Connection is Key: Tips on Communicating Science from Alan Alda

Editor’s Note: Here we have a book review contributed by Mollie Enright. Mollie is a graduate student in inorganic chemistry at the University of Toledo studying iron-catalyzed coupling reactions. Be like Mollie and make this a green read by finding this book in your local or institutional library rather than purchasing it, many libraries have free audiobooks available even! 

A career in science is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long, the material is challenging, and there is always more to learn. However, there’s one aspect of science that I’d argue to be one of the most brutal tests in our love for discovering the deepest truths of the universe: The Boring Lecture. Those long talks we sit through on highly specialized content delivered by the driest, most unengaging speakers who are completely unaware of our glazed eyes, stifled yawns, and complete lack of understanding or enthusiasm for their work. To these scientists, Alan Alda asks, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?”

As a graduate student, my life is pretty dependent on my ability to communicate well. The demands to publish aside, I need to be able to represent myself and my research effectively to my committee, to my department in my second- and fourth-year talks, and at conferences. One of my biggest fears is to be the giver of The Boring Lecture. Alda is an American actor and founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science® at Stony Brook University. In his 2017 book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, Alda shares his philosophy for effective communication and gives insight into the methods he uses to help train scientists to better present their work and ideas.  After having this book recommended to me by both a fellow graduate student and by an emeritus professor within the same semester, I stopped by the library and snagged it to read while I waited for some reactions to finish.

I could not put it down.

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Book Cover Photo Credit: www.goodreads.com

Alda suggests that the key to good communication is connection, specifically through empathy, with those with whom we’re attempting to communicate. Reflecting on the training he received as an actor, he starts off the book with a simple question: “Could scientists become more personal, more available to their audiences if they studied improvisation?” Spoiler alert: the answer is yes! As he works with scientists, engineers, and health professionals through improv theater games, he breaks down the walls between speaker and audience to build a platform of active listening and authentic conversation.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

Communicating well is the responsibility of the communicator, not the listener. 

In one of the improv games, students are split into pairs with one designated as the leader and the other the follower. The follower is charged with mirroring the leader’s movements exactly. If the leader moves too fast, the follower can’t keep up. It’s up to the leader to slow down and help the follower track alongside him. To do this, the leader also has to be in tune with the follower. Early on in the book, Alda explains “Communication doesn’t take place because you tell somebody something. It takes place when you observe them closely and track their ability to follow you… communication is a group experience.” Empathy, the awareness of what another person is thinking and/or feeling, allows us to better understand how our audiences is relating with us and to adjust our language and tone to connect with them.

The Curse of Knowledge

Later, he describes another game, this time with two teams. One team is asked to choose a simple song, like Happy Birthday, to tap out with their fingers. The other team has to identify the song. The tapping team is always confident that the other team will be able to guess their song. In reality, the listeners are able to guess correctly only about 2 to 3 percent of the time. Alda points out that, “Once we know something, it is hard to unknow it, to remember what it’s like to be the beginner. It keeps us from considering the listener.”

The Power of Narrative

In chapter 17, “Emotion Makes it Memorable”, Alda shares conversations with scientists and educators to draw a conclusive relationship between memory and emotion. So, if we can create an emotional response in someone, they’ll more likely remember what we’ve said. But how do we excite emotions with people how have no connection to what we’re talking about? The answer is through stories. Rather than presenting a list of facts, we have the opportunity to engage our audience through a question and take them through a narrative of suspense that reaches a turning point to bring a resolution. I love the way Alda describes the drama of science:

For me, the acknowledgment of the opposing thought is one of the things that makes science such a dramatic thing to watch. The scientist says, in effect, “It looks like something is happening here – but am I wrong?” And then the opposing thought, that courageous application of doubt, takes us on an adventure of risk, tension, suspense – the emotional turmoil of experiment. And finally, we reach a turning point where, identifying with the scientist, we either achieve new understanding or we don’t. And that leads to the story’s resolution – a new way of seeing, a sense of meaning that we didn’t have before.

I think it’s easy to forget the greater drama in our narrative as researchers when we’re ones in the trenches, slowly digging up answers one experiment at a time. But when it’s time to share the results, presenting the work as a story with purpose and excitement helps our audience better see, and remember, its value.

Interview with Past Executive Research Director Dr. Cristiano Varrone

In the months leading up the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference (ACS GC&E) and 9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry, we are highlight interviews of past NESSE executive board members and volunteers for a social media campaign (#throwbackthursday) leading up to our 5 year anniversary of launching at the ACS GC&E in 2014!  This will help review NESSE’s accomplishments and celebrate all of the people who have made NESSE what it is 5 years later. This interview is with Dr. Cristiano Varrone, who is currently an Associate Professor at the Aalborg University in Copenhagen working in the field of Sustainable Biotechnology. 

Biosketch:  

Dr Cristiano Varrone | Director of Research 2015-2017

I have a background in Natural Sciences and Environmental Engineering and, as such, my general research interest is closely related to applied microbial ecology and ecobiotechnology, following a biorefinery approach. More in particular, I am very interested in finding new/effective ways to convert waste streams into higher-value products, using fermentation technologies and statistical optimization of process parameters. My research focus is mainly dedicated to the development of second generation biofuels and green chemicals (such as bioplastics), as well as the biodegradation of plastics and pesticides. I have several hobbies, such as traveling, hiking, birdwatching, eno-gastronomy, music, languages, Improv, etc., and I have a big passion for the Sea.

When and in what capacity did you volunteer for NESSE?

I volunteered as a Research Director and member of the Executive Board from 2015-2017.

What inspired you to serve on the NESSE board of directors?

Before joining, I personally met with some of the people from NESSE, who organized a Workshop on BioEconomy at the University of York, and I was highly impressed by the positive energy, the proactive attitude and the very international atmosphere. It was clear to me that the members of NESSE have passion and stand for what they do, and it felt inspiring for me to be part of this and give my contribution.

What projects were you involved in while serving on the NESSE board? What impact did you see from your work?

