ScienceOnline'09: Interview with GrrrlScientist

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline'09 back in January.

Today, I asked my SciBling GrrrlScientist of the Living the Scientific Life blog to answer a few questions.

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 (scientific) background?


I write the blog, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), under the pseudonym, GrrlScientist. I held a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the molecular evolution of parrots, a PhD in Zoology (Ornithology) and a bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Immunology (emphasis: Virology). I have bred, worked with and lived with a variety of parrot species for most of my life, specializing in the lories (loriinae), which are brightly-colored nectar-feeding parrots of the south Pacific islands. I also have worked as a research technician in cancer research and in HIV/AIDS research.

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

Good question. Until quite recently, I made many career plans and worked very very hard to achieve them. However, since I have been unemployed for so long, I no longer have the luxury of making any sort of plans at all, or striving to accomplish them. Now, I am quite preoccupied with simply paying my rent. I often feel as though I am writing for my life (sort of like "running for my life").

That said, I met a friend for coffee a few weeks back, and she said that my career is writing a blog. Professional blogger. Ugh, I hate that word, "blogger". Until she mentioned that, I had never thought about writing a blog as being a career, nor as an especially respectable career. But her observation does make sense because I work on my blog every day of the week, for 6-15 hours per day -- just like when I was working on my postdoc research. My devotion to my blog keeps me from becoming overwhelmed by the worries and realities of the world.

But I no longer know what I want to do when I grow up. Except for my blog, I feel quite disillusioned and disenfranchised, and often
alienated from society. But I would like to be happy and healthy at some point in the future, though. Just to prove it is possible.

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

The internet is an amazing way for an intellectual to be exposed to a tremendous amount of new information and different ways of thinking, for communicating this information to others, and for testing new ideas in a public forum. I've always enjoyed learning new ideas and sharing this information with others. For me, part of learning includes making new information "mine" by writing about it in my own words. I've written for most of my life and had my articles published in a variety of magazines, newsletters and other print sources, but I've never before enjoyed the reach and power that I have on the internet.

At the Conference, you led a session about Nature blogging. Is there a distinction between Science blogging and Nature blogging? What did you learn from that session?

Some audience members thought of science blogging as a subcategory of Nature blogging, while others thought the reverse. My own opinion is that science and nature blog writing are separate, but often overlapping, topic areas. My conference co-host, Kevin, and I worked out a series of questions in advance, posted them on my blog and asked my readers as well as the conference participants to write responses to those questions in comments or on a piece of paper, which we later summarized and published on our blogs. After everyone had finished writing their answers, we discussed each question. But the level of passion was unexpected, and the depth and thoughtfulness with which everyone addressed these questions was really inspirational. The
seminar hour flew by, and we did not manage to get even halfway through these questions, but everyone really enjoyed this discussion, and Kevin and I certainly did, too.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?

Back in the days when I had a real job, I never wrote while working. Instead, I wrote during the time when I could have been hanging out in pubs. But that all changed when my postdoc funding ended before I managed to find another paying position. But five years out, if you believe that writing a blog can be a full-time job, then I'd say that blogging IS my work, since that is the one constant in my life.

I rely on social networks for two things; rapidly spreading the word about interesting blog entries and as news feeds that provide material for me to write about. Some of you may have noticed that my blogging style has changed somewhat recently -- a change that I am not altogether happy about. Currently, I am learning how to balance my need to read and learn about "everything" that pops up on those social networks with my desire to write about such things for others. When I finally manage to establish this balance, my readers will no doubt be the first to know because my blog writing style will once again change to reflect this, it will become something that I am happier with.

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?

I started writing a science blog in 2004 in complete ignorance of the existence of any other blogs on this subject area. However, I quickly found other science and medical blogs and bloggers and made a tremendous effort to join the community by commenting on other blogs and hosting science blog carnivals, and keeping up an extensive private email correspondence with other science and medical blog writers. That said, I don't feel comfortable "playing favorites", especially since there are so many high-quality science and medical blogs out there that I read and enjoy. (I have stopped being a prolific commenter). I did not discover new science blogs while at the conference since I am fairly well-acquainted with most of them, but I DID discover many wonderful people "out there" who write blogs about science and other topics. In my opinion, this is the real gift of conferences like this: fleetingly rare and wonderful face time.

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 work, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I have spent years hiding my blog's existence from everyone, and denying that I was the author in those rare circumstances when asked about my blog. This created a huge disconnect between my online life and my "real" life. The overall gestalt of the conference transformed me because I met so many readers -- mine and other blog readers -- and found that they are so astute and intelligent. This experience added depth to my perception about blog readers in general from being "people" in an abstract sense to being warm and caring individuals -- friends I have not met (face to face) -- yet. That was the single most positive aspect among many about this conference that daily affects how I think about blog reading and writing and about my readers.

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

Thank you for the interview. One of my goals for 2010 is to return to North Carolina to share in the fun and the discovery.


See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

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Great interview! I know what you mean about the face to face part of the conference. Looking forward to buying you a beer in North Carolina!