A Blog Around The Clock

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 Karyn Hede 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-7f844fdbc34476d883662c224ce5c853-Karyn Hede pic.jpgI think of myself as a scientist who writes, even though I jumped out of research after graduate school. Most of my formal education is in science. I was biology/chemistry major and then studied genetics in graduate school at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I should have known I would end up a science communicator though. As an undergraduate, I performed in a “chemistry magic show.” We would go around to elementary and middle schools and get kids involved in the show. It was fantastic to see kids get engaged and to realize that science can be fun. After I committed to making the switch to writing about science and medicine, I studied journalism at UNC-CH. This was well before the medical journalism program existed. I was the oddball. I like to think I helped plant the seed for that program. I’ve spent my whole career telling stories about medicine, science and scientists.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

My first professional writing gig was for a local publication called Triangle Business Journal. I talked the editor into letting me write personality profiles of local scientists. My first interview was with George Hitchings, of the [now defunct] Burroughs Wellcome Co., who had just won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He was so gracious, and I was so nervous! Many years later, I was working as communications officer at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a post now occupied by the inestimable Russ Campbell, when Dr. Hitchings passed away. We went over to the old Burroughs Wellcome offices to collect some of his memorabilia for display. They had his personal scrapbook there – he had cut out the article I wrote and put it in his scrapbook. That remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever been paid as a writer.

I was senior science writer at Duke Medical Center for four years. I learned how to put together broadcast-quality video and how to organize and run a news conference. It was a hectic job, and I spent a lot of my time responding to media requests. I discovered I prefer to be on the other side of the equation. I like to be the one asking questions.

Currently, I am a news correspondent for Journal of the National Cancer Institute and for the journal Science’s Careers site. I also write for magazines and science organizations.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days?

An undercurrent within my work has always been career development for scientists. When I was a graduate student, you were pretty much on your own as far as exploring career options and developing professional skills. I enjoy teaching and helping support the next generation of scientists. In the last couple of years I have done some consulting work with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to promote professional science masters programs with the state. We organized a meeting around the issue in 2008. I’ve also been working with Russ Campbell on a series of professional development booklets for scientists. Recently, I started teaching scientific writing for biomedical graduate students at UNC. I taught two courses, one for first-year students and a second course I developed for students who are working their first grant or their dissertation. It’s my way of giving back.

What are your goals?

I am also into gardening and the local food movement. I subscribe to a local CSA at Maple Spring Gardens. A few years ago I organized a session at the National Association of Science Writers meeting to get science writers more interested in covering how our food is produced. Since then, the topic has gotten a lot of coverage, with Michael Pollan’s fantastic books and all the concern over outbreaks of food-borne disease. I’d love to write more about the intersection of science and food production.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I think the wave of the future in science communication is going to be scientists engaging directly with people through their own blogs, videos and websites. Some people (like you!) are naturals and don’t need any help. I know scientists who would like to move more into this arena, but don’t know how to get started. I’d like to work with scientists to help them develop those communication and storytelling skills.

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?

I read blogs and have gotten story ideas from blogs. I don’t have a blog (yet). I like to let ideas percolate for awhile before writing. The thought of having to produce coherent posts every day (or nearly so) is a bit daunting. My Facebook connections are mostly old friends from college and family. I like LinkedIn for work-related networking – it’s a bit more professional and I like having more control over the content.

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 lived in Washington state for several years and moved back to North Carolina a couple of years ago. In my absence, I discovered an enthusiastic on-line science blogging community had grown up here. I wasn’t surprised. This has always been a science-rich area – blogging is just the latest incarnation of the local science communications community, but with a much wider reach now. I read your blog, Drugmonkey, Female Science Professor, The Intersection, and Terra Sigillata, among others.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

This was my first time attending ScienceOnline. I was impressed with the sessions and particularly the workshops on Fri. The sessions on visualization in science were valuable, because I was teaching at the time and was able to gather a lot of incredible resources for my students. Meeting so many interesting people who are inventing the future of science communication was great. I’d love to see more of a mashup of working scientists and science communicators shaping the agenda next year.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope you can come again next January.