As the director of research I tried to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and networking among young researchers and the NESSE groups, identifying important research themes to be developed and discussed. This included, for example, writing blogs on the Sustainable Development Goals, participating in NESSE’s Randomized Coffee Trials, or keeping updated our NESSE LinkedIn group (posting topics dealing with sustainable science, conferences and career opportunities for young researchers). A large project regarded the development and coordination of the Global Challenges Team. Another key activity was to develop NESSE’s webinar series, suggesting diverse research topics and inviting relevant speakers. I was also supporting NESSE’s organization of courses, workshops and conferences, etc. The hoped impact from my side was to help increasing the visibility of early-career researchers and provide a network for motivated young sustainable scientists, where to exchange ideas, project and collaboration opportunities.

What did you gain (skills, connections, etc.) from being involved with the NESSE executive board?

The biggest gain was the great positive energy that we transmitted to each other in every skype meeting, project development and discussion, I learned what it means to develop a project and work in close contact with people from all around the world, having different background and very different time zones (which makes the scheduling of meetings or webinars more challenging)! I also learned more about the use of social network and project management platforms, or how to update our website. Last but not least, I certainly also expanded my personal network.

What impact has NESSE had on your professional career?

The experience with NESSE allowed me to reinforce several competences, which are very important when working in an international research environment. In this sense I believe that NESSE was a great training and contributed to reach my professional goals. It is not by chance that  I am now working at the Section for Sustainable Biotechnology at the Aalborg University.

Conclusion

I enjoyed my experience with NESSE, both from a personal and professional point of view. I was collaborating with enthusiastic motivated people and we share a common purpose, which was energizing. I would recommend this experience to every researcher interested in sustainability.

Where do you see NESSE 5 years from now?

In 5 years I see NESSE as an established and international organization that is giving its strong contribution to an international network of NGOs dealing with sustainability and research, with a particular focus on the young scientists that will need to make the sustainable development a reality.
If you could give one piece of advice to individuals in the membership, what would it be?

Be active, give feedbacks and engage in NESSE’s activities!

Interview with Past Executive Research Director Dr. Daniel Pleissner

In the months leading up the 23rd Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference (ACS GC&E) and 9th International Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry, we are highlight interviews of past NESSE executive board members and volunteers for a social media campaign (#throwbackthursday) leading up to our 5 year anniversary of launching at the ACS GC&E in 2014!  This will help review NESSE’s accomplishments and celebrate all of the people who have made NESSE what it is 5 years later. This interview is with Dr. Daniel Pleissner, who is currently an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Sustainable and Environmental Chemistry, Leuphana University of Lüneburg. 

Biosketch: 

Daniel Pleissner | Director of Research 2016-2017

Daniel Pleissner |
Director of Research 2016-2017

Dr. Daniel Pleissner obtained an international university and research education in Germany, Poland, Denmark, and Hong Kong. Daniel Pleissner’s research activities focus on marine biomass production in aquacultures, in particular shellfish and macroalgae, integration of microbial fermentations (bacteria, fungi, and particularly microalgae cultivation in batch, fed-batch and continuous processes) in waste and wastewater treatments for biomass production and nutrient recycling. Daniel Pleissner is further interested in developing concepts to create sustainable urban areas, and green chemical and biotechnological processes based on organic waste as feedstock. In his research, Daniel Pleissner uses innovative approaches by combining knowledge and technologies from several engineering disciplines with natural sciences. Daniel Pleissner published more than 50 peer-review articles and participated in and presented at more than 20 international conferences. He is member of the advisory board of the DECHEMA “Algae Biotechnology” group.

At the Leuphana University of Lüneburg he aims on the development of biotechnological and chemical processes for the almost complete use of carbon for the production of food, feed, chemicals and materials. He follows the recommendation of the German bioeconomy council for a cascade use of biomass starting with food and feed production before material and energetic use.

When and in what capacity did you volunteer for NESSE?

As the Director of Research 2016 to 2017.  

What inspired you to serve on the NESSE board of directors?
My motivation was to connect young researches and to achieve a close exchange.

What projects were you involved in while serving on the NESSE board? What impact did you see from your work?

I was involved in the organization of the “Random Coffee Break” to connect individual NESSE members and in the NESSE University Program.


What did you gain (skills, connections, etc.) from being involved with the NESSE executive board?
I gained a bigger network from being involved with NEESE executive board and connections to other young researchers in my field.

What impact has NESSE had on your professional career?

I would say that the exchange with NESSE members had an impact on my professional career by developing new ideas.

Where do you see NESSE 5 years from now?

I see NESSE 5 years from now as an exchange platform where young researcher work together on common problems in an interdisciplinary way.


If you could give one piece of advice to individuals in the membership, what would it be?

I would recommend the members of NESSE to be more active, to seek the contact of other members in order to work together on common global problems. Only with the help of all members, NESSE can develop from a networking to a cooperation platform.

Top Tips on Writing a PhD Thesis

Editor’s Note: This week’s blog is brought to you by one of NESSE’s Executive Director’s: Alexandra Hicken. Read on to find out what Alexandra’s tips are for making the writing process of a PhD thesis less daunting!

Last week, I began the writing of my PhD Thesis. A huge task lay ahead of me with over three years of work ready to write-up into one document. Naturally, the first couple of hours were spent scrolling through Twitter and pondering on the perfect starting point (it was the first day back after the Christmas break, so a very slow day) and thus I sent out the following tweet:

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To my surprise, I was greeted with numerous replies with my fellow tweeters giving a range of advice on writing – and here I am now (procrastinating further) with a blog post designed to help others who are embarking on thesis writing. So, here it is condensed into three easy-to-digest sections.

Planning & Writing

If you are reading this with a few months to go until your thesis submission deadline then congratulations! Starting to write early is a good idea and having a plan is key. Writing a plan is an excellent first step in order to get you thinking about what to write in a logical order and with a clear story.

