This post is the third in a new guest blog series on my blog (fun!) featuring science bloggers who recently got their start in the science blogosphere. This series of posts I'll be inviting from new science bloggers, or anyone who started blogging about science in the last year or so, will help paint a picture of how science bloggers get their start today.
*If you want to contribute to this series, and you recently (within the last year or so) started any form of science blogging, e-mail me at pbrow11[at]tigers.lsu.edu. You can either write a free-form post, or I'll send you a list of Q&A questions to guide you. Thanks!
Third up in the "New to Science Blogging" series is Mo Kaze. Mo is a recent Molecular Biology undergrad with a love of all things infectious. She's currently working on a fluorescent microscopy certification in the Bay Area and keeping an eye out for research assistant positions. She is the author of the science and photography blog the crinkle.
It's more than the "lightbulb" or the "eureka" moments, it's when you learn a new fact, have a new piece of data, successfully perform a clever experiment, or connect the dot between concepts accompanied by feelings of glee, giddiness and wonder engendering the immediate urge to share it right away. Often accompanied by furious web searches for related topics. The crinkle honors that face you make, scrunched up brows, and intense focus while poring over Petri dishes or a giant anatomy book and all the text messages and fb posts about what you just found out. - About the crinkle
Me: What motivated you to start blogging about science? Why did you start a blog, vs. using only other newer forms of social media like Twitter?
Mo: I graduated in 2013 with a bachelors in molecular biology and haven’t been able to find work in my field. I really miss the process of a question popping up, researching it and then writing about it. My friends ask me questions about recent news articles (what’s going on with those cruise ships?) and normal daily life stuff (should I take my shoes off at home? how often should I wash my jeans?). I thought it would be fun to dive in and see if I could answer them. Plus, they’re all really tired of hearing about how fascinating syphilis is, so I needed a new audience. I love science. It’s so exciting and weird and gross and wonderful. I want to talk about it all the time. I’m not in an environment where I can do that daily, so I made myself a place.
I have a twitter account for sure (@braincrinkle) where I follow amazing professional and citizen scientists. Microblogging helps spread the word about posts and I’m surprised that all of my followers are people I don’t know in person! I’m starting to find a science community on Twitter and it’s been surprising and really cool.
I post to Tumblr too and I'm also pretty surprised to see my followers there growing at a steady clip. It’s mainly current science students and I get to see their photos of homework and lab assignments (tubes, and plates and streaking oh my!) I didn’t set out with any expectations for followers, so having any is a total delight! I have an Instagram account but I’m not really using it. Re-sizing my images for that platform is time consuming and they don’t let you post from 3rd party apps, so scheduling posts up isn’t possible.
Me: How did you navigate deciding where to blog and how to blog about science? Did you have an idea of what the blog would be before you started? Can you describe that and perhaps where it came from?
Mo: I decided to set up my own website. I use SquareSpace because the fees are really reasonable and I wanted to make sure that I owned all my content. I looked at some other platforms but their terms of service were frustrating. I didn’t want to worry about a post on human sexuality, deep sea creature promiscuity or menstruation being flagged or removed. I also wanted a place where I could put my resume (looking for an enthusiastic research assistant?) my microscopy work and maybe one day (fingers crossed) a CV with published papers. How cool would it be to have a dedicated place where I talk about my (future) research projects, findings, and describe for a general audience what my lab is working on? Originally, I didn’t know I would need a place to maintain a portfolio of microscopy work so it will likely function as this as well as I continue my certification.
I started with a list of topics I was interested in and when I mentioned my plan to start a blog to a friend she immediately texted me a bunch of questions! This functioned as a "To Do" list at first, but I got distracted pretty quickly by all the research press releases and all the awesome links from people I follow on Twitter and Tumblr. I don’t have any problems coming up with things to talk about.
The “how” is an interesting question! One of the funniest things has been editing my posts. My first few posts on topics from the "To Do" list started out as HUGE research papers! All my writing so far has been for an academic environment and I had to work to write in a way that reflects my excitement and wonder and awe. I have written thousands of words on a subject and then deleted them all because my goal is NOT to write a literature review! My “how" definitely includes keeping a sense of humor about the process. Whenever the flow hits I write as much as I can and schedule posts for later. I like to do it in chunks whenever possible and then spread it out for the week. I have a mix of shared links, longer posts I've written and my own photos.
Me: How do you feel your blog is evolving now, if if all?
I’m not sure! I’m still really new. I started out talking about poop and I’ve moved on to some beloved subjects, an STI and a virus that causes diarrhea. So months later I’m still talking about poop! I really enjoy writing and editing and I hope both continue to improve.
I had no science education before going back to school and every single class I took blew my mind. I didn't know anything! I still don’t! But I want to! I didn’t intend to write an educational blog but it’s moving that direction and I admit that if I can get someone excited about something gross or give someone a What I Learned Today then score! I’m sure I’ll look back in a year and laugh at my first posts.
Me: How you are finding your niche in the science blogosphere? Have other science bloggers influenced you or your blog direction, and if so how?
I don’t think I have a niche yet. I read a lot of blogs so I can say they all have an influence on me. One thing that has clearly made an impression is that I want to be a positive place. Yes, people do and say and believe a lot of ignorant things. I would have been that ignorant person at one time too (still am, surely) because I had no access to high quality information and my scientific critical thinking skills had to be developed and guided. I don’t ever want to make fun of someone for not knowing or misunderstanding something. I don’t know anything! It’s awesome! I’m comfortable with this now but for a long time I sure wasn't.
I love what Science Babe is doing. And PZ Meyers, Ben Goldacre and Brian Cox of course. We all love a good smackdown, especially of crappy science, and while it serves a crucial function, I don’t know if that’s a direction I’ll be heading. I do love to explain things so I am going to keep trying to focus on that. I love blogs that break a topic down enthusiastically! The explainers who can draw you in, get you excited and explain why something is so cool or weird or wonderful are the best and I hope to emulate them. My tag line is “more research required!” The plan for now is to keep asking questions (can shrimp get kuru?), research as much as possible and share unexpected, unusual and interesting things I come across. I have no doubt I’m going to be moved towards various stimuli by writers I read. I’m looking forward to it.
Me: Please describe any other experiences you have had in starting a science blog, or being a new science blogger online and finding your "place," that you feel have been relevant to the direction or content of your blog now.
Initially, I didn't tell anyone that I was blogging. I didn't want to be discouraged or worried that my writing wasn't up to snuff. I do it because I like doing it and I have so much fun reading articles and looking up new words and watching procedure videos. I only recently shared on my personal social media accounts the link to my site, today in fact. The response has been really positive and supportive.
I think it's really easy to start a blog today. Not everyone is into long-form posts and there's a lot of cross-posting from the popular sites, but there's so much interesting stuff going on! I'm not experienced enough to give much advice beyond set up Google and PLOS alerts for your favorite subjects and go for it! If you think it's weird and wonderful and exciting, share it and others will too!
I have no idea where my blog is going to take me but it's keeping my passion for science burning and giving me entirely new people to blather on and on about syphilis to.
It's interesting that Mo places such a great emphasis on being positive and educational - these were also major themes that emerged from my interviews with science bloggers for my dissertation. (You can read my dissertation at bit.ly/MySciBlogThesis). Science outreach appears to be a growing emphasis in the science blogosphere today, in terms of selection and production of blog content by science bloggers.
More posts in the "New to Science Blogging" series: