This is the first installment of a two part series where I sit down with seasoned bloggers to understand more about the world of scientific blogging. And today we have with us Jessica Eise. Jessica is an author and researcher. She works on pressing social, economic and scientific issues that are misunderstood, underrepresented or poorly communicated amongst critical groups of stakeholders. Her latest book is The Communication Scarcity in Agriculture (Routledge 2016). Jessica currently works at Purdue University in the Department of Agricultural Economics as the director of communications and a graduate instructor of communication and multimedia strategies.
I had the privilege to sit down with Jessica and ask her a few questions. So without further ado, here is Jessica Eise!
Q) So first things first, what inspired you to get blogging?
A) Every story, occurrence and piece of research has a home. That may be on the front page of The New York Times, in the latest academic journal or in a blog. Different pieces of information belong in different places. I started my blog because I had a lot of concepts, research and ideas I wanted to write about, but that didn’t belong in any book I was currently working on, research paper or in the media.
Q) Interesting! Adding on to that, do you think blogs serve a purpose in advancing science? Could you share experiences from a post of yours that turned out to be really impactful?
A) We can’t assume that people value the same things we do. If a person hasn’t seen or understood the benefits that science brings to his or her life, he or she just won’t value science. Take, for instance, an obscure branch of medicine. The professionals in that field, and the research being done there, won’t really matter to you until you get sick with that disease, or until a friend or family member of yours does. Then we get it! But what if you had read a story about this? Or a blog explaining how this impacts people’s lives? You might not have needed that firsthand illness to understand why it matters and support said research.
This is why communication and stories are so critical in science. If people don’t get it, then they aren’t going to support it or get behind it. Blogs are an incredible way to address this. We have to be able to tell the stories of science in ways that people can understand, explaining directly and succinctly why it matters to their existence. A few months ago, I told the story of a Colombian woman and her nature reserve. Her firsthand story was able to illustrate my point: mitigating climate change requires more than just climatologists, but a range of researchers and professionals across disciplines. Someone who reads this might be able to glean from her story how and why they ought to contribute their unique skillset towards this effort, whereas otherwise it might never have crossed their mind.
Q) Often-times researchers struggle to get started when it comes to blogging. I think it would be helpful if you could you describe the blogging process in general? Starting from the idea and its evolution to the final blog post itself?
A) Ideas for a blog can come from anywhere, and quite frankly, they usually pop into my head at the most random of times. But the most important thing is that you have a very clear point you want to make, then you frame it in some interesting or creative way. I’ll walk you through an example. I often study how technology and science prompt social phenomenon. Something that has been on my mind recently is how people can be slow to adapt to technology, and often resistant to the point of violence towards certain changes. I wanted to write about this. But how?
I was particularly interested in cars that drive themselves, because really, we’re right on the brink of a complete revolution in how we drive. So how could I make my points about social response to massive changes in lifestyle? And in such a way that it’s entertaining and people might enjoy reading it? Well, I wrote a letter from your future grandchild about your car. In it, your grandkid looks at the transition from human-driven cars to self-driven cars through the lens of history. Coincidentally, your grandkid is also asking you to participate in an interview for class. I made all the points I wanted to make about social resistance to technological change, but subtly and in a funny way.
Q) Blogging is relatively new in the scientific arena. So why do you think young researchers should engage in scientific blogging? Are there are potential upsides and downsides one should be aware of?
A) There are three key reasons why a young researcher should engage in scientific blogging:
- Your own development as a thinker: Writing for a broader audience forces you to think hard about what you’re researching and why it matters to society. It also gets your gears grinding in different ways. This can often spur new ideas for research, or prompt you to go to some additional digging into areas you might otherwise have neglected.
- Getting your name out there: The sooner you can start developing content with your name on it, the better (quality content! Dumping garbage out there is going to, in fact, work against you). You want to be able to point people toward what you do and your interests.
- An obligation to science and society: If you expect people to appreciate and fund what you do, then you have to make the effort communicate why it matters. You also have to find ways to make your findings accessible to more than just the seven other researchers in your niche. Often, your research is publicly funded (although not always). In the cases that you are being publicly funded, then go the extra mile and help the public understand what you’re doing with their precious dollars!
There is really only one downside to scientific blogging, and that’s the issue of time. It takes time to write good content, and this requires writing, editing and then editing some more. Never, ever put your first draft out there. But I think you’ll find that the pay-offs, in terms of your ability to communicate better, might compensate.
All this said, not everyone can maintain their own blog. But there are a lot of blogs to which you might contribute periodically. Go ahead and consider this as an option! It’s a great one.
And that’s a wrap! Thanks again Jessica for taking time out for us. I am sure that these insights would be helpful and encouraging for budding bloggers waiting to venture into the blogging world. The team from ClimateFootnotes wishes you all the best in your future endeavors!