Plan how you will write the sections – does your thesis need to be chapter focused? Based on manuscripts that you have already written? One specific piece of advice is to write a plan in quite some detail with descriptive sentences and to show this to your supervisor in order to see if you are on the right track. One very keen advisor suggested that you should estimate how much time each day you need to spend writing to meet your deadline – and even suggested to write a timeline in order to make sure that all sections are written on time. Personally, I feel like having a written schedule is a little too prescriptive, however I did make a plan ahead of Christmas, and thus feel like, initially at least, I put myself on the right track.

The way that you write and where you write also seems to be something that was mentioned by a few tweeters. Treating writing like a day in the lab – writing in what you would consider your normal working hours and defending that time for writing is important. Do not let your colleagues’ tasks distract you from doing yours! Others suggested locking yourself away in a library or in a quiet room to avoid distractions. Another very specific piece of advice was to block off two-hour slots in your calendar to write about a specific topic, section or read specific papers – again this feels quite prescriptive to me but could benefit your own style of working. It could be beneficial to find a few theses that have already come from your group – or ask to see the theses of the postdocs in your group. Find out what you like about them in terms of style and formatting and what you do not like to later tailor your writing accordingly.

Now you have a plan, a place to work and you have told everyone in your research group that you are beginning to write your thesis. You hope those who have already been through the process will give you the space that you deserve, and you hope the new PhD and undergrad students will also recognise that now is not the best time to ask you for help! It is time to begin the actual writing. Most of the advice I received was to just write. Try to get something on the page, even if it does not feel or look right, just get it done. Write a lot, maybe even way more than you think is acceptable and remember everything can, and will be edited. Do not just stare at an empty page.student-849825_1280

Keep in mind that the first things you write will not make the final cut and do not feel bad about this. All good writing starts with a bad first draft and then you go from there – even saying things out loud may help you arrange your thoughts on the page better. Have it read by others and plan when you are going to send your supervisor the drafts – maybe do not send all of your chapters or sections in one go, do this gradually so that they have time to edit and to send it back to you whilst you are still writing other sections. Remember that writing is one job and editing is separate – having a break in between will help with the editing process.

Some tweeters recommended not starting at the beginning with the introduction, as you may not know the specific story that you want your thesis to tell at the beginning. Others recommended writing the introduction as you go along as it will take the longest. I feel like in the planning stage, planning the introduction took the longest amount of time and required the most effort, but I will not start writing it straight away.

If you’ve started writing and you’ve got a few pages under your belt – at this point I would be feeling pretty happy with myself. Maybe now it’s time to think about formatting. For the purpose of this blog post, I have assumed that the majority of readers, like myself, will have decided to write their thesis using the trusty, yet sometimes frustrating programme – Microsoft Word. I am aware that this may not be the case. Using LaTeX is definitely another option and some advice for using it would require a whole other blog post that I do not have the expertise to write – but I appreciate those who suggested it as a writing tool!

Formatting, Citing & Saving

Start writing in a template – if you have already written a bit then do not worry, transferring your thoughts to a template is easy – but see if your university or college has a thesis template that you can use. You may even be able to make an appointment with a librarian to talk through this template with you. If this is not possible – make one for yourself. It is pretty easy once you get going and was one of the first things I did along with making a plan.

Save your work. This was probably the first piece of advice that was ever given to me by my dad when I started doing homework on a PC. You have got to save your work and save it often because it won’t be recoverable. I appreciate that time has moved on and recovering work is now possible, but I think that the point still stands. Do not just save your work locally – also back it up often. In multiple locations. Do whatever you can so that you don’t have to re-write things that you have taken a long time to note down, or worse lose your entire thesis document altogether. Use autocorrect for common subscripts/ superscripts. You can make word do the hard work for you!

Referencing is also a topic that was brought up by a lot of tweeters – make sure you cite whilst writing and don’t leave it all to the end. Save your work every 45 minutes and when you do, refresh your referencing tool then for it to update. Don’t let it get bogged down and expect it to be able to update a whole days worth of referencing.

Looking After Yourself

Remember that thesis writing is just one part of your professional life – don’t get hung up on it needing to be perfect because it is a summary of the past 3/4/5 years. Regardless of what you do, you will probably look back on it and wish you would have done something different – which is fine. Do not get annoyed with yourself for not making a certain amount of progress per unit of time. It’s a long task so focus on rewarding the successes and the progress that you are making.

Eat well, sleep well and take regular breaks. Your mental health still needs to remain a priority during this time and looking after yourself is the only way to realise this. Do not overwork yourself and regardless of how much you write a day – if you feel like you cannot write any more then do not! Don’t be afraid to take weekends and evenings off. Have in mind that towards the end things may get more chaotic, but by this time you will have a few weeks worth of writing under your belt and be prepared to finish the damn thing.

Finally, thank you to everyone who offered their advice and good luck if you are in the same position as me. I’m sure I will be tweeting about my experience and I would love to hear from you too (@ahichem07).

Book recommendation:
Useful links:

 

 

Background in Sustainable Science or Engineering: Not a Prerequisite

Editor’s Note: Here’s NESSE’s Co-Executive Director, Natalie O’Neil to share with us her NESSE story. With upcoming elections she wants to be clear that passion and a desire to make a change in the system is all you need to be a NESSE member and effective board member.

I became a science major to “change the world”—as Bill Nye once said. I am now an Inorganic Chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany. However, it wasn’t until 2015, far into my graduate studies, that I realized (naive of me, I know) that something was missing from my science education and research experience. I had come to the realization that the methods of my research were inherently not environmentally friendly (as is consistently the case) and that I had no knowledge on how to change that (which most students don’t as toxicology and environmental chemistry are not currently required for a chemistry degree by most universities). I realized that I had no idea of the environmental impacts my research could be making and to me not knowing seemed unacceptable. I have always been an environmentally-conscious person; however, it did not strike me that I wasn’t including this aspect into my research or future career plans. Struggling with the amounts of harmful chemicals my research consumed – and the inevitable waste it produced – I set out to find a connection between chemistry and sustainability.

