Admittedly, the title of this post is a bit misleading; I didn’t actually go to Ireland to give a talk, in the midst of a pandemic. Rather, I was invited to discuss my research, path into science, and science communication by a graduate student, Luke O’Reilly, at the University College Cork through video conferencing software.
Luke recently began his journey into outreach by establishing a virtual seminar series for the graduate and undergraduate students and professors in his community, as a way to come together and continue learning about topics related to marine science. Luke’s endeavors have been highly successful; not only are those in academia participating, but also members of the general public! To date, about 300 people have signed up to tune into the talks! You too can sign up for this seminar series by clicking here.
Most of the talks to date have included folks presenting their research using figures and text on slides in a ‘traditional’ talk format. But Luke indicated that he wanted to do a more free-form format, to see how that worked with his audience. We both agreed that a lighthearted, off-the-cuff talk would be fun for us both, and we hoped this format helped our audience engage more with us and participate. Neither of us had done such a presentation in this format before.
To prepare for this talk, I didn’t spend copious amounts of time making a slide show or modifying figures. Instead, I pulled up videos, images, Google Earth, and some slides from previous talks I’ve given. This way, I was able to screen share these resources with the audience when certain topics were touched upon. Personally, this format and style was really fun, kept me on my toes, and allowed me to share a lot of information pretty quickly. Luke indicated he received positive feedback about the talk format as well from audience members!
The topics we covered ranged all over the place, which was really fun! We began by just talking about living at sea for 2 months, and what that is like. I showed the audience a drill bit I had with me, and also showed a short video explaining how we conduct drilling in the middle of the ocean. Topics also then ranged from foraminifera and their ecology, the importance of the Kuroshio Current Extension to the Japanese fishing industry, how this massive current may change under human-induced warming, and we even touched on the topic of tectonics! Audience members asked questions throughout the talk via typing them into a chat box. Luke and I paused for questions throughout the talk, which really allowed for some more in-depth discussion of topics. We also had an additional Q & A session at the end of the presentation.
The cool thing about working in science communication is that I am always learning from other people, and this experience was no different. From experimenting with this talk format, I realized that mixing things up and doing something in a different way can be hugely successful. So take chances! Be bold! You never know how successful an endeavor will be until you try.
You can watch some of the recorded UCC Marine Geology Lectures here on YouTube!
Earlier this year before the world went into lock down, I had the opportunity to participate in an early career researcher (ECR) workshop through the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). The workshop was focused on how to write a scientific drilling proposal with colleagues and friends.
The workshop was held at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades New York, just north of New York City. At Lamont, scientists and staff manage U.S. scientific support services for IODP, the major collaborative program which, among several other things, allows scientists to live and work at sea for two months drilling and studying sediment cores. The workshop was specifically for early career researchers, which is loosely defined as a researcher who has gained their Ph.D. but has not achieved tenure (that critical phase in a professor’s career where they receive a permanent residence at their college or university).
This workshop, which first ran a few years back, was conceived between Time Scavengers’ own Dr. Andrew Fraass and his close colleague, Dr. Chris Lowery. They, along with their colleagues, built the workshop and it has run every 2-3 years since its conception. What is so neat about the workshop is that it is also run and organized by other ECRs, with the help of more senior scientists.
The first day of the workshop focused on introducing the attendees to aspects of IODP. These included presentations on the past and future of scientific ocean drilling and the IODP proposal writing process. We also did participant introductions, where we stood up and had 1 minute to talk about ourselves, our research, etc. using only images on one slide. We, the participants, were also broken out into groups later in the day by themes we identified ourselves as (for example, I indicated I was in the Biosphere group because I work with fossil and am interested in evolutionary questions). From these breakout groups, we then identified 5 places in the Pacific Ocean we would like to target for drilling. Later that night, the workshop organizers held a networking reception for us at a nearby building on campus. The networking event was incredibly cool (they fed us dinner, and it was really great food) and useful (I had the opportunity to meet and speak with other ECRs who have similar interests as myself).
The second day of the workshop, we arrived and discussed how to obtain data for a drilling proposal. Just to give some insight into what goes into a drilling proposal, this is a 15+ page document in which scientists write out their hypotheses, where they want to drill on the seafloor, preliminary data that says something to support the hypotheses outlined, and what we call site survey data. Site surveys are when scientists take smaller ships out with an apparatus pulled behind the ship. These apparatuses use sonar to map the features of the bottom of the seafloor, but also the properties of the sediment below the seafloor. The changing densities of the different sediments appear as ‘reflectors’, allowing an MRI-like preliminary investigation of the sediments in which the scientists want to drill into. An entire presentation was dedicated to obtaining older site survey data. We also heard presentations about the different drill ships and drilling platforms implemented by IODP. The second part of the day was again spent working in groups. This time, however, we split ourselves into different groups depending on what area of the Pacific Ocean we were interested in working on. I put myself with the group interested in drilling the southeast Pacific, off the southern coast of New Zealand. Here, we began to come up with hypotheses for our proposals and begin to write those down.
The third and fourth days of the workshop included limited presentations, with more time dedicated to letting the groups work on their proposals. One of the main outcomes of the workshop is to have participants walk away with an idea of how to write a drilling proposal, but also to have the basic groundwork in place for a proposal with a group of people who share similar interests. So ample time was given for the participants to refine their hypotheses, find some preliminary data about their drilling locations from online databases, and build a presentation to present to the entire workshop. On the afternoon of the fourth day, the teams presented their ideas to everyone, including more senior scientists who have submitted drilling proposals in the past and have worked on panels to evaluate others’ drilling proposals.
