Scientists Talk Funny

math equation on 3D white board
Courtesy of jdxyw's photostream via Creative Commons

Scientists often talk about their work only with other scientists within their specialized research field. As a result, they spend years learning to speak in a technical dialect full of acronyms and jargon that is difficult for others to understand.

If the person off the street can’t understand you, does that mean that you’re incredibly smart and well educated? Actually, in my opinion it means the opposite. If you really understand something, then you should be able to explain it to anyone. You shouldn’t have to rely on jargon or math. And you should also be able to explain why the concept is relevant to “real” life.

So, my challenge for this science blog is to communicate about science using plain English. I spend much of my time at work writing dry technical publications, reports and grants. This is my attempt to talk in a more conversational way about science news.

Tying Together the Old and the New…

The following posts are from my previous science blog named “A Scientist’s Viewpoint” (http://scientistviewpoint.tumblr.com/). After taking a hiatus from science blogging, I am switching over to this new WordPress platform. For convenience and completeness, I have transferred the contents of my old Tumblr blog to this one.

My First Physics Teacher

I always liked math. It took work, but it came pretty easily to me most of the time. I liked being able to work out the abstract problems and get the right answer. I liked getting positive feedback and encouragement from my teachers, as one of the top math students. Then I took physics senior year in high school. Suddenly sin(x) was equal to x, if x was a small angle. Suddenly all the nice rules of math were up for grabs and approximations had to be devised to solve the problems. Initially I found this to be hard. Sometimes I still do, even as a working research physicist. Because suddenly creativity and insight were a major part of my science education.

I still remember my first physics teacher. He had been working in industry for years prior to his new teaching career, so he was a “real” physicist instead of just a high school teacher. The lesson that I remember the most was about lenses. Before the teacher lectured on the subject in class, he handed out to each group a lens and a flashlight. We were suppose to devise experiments to determine the unknown properties of the lens. Most people tried various experiments inside the dark classroom, shining the flashlight on the lens (with only a vague understanding of what we were even looking for). A few people also went outside to use the sun as a very distant source of light. Very few, if any, of us figured out the lens equation or imaging properties of the lens. However, we ALL paid attention to the next lecture on lenses. Our teacher challenged and engaged us. He made us think, instead of just having us solve cookbook problems for the upcoming tests. My first introduction to physics was hard but interesting. And when I went off to college, it gave me a head start in my physics career. If I could grade my high school physics teacher, I’d give him an A.

A lot of women have stories about their science and math teachers — what did they do right or wrong? How did they influence your career, education and life? Now you have the chance to share your stories. Under the Microscope is a blog about women and science education. They collect stories from women involved in science, technology, engineering and math with the goal of publishing a survival guide for young women in science.  In the month of May, Under the Microscope is sponsoring a project to get women to write a “report card” for their early math and science teachers. Hurry and add your stories by May 31.

The Future of Freelancing: Redefining Journalism. Reinventing Yourself.

Freelance writers and editors in the SF Bay Area may want to check out an upcoming 2-day seminar, co-sponsored by Stanford and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It will cover a range of topics relevant to freelancing in a changing world, including social media, digital media, the future of investigative reporting, grants, fellowships, publishing books, and pitching magazines. Check it out on their website.

Do you speak Web 2.0? Should you?

Web 2.0 EXPO
Courtesy of Scott Beale/Laughing Squid.

The famous philosophical riddle asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Similarly I pose the riddle, “If a scientist speaks and no one hears, has he said anything?”

Scientists like to focus on what they do best, which is generally doing science. Most scientists are forced to do other things of course, like writing grants to get funding or presenting their research results at professional conferences, and they can live with that. But most scientists that I know do not want to hassle with “marketing” their science. Some have the perhaps naive belief that remarkable science will sell itself, and others feel that this is best left to the marketing experts. Although both beliefs certainly have validity, I think scientists still need to have basic Web 2.0 skills so they can directly communicate their science to the world.

But who has the time? If you are like many scientists, then you probably have a personal Facebook account that you use regularly, as well as a professional Linked In account that you rarely update. That is about it. If you think that probably isn’t enough, then I have a book recommendation for you. Your probably thinking, “Read a marketing book? Are you serious?”  But really, trust me, you don’t have to invest a lot of time and it won’t even put you to sleep.

In order to help expand my social media skills, I recently read the book“Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs” by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. The book is written as a basic primer for clueless small businessmen to learn how to connect to today’s buyers online. As you read each short chapter, the authors take you through each concept with a practical hands-on style using examples of small businesses that have successfully applied these inbound marketing tools. The most remarkable thing about the book is that it is easy to read. The conversational writing style makes it seem like your best friend is a Web 2.0 expert, and he is chatting with you over your laptop as you sip a glass of wine in the dining room.

Scientists Speak Funny

chalk board with lots of math equations scribbled on it
Courtesy of WildAboutMath.

Scientists often talk about their work only with other scientists within their specialized research field. As a result, they spend years learning to speak in a technical dialect full of acronyms and jargon that is difficult for others to understand.

If the person off the street can’t understand you, is that a sign that you’re incredibly smart and well educated? Actually, in my opinion it means the opposite. If you really understand something, then you should be able to explain it to anyone. You shouldn’t have to rely on jargon or math. And you should also be able to explain why the concept is relevant to “real” life.

So, my challenge for this science blog is to be able to communicate about science using every day language. I spend much of my time at work writing dry technical publications, reports and grants. This is my attempt to talk in a more conversational way about science news and what it is like to be a woman scientist.