I began researching sustainable science and discovered green chemistry through Beyond Benign, who recommended I check out the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). Wanting to engage more I applied for NESSE’s mentorship program. I learned that anyone can become a green chemist. That green chemistry isn’t a new field, it is chemistry done with the forethought of sustainability (considering social, economic and environmental impacts). My mentor, Cliff Coss, recommended I read Green Chemistry Theory and Practice by Paul T. Anastas and John Warner. I have never read a book in one sitting or had a book speak to me so much, and wondered why all chemists were not working within this book’s mindframe.

“It is no more excusable for a fireman not to know that a fire burns, or a chef not to know a knife cuts, than for a chemists not to know the character of the tools of their trade.” – John Warner & Paul Anastas

After reading about the 12 principles of green chemistry developed by Anastas and Warner I made an effort to make changes in my research practices—as well as the practices of my other peers. The Office of Environmental Sustainability at the University at Albany, had an Innovation Grant program that allowed me to attend a Green Chemistry Symposium at the University of Toronto (UofT), organized by the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), a NESSE sustainable science group. At UofT I learned a lot about green chemistry and how it is used in industry. I walked away inspired by the work of the graduate students of the GCI and was determined to follow suit in some way!

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Photo from the GCI 2016 Symposium Innovations in Chemistry Towards Sustainable Urban Living.

The NESSE elections opened that June (2015) and I ran for the Director of Marketing and Communications role. At the time I didn’t have experience in social media, tweeting to me was sound a bird made and WordPress (huh?) I had never used. But I was committed to sharing the great information and resources that NESSE had to offer me with as many early career scientists and engineers. I met the board of directors in Rhode Island for a three day strategic planning retreat and the optimism of the directors fueled my drive even more. With the help of the director that was stepping down, I learned my role and where there is a will there is a way!

Picture1Photos from NESSE’s first strategic planning retreat in 2015.Left- Plans for the year written on the widow with a view, many of these plans materialized or are now in action! Right-The current (Jennie, Norman and I) and now past (Laura and Anna) directors who attended the planning retreat!

Two years later and a ton of experience under my belt, I stand as the co-executive director of an organization that has given me so many experiences and exposed me to opportunities I would have never had without getting involved in NESSE. Just a few examples are the ACS Green Chemistry Summer School in 2016, traveling to Paris to be a part of the Future Earth working group of the Early Career Researchers Network of Networks (ECR NoN) and London for the Science for Sustainable Development: Early Career Leaders Day in Fall 2017. At all of these events I met amazing early career scientists and learned that our generation is really setting a new path for the future.

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Photos from all events mentioned above! Top left- ACS summer school class. Top right- Future Earth working group of the ECR NoN. Middle left-photos of the fun had at the ACS summer school! Middle right-Getting to meet the directors in London! Bottom row- photos from the Early Career Leaders Day at the Burlington house in London.

The knowledge I have gained from working with the board is invaluable, ranging from science communication (blog posts, social media crowdfunding campaign) to organizational structure (international organization procedures, 501 c3 status) and much more. NESSE is truly an organization run for its members by its members and is always open to finding, running and promoting any sort of initiative its members want to help undertake. This grassroots friendly approach is what I love about NESSE.

I share my NESSE story in the hopes that you, the reader, will see that no experience is needed when it comes to adding sustainability to whatever field you are in. What it takes is the passion to make a difference, in your career, in your field and finding the resources you need, which are out there (you are not alone, trust me) it just might take some digging! NESSE’s aim is to be the facilitator of this process, it was for me and it can be for you! If we as early career individuals ban together across all fields (social, physical and life science) than we can tackle the global environmental and energy challenges facing us. We need a multifaceted approach for the myriad of challenges which means we need all backgrounds to come to the table to find viable solutions for a sustainable future for all.

I urge you to engage with the network, consider a volunteer opportunity or even run for one of our open director positions for the upcoming 2017 election you never know where it might take you or what doors it will open that you never knew were possible! If you have questions about getting involved with NESSE or about one of the director positions please contact me at natalie.oneil@sustainablescientists.org.

 

Is interdisciplinary research career-suicide? Share your experience

ID research social media photoMulti-, inter- and transdisciplinary research are increasingly seen as vital in a world of complex, interconnected global challenges. Funders are beginning to support early-career researchers to conduct this work through doctoral training centres and projects with a focus on research at the intersections between disciplines.

Yet, these types of research have been called “career suicide” for young academics and a British Academy report suggested that early-career researchers should first “cultivate their academic home” as a base to conduct interdisciplinary research.

We want to understand early-career researchers own experiences and perspectives of MIT-disciplinary (multi-, inter-, or trans-disciplinary*) research as part of a larger study into the culture of science. Please help us by completing this 15 minute survey.

The survey asks you about:

  1. Your past and current experiences of MIT-disciplinary research;
  2. The motivations, challenges and rewards that you associate with MIT-disciplinary research;
  3. The level of support or hindrance that you receive in any MIT-disciplinary research that you undertake
  4. Your suggestions as to how support for future MIT-disciplinary research should be approached, particularly in relation to early-career researchers.

Please share widely! Post on twitter or facebook: Early-career researchers – whats your experience of #interdisciplinary research? http://bit.ly/2qZrY1C #ECRchat #PhDchat @greenscientists

 

*For the purposes of this survey, we define multidisciplinary as people from different disciplines working together; interdisciplinary as integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines at the outset of a project; and transdisciplinary as involving researchers from different disciplines and other stakeholders variously in the design, execution and implementation of research.

Early Career: Podcasting for Dummies

Editor’s Note: NESSE is about to embark on creating a member-led podcast series. As such, we asked friends of NESSE, Early Career sustainable scientists and genuine podcasters Rebecca Thomas and Kieran Brophy, to reveal all about their experiences of recording and editing podcasts. The formidable double-act’s podcast, called “15 minutes into the future”, is an as-it-says-on-the-tin look at challenges to the environment and climate community in the years ahead.

