A Blog Around The Clock

I discovered Pondering Pikaia less than a year ago and it has immediately become one of my favourite daily reads. Thus, I was very happy that Anne-Marie Hodge could come to the Science Blogging Conference last month so she could meet with all the other science bloggers in person.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?

Thanks, Bora, I feel really honored to be an interviewee! Let’s see, who am I…I grew up in a military family, so I moved around quite a bit and don’t really have a home town. My parents are originally from Tennessee, though, and we generally think of ourselves as being from the south. My Real Life job is currently “student,” although I prefer to think of myself as a zoologist-in-training. I’m an undergrad, in my junior year, majoring in Zoology/Conservation and Biodiversity and minoring in Anthropology. I work as a research assistant on various projects in the biology department, and I earn grocery money tutoring, mostly genetics but other random biology classes also.

For a long time I actually planned on pursuing a law career, but after I took AP Biology in high school I realized that I definitely belong in science. I haven’t looked back since. I started college as a pre-vet major (actually Zoology/Pre-Vet, my school has five or six tracks in Zoology), but I had some opportunities to do field research and realized that the questions I am most interested in answering are more related to ecology, conservation, etc than to medicine, and I switched my Zoology concentration from Pre-Vet to Conservation and Biodiversity, and added an Anthropology minor. One thing about conservation that often gets overlooked is how people-oriented any policy has got to be. I think studying anthro has definitely helped me in how I think about different problems facing biodiversity. You can know your organism/ecosystem inside out and have an amazing management plan, but if you aren’t effective at understanding and working with the local people you’re never going to maximize your potential for success.

So that is my background, what else…I have a dog, Charlie. He outsmarts me on a daily basis, but that’s one of the fun things about owning German shepherds, they keep you on your toes! He was actually a rescue case, he was severely abused by his previous owner. It has taken a lot of work and time but he’s made a total 180 since I first got him. We like to hike, and I rock climb when I have time, although time is pretty hard to come by these days: I am carrying 18 hours of classes in addition to work and being an officer in a couple of organizations, I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day. My favorite activity outside of class is working on projects (volunteer clean-ups, educational outreach, monthly speakers, etc) with my school’s chapter of Society for Conservation Biology. I started the chapter here last year and we’ve been growing steadily. It’s been a lot of work getting it off the ground, but I am really happy with how it is turning out!

What do you want to do/be when you grow up?

After grad school I plan on trying to find a position as a faculty member at a university, so I can continue to do field research while also doing my part to help train the next generation of biologists. I can see myself working for a conservation organization for a few years right after grad school if the opportunity arises, but my ultimate plan is to settle in to a life in academia. I’m interested in doing research on the behavioral ecology and population dynamics of carnivores, especially canids, and how those patterns can be used to more effectively manage populations to prevent declines/extinctions.

I have always loved writing, and I feel pretty strongly about the importance of promoting science awareness, so I also plan to continue the habit of writing about science as a side project, either in blog form or otherwise in the future.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

My story is similar to Brian’s answer in his interview: I was a Pharyngula reader originally, and he was my gateway drug to the blogosphere. I followed him when he joined SB and discovered a whole world of fascinating science bloggers. The community has definitely grown since I first started reading!

It’s very hard to pick favorites, some of the ones most related to my own interests (zoology and evolution) are Laelaps, Tetrapod Zoology, Evolving Thoughts, Catalogue of Organisms, and Gene Expression, but I really enjoy reading posts from other fields as well. Since I’m hoping to have a job as a professor someday, I always enjoy reading Adventures in Ethics and Science, On Being a Scientist and a Woman, and Female Science Professor. Right now my perspective is from the student side of university life, but I am always very interested in reading tales from the other side of the lecture podium.

i-30a6f85d5811721c85b66f0594513ad2-SBC Saturday 017.jpgYour blog is quite new, yet your series on Science of Harry Potter was very popular and a post of yours won its entry into the Open Laboratory 2007. Did this fast success take you by surprise? Can you explain it?

I first started my blog a little over two years ago, just as a place to mention science news stories I found interesting, and in the beginning stages entries were pretty sporadic. This past summer I really increased my posting activity, which is when I began to start making connections and getting more notice. The Harry Potter Science series was definitely an attention-grabber, and I think that’s when I started to really accumulate some links and become more known (thanks in great part to Bora’s enthusiasm about the series!).

I was surprised at how fast my readership grew once it finally did start to increase. I think that all bloggers should read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. He discusses how big shifts in success or recognition can result from meeting just a few of the right people, “hubs” that can bring notice to you on a much wider scale. My blog was already beginning to increase its readership when I read that book, but if I’d read it sooner I think I would have been smarter about finding more outlets for promoting my blog in its early days (carnivals, more linkbacks, more comments on other blogs, etc).

You often write about the topics related to the classes you take at any given moment. Are you using your blog as a “learning tool” in a sense? Grappling with new knowledge, simplifying its complexity, and clarifying it to yourself by putting it in writing?

