About Me

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I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zombie science

Who remembers Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail?  “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead…” How about bringing out the undead - into the scrutiny of neuroscience? The new field of zombie neuroscience combines the public zombie obsession with serious science aimed at teaching the public about brain research through the lens of zombie behavior.

Zombies are hot right now; a friend recently ran a 5K race that involved dodging zombies en route to the finish line.  Postdoc Bradley Voytek and Assistant Professor Timothy Verstynen use this zombie epidemic to their advantage, using bona fide neuroscience concepts to postulate how zombie brains are different from normal humans.  They’ve spoken at Comic Con and other popular venues and they are advisory board members of the Zombie Research Society (who knew?).

Yes, zombie research won’t get you tenure, and Comic Con isn’t exactly an AAAS meeting. But reaching the public in an interesting, meaningful way is important!  What tools or cultural trends do you use to make science relevant?  Are zombies an appropriate outreach subject for serious scientists?  Weight in!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scientific writing: motivating or monotonous?

Let’s leave speaking aside for a moment (or several long moments, considering I haven’t posted anything for months!) and instead dip into the written word. In science, our success depends on our writing, generally in the form of scientific papers that serve as the currency of our world. Often those papers are formulaic: the introduction says how the topic/question at hand isn’t fully understood, the methods expound in (often) boring, third-person detail what we did and how we did it, the results tick off our hypotheses as each is upheld (like we really know what would happen!), and the discussion tells people how brilliantly we’ve added to our field by finding something novel.  Always “novel”…”new” just isn’t new enough.  Someone once sent me a great tongue-in-cheek article about how to write a formulaic paper (like scientific Mad-Libs)-anyone out there in cyberspace have a copy?

A new book challenges the assertion that academic writing must be jargon-y and archaic.  Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword showcases examples of bland, traditional academic prose and contrasts them with vivid, exciting writing from a variety of disciplines.  I just ordered my copy-has anyone read it yet?  What did you think? 

Whether you plan to read her book or not, I think it highlights a divide in scientific writing: do we write to sound smart, or to engage? Can we do both in a single piece? How? And how do we change the culture of academic writing so it’s encouraged to both inform and entertain?