Picture this. You’re listening to a podcast about something pretty cool, and a thought dawns on you “Hey, I have access to lots of really interesting people. Why don’t we make a podcast?!” Fast-forward 18 months and here we are, fully fledged podcasters with a microphone and everything. So, here are some things we picked up about podcasting along the way that we hope can help you start your own podcast. We found it useful to ask ourselves the following questions… 

Rebecca and Kieran

Rebecca and Kieran

Where do I start?

The initial planning of a podcast can be the most fun, but it’s really important to have a focussed idea at the end. Questions you should ask yourself are; Is the podcast going to be informative or entertaining, formal or relaxed? Will the podcast consists of interviews or monologues? How long do I want this podcast to be? Who is the audience? This last one can be tricky but is probably one of the most important in terms of the language used and the style of the podcast. Personally, we like to have someone in mind who we expect to be listening to our podcast and imagine they are in the room we are recording and editing. For example, we imagine we are having a chat with someone in a pub who knows a bit about science but not all the jargon.

How long have I got to commit?

You’re also going to want to think about how often you can record and release your podcasts. We probably spend about a day in total preparing, recording, editing, re-recording and re-editing our 15 minute podcast.

What equipment do I need?

The first thing you will need is a microphone. While the one on your phone might sound okish, a good microphone makes a huge difference to the quality and listenability of your audio. You can also get podcasting kits, but we have found the voice-notes app on a phone is fine.

What am I trying to tell people?

The best podcasts are ones that take you on a journey with an interesting or funny story. This is something to bear in mind when you are interviewing people, or writing your episode. You can start with the classics – Who? What? Why? When? Where? – to help you put together the story for your episode.

If you plan to interview people, like we do in “15 minutes into the future”, Kieran got some advice from Gareth Mitchell (or a book that he once read), that has certainly helped us out in the past:“The best advice I ever got on interviewing someone is not to get too caught up in the detail of each individual question but to decide what you want from your interviewee. An interview is at its core an exchange, the interviewer gets knowledge, kudos and hopefully a good listenership, whilst the interviewee has a platform to tell their story. As with all exchanges there is some degree of bargaining: deciding what you want, whether it be information, humour etc, decide which in particular is important to you and which are bonuses. It is up to the interviewee to accept or decline.”

What have I got myself into?

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of podcasting is your first interview. It can be very awkward, especially if your chosen subject has no experience of media either. The main things to remember are:

  • Always seem enthusiastic (even if you’re losing all will to live). Nod your head and smile!
  • Figure out how to open and close (this could get awkward if not thought of before). We often ask the person to say their name into the microphone. This also helps to relax the interviewee and get them used to the microphone, and you can use it as a chance to check all the sound is being recorded properly. Bonus.
  • Know what you want from them before you meet them. While it’s useful to have some questions written out to jog your memory, it’s best to only use this as a prompt rather than a script.
  • Editing is your best friend. If you mess-up a question, just ask it again and edit out the other one. This can also help relax the interviewee as they can do the same if they have messed up a response.

How do I add the finishing touches?

Once you’ve got all of your bits recorded, you’re going to need to do some editing. We use free software (Rebecca prefers Audacity, while Kieran prefers Reaper), but there are also lots of cheap podcast editing software out there if you want to buy some. The first thing you want to do is listen to all your audio, and note down any parts you particularly like or dislike – this will help you cut down the podcast to your final version. The best way to start editing is to first get rid of all the um’s and any parts you messed up, then you know what you’re working with. Don’t go too overboard though, so don’t get rid of all the breaths, otherwise the interviewee appears not to breathe, which can be very disconcerting! If you need to re-record some parts, try to return to the room where you made your recording so that the audio sounds the same (it is surprisingly obvious if you’re in a completely different room).

What do I do now?

Once you’ve edited your ‘final cut’, get someone else to have a listen through to make sure it makes sense. When you’re happy with it, you can upload it wherever you decide. Soundcloud host you for free, but there are lots of other hosting sites. You can also apply to have you podcast on the apple podcast app!

We hope you’ve found this podcasting guide helpful, and good luck!

 

You can listen to 15 minutes into the future on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-109603573 And follow us on twitter @15min2thefuture to get our updates.

 

Early Career: Celebrating Women and Girls in Science

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Beyond Benign for allowing us to share these exceptional interviews with some of the many inspirational women in science.

In recognition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Beyond Benign’s Executive Director, Dr. Amy Cannon, spent time talking with extraordinary women scientists who share their passion for science, green chemistry and sustainability. Their varying backgrounds demonstrate to us the immense talent and vision women are contributing to science. We hope you enjoy these fireside chats.

4567c0da-b425-46ac-9323-f11f2734eab5Kate Horspool, Ph.D.
Program Director, Chemistry
Sustainable Business & Innovation
Nike

Education: 
BS, Chemistry, George Mason
Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Northeastern University