I do sometimes get material for posts from classes, usually when I find a case study or example especially interesting and want to research it further. This semester I’m taking fewer zoology classes than I did last fall, so there has been less of that (plus I’ve had less time for posting in general this spring!). But yes, writing a blog post based on course material does definitely help me to master the material better, because I do have to reorganize and resynthetise the information in order to create my own narrative. Also, I always look up extra information and often the post snowballs quite a bit because the farther I get into the details, the more fascinated I become.

I make an effort not to turn Pondering Pikaia into a “this is what I learned in school today” series, but making occasional posts that were inspired by class lectures definitely has benefits. On more than one occasion I have taken exams that featured essay questions on an exact topic that I posted about! The dicyemida story, from Invertebrate Biodiversity, and the two gynogenesis and a hybridogenesis posts, from Vertebrate Biodiversity, are all examples of this. That ended up working out great for me: I nailed the essay questions because I had already looked up a lot of supporting information and composed a written explanation of the topics.

At your session (Student Blogging) you mentioned that you have been contacted by potential graduate advisors? Why do you think they are interested in taking you in as a graduate student? Do you think this reversal of roles (they are knocking on your door instead of you knocking on theirs) is something we will see more often in general, or is this the particular case of the openness of the ecological community, or is it something about the way you write on your blog?

A couple of professors have dropped me notes in comments or e-mails. None have made official offers, usually it is just a brief message saying that I appear to have ideas and interests that could fit into their research programs, and to drop them an e-mail when I am shopping around for schools. This has definitely been exciting and a little intimidating! I always assume that *everyone* reads anything that I post, so I am not nervous about what anyone might find in the content of my blog, but I do sometimes fear that people with misconceptions about blogs in general might be turned off if they find out an applicant is a blogger. Having some positive feedback from Real Live Professors has eased my mind about this a little.

I do think that the internet is changing the way applications and recruitment are handled. I’m definitely a member of the “Facebook generation,” and among my peers it’s pretty much taken for granted that everyone has some presence on the internet, whether it’s Facebook, Myspace, a blog, a LiveJournal, or any other of the millions of personal accounts/pages people can accumulate. This makes it much easier to check people out when they apply, which is something to be aware of (keep your drunken party pictures to yourself!). That may hurt some people if they’re irresponsible about how they portray themselves, but having the chance to represent yourself and your career goals to the public also increases the chance that someone will come across your information and become interested in you. So I think that everyone involved can benefit from the new dynamics, professors have a chance to get MUCH more information on applicants than they could in the past, and students/job-seekers have a much higher visibility and many more ways to communicate their qualifications, provided they’re smart about keeping their content professional.

Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

One thing that has been an issue for me in the past is a slight inferiority complex. I am extremely aware that I am younger and have less formal education than most of the other science bloggers and blog readers. I always worry about not being taken seriously, that people will assume my opinions are naive (and thus not take the time to really read them) or dismiss me as just a silly college kid. Meeting everyone at the conference, though, definitely helped to assuage those fears. Everyone was extremely friendly, and I was definitely made to feel like “one of the crowd,” I had a great time and came back feeling more like a peer in the blogging community.

As far as topics that were covered at the conference, I thought the sessions about open access issues were very important, especially the one about how to make science literature more available in developing nations. I am so glad that PLoS has taken off recently. This semester I’ve tried to do my part in the open access movement by blogging more papers from open-access sources and also making a point of using PLoS for class assignments, and a couple of my professors have been very excited to learn about the site. They’ve made announcements about PLoS in class, hopefully it will help the upcoming generation of scientists to see open access as more of the norm. Like I mentioned above, it’s pretty much taken for granted that we all have information free to the public via online memberships and accounts, I hope that in the future open access science will become the default instead of an exception.

Let’s see, other pivotal conference experiences…I managed to get my picture taken with Professor Steve Steve. At that moment, my entire trip became a success. ;)

One last slightly random note, I know the bad weather made travel a little stressful that weekend, but I have been living in the southeast for a long time now and it was the first time I had seen a single flake of snow in over four years, it was a big deal! Here in Alabama, I kid you not, I have literally seen people taking pictures of frosty windshields because freezes are such novelty.

It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview.

Thank you, I really appreciate the opportunity!


Check out all the interviews in this series.


  1. #1 david in maine
    February 21, 2008

    thanks Bora, for interviewing such a delightful student and blogger – Anne Marie Hodge. i don’t know how i stumbled onto ‘pondering pakaia’ but glad i did. it was probably my love for the blue ridge mountains and all those ranges that make up the appalachian mountains and inspiring people’s work that protects them, as well as being a long ago dairy farmer’s son with a love for ‘all creatures great and small’.

    being a so called senior citizen – working in the world of environmental engineers and scientists for almost 40 years, it is always a treat to read the inspiring thoughts of young students. Anne Marie is a breath of fresh air, filled with a hunger for higher education and the adventures of discovering!

    she will inspire several generations before she retires! i take my hat off to Anne Marie.

    thanks again Bora – you have a great on-line community.

    david in maine