There are some secrets about science that are kept hidden until you are actually practising it, and the importance of writing is one of those secrets. As a scientist, you have to think, design experiments, run the experiments, analyze the data, and at the end of all that, you need to compile everything that you learned from your experiments into a cohesive story. Written communication is one of the most important parts of being a scientist – if you don’t communicate your research, few people will know about it.
Crafting a scientific article can be difficult by itself, but complex data analysis can make it even more difficult. However, sometimes it is straight-forward, and I have two contrasting examples. This past week, I have had two papers accepted into the same scientific journal: one is my first thesis chapter, and the other is from research I’ve carried out on my Fulbright exchange here at the University of New Mexico. My thesis chapter is the product of a multi-year experiment, with data from multiple levels of biological organization, and more statistics than you can shake a stick at. It took months to put together into a cohesive story and to make sense of the data; sometimes you think that you’ve analyzed everything that you could, but then you find a different, creative way to analyze the data that leads to a different conclusion, and then you’re back at square one with the story. My Fulbright research, on the other hand, is the product of less than a month of experimentation, and only took a few weeks to put the story together and submit the article. Writing these articles were completely different experiences in both time and difficulty. But now the research is available (or will be soon once it’s posted to the journal website).
This brings me to an important point: writing is a key skill of a scientist, and one that is largely ignored until graduate school. Anyone aspiring to be a scientist should be encouraged to learn to write well and often, as writing up research is often the rate-limiting step, and a barrier that can be reduced by teaching scientists-to-be to write well before graduate school.
In other news, the first paper from my Fulbright research as been accepted into the journal, Plant, Cell and Environment. As soon as it’s available online, I will be posting a link!
I also went to the Albuquerque aquarium – it’s the first time I’ve ever been to an aquarium, and it was fantastic. They have all sorts of fish, corals, jellyfish, and even a baby ray petting area. If you’ve never touched a ray, it is quite a strange feeling!
Stay safe and stay informed,