’ want to sometimes. I do. When it does happen, it feels relieving in some ways, but also like whatever pain is there in my mind isn’t gone, but just some slight pressure’s been lifted off of it before it builds back up again. But the valve is too often stuck.

18. Write about a time you really felt refreshed and renewed. Maybe it was a dip into a lake under the trees on a hot summer day, a cold drink of water, or a cozy fireside with a blanket and a book.

When Ican get up early, go for a run and go get coffee. Especially in the winter time.

19.Write about waking up. 

Waking up is a struggle. I don’t sleep well very often lately. I don’t want to wake up and face my day too often. What will make me look forward to waking up? I don’t know. But I used to leap out of bed. No longer.

20. The internet is gone. How do you spend your day?

For as much as I love The Internet, a day without it would be great. I’d dive into a whole stack of physcial books I have that are neglected too much.

21. Describe someone who is a hero to you, and explain why.

I can’t cite anyone specific just now, but seeing people go an extra mile for someone else, seeing moments of kindness and generosity, whenver they crop up, those feel like heroes to me. And those out there living with something hard– depression comes to mind, but there are other things too– they persist in the face of darkness, sometimes internal darkness. And don’t give up.

(Yes, I also do like a lot of the superhero movies, including Star Wars: TFA’s Rey).

22. What rules do you love to live by? What rules do you live to break? 

It’s not one I love, exactly, but erring one the side of not doing things hastily or too quickly. Deliberativeness, taking time. Because doing things tends to make things more complicated, not less, hastienss or just taking on too many things means my work tends to slip.

I like breaking the informal cultural rule that says life is for working as hard as possible, taking no time away for a life, etc. Vacations make you weak, all that workaholism. I do work hard, but then I really try to enforce one true day off a week though that’s often hard to carve out.

23. How does writing make you feel? When does writing feel “right” for you? Why are you so compelled to keep writing? 

And if you struggle with it, why is it so hard to do? Why is it something you want to do? What holds you back?

I wrote this last month in this space: “Writing is Life”.

This exercise feels pretty right (write?). Getting words on a page feels like getting things out of my head so I can close loops that are there. I hope I can actually make part of a living off of putting words to the page too. It’s fun to play with words, language, get the phrase just right.

And I hope that I can share a new idea, make a connection for someone reading that they would not have encountered before.

When I struggle, it just feels like work, like I have to do it. Like nothing I am committing to writing is good enough to hit publish on or submit. I feel like I want to connect, reach out, but there is a strong part of me that also says “be careful, you can’t say this to the world”.

It tips back and forth. From being easy to being really hard. It can get hard when I simply can’t carve out good blocks of time for it, or I get stuck on a part and need to let it sit, to think, to do some more research.

Tonight, after a frustrating night of not getting much done, I decided to to this right before bed. And I think it’s actually gone pretty well.


Staying, Connecting, Asking.

The New PI (@ThenewPI) posted this today, about some of her recent bout of depressive thinking (and cites me and a few tweeps I like @Dr24hours, @psychgrrl as bold for speaking up about our brains and the things they do to us– I hope we are all doing some good for those who don’t feel they can speak out).

On Being recently re-ran their interview with Jennifer Hecht, mainly about her book ‘Stay’ that makes the secular case for not committing suicide (if you are having suicidal thoughts, this is the number for the National Suicide hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255).

And connection and asking are two things I’ve been struggling with lately in part because of being overly occupied with things means there’s not a lot of time to connect, and feeling like we can’t ask because we’re all busy, and there doesn’t seem to be time to formulate good questions worthy of someone’s time (plus the internet has all the answers anyway, right?).

And then perfectionism, impostorism and the anxiety produced because of them are there, the fear that it’s not OK to be who you are right now. That you’re not enough (relative to the other 7 billion people you share the planet with).

And of course, depression is a positive feedback loop imposing isolation.

I’ve been working hard to burst the bubble I feel I’ve been in for years. Though I may have poked a few holes in it, the bubble is made of metal and still there. In some ways I am better than I have ever been, but life isn’t suddenly awesome either. And the narrative my brain weaves lately about whatever I am doing is that it is the wrong thing to be doing at that moment.

Time writing this blog, writing my science blog, learning new digital skills/data analysis I want to explore because I find them fun, and having time to dedicate to them are slow. A lot o it feels like shouting into a void and only hearing a faint signal back.

I need sleep. I have trouble waking up. Exercise needs to happen more. Life maintenance things too. Do I even have time for myself? How do I carve out a social life?

Is it possible to live well anymore or should I give up now?


I ask myself what I’m staying for, and the answer that always echoes back is that there are people that care about me in the world. If I ever get convinced that that is not the case, well, I will be in trouble.

I stay because of them. I care about them too, even if I don’t or can’t express it often enough or well. I listen well even if I don’t always speak up. I usually put things in writing.

That’s come to include much of my Twitter network (and other social media too) and can include people I work with, do projects with too (on top of the friends/family).

Sparking connections is hard. Asking is hard. Staying can be hard too.

I have to believe that all three are worthwhile pursuits. That I am worth it.

I keep trying because of the application of something I truly believe I am good at: persistence.








Writing Challenge, Day 5.

Writing Challenge Day 5 from Sarah K. Peck:

A character from a book you’ve read recently (or a television show you’re watching) comes to your life and talks to you. 

What do you do? What do you talk about?

I am drawing a blank on this one. Talking to people is not usually a strength of mine, let alone strangers from a book, TV show, or movie.

