Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Andrew Thaler from Southern Fried Science to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m originally from Baltimore, but moved to North Carolina 8 years ago for undergrad and never looked back. I currently live in Beaufort, NC. I’m working towards my Ph.D in Deep Sea Population Genetics at the Duke University Marine Lab. I was the kid who wanted to be a marine biologist since I was six.
Philosophically I guess you could call me a Happy Fatalist. We’ve profoundly changed the world and anthropogenic influences on the environment are going to be the driving force for almost all societal change in the foreseeable future, but I’m less panicked about the way things are changing and more excited to be part of the largest experiment in human history. Most of the changes we’re going to see in the next few decades are unavoidable, we’ve passed the tipping point. People are often afraid to admit that, but eventually we need to not just reduce our impact on the environment, but also preparing for the major changes that are going to happen. We love to promote the myth of a balanced environment that’s somehow being upset, but the environment is always changing. The sooner we accept that environmentalism is about human values and not so archetypal perfect environment, the better off we’re going to be in the long run.
So I come from the position that we need to shift our focus from how to prevent changes to how we’re going to deal with the inevitable.
My scientific background is largely in marine biology and population genetics, with a brief segue into mycology for a couple of years.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I started off working as an Aquarist Assistant at the National Aquarium in Baltimore rearing seahorses. That was my first real chance to design my own experiments. I was part of the Syngnathid Breeding Program, and some of my seahorses are still swimming around aquariums throughout the world. From there I upgraded to a lab tech in a Mycology lab before entering grad school. I started my grad career studying the biodiversity of deep sea fungi that occur at methane seeps. No one had ever really looked at deep sea fungi, so I thought I was all cool breaking new ground. As it turns out, there just isn’t that much fungi down there, or if there is, it’s very elusive. I’m currently putting together a crowdsourced guide to conservation genetics geared towards managers and the general public.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Right now I’m just trying to make it through my Preliminary exams intact. Blogging is acting as my stress relief outlet (which is why most of my posts recently have been jokes about Global Draining). Other than that, I’m brewing experimental beers. My last batch I replaced all of the grains with green tea leaves to create a sort of Green Tea Pale Ale. It should be ready in a couple weeks, so I’ll let you know how it turns out.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I’ve been really excited about Twitter lately. Suddenly I have a huge collection of experts available whenever I need them. Just send out a quick question and I usually get 5 or 6 answers by the end of the day.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
My undergrad institution was one of the first to get Facebook, so I’ve been on it for pretty much my entire academic career, so I have no idea if it’s been a net positive or negative. Twitter for sure is neutral, I get tons of help from my twitter network, but it can also be a huge time sink. All in all I feel like online activity follows the old (ways to be more efficient)/(ways to procrastinate) = no net change.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I got into science blogging through Kevin Zelnio, who I share an office with. My favorites are for sure the marine blogs – Deep Sea News, Oyster’s Garter (which I guess is Deep Sea News now too), Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets, blogfish. I met nearly all the cool science blogs I follow from Science Online 09 and this years conference.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – 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?
This was the first time I went in with a smart phone, and the amount of content that was streaming out of the twitterverse was astounding. It was almost like I could listen in on four conferences at once. It might be nice to have a closing keynote to bring everyone back together at the end of the meeting as well as the beginning.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Thank you and I can’t wait for the next conference.