This Blog is about My Life (#acutallivingscientist)

Last year, maybe October, I was listening to an episode of the She Explores Podcast.  The guest spoke about the role of social media in her work in a way that really struck me.  The analogy was basically this:  social media is a window into our lives, and we control the size of that window.  People want to peek in, but if you make the window too big, you might make folks uncomfortable.  If we make the window too small, it may fail to serve our purposes.  I’ve been walking around with this tidbit in my shoe for months.  How big is my window?  Have I made it too big for online platforms I strive to keep more professional (Twitter, Tumblr, this blog)?

Then, last week, two Twitter hashtags caught on pretty much simultaneously.  #DressLikeAWoman was born in response to an anonymous leak claiming Donald Trump likes female staff “to dress like women.”  (Whatever that even means.)  #ActualLivingScientist was started by Dr. David Steen, reportedly in response to a 2011 survey reporting 66% of Americans can’t name a single living scientist.  Obviously, I adore both these things.  First, I love it when the ladies of Twitter clap back, but when lady scientists join the fray, I get extra pumped.  Second, I love how folks in the #ActualLivingScientist feed distilled their work down to a single tweet.  It’s good practice for learning how to communicate our ideas outside of our own community.

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Yesterday, it clicked.  The coupling of these ideas represent why this blog is so important to me.  If I ever made my window too big, or the only reason I even made a window, was so folks would know what it was like to be a scientist.  But more than that, Meridith and I wanted people to see what it was like to be young, to be in graduate school, to be a woman, to be from the south, to be frustrated, to be uncertain, to succeed.  I’ve always said that Sweet Tea, Science was a science lifestyle blog.  I stand by that now more than ever.  We are actual living scientists, and these are our lives.

We have given you a lot of unsolicited advice about how to choose a graduate adviser, optimize your summers, and how to be an effective TA.  We’ve written about our Amazing Besties National Park Road Trip.  We’ve told you about the books we’ve been reading (STS Book Club).  We’ve talked about grad student life and research.  In the younger days of this blog, I wrote an entire essay about why you should take the bus.

This blog is also about mine and Meridith’s friendship.  There isn’t a specific post I can name that exemplifies this.  It’s pervasive in the blog.  We are gal pals.  She’s the Liz Lemon to my Leslie Knope.  We’ve gotten lost in Utah, captured Impala in South Africa, and taken bus rides in Central America.  She’s my editor and accountability partner.  I’ve called her to talk about statistics and ecology and what shoes I should wear to a conference.  I hope you’ve seen how important having a friend is, especially when you’re trying to succeed in STEM as a woman. I imagine it might be similar for other underrepresented scientists.

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In creating this window into our lives, we’ve written about some things that aren’t as fun as road trips and research.  Failure and struggle are part of our science stories.    

I’m humbled by the fact that you stood by our window and peered inside. Thank you.  Thank you speech and debate friends who read this blog because they care about me and Meridith, the honorary member of WKU’s Forensics Team.  Thank you to Mer’s mom for always putting our posts on her Facebook page, where they get read by her family and friends.  Thanks to my mom friends who read the blog, then tell their kids about the type of work Meridith and I do.  Thanks to the high school students and undergrads on Tumblr who read our posts, keep us hip to all the current memes, and give us hope for the future.  Thank you to the other scientists who looked at what we were writing in this space and told us it was appropriate and valuable.  When I felt like our window was getting too big, the science communication community reassured us that we were heading in the right direction.

I think there is a ton of amazing science outreach going on right now!  This work has always been important, but now it seems imperative.  Are you a scientists wondering where to start?  I’ll end this essay with a suggestion to you, my fellow scientists existing on the Internet:  What is the size of your window?  If you were to make it a little bit bigger, could you make your work and your life more relatable?  By allowing folks to see little bits of your life, they may give your name when answering some trivia about living scientists.  Better yet, you may make it possible for them to imagine themselves in your shoes.  A mistake-making, dream-having, #actuallivingscientist.    

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3 thoughts on “This Blog is about My Life (#acutallivingscientist)

  1. Rachel thank you for writing about this. I think about it a lot as a painter where it can feel like your have to share yourself to share your art. The point you make about opening up so you can be related to as a person who IS a scientist resonates as well as your points about practicing communicating outside of your community. Thank you for the work you do in all the way you do it.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Mel. Art is so personal, I imagine the line might sometimes be hard to draw? I’ve really enjoyed your art blog from the perspective of seeing you grow and figure things out as an artist in training. I think that’s sort of what we are going for on this blog as well. I’m glad you’re still digging it. 🙂

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