If Rey from “The Force Awakens” were hanging out with me, I’d like to learn how it feels to be aware of The Force after years of being left on a desert planet. And I’d love to see Luke’s light saber IRL.

I’m reading a book about evolution that has Charles Darwin as a central figure (amongst others- Darwin certainly was a big contributor to our understanding of the natural world, but there was a lot he didn’t do too).

I’d like to ask him about some of the sites he saw on HMS Beagle. I’d like to know his writing process, his meticulousness and just how he got such a robust correspondence with colleagues started and maintained. And I’d like to learn just how aware he was of science going on in the rest of his world.

And I’d ask where his interest in plants came from.

I could tell him about some of the findings that have happened since his time too. I think his mind would be blown by the things we know today.




Writing Challenge, day 4. 5o things.

Writing challenge day 4. Prompt from Sarah K. Peck

Write a list of at least 50 things that make you feel good.

  1. Listening to podcasts. Especially episodes that get me to laugh.
  2. Coffee.
  3. A local coffee shop.
  4. When it’s raining or nasty out and I can sit inside somewhere and read or write.
  5. Winter.
  6. Writing.
  7. A specific podcast: Good Job Brain
  8. Learning something new.
  9. When something clicks in my brain.
  10. The moment I figure out a good way to tell the story I’m writing.
  11. When I get reminded that music is good to listen to regularly.
  12. Sleep. A nap especially.
  13. When I end up out of my comfort zone without knowing I’ve left it.
  14. Listening.
  15. Reading a story by a great science writer (too many to list here).
  16. Getting followed on Twitter by someone I look up to or admire.
  17. Running.
  18. Running when it’s cold, or rainy, especially once it’s done.
  19. MOAR coffee.
  20. Yoga.
  21. My cat doing cat things.
  22. Closing a loop that’s been in my head too long.
  23. Finally sending that email.
  24. Getting to play with Photoshop or Illustrator.
  25. When the little coding I do know how to do works.
  26. Online courses.
  27. Moleskine or other notebooks.
  28. Doing something nice for someone else.
  29. Getting involved with a professional society.
  30. Reading a good book.
  31. Finishing a book.
  32. Adding to my list of books to read.
  33. A beer with friends at the pub. Even better if it’s a pub trivia night.
  34. Cloud Watch.
  35. Expressing gratitude for the things I do have.
  36. The times I can truly say I have a growth mindset.
  37. Editing copy.
  38. Nerding out about words and language.
  39. The Force Awakens. Star Wars is back!
  40. Time in my pajamas on the weekend or a weeknight.
  41. Going on a run with the running club.
  42. A feeling of space when doing a task.
  43. When I properly estimate the time something will take.
  44. Learning as much as I can.
  45. Realizing I have grown professionally and personally.
  46. Talking with my best friend on the phone.
  47. Writing letters to friends (usually email now).
  48. Sending postcards to people on Twitter at Christmas.
  49. Being out in nature.
  50. Meeting a deadline.

I’m sure I could list more. But bed beckons.



Writing challenge, day 3.

It’s day 3 of the writing challenge and the prompt from Sarah is this:

If you could do something that you never have done before, what would it be?  Why would you want to do it?

This feels like a listicle-answer might work well:

1. Something I have never really done before in terms of writing is pitch an idea to an editor of a publication/blog/”real” writing platform xyz. Writer’s that do it professionally say that rejection is a big part of it and it’s just not something I’ve really gone through. Why would I want to do this? Well, it might be nice to have someone else besides myself reject my writing for a change. I self-censor a lot and still take the attitude that I shouldn’t waste people’s time with my mediocre ideas.

I think that that has to stop this year and I just need to try. Maybe I can try submitting a few letters of the editor of a local newspaper, then move up from there as I learn the ins and outs of submitting things to publication venues.

2. I have never written a work of fiction (ok, strictly, not true, I have a partially done short story that I started years ago and haven’t returned to). Maybe I should finish it. It’s a satire, and those are hard to pull off. I’m not sure I’m all that hilarious though I do like to try and hide references and subtle jokes in my writing from time to time.

3. The common advice to writer’s is to write what you know. I’ve tried to do that, though a corollary to this statement is there has to be a way to know things. That way is to go exploring, be curious, seek out new experiences. While I’ve done some of that (I’m a scientist), I do feel I spend too much time ensconced in my comfort zone and not really experienced a lot to write about meaningfully. Travelling more with my RFID chipped new passport, talking to more people (interviewing them? I’ve also never been a reporter, but the world of journalism fascinates me).

4. I’ve never worried much about doing grammar good. Subject, verb, object. Direct, simple sentences. Make tenses agree in a paragraph. Parallel structure. Break up blocks of text. Write like you’re speaking (aka read what you write out loud). Read it backwards to see if it still makes sense. The hero’s journey is a universal story structure.

I’m aware of a lot of these ideas. I just don’t implement them in a formal very often. And I might want to start trying to do that more because it might well make my writing better.

5. I alluded to this in the previous post, but I’ve never gotten used to hearing my own voice played back to me, or seeing myself on video camera. Just using my audible voice seems weird and awkward a lot of the time. This is obviously something to get over if I want to be a good communicator (and I do!). It’s not that I can’t speak, it’s just a high bar to getting started for me. Once I start, I tend to be OK. In chemistry, I think they’d refer to this as high activation energy.

Listicle, done.