Continuing “Joe’s Answer Bag Week”:
Dear Joe, How do you have time to maintain such an AMAZING blog and also be a PhD student? I’m a postdoc and struggle to maintain my daily half-assed reblogging. I’m just curious, as I’m really interested in communicating science, but all signs seem to point to research research RESEARCH in the future. Keep up the good work!!! -The Mighty Ribozyme
I can tell from your Tumblr name that you know what it’s like on the inside. What’s your flavor? Hammerhead? HDV? Group II intron? (That’s some inside humor for the RNA fans out there. We’re a lively bunch at parties)
Do you want to know the truth? It’s can be really hard. Grad school is freakin’ hard. Balancing PhD research, moving towards graduating soon, having a life, spending time with my lady, remembering to eat and get dressed, AND fulfilling my passion of communicating science? I feel like a juggler with one arm sometimes.
Molecular biology and biochemistry of the sort that I do is frustratingly time-intensive. It’s like art or film. The hands-on work that goes into the finished product is orders of magnitude larger than the end result. But we’re all friends, right? I’ll bring you behind the scenes of my day and my motivations behind all this:
I am usually in lab six of seven days, maybe 50-60 hours a week of late. I wake up, take my dogs out, eat with my wife, and start checking my Super Secret Science Sources™ to see what catches my eye for the blog or just for enjoyment. I ride in to campus, tweet a few things in the AM, and get a few lab tasks going. If it’s a hairy day at the bench (like today), I might not sit down at the computer again for 3-4 hours, maybe longer. But as I am letting reactions incubate or running gels, I’m reading. I’m reading Twitter, I’m reading my feeds, I’m reading my dashboard, I’m reading papers, I’m reading articles. It’s hard to say what makes me decide to post something, but I just feel it. I try to unplug when I get home to my wife and hang out without the internet for a while (to varying degrees of success). We eat, have a drink, I work out or play soccer pretty regularly, and then it’s off to the land of REM neuronal recharge (aka “sleep”). In practice, it’s really much more frantic than that. But I’m always thinking, jotting notes, asking questions, trying to capture fleeting moments of inspiration.
Like any blogger, I don’t get to post everything that I want. Many of you probably don’t even notice when my posting rate goes down, but to me it just huuuuurts. I’d love to imagine that thousands of people out there were obsessively refreshing the page, screaming “When will Joe post again?!” but let’s get real :)
Sure, it would be really easy for me to just throw some pictures of nebulas up, maybe some random meme here and there, copy and paste an article from another website (ahem) … but that’s not what this blog is about. I’m here to bring science to people who might never see it otherwise, to show them that embracing that feeling of wonder can happen every day. I do this because science is at the core of our society, and it can be amazingly fun to learn about it. I do it because I can’t not do it. I’m pretty good with words, but it’s hard to verbalize the feeling I get when I see people learn, smile, and enjoy this stuff. My cup runneth over. Some of the feedback I have gotten from you all … just wow. Thank you all.
I think anyone with the passion to do this can fit it into their life. You just have to figure out how it works for you. Even if you can only post once a month, there’s no wrong way, no minimum, no rules. Even connecting science to one person is a success. Be firm, and make sure people know that this is an important part of your life in addition to research. Even I get a lot of pressure from the “powers that be” to not spend time on things like this. But we must.
As for the future? When I graduate later this year, I don’t know where it will take me. I’m beginning to think I’m at least “pretty good” at talking science, eh? I’ve got some fun plans for projects I want to do through this blog as it continues to evolve. My creative side is getting itchy. Whether I’m at a lab bench, in an office, working for myself, writing, speaking, filming, ranting … whatever happens down the road, communicating and popularizing science will be a part of it, and this blog will always be home. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be a professor, though :)
Any prospective employer have a problem with my mission? I have a blog full of friends who’d like to talk to you.