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
I think there are opportunities to make sustainable advances, but we need to be better at incentivizing businesses to take risks to try something new and to share between industries. And consumers need to be educated that if a company is taking a risk to do something new and different to impact sustainability, then to give them credit by choosing the greener option.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I am the Program Director for Chemistry in the Sustainable Business Innovation Group at Nike. It is an amazing group of people who are committed to making a difference in the Nike product. Whether it’s in recycled materials or in the chemistry we use or in manufacturing processes, the team is committed to decreasing our footprint and making the best product we can. Specifically, what I do is look at at all chemistries, including how we use chemistry in our supply chain for footwear and apparel and equipment. I help to provide direction to the business on what chemistries we could innovate to get out of and which chemistries are better chemistry options for our manufacturing processes season product lines.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
I think when people think of chemistry they think of the drum of chemistry and the immediate hazard to the environment and the factory worker. One of the things that we consider when we look at chemistry is recyclability—or the life cycle of the product from a high level view of the chemistry. We look at how the chemistry affects the product and ask if we being intentional. So, the chemistry is not just the drum of chemistry but how it affects the product from the day the product is made to the day it’s put into the landfill.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
Seeing our products on store shelves or being out in our supply chain or factory phase and knowing I contributed to making them better is really exciting. It is amazing to encounter an athlete on Nike’s campus endorsing a product that I influenced through chemistry. He probably has no idea that we changed chemistry 1 for chemistry 2, but does recognize the product feels and looks great and is meeting expectations. That is super cool. From the satisfying standpoint—I am coach 9 and 10 year old girls with the nonprofit Girls on the Run. I love watching their faces when they learn that I’m a Ph.D. in chemistry, because apparently I don’t look like what they think a Ph.D. in chemistry looks like. And, then it kind of blows their mind when I tell them I’m a chemist at Nike.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
When I started to working for NAVAIR our department Stephen Spadora was amazing.He was really good at the balance of pushing the envelope and changing the manufacturing environment while understanding all the different groups affected by a change. He demonstrated how to listen and address legitimate concerns. It was not about forcing change rather to obtain buy-in and to get buy-in requires listening and addressing concerns.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
I think it is important for students to have some real-world experiences and problems to solve where there isn’t a right answer—or maybe there isn’t an answer at all. And to learn to come up with recommendations based on the information available and to relay those solutions to people who may even be senior leaders. Additionally, I cannot think of one example during my education where we had to find someone in the business department and the industrial engineering department and the chemistry department in order to work together on a problem statement and demonstrate a complete picture of a solution. That happens in industry all the time—rarely will one be successful working in a bubble. I don’t know if we do a good job of stressing this in school.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I believe in creating work-life balance. I think women may be more prone to becoming unbalanced. I think it is really easy for working moms to get the job done, to make sure the children have everything they need, and then forget the things that they need. My girlfriends and I train for triathlons together. We laugh and think it’s insane that 15 hours of training is what we consider “me” time, but it is. I think it’s important to dedicate time to do whatever it is that interests you. I think it makes for a better employee and mom.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
To anyone I would say be passionate about what you do. Listen and learn from the people around you. And at the same time do not be afraid to speak up and contribute to the conversation. Be sure to find a mentor or someone you respect and make sure you are making time to connect with them. Finally, check in with yourself. It’s okay to re-evaluate and change paths. I had several different career path before I found the one where I said, this is it!

 

765bbc1d-e3d1-448a-a74a-2264967c383cSonja Jost
Founder and CEO
DexLeChem GmbH
Berlin, Germany

Education:
MS (Dipl.ling) Industrial Engineering/Technical Chemistry, Technische Universität Berlin

Twitter:  @sonjajost

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
We need to convince society that people who are working in the field of sustainability are not at war with them or with industry. Sustainability is important for all of us and we will benefit all from it–on every level; the economy (by obtaining new competitive advantages e.g. through resource efficiency), society (by getting improved products/ materials which are less toxic), and the environment (by being less harmed with waste, etc.).

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I founded a startup in the field of Green Chemistry. It is a spin-off from university research where we discovered that water can be used as a solvent in more reactions than scientists formerly believed. I realized someone needed to convince industry of the benefits to this approach.  Now I am the CEO, but still working on technical projects, whenever I can contribute to them

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
To produce in a resource-friendly way we focus on:
• Reduction and re-using of precious resources (e.g. noble metals)
• Synthesis in aqueous solutions (substitution of organic solvents)
• Improved separation of mixtures (reduce energy and materials)

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
It is incredible to see how much one can influence. When we started, there was no chemistry startup scene in Germany at all. None of the big companies really wanted to talk to us. Now, everyone knows us–and they are realizing it more and more that there is a big potential market in Green Chemistry. Ten years ago I would have never dreamed of that!

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
Probably it was my first chemistry teacher at school. Mentorship is not that common in Germany, but he was inspirational nevertheless. I think I only chose chemistry as a main course later at school because he told me by chance that he thought I should do it. In this way he encouraged me a lot, just because he believed in my skills.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
The founding point of our startup was definitely a very happy moment for me and also getting our first customer. Recognition with different startups prizes, or spontaneously being asked to speak at UNIDO are also very special moments for me.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
Definitely a training in negotiations–or even better: more than one training. Negotiations can be very tricky. People from industry speak a different language. When you have never worked in industry it can be really difficult to understand.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
Well, there was a time when my partner complained a lot that I did not help enough in our household. I was convinced that I did as much and we argued a lot–but then someone told me that there are studies that the perception between men and women regarding this topic differ in general. So, I hired help at home which ended the discussions. I did this because I realized we all have limited energy and it should be spent wisely.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
I would give her the advice to try to get a job in the core of the value chain where she can really change things. Pure sustainability departments do not have access to power at the moment but the technical departments have it.

21330543-1ee0-47fe-b11b-dcb58a9aeda0Laura Muollo, Ph.D.
Director, Life Sciences R&D
Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry

Education:
Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Green Chemistry Option, University of Massachusetts Lowell
B.S., Chemistry, Environmental Studies minor, Stonehill College

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
If benign alternatives to traditional products and processes were glaringly obvious, and zero cost would be incurred by switching to these alternatives, we’d be in great shape. However, usually the benign alternative needs to be discovered, and that takes time and money, which not every person or industry is eager to invest. Unless a regulation or mandate comes down, or a particular traditionally-used material simply is no longer available, the immediate benefit can be difficult for some people to see.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I joined the Warner Babcock Institute in 2008, and have since worked on dozens of projects spanning a very diverse range of fields. I have led teams which have developed environmentally benign asphalt rejuvenating additives, non-toxic hair colorants, methods for recycling batteries and electronic waste, and methods to enhance water solubility of pharmaceutical ingredients having poor bioavailability, to name a few.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
In many ways. Re-designing industrial processes to reduce materials, solvent and energy use, in turn reducing waste. Replacing petroleum-derived materials with renewable alternatives. Improving API performance to decrease dosing requirements, resulting in less material excreted into the environment.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
I enjoy the variety of projects that I work on. There is no field of research to which sustainability is not applicable, so the number of potential projects is literally endless. I am constantly challenged, and learning new things. 

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
Yes, though oddly enough, she was not in the sciences. My high school U.S. history teacher was an incredibly brilliant, funny, strong, independent woman who constantly challenged me to be the very best version of myself. She instilled in me critical thinking and debate skills, a strong work ethic, and probably most importantly a confidence that I could achieve great things with enough determination.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
Having led the research teams which generated two different products that are now on the market, Hairprint and Delta S.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
I wish I had taken a public health class. Chemistry, the environment, and public health are far more intertwined than I realized as a college student, and having a strong foundation in all of those disciplines can really be an asset, even if your career is primarily focused in only one of those areas.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I’m a mom, so absolutely. I felt that my maternity leave was too short, and felt guilty bringing my baby to daycare as young as he was. Having to figure out when/where to pump breastmilk while on business trips was a challenge, not to mention the guilt I felt about being on those trips in the first place. Now my son is 2, so it’s a bit easier, but I feel like I am neglecting my work when I’m at home and feel I’m neglecting my son when I work long hours. I address the challenge by reminding myself that the work I do is for my son – to give him a better life and improve the world around him. It’s also important to recognize that it’s ok to ask for help. At the end of the day, when my son’s face lights up when he sees me, it’s all worth it.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
Stay confident. Science is still a male-dominated field, and while I have encountered little blatant sexism, subtle insinuations that women are inferior still persist. A male colleague may be given credit for an idea you generated. You may have to bite your tongue when a client “informs” you of facts that you already know. When you are referred to as an “emotional woman,” be proud that you are passionate. It is that passion, backed by your intelligence and determination that will change the world.

d2c3b804-bfaf-4433-bf9c-49a8852a91b3-2Kate Maziarz
Junior, Chemistry Major
Mt. Holyoke College

Education:
A.S., Chemistry
Kingsborough Community College

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
There are not enough environmentally-minded chemists in the world to impact global challenges and inform other chemists. We need to teach green chemistry to college and high school students. If we do not start educating chemistry students early on in science education, then we will never build a sustainable future.

Please share your history with green chemistry and sustainability.
My first experience with green chemistry was under Professor Barcena at Kingsborough Community College. He had his students follow procedures using the principles of green chemistry in the classroom and during research. Green Chemistry introduced the concepts of toxicology and prevention, which were interesting and extremely useful.

What was the most exciting or satisfying part of learning about green chemistry?
The most exciting part about learning green chemistry is the overall challenge. Green Chemistry isn’t just about knowing the principles, it’s about critical thinking. When starting a reaction and even before it is important to ask: How can I make this reaction greener? Green chemistry keeps one focused on how to constantly improve processes.

How has what you learned in your academic career and within your research contribute to sustainability?
My education instilled the idea of how important recycling is within chemistry. Once I learned the principles of green chemistry, I understood why I should care about waste. I understood that what I do as a chemist impacts what options are available for others to follow. What is really great is that through green chemistry anyone can contribute to sustainability.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your education and career choices?
Both in Poland and within the United States, every single educator I have encountered gave me the passion and inspiration to go into the field of chemistry. From elementary school on, my teachers helped to cultivate a love for chemistry. I could actually list all of their names as being a mentor, but Professor Barcena is the one who helped me realize that green chemistry is the future.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized during your higher education?
It was rewarding to realize that I could use the principles of green chemistry in my everyday life as a chemist. Professor Barcena showed us the big picture of how industry could recycle polymers for future products and that a plastic bottle, for example, did not have to become waste. I realized that I gained a special skill that could translate to anything I did within chemistry.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers? How have you addressed these challenges?
I have learned that I always need to be prepared, believe in myself, and act like myself even when I am feeling otherwise. The perception of women in science is improving, but I think the environment is still very male dominant. When you are the only woman in a room of men, it can be very intimidating. My confidence goes away even if I am prepared. I have attended conferences where it is mostly dominated by men even though the field is estimated to be 50/50 right now. Older men within the field do not come across as supportive. It feels as though you cannot contribute as a female chemist even if when knowledgeable. I selected an all female college which has helped me to find my own voice within the field of chemistry.

What are your future career goals?
My immediate goal is to finish my bachelors of science in chemistry. I want to learn as much as I can through my research. Then, I would like to go for a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and practice what I learn.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating an education and career that involves green chemistry and sustainability?
I would say, congrats! Green chemistry is the future! In a matter of time, every university will incorporate greener methods in their teaching, until it becomes standard practice. People may associate chemistry with toxic materials and chemicals, but we can change the way they think by  practicing green chemistry.

b20dd5de-8ee4-4144-862d-6b6db7f222f4Maureen Kavanagh
Technical Manager
Renewable Materials
and Sustainable Adhesives
3M Corporate R&D
St. Paul, MN

Education:

University of Wisconsin-River Falls
BS, Chemistry
The College of St. Scholastica
MA, Management

What do you believe is one of our society’s greatest challenges in sustainability today?
I feel people don’t understand what sustainability is. Simplifying what sustainability is so everyone understands how they can make an impact each day is essential. Sustainability is a broad term to me but encompasses everything from green chemistry, recycling, renewable feedstocks and much more. It takes everyone to make a difference.

Tell us about your work in green chemistry and/or sustainability.
I have always been a champion for sustainability, trying to develop new ways to help divisional customers meet their environmental challenges, along with ways to reduce our products’ environmental impact. I chaired a technical forum within 3M to foster additional growth in Green Chemistry throughout the organization. Also, being part of some great external organizations such as the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) and the Center for Sustainable Polymers is a great place where others share the same passion for green chemistry and sustainability as myself.

How does your work contribute to sustainability?
My team and I continue to be the experts for the company for renewable materials and strive to meet 3M’s sustainability goals but most importantly working day in and day out to show people how they can make a difference.