All in all, this was a great workshop that really allowed for folks to learn more about the IODP program, where and how to find important resources, and how to begin writing these major drilling proposals. These events are particularly important for scientists from marginalized backgrounds and first-generation scientists. For me (a first-generation scientist), making connections with others is sometimes very difficult, as I have terrible imposter syndrome (when you feel like you don’t belong in a community and that you will be found out as an imposter) and am hyper aware that I was raised quite differently than most of my peers. Being in such a setting, with other scientists, forced to work together, is terrifying but also good because I had the opportunity to talk to and work with people I would not normally work with. For example, I had wonderful discussions with microbiologists and professors whose work focuses more on tectonics, people from two research areas which I hardly interacted with previously.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist and how did you get interested in science in general? Hi! My name is Larry Collins and I am a PhD Candidate at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. As a freshman at Mansfield University, I took Physical Geology with Dr. Chris Kopf and he ignited my true passion for geology. Dedicating time and energy into instruction was what Dr. Kopf did and this made me even more excited to learn about the processes that affect and shape our earth. After five years of teaching high school earth science, AP Environmental Science, and Ecology, I wanted to pursue graduate education so that I could share this passion with future educators.
In laymen’s terms, what do you do? In my master’s program, I was part of a large project that examined pieces of pyrite that were found within the Demopolis Chalk outside of Starkville, MS. We were attempting to understand the origin of these pieces of pyrite and what they could also tell us about earth’s early atmosphere. While I enjoyed this project, my true passion was understanding more about how people think and learn about the earth. These are the exact types of questions that Geoscience Education Researchers (like me) tackle. Specifically, my interests are in the nature of science and assessment. I study how students develop an understanding of the nature of science throughout their undergraduate careers and I develop my own instruments and assessments to accomplish this research goal. I also study performance-based assessments can be used as tools for learning in order to improve geological literacy.
How does your research/goals/outreach contribute to the understanding of climate change, evolution, paleontology, or to the betterment of society in general?Understanding the nature of science is important for when someone encounters new scientific data or media in the news, on the web, or during a scientific presentation. The ideas that folks holds about the nature of science are linked to their willingness to accept scientific ideas such as climate change and evolution which have been labeled as controversial. Understanding how students develop conceptions of the nature of science also ensures that they will understand how new knowledge in science develops and be more accepting of ideas that have been deemed as controversial.
What are your data and how do you obtain your data? I use interviews, performance-based assessments, and surveys with students in order to collect evidence of their understanding of the nature of science. I draw on my past instruments such as the VNOS and VASI developed by Lederman, Lederman, Schwartz, and colleagues to also inform my work.
What advice would you give to young aspiring scientists? As a first generation scientist, I would say that you should always apply for any opportunity that you hear of. Apply even if you feel like you are not good enough for it because imposter syndrome is a real thing and a lot of us in academia have it! You never know the great opportunities (such as graduate research opportunities) that can come your way by putting yourself out there. It may be tough, but always reach out to scientists that you respect and admire…a lot of them are friendly and always willing to share their career paths with you!
What is your favorite part about being a scientist and how did you get interested in science in general?
My favorite part about being a scientist is sharing my science with others! Whether it’s creating educational activities, writing blog or social media posts, visiting classrooms, designing museum exhibits or just talking to people I am always happiest when I get to be a part of someone’s scientific journey.
I was first introduced to geology when I was 5 years old and my great grandmother gave me a box of rocks and minerals. From there I began to read and collect more and more. It was then in high school, that I decided I wanted to focus on paleontology because of the great role model I had in my teacher Mr. Mike Koenig who took me fossil hunting. These two events and many others in-between sparked a passionate for earth sciences that has put me on to a track to a professional career as a geologist and paleontologist.
In laymen’s terms, what do you do?
As an undergraduate student in the Calede Lab at Ohio State, I study body size evolution or change over time. By looking at the teeth preserved as fossil from Gophers that lived around 30-11 million years ago, we can determine what the size of those creatures and then compare them to gophers that are alive today.
How does your research/goals/outreach contribute to the understanding of climate change, evolution, paleontology, or to the betterment of society in general?
By observing changes to the size of animals during different times we can understand how climate, and environment affect mammal groups. This is especial critical now as we are facing global climate change. Paleontology can use the past to plan and prepare for the future.
If you are writing about your research: What are your data and how do you obtain your data? In other words, is there a certain proxy you work with, a specific fossil group, preexisting datasets, etc.?
I am use measurements of the teeth (toothrow length) of fossil gophers as well as calculations developed from living rodent training sets to estimate the body mass of these extinct species. I take photos of the toothrows and skulls of specimens in museum collections, which are input into a software to calculate lengths then I determine means and standard deviations for each species studied. For modern species we use weight in grams that has been published in scientific literature. This data is also put through computer analyzes with the incredible help of my advisor Dr. Jonathan Calede that can evaluate the evolution of body size over time, over geographic location, and within the phylogenetic tree.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?
Never give up. Even if someone tells you that you will not make it, even if you have a bad day, even if you make a big mistake, even if you get a bad grade….YOU can do it. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who will always support you and work hard!