I’ve just gotten back from a science communication conference called ComSciCon, started a few years ago by some really awesome astro PhD students at Harvard. I am totally blown away by their initiative in putting together what is now an annual national conference and the crazy amount of time they put into this while simultaneously working on their PhDs (and now real person jobs). More than anything, I am just so thankful–I was so burned out leading up to this, but I feel somewhat rejuvenated now.
There were 50 attendees from all over the country and working in all sorts of interesting fields, ranging from public health to environmental science to physics. That was so refreshing–the reason I like scicomm is because I like learning about all sorts of things, and the scicomm community is all about clearly and concisely putting that knowledge out there.
Over the three-day conference, we had five panels running the gamut of topics in scicomm, including science writing, multimedia communication (including radio, video, citizen science), science in pop culture, and diversity and social issues in science. (See my bazillion tweets from the conference: Twitter handle @jqiii, hashtag #comscicon) Although they were all interesting, the pop culture panel was perhaps the most inspiring for me. The panelists included a science artist, a Hollywood consultant, a physics prof/science fiction writer, and a playwright who works with science to incorporate it into his plays. I was so inspired by their creativity in carving out those niches for themselves, and I connected with a surprising number of scientists who did creative writing (on and off the panel)!
As I confessed to one of the panelists, when I heard her talking about her interests and career trajectory, I suddenly felt that maybe I had found my tribe. I’ve spent most of grad school just feeling like a total weirdo–not quite jazzed enough about my small research project to fit in with other scientists in my circle, not quite bohemian enough to fit in with the creative writers. But at ComSciCon, 50 people into scicomm, most of whom were in a similar position as me! And they were all doing such interesting stuff, both in terms of research and extracurriculars!
The basic message I got out of the conference was this: work hard at what interests and excites you, and look for opportunities and mentors and collaborators. That will take you a long way. It’s scary, but it also gives me hope for the future. So…now I’m just trying to hold onto that ComSciCon-inspired excitement and to keep in touch with some of the people who motivated it.