All scientists know their work is fascinating and important. But unless we effectively communicate our science to other (scientific and nonscientific!) audiences, our contributions likely remain within the echo chamber of our own disciplines. Learning to write broadly about my research is also beneficial to me as a young scientist, because when I’m intellectually stuck, the conversational style of blog language helps me “write my way into understanding” (with a lot of post hoc editing, of course!) in a way that scientific writing doesn’t always provide.
Below are my forays into scientific communication.
In Fall 2016, I asked Dr. Elizabeth Bach of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative if she had considered a blog exploring “soil health”. This poorly described concept is everywhere, from the halls of academia to rural rowcrops of the corn belt. But no one really knows how to measure it, or whether it can be used it to tackle Big Questions in soil ecology. My blog post is a small step towards addressing this, by asking farmers, agency personnel, and scientists to define “soil health” in their own words.
In summer 2016, Dr. Elizabeth Bach reached out to me about writing a blog post describing the paper I co-authored with Becca Bevans (now a PhD student at VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands), and Drs. David Angeler (Swedish Agricultural University), Craig R. Allen (U.S. Geological Survey and The Nebraska Cooperative Research), Sara G. Baer (Southern Illinois University), and Diana H. Wall (Colorado State University and The School of Global Environmental Sustainability). Dr. Bach runs the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, and thought our paper, “Adaptive Management for Soil Ecosystem Services”, might be of interest to the GSBI blog readers as a blog post. You can find our entry here.
In winter 2015-16 I talked to Chris Helzer, prairie ecologist extraordinaire, to shine a spotlight on some of the excellent conservation work being done in Nebraska by a small, committed group of state, federal, and private land managers. This was a great way to showcase how pooling limited resources and a willingness to experiment can better mitigate the impacts invasive species, habitat fragmentation, and biodiversity loss than scattered, individual efforts. Check out the writeup as a Press Release on The Nebraska Chapter of The Nature Conservancy’s website.
The Journal of Applied Ecology (JAE) is doing something smart: using a blog to promote its articles. My adviser (Craig R Allen) and I co-wrote two entries for articles published by his colleagues last fall (2015):
- Early warning indicators in aquatic ecosystems, and
- How network analyses can help to find out what happens to ostrich farming after an avian influenza outbreak
One of my favorites, Learning from the Fire – Research at the Niobrara Valley Preserve (see below), was released in newsletter form for the Nebraska Chapter of The Nature Conservancy’s quarterly newsletter. I visited my friend Amanda Hefner in July 2015 at the unparalleled Niobrara Valley Preserve to interview her about her research and the Preserve. This place should be on the front page of every Nebraska tourism advertisement -it is seriously incredible, and you should visit! It’s open to the public, and has a truly amazing amount of ecosystem cover types in its ~60,000 acre extent (Sandhills short grass prairie, closed canopy ponderosa woodland, savannah) .