What is the most exciting or satisfying part of your job?
As a manager, my number one priority is helping my people build a career path that they are passionate about. My passion is also how to change the way we look at sustainability and green chemistry because making tiny changes does make an impact.

Have you had a mentor, or educator that was particularly inspirational whom helped to influence your career choices?
I have had many mentors and people that have been a true inspiration to my career. They may not even know how much they have shaped me to be excited and passionate about what I do and say each day. I continue to strive to be better each day and continue to take bits and pieces from people who have influenced me along the way. It also has been important for me to be my true self along the way. It just feels more natural that way.  I feel as if I am evolving each day in what I was meant to do for people and the world.

What has been one of the most rewarding achievements that you have realized professionally?
Seeing the growth in my people and leaving the greatness to them. It really is not about me, and once I had that moment of clarity everything else just seemed easy.

Knowing what you know now, are there skills that you would recommend to a student pursuing training in that you wish you had upon entering an industrial career?
You need to have an open mind and be coach-able. School gives you the foundation, industry teaches you application. You are creating your own story so be passionate about the skills that you are building and have a great resume.

Have you noticed challenges within your own work/life balance that might be unique to women in professional careers?
As a woman, I have learned to tell my most challenging stories about my career. Although, it is uncomfortable for me to share my story, I have realized how important this is to make a better path for future women.

What advice would you give to a young woman today navigating a career in green chemistry and sustainability?
We are at a crossroad, humanity and the earth needs your desire and passion to overcome the unsustainable lifestyles we take for granted.  We need highly trained, motivated passionate women to lead the charge of change. Green Chemistry and sustainability is a path that we need to continue to forge ahead with a future that is sustainable beyond my lifetime. You need to continue to teach and educate others on the importance of green chemistry and sustainability. Be persistent. Be patient. Lastly, be you!

Early Career: How to Write a Good Blog Post

We would like to encourage early career researchers to produce a blog regarding their work. As well as becoming increasingly recognized as a powerful tool for disseminating and making researchers’ work more visible, they can also provide a highly accessible digest for a larger, and less specialized audience.

student-849825_1280

Guidelines:

  • Be short – around [500-800] words is an appropriate length
  • Adopt an informal, journalistic style rather than academic writing.
  • Be accessible to a less specialist audience, so any complex terminology should be explained clearly.  Simple examples, or even images, can help to provide context and clarification of terminology and research concepts.  
  • Make the purpose of the blog post clear in the introductory sentences.
  • Organize the content. Blog posts can have an overwhelming amount of information for the reader. Therefore, it can  be helpful to divide the post in subsections. Information can be organized into sections, questions, lists, or tips. To clearly organize the content, you can start with making an outline of your post. What points do you want to cover and what is the best order for it?
  • Make it clear whether or not you are writing on behalf of an institution. A blog entry can also be an opportunity to make a more personal statement about your interest in your research or work.
  • Provide references in footnotes or provide a link for readers who wish to learn more about the topic.
  • If you wish to include images from the article in the blog entry, then it is important to ensure that any permission sought should cover this additional use. Alternatively, royalty free images can be found in a number of online repositories such as Wikimedia, Commons and Morgue File.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you want further guidance or discuss your blog post at blog@sustainablescientists.org.

 

Green Curriculum: Five Reasons Why Studying STEM Provides Students for a Sustainable Future

Editor’s Note: Read five reasons why Kyle Martin from Florida Polytechnic believes that studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) prepares students for a sustainable future. 

Tomorrow is full of ambiguity; Technological advancements, climate uncertainty, clean water, food shortages and a global population nearing 8 billion are all on the horizon. This begs the question: How will universities prepare the next generation of students for a sustainable future? From hands-on collaboration to cross-disciplinary curriculum, here’s how we believe STEM education is championing a sustainable tomorrow.

  1. Hands-On Learning

STEM majors have a balanced mix of hands-on and traditional lecture-style learning. The blend of hands-on with traditional lectures encourages students to apply classroom material to real-world scenarios. From multi-functional workstations and technology incubators to 3D printing labs (some labs even use polylactic acid, a sustainable, sugar-derived polymer sometimes used in reusable plastics like cups and cutlery), students have access to technology that empowers them to put their ideas to the test and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

  1. Sustainability-focused Coursework   

In addition to hands-on learning, STEM programs actively incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. At events like the Industry Partner Summit, for instance, professionals, researchers and academics collaborate to develop new course material. During these summits, discussions typically cover emerging discoveries and challenges, policy updates, and tools and tactics that can be included in sustainability course curriculum. Summits occur annually to ensure students are learning the most up-to-date, relevant knowledge, thereby ensuring they gain the proper skills to be successful in their sustainability-focused careers.

  1. Revamped Facilities

Today’s cutting-edge STEM classrooms create a collaborative environment where issues of global sustainability can be addressed. Classrooms that were once stuffed with desks and chalkboards are now open-concept design that facilitate group presentations and brainstorming discussions. Conference style tables and technology-equipped stations replace standard desks, fostering group projects, problem solving and teamwork. Instead of chalkboards, whiteboards and dry-erase markers fill classrooms to encourage student visualization, ideating and project road-mapping.

  1. Soft Skills are Sharpened

In order for STEM students to excel in environmental-focused careers, they need opportunities to develop non-technical skills in addition to mastering core curriculum. As a result, many universities are ramping up requirements for STEM students to enroll in soft skill-focused courses. From public speaking to managerial classes, many of the nation’s top engineering colleges are offering up courses that prepare students for the business side of sustainability.

  1. STEM Education is Pivotal to a Sustainable Future

Sustainability is the future, and STEM education is the key to getting there. With a hands-on curriculum, innovative technology and a holistic approach to learning, STEM education is necessary for preparing the next generation of sustainability experts.

Kyle Martin - Author - Pic.jpg

Author Bio: Kyle Martin brings 11 years of storytelling experience to the content coordinator position at Florida Polytechnic University. In this role, Martin develops original content showcasing the University experience as a way to attract new students and faculty. He also lends editorial direction to University departments launching new projects and campaigns.