STORYBOARD - It’s Okay To Be Smart
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write something after reading topherchris’s story about how Tumblr (quite literally) changed his life. I mean, he works there now. Check the paragraph at the bottom for more about the STORYBOARD project. Anyway, on with my story, which is long, but I’m feeling sentimental. So deal with it.
If you don’t know by now, I’m more than just a science blogger. I’m an actual scientist (which is how I got that shirt, but not really). I am approaching the end of my 6th year as a biology Ph.D.
prisoner student in Austin. That means I’m getting pretty close to being done, at least according to The Plan™. I’ve been doing science as a job for almost 9 years now, and for the first time since the beginning, I have no idea where it’s going to take me.
(Personal stuff continued after the break, should you so desire. Go ahead. Click.)
Facing graduation from a Ph.D. program is like standing at the edge of a cliff, wings strapped on your back. Only these are wings that you’ve designed, assembled, tested by yourself. You’ve donated the blood, sweat and tears to make the glue holding the feathers to the frame. You’re going to jump off the edge, and nothing more than your own creation will carry you aloft … or to the bottom of the canyon. It’s mildly nerve-wracking.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me in real life that graduate school hasn’t been a marshmallow tea party. It hasn’t gone exactly as I’d hoped. This is normal. I undertook my research project with my usual confident attitude, an attitude that told me that with the right amount of hard work I know I’m smart enough to bend biology to my will. It was probably a bit naive, and probably a feeling that many before me have shared. Long story short, I’m facing graduation without that Nature paper, some blahs and a sense of intellectual frustration that I think only my fellow lab jockeys out there might truly appreciate. Most of that was out of my control, and some wasn’t. But I wouldn’t give any of it up … not for a second.
When research frustration really hit me a couple of years ago, I turned to what I’ve always loved doing: Geeking out. I’m that friend that always had to tell you why meat browns when you cook it, or why we always see the same exact face of the moon, or would try to explain how the DNA double-helix was the most beautiful thing on Earth while at a bar. Luckily I was still cool enough that you wouldn’t stop hanging out with me altogether. I started doing putting on public science events here in Austin, and went online and discovered an amazing science blogging community. There’s too many to name, but I was blown away at how many brilliant people were online changing the way we talk about science. And science certainly needs help connecting to more people these days. So I started a blog.
And that blog sucked. It is not this blog. I was a teacher screaming in an empty lecture hall, throwing boring ol’ text around like it could float through the internet and single-handedly solve the problems of climate change and stem cell research in mere weeks. Then I found Tumblr.
In April of 2010, It’s Okay To Be Smart was born. It was just science stories that I wanted to keep and a way to share them with a few folks on the now-defunct Science Directory. I still remember the first few blogs I followed, like Real Clever Science, Crooked Indifference, and SciPsy, who I still follow today (along with many more I’ve found in the meantime). Back then we used to recommend folks with stickers and bump our way up the directory, which is how I met my early followers.
Over time, and as Tumblr evolved, I’ve had the same blog. It’s always been a mix of fun and/or important science news, creative explorations of science in life or art or music, educational posts, and answering your science questions. It’s about looking at science through an alternative lens. It’s highlighting the creative process behind science, and how what we don’t know drives us to discover more. Most of all it’s about presenting science in a way that makes people happy, not scared. I’ve been blessed that the intersection of what I like to talk about and what all of you want to hear about is almost a circle. It’s awesome. I’m here posting so that people have a little bit of science in their life every day, so they know that it’s okay to be smart. And they like it. Very cool.
The past year has been amazing. I’ve been a long-time top contributor to the #science tag, I got picked by Time freakin’ magazine as a “Must-See Tumblr”, I’ve spoken at a TEDx event halfway across the country, I’ve been published in the Best Online Science Writing of 2011, and so many other great connections and opportunities still to come. I see my name and blog pop up on websites that I never imagined I would. All because of this, and all because of you.
It works because we are a community. We share, we contribute, and we are on equal footing. It works because we embrace that we gain knowledge by experiencing as much as we can from as many influences as we can. That means that science is more than textbooks and equations. It’s stories, pictures, art, video, music, even simple pictures of nebulas. It’s minutes of wonder in a world that doesn’t give us enough opportunity to feel it.
So I’m going to graduate with my Ph.D. later this year. I have no idea if I will or want to keep doing research, even if I do like it most of the time. But thanks to Tumblr, I’ve found something I love to do and I have a classroom of thousands to share it with. I’m inspired by the Sagans and the Tysons and the Nyes. I’m aiming to be 1% as awesome as they are, one day. And whatever I do, this will be a part of it, because without Tumblr or all of you I would never have known how good it feels to bring science to thousands of people.
What’s your Tumblr story? Has Tumblr changed your life in any profound or personal ways? We want to know — and if you’re game, your story could become part of STORYBOARD, a big secret project we’re working on. Post your story (or your gif, or video) with the STORYBOARD tag, or if you’d like to submit privately, use this form.
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- automaticlaughter said: How come PhD study takes so long in the states? Is this down to lab rotations? I considered the U.S but was put off by the time scale; here in the UK I’m about to start a 3 year PhD following my 1 year masters by research (MRes).
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