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Short Story: The infection of meaning

“Do you ever wonder what it all means? Like, what’s our purpose?”

Ellen cringed. She’d heard that question asked in that tone so many times. She knew it wasn’t a real question, more an attempt to sound profound. She tried not to listen, she tried to focus on the cocktail on the bar in front of her.

“Why are we here, you know?”

It was no good, the man’s voice was too loud, Ellen turned on her stool and looked. She saw a young man sitting in a booth with a young woman. He was grinning and talking, she was frowning and listening. Ellen was about to turn away, but the young woman interrupted and she was curious.

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Short Story: How do you tell if the world’s ended?

The end of the world isn’t like on TV. It doesn’t happen with a bang, or even with a whimper, it happens bit by bit. I didn’t realise when I first saw it. I thought it was just a broken water pipe in the street outside.

I watched the water seeping out and pooling in the road as I made my coffee. It looked beautiful in the morning sun. When I came home from work that evening the water was still leaking. I called the authorities to let them know they had a burst pipe but no one came. The pool of water grew, day after day. I didn’t realise it was the end of the world.

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The ten(ish) steps of learning to use a new R package

Step 0: Excitement

We’ve all been there.

You’ve got your hands on some shiny new data. You’ve got a research question. You’re more excited than a small child at Christmas. You’re going to discover something totally new. Life is wonder!

You just need to learn about that new technique you’ve read about in that paper.

Step 1: Initial Joy

So, that new technique…. oh look, there’s an R package for it. That’s convenient. That’s brilliant in fact. I can’t wait to get started. I love being a scientist. Sure, I have no money and no one understands me, but I’m about to embark on a voyage of discovery.

I’ll just download the reference manual from CRAN.

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Science Communication: Don’t fight your editor

In a previous post I wrote about the three most important lessons I’d leant whilst working in science communications. The third was don’t fight your editor, which is one that’s often overlooked, and one that I think deserves more explanation.

Having someone edit your work is a privilege, but I’ve seen so many scientists fail to recognise this. Editors help you improve your writing. They advise on structure and language, they point out areas of your writing that aren’t working, and they help you improve them.

But editing can be a challenging process, especially when you’re new to it. When you first send a piece of writing to an editor you need to expect that it’ll come back covered in red pen (or the digital equivalent, often tracked changes).

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Three lessons I’ve learnt for communicating science

Before my PhD I worked in science communications. I helped scientists explain their work to non-scientists. Whilst I only worked in the role for nine months, I learnt a lot, and I consistently saw the same patterns and mistakes.

There’s a lot of science communication advice online, but I think there are three lessons that will most improve your science writing:

 

  1. Write for your audience, not for yourself.

Obvious, but routinely ignored. Every piece of science communication should have a defined audience, such as the general public, a funding body, politicians, scientists in another field, etc.

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About Me

Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a scientist.

I was fascinated by the natural world, by fossils, and how frogspawn turned into tadpoles and then miniature frogs. When all the other kids were pretending to be professional footballers and superheroes, I wanted a white lab coat and thick glasses.

Despite my childhood dreams, and not being too bad at science at school, somehow I ended up working in marketing… for ten years. Predictably, I hated it. One Monday morning, lying in bed, fighting the dread of getting up and going to work, I decided a career change was in order.

So after various additional degrees, I’m undertaking a PhD in ecology at Imperial College London in the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership (SSCP DTP).

I also enjoying writing, both fiction and non-fiction.