to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little
bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically
and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be interviewed, Bora.Good
conversations make me happy. School was fun for me (well, maybe not
grad school) and that’s evolved into a desire to always be learning
something new. I enjoy doing nothing as much as I enjoy doing things. On
Mondays, if I’m not too busy, I take hip-hop dance classes.her hometown is Hackettstown, New Jersey. M&M’s are made there. I got a
bachelor’s in chemistry from Drew University and a Ph.D. in chemistry at
Princeton. Scientifically my expertise hovers somewhere around the
interface between organic chemistry and biochemistry. A short while
after defending my dissertation, I moved to Washington DC to write for Chemical & Engineering News, and that’s where I’ve been for almost three years now.When and how did you first discover science blogs?Scandal
led me to science blogs. Seriously. In March 2006 I was still an
organic chemistry grad student. Everyone in my lab was buzzing about a
set of retractions in the Journal of the American Chemical Society
(disclosure: today I work for the American Chemical Society, which
publishes JACS). A rising young organic chemistry star retracted the
papers because work by one of his graduate students couldn’t be
reproduced. It was a big deal and became an even bigger deal as the
inevitable rumors (salacious and otherwise) surfaced. The blogosphere
had the details first. So that’s where Google pointed me and the other
members of my lab when we searched for more information. I learned about
the awesome (but sadly now defunct) blogs Tenderbutton and The Endless
Frontier, by Dylan Stiles and Paul Bracher, both chemistry grad students
like me. I also discovered the solid mix of chemistry and pharma at
Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline, which is still the first blog I visit every day.Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
the time I discovered science blogs I knew my career goals were
changing. I’d already been lucky enough to audit a science writing
course at Princeton taught by Mike Lemonick from TIME, and thought that
maybe science writing was a good choice for me. After reading chemistry
blogs for a while I realized “Hey, I can do this!” and started my own
blog, She Blinded Me with Science, in July 2006. It was the typical grad student blog, a mix of posts about papers I liked and life in the lab.
At C&E News I’ve contributed to its C&ENtral Science
blog, which premiered in spring 2008. I’ve experimented with a few
different kinds of posts- observations and on-the-street interviews when
I run into something chemistry-related in DC, in-depth posts from
meetings, and video demos of iPod apps. One of my favorite things to do
is toy with new audio/video/etc technology for the blog.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
In March I just started a new era in my web existence- I’m becoming a pharma blogger. I’m the science voice at The Haystack,
C&E News’s new pharma blog and one of seven new blogs the magazine
launched last month. My co-blogger is the talented Lisa Jarvis, who’s
written about the business side of pharma for ten years and who brings a
solid science background to the table as well. I kicked us off by
liveblogging/livetweeting a popular session at the American Chemical
Society’s meeting in San Francisco where drug companies reveal for the
first time the chemical structures of potential new drugs being tested
in clinical trials. The whole thing synced to FriendFeed as well. Folks
followed the talks from all three venues, which was great. I hope I can
continue doing that sort of thing in the future.
this August, I’m co-organizing a mini-symposium at the American
Chemical Society meeting in Boston about the chem/pharma blogosphere and
its impact on research and communication. I’m in the process of
inviting speakers right now. It’s my first time doing anything like this
and part of me is petrified that no one will show up. Tips on
organizing a conference session and how not to stress when doing so are
More broadly, I’d love to get more chemistry bloggers to
connect with the community that attends ScienceOnline. I don’t ever want
to become that old (or not-so-old) person who is clueless about
them-thar newfangled whosiwhatsits that the kids are using nowadays.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
few things come to mind, actually. I’d like to think that the web has
made grad school a helluva lot less isolating for science grad students.
You have the virtual journal clubs like Totally Synthetic, posts like SciCurious’s letter to a grad student, etc.
a journalist the web’s capacity to equalize fascinates me. I’m
extremely lucky to have a staff gig as a science writer without having
gone to journalism school or landed a media fellowhip and it’s weird to
think that my old blog might’ve helped my visibility. I didn’t know Ed
Yong’s story until Scio10 but I think he’s a highly talented example of
how the web can open doors.
The web’s equalizing power goes to
readers of science content as well as writers, of course. In the ideal
situation a reader can give a writer instant feedback and you can get a
real conversation going, something that was much harder with the
snail-paced system of letters to the editor and reader surveys. Not that
the conversation is always civil. Most of C&EN’s readers have a
decent amount of scientific training, but the debate that rages whenever
we run an editorial about climate change is as intense as any I’ve
In cases like that I don’t know that the web gives people a
good representation of what the consensus is. For folks who don’t have
scientific training, how do you ensure that people don’t just go to the
content that already confirms their pre-existing beliefs about autism or
global warming? John Timmer touched on this more eloquently in his interview with you,
and I agree with him that I don’t think we have an answer yet. Though
on a slightly different note, I will mention that I’ve been enjoying the
New York Times’s recent attempts to recapture the spontaneity of
flipping through the newspaper in online browsing, like the Times Skimmer for Google Chrome.
What are some of your favourite science blogs? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I discovered scads of new blogs at Scio10 but I’ll focus on the one that’s become required reading for me these days: Obesity Panacea.
I’d covered obesity drug development for C&EN but I’d never met
Travis Saunders and Peter Janiszewski or heard of their blog until the
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for
you? 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?
my hero – his blogging 102 session was packed with practical tips that I
brought back to C&EN for incorporating into our blogs, such as the
use of the Disqus plugin for catching conversations on social networks,
getting smart about using stats and surveys, etc. Some of that’s already
happened, and some of the ideas are still in the works.
for the nuts-and-bolts blogging tips but I stayed for the conversations,
especially the ones at the bar after the official program was done for
the night. And the icing on the cake was seeing folks I’d worked with
but never met, like Cameron Neylon and you, Bora, and catching up with
people I hadn’t seen in months, like Jean-Claude Bradley, Aaron Rowe,
Jennifer Ouellette and Nancy Shute.
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.