Help! Send scientists!

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from my fellow scientists (and others) something along the lines of, “It shouldn’t be any more important that I’m a lesbian than that I have brown eyes.”  The cultural norm seems to be to downplay being gay, to try to make it not relevant, not an issue, let’s move on please, ok?  So when I’ve been networking and advocating and what-have-you for queer science issues, I often get asked why I care?  Why does this matter so much to me?  And it’s been hard for me to put that into words.  But with a few years’ insights and hindsights, I’m beginning to articulate what I find at the tension between being queer and being a scientist.

To start with, there’s the simple fact that, as a grad student, science is much more a part of my identity than any job has ever been.  Though previously I’d studied science and worked in science, though I’ve been the one with a science background in a multidisciplinary crowd, this is the first time that I feel fully justified in claiming the label: “I’m a scientist.”  And it’s as much a statement of who I am, not just a job I do.  It’s not just a suit I put on for 9-to-5 and then go back to my real life.  To undertake – much less complete – a Ph.D. demands a deep motivation and commitment.  I’ve thrown my heart and soul into this work, damnit, and it’s drawn plenty of blood, sweat, and tears along the way.  I don’t know how to do that halfway, to give that much of myself and yet be only partly present.  I can’t keep part of me tucked away in some little box and only let it out after working hours.  Continue reading

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Passions for science

I’m looking ahead two years to graduation — I have plans to get the shiny new Ph.D. in May 2014.  And as of right now, I have absolutely no idea what comes next.  One way I’m exploring the wide world of possibilities is by looking at my passions.  I automatically put “science” down first, and it seems blog-worthy to tease apart what that actually means.  So let’s step into that stream of consciousness… Continue reading

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Little Red Wagon

Little Red Research Wagon

One of the unexpected fun bits about being an urban ecologist — using a Radio Flyer little red wagon for fieldwork today!  Thank you to Owen and Phoebe (my advisor’s kids) for letting me use it.

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Media Interviews

I’ve just been interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio, BoingBoing.net, and WCCO-TV.  Whew!  Fortunately these interviews weren’t for public consumption — they were part of a science-communication workshop with the Boreas environmental leadership program.  But we actually had journalists from these three organizations come in, give a panel discussion, and then do mock interviews of us.

A few main things I learned:

Storytelling matters.  I mean REALLY matters.  Continue reading

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Discovering only what we expect

We think that our science is nice and objective, but it’s not that simple.  Scientists are pretty willing to admit that there’s a strong bias in terms of what we choose to study and what questions we ask, but today someone was seriously arguing that the rest of it is (or at least can and should be) unbiased.  I had to disagree pretty strongly.

It’s not too hard to design a study that avoids most bias (randomize!) and to collect data accurately.  But data have to be interpreted to have any meaning.  There’s a reason we labor over working out figures and writing up our findings, rather than simply handing out copies of our datasets.  And the interpretations and conclusions are filtered through our biases, expectations, and assumptions.

I recounted one of the Cedar Creek intern presentations this summer.  They were watching red-headed woodpecker behavior, and they had a finding: “Both males and females feed the young.”  This was really startling because it’s absolutely impossible to sex a red-headed woodpecker without a DNA test. Continue reading

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