As scientists, we can do science forever. The beauty about science is that the questions never end – we can keep asking, and every time we find an answer, we have a new direction to pursue. But it’s very important to know when it’s time to write up your results.
Publishing may be connected to leaving or transitioning your position, but at all times you should be thinking, “What is my end goal? What is the big question I want to answer? What are the questions the field has about my research?” As you reach milestones and make discoveries, whether big or small, consider whether you will have a complete and compelling story to tell in the end.
Have you read last week’s breaking story about the microbiome of the human placenta? Wait, stop, don’t run away to Google it! I’ll tell you all about it – this is a science blog, remember?
I’m asking because as I started reading about the topic in preparation for writing this blog post, I noticed two things. First, as a science writer who tries to stay well-connected with what’s going on in the world of biology research, it would have been nearly impossible for me to avoid this story. I get eight or nine daily digest emails from scientific publications every day, and I think over the course of last week, every single one came with a headline related to the placenta study. (Of course, I read them all. And the Nature study they were based on.)
Second, I noticed that each story I read had a slightly different angle on covering the research. As scientists, we like to believe that science is, well, just science. It’s factual. We pore over the data and reach a conclusion. If we aren’t sure of something, we search the journals. The story, if there is one, is about methods and controls, protocols and reagent quality. However, when information about that research is communicated broadly, outside of the journals, we can get a different impression based on how the author frames their article. Continue reading ““The Human Placenta,” or “Why I Love Science Writing””
Last night I was helping my daughter, who is in fourth grade, with her homework. We had completed a math worksheet, a geography worksheet and had moved onto writing. For her paragraph assignment, she was supposed to write about a special place. So I began drawing the concept map that we typically use to help her organize her thoughts. She stopped me before I could get started.
“No Mom, wait,” she grabbed the pencil and paper from my hands, “I have a better idea.”
She drew five shapes on the paper.
“We should write the paragraph like it’s a hamburger. The first sentence is the topic—it’s the top of the burger, tells you what is inside—it makes you hungry to read more. Next comes the juicy, meaty part. Three details—three sentences. Then the bottom bun, the summary that supports the whole paragraph. It’s the hardest to write.” She proudly sat down with her drawing and pencil.
“I LOVE that,” I exclaimed. “That’s a great way to organize a paragraph.”
“Yeah,” my husband looked up from his Suduko that he had been working on, “and the cheese goes right here.” He pointed to one of the three boxes my daughter had drawn underneath the bun.
“And the lettuce over here,” my daughter giggled.
“Well, I like mine with lettuce and tomato,” I chanted with no apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “Heinz 57 and French-fried potato..,”
“A big kosher pickle,” my daughter joined in, and the evening’s homework activities degenerated from there. (Sometimes it’s the parents who are easily distracted.)
Please believe me when I say this is the hardest thing I’ve done. Typing this sentence might as well be lifting a boulder, and the next could be even heavier. Before this, the hardest thing I’d done was say “good morning” to co-workers, and before that, it was simply getting out of bed.
Just about the only thing I find easy is going to bed, but sleeping is a different story. Every night I lie down, unsure if I’ll fall asleep within seconds and wake what seems like moments later, swatting aimlessly at my alarm clock, or if I’ll remain awake, tired beyond belief but some mysterious finger in the dyke preventing a flood of sleep from washing over me.
I’m one of the approximately 21 million people in the United States who suffer from major depression. Let me tell you, it’s kind of a bummer. Lying awake at night might sound terrible, but it’s the easiest thing in the world compared to writing a sentence, saying “hello”, smiling. I live each day negotiating a watery fog, often unsure what people tell me, confused about what comes next, and desperate for the energy to participate in the world.
This isn’t an essay asking for sympathy; receiving pity from others would only make me feel worse. Besides, as a function of suffering from depression, I’m convinced nobody is reading this, that nobody is going to read this. This essay is for me. Only by engaging and grappling with this disease in words and in actions can I ever hope to pin it to the ground.
As a recruiter, I look at resumes every single day. It’s part of my job. A good resume will get your information passed on to a hiring manager, and a bad one will end up in a rejection pile. A candidate could be a perfect fit for the job, but if the resume does not reflect HOW they are a perfect fit, they will not get moved forward in the interview process.
I write this blog with the caveat that I am not the end-all, be-all for resumes. You can do research and find many different ways to write a resume, advice on what to do, and examples galore. I am writing this with my preference in mind; I have been a recruiter for over a decade and have seen more resumes that you can imagine. I find that these basic do’s and don’ts apply to many different professions.
Change your resume based upon the position that you are applying for. If you have an objective, the objective should somehow tie into the position you are submitting your resume to. If your objective is very broad and can apply to many different areas, that should be fine. However, if your objective reads “To find employment as a Research and Development Scientist” and you are applying for a Production Scientist position, you should change it.
List your work history in reverse chronological order. Your most current job should be at the top.
If you are applying for a position where education is the most important thing to consider for the recruiter/hiring manager, then list it first. This will also apply to a recent graduate. For any other type of resume submission, put your education below your work experience.
Be very specific in your accomplishments. This is your opportunity to brag about your work experience. If you were the #1 sales person in the country, list it on your resume.
Be quantitative. Specifically list numbers in your descriptions. “Increased sales by 10%”, or “Managed a team of 5” sounds a lot better than “Increased sales substantially” or “Managed a team”.
Don’t try to fit it into one page. This is an old guideline that is somehow still being used. If you can’t fit it into one page, don’t try. You want your resume to outline as much as possible about your work experience, so don’t try to limit to fit it all in.
Don’t make it 10 pages either. Recruiters (and most hiring managers) will stop looking after about page 2. Keep it concise.
Don’t write in paragraphs. Write concise statements (bullets are good) with duties and responsibilities at jobs.
Don’t list all the things that you have done in your previous positions at the top of your resume, and then list your work history below it. Your duties and responsibilities should coincide with the places you have worked.
When you hold a position as a scientific communication specialist at a biotech company, you never know what you are going to need to write. Most of the time I really like the fact that I have to master new subject matter on a daily basis. I’m using my degree and my brain, and articulating science in a way that connects with the reader is incredibly rewarding. It’s why I do what I do.
When I think back to the résumé and cover letter that I submitted when I applied for my first real job, frankly, I am a bit surprised that I got an interview. I think I was qualified for the job as Promega Technical Services Scientist, but honestly, my résumé and cover letter were unequivocally and unapologetically mediocre. Looking back now, with eight years of editing experience under my belt, I can think of quite a few things that I would have done differently. Of course, I must have done a few things right too, or my résumé would have gone straight into the bin, and I would have never been interviewed. I am sharing my experiences so that you can learn from my mistakes. Continue reading “Lessons Learned From A Mediocre Résumé”
Yes, okay, I admit it. For as casual and conversational as I try to keep my writing, I’m a bit of a grammar geek*. I’m not a cantankerous stickler for a technically perfect phrase, and I’m certainly not exempt from grammatical blunders, but I do put my back into it a little bit. It’s one of the ways I extend a measure of respect to language, along with things like saying “croissant” correctly (I’m not French, but it’s one of my biggest pet peeves). Sure, maybe I go a little overboard sometimes and find myself sitting in silent, festering judgment of misplaced apostrophes. Maybe seeing “alot” shimmering like grammatical polyester on a page makes me want to flick someone’s ear. And maybe it hit just a little too close to home when a college classmate told me, “Caroline, you’d proofread a love letter.” Humph. You say that like it’s a bad thing.
As much as I enjoy the pursuit of grammatical excellence, I recognize it’s not as natural for everyone. Grammar may even be your sworn nemesis. I know exactly how it is — I have the same antagonistic relationship with math. Stupid math, making me feel all dumb. But enough of my issues, back to the point at hand: Grammar isn’t always intuitive, it isn’t always easy and, let’s face it, it’s not generally considered a lot of fun. Or so I thought until I found The Oatmeal. Continue reading “Writing Better With Oatmeal”
I want to share a few of the writing tips I have picked up from this week, even though this wasn’t a “science writing” workshop. What I have found as a writer is that what I work to improve in one type of writing ends up improving every other type of writing that I do. I have heard so many scientific writers claim that science writing is different from all other types of writing. Not necessarily.
Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing Part X
Parallel construction signals to the reader that two ideas are of equal importance. If two or more ideas or items are connected by a coordinating conjunction such as “and”, “but” or “or”, then those ideas should be expressed in parallel or equivalent grammatical constructs. Items and ideas of equal importance should be presented using equivalent grammatical structures. Items in a list should be parallel: all verbal phrases, all nouns, etc. Parallel construction guides your reader and helps your reader organize concepts on a first read of your text. Continue reading “Use Parallel Structure to Guide the Reader”