This is a series of Q&As with new, young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They - at least some of them - have recently hatched in the Incubators (science writing programs at schools of journalism), have even more recently fledged (graduated), and are now making their mark as wonderful new voices explaining science to the public.
Today we introduce you to Allyson Green.
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I grew up in Baraboo, WI, a few blocks from the Ringling Brothers Circus and a few miles from Aldo Leopold’s famous shack. I credit these distinctly different landmarks with helping form my sense of wonder and appreciation for all things great and small…and colorful.
How did you get into science and how did you get into writing? And how did these two trajectories fuse into becoming a science writer?
When I found myself reading friends’ Biology textbooks instead of my own Spanish textbooks during my first semester of college, I decided to make it official and change my major (don’t ask how much time I spent with those textbooks after I became a Biology major). With a grandpa who taught Botany and parents who could point out the Jack-in-the-Pulpits while hunting for morel mushrooms in the spring, it was hard not to have an appreciation for the natural world growing up. I had to feed the curiosity that my family cultivated for me early on.
I ended up studying Secondary Science Education at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and had my first taste of science writing while writing lesson plans. I found them oddly delightful because I got to first do my own research on the subject and then figure out how to best communicate this to students who are in various stages of development with varying interest in and understanding of science. Most of my lessons focused on ecology, and my favorite part of writing was giving sample dialogue between teacher and students that culminated in that grand “Ah-ha!” moment.
As I deconstructed and reconstructed my own understanding of science in classes, I remember being completely awe-struck while exploring the nature of science. It turns out that science is not just a body of facts that are perfectly and painstakingly collected and cemented in stone by white guys in lab coats. Once I understood science—what questions it seeks to answer, what questions it cannot answer, and the process by which those questions are investigated—I made scientific literacy my mission in the world. There’s nothing like a conversation with a middle-schooler to bring a scientist back to the real-world. She is forced to step out of her own understanding in order to decipher the myths and facts lurking behind the student’s dead-on and dead-wrong ideas about the world. So, I imagined those conversations as I wrote and taught, often focusing not just on the subject at hand but on understanding the science behind and how it fits with the social, economic, and political systems in which we exist. Since then, I’ve had opportunities to really explore that intersection of science and those systems, and that’s where I continue to focus my efforts.
Can you briefly give insight on your writing process? Once you get a topic you’d want to write about, how do you proceed from there?
I take to the internet and follow every link I can about the topic until I’ve gotten so sidetracked and so psyched that I can finally narrow it down and get writing. There’s so much information available out there, and I want to make sure I’m not just saying the same thing everyone else has already said. I try to find an angle to a topic that hasn’t been considered much or that still has some misconceptions around it. Most of the time that involves confronting my own misconceptions, too!
Apart from writing, do you also do other aspects of science communication?
I’m still teaching, although my students are now mostly undergraduate students rather than middle-schoolers. I also dabble in nature photography, so my friends and family get a lot of hand-made photo cards with witty captions. They may not always appreciate the captions, but I hope they can appreciate the moment of wonder captured in the image and be encouraged to look for those moments in their own natural habitats.
What professional experience you have had so far—publications, internships, jobs? Feel free to include a bunch of links here! What is your current job?
After college, I served as an Americorps VISTA volunteer with the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team in Wise County, VA. I coordinated environmental sustainability education and outreach events at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, focusing specifically on a wetland that filters acid-mine drainage on campus. While I wasn’t out in waders collecting aquatic critters with students, I worked with local non-profits and government agencies, becoming more literate in the ecological, economic, and cultural impact of resource extraction in the area. I then spent a couple years doing environmental education and community outreach at YMCA Camp Minikani in Wisconsin before going back to school.
I’m currently a student in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and School of Public Health studying Environmental Justice and Environmental Health. It’s here that I resurrected those science writing skills while writing for Mind the Science Gap, a public health blog where students experiment with science communication, writing on everything from oil sands to vibrators. While I’m not working with students to establish the UM Sustainable Food Program and Campus Farm, I’m looking at noise, hearing, and stress in a small-scale mining community of northeastern Ghana.
What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to dabble more with the science communication sphere?
- Catch up on sleep
- Put my communications skills into practice while working with neighbors locally and abroad to improve overall social and environmental well-being by coordinating efforts of nonprofits, government, faith communities, and universities
- Start a blog…?
Thanks so much for this opportunity!
Previously in this series: