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ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Allie Wilkinson


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Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Allie Wilkinson (blog, Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? What is your background? Any scientific education?

I’m a freelance science journalist/multimedia specialist. It’s a bit funny that I’ve ended up here actually. In looking through some old files recently, I was reminded that I had taken a nature writing course back in college– so I guess the interest in writing was always in there somewhere. I have a bachelors degree in environmental studies (heavy on the marine science coursework) and a certificate in conservation biology. Indecision as to a specific thesis topic is what brought me to a science journalism masters program. I figured I would buy myself some time to figure it out, and learn a valuable skill in the process. What I learned was that I really love sharing science with the world. Even if this career choice had been my original goal, I don’t think I could have planned my education any better if I had tried. The science background, the communications training, and the art minor seem to be the right combination for a science journalist that loves visual aids.

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

Right now I’m working on a few ideas for feature articles, and running This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, a community project I started last year to dispel the myth of the stereotypical scientists. I’m also doing a lot more photography, and getting my feet wet with video again. I worked on the USGS Coastal and Marine a geology podcast two summer ago as a video editor, but I’d like to get more experience behind the camera. I’m sure ScienceOnline2013 will spring a few new projects as well.

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

Visuals. If you caught my ScienceOnline2010 session, you’ll know by now that I’m a pretty big advocate for the use of visuals in science communication. I think visuals have the power to grab someone’s attention, capture an idea more simply, or enhance a story. And for some, there is no denying what you see with your eyes. So I’m trying to practice what I preach and devote more time to learning and doing– data visualization, photography, and videography. My goal for this year is to produce more video content, and really get a handle on planning and filming. Most of my video work to date has been editing, but I want to leave the figurative cutting room and start manning the camera. (So if any video enthusiasts in NYC want to offer their expertise, or anyone without expertise wants to learn as well, let’s get together!)

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

I really just want to get science out there, in whatever format works best. As you can tell from the last question, visual science communication is a big passion of mine. I’m also a technophile, and social media junkie. I think we’re at an exciting time in the history of science and science communication. The Web is changing how science can be done and allows opportunities for scientists to engage more directly with the public. Journalism is in transition as well, but I think the Web and mobile technology provides so many new opportunities to share the complete story, and integrate supplementary materials in a way that you simply can’t with print. The iPad versions of magazines that I’ve recently read are astounding. I love that they are interactive and you can learn more abut a graph or image, or watch a corresponding video, right there in the article.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging is a great way for me to experiment with writing about new fields that I usually don’t cover. It allows me to get more personal or casual if necessary as well. It’s also a valuable skill as many online media outlets run on blogging platforms such as WordPress. I’m also on all the major social networks, and use them to varying degrees and purposes. Is it a net positive? ABSOLUTELY. I’ve gotten clients due to the fact that I know my way around social media and blogging. I’ve generated story ideas. I’ve interacted with editors, which makes the idea of pitching them far less scary. I’ve had the opportunity to network and interact with people I wouldn’t normally get to in the real world. If you’re in science communication or science journalism today, you should be on social media.

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 first discovered science blogs in 2008, through the first class I was taking in grad school. My professor said that the new media environment wouldn’t have the budget for a separate reporter, photographer, videographer, etc., and that we would have to be one-man-bands capable of doing it all. Our first assignment was to start a blog for a week, and the rest as they say, is history. My favorite blogs are Science Sushi, Neurotic Physiology, and Not Exactly Rocket Science. I think for the most part, most of the blogs I read I have discovered through ScienceOnline in some way or another– whether it’s meeting bloggers at the conference, or ScienceOnline community members sharing links on Twitter.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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?

The best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for me was getting in to the ever-popular Duke Lemur Center tour. After trying to get in every year, last year was the first time I succeeded. And then as with every ScienceOnline conference, the inspiration and the people. This is a time of year that I feel like I’m really in my element, and think “these are my people!” The discussions that take place at the conference and in the after hours are incredible, and so many collaborations and projects are born out of ScienceOnline. You leave the conference having a giant list of ideas that you want to work on. Last year’s keynote, and the buzz about it afterwards, made a huge impression on me. Hearing Mireya Mayor’s talk, and how she spent her whole career dealing with comments like “Well you don’t look like a scientist” is what inspired me to create This Is What A Scientist Looks Like.






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