Review Writing in 2019
The year held amazing adventures including a NASA Langley Internship, living on my own in a new state, starting graduate school, and writing freelance for the first time. 28 articles in one year, a new personal record. I only started blogging for The Urban Interface in 2018, writing 12 articles for their site. It’s encouraging, it’s exciting. But it all leads me to this:
What are the most memorable articles of 2019?
My philosophy is writing leaves pieces of yourself behind, because often the amount of research and time dedicated into one article leads to feeling like a part of you.
A new year dawns opportunities to reflect upon ourselves, and now is no different. While creating new writing goals for 2020, I pause to remember what I shared in 2019.
Dipping into the Martian Atmosphere, NASA Langley Research Center
This was my first article on the NASA Langley page. I had written two extended image captions earlier in the month, but this article was huge to me. I remember being nervous to talk with Dr. Rafael Lugo. I researched as much as I could about the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) project before I met with him.
We sat in a small office and simply chatted about this project. He was very nice, making it very easy to ask questions to. I had only done one sit-down interview for an article prior to this; all my previous experience was e-mailing bursts of short lists of questions. During our discussion, my confidence in asking the right questions grew, trying to understand the technical jargon and aspects of MAVEN. I may have asked questions like “How would you explain that to an 8-year-old?” or repeated back what I heard in my own diction to make sure I understood properly.
Learning about the aerobraking campaign, a technique MAVEN and other orbiters use to “dip” deeper into the planet’s atmosphere, was a treat. Writing about it was a dream. Seeing my name proudly on NASA.gov was something I never thought would happen. Truly, this first article couldn’t have been a better experience. An interesting and relatively simple topic, a scientist and engineer who communicates well, and a LEGO set visual of the orbiter.
Combating Antivaxxers and Misinformation — How Should We Proceed?, Let’s Get Sciencey
Vaccination communication has been a side-interest for a little while. I thought I knew how to talk with someone about health and science, it being my specialty in undergraduate. But I didn’t really understand how communication about this topic should be a conversation until I wrote this piece.
Let’s Get Sciencey reached out to me about becoming a contributing writer, and wanted my first article about communicating about vaccines. It made me nervous, at first, to write to someone I’ve never met. This was my first freelance article. At the time I was used to a conversation about a piece before it was published, but I had to quickly adjust to e-mailing back and forth. It’s not hard, just a different style of communication.
The entire article is split into a four parts: where the vaccine misinformation came from, what’s the truth about vaccines, explaining why vaccines are important, and how to respectfully talk to someone who has a differing opinion about vaccines. I researched long into the night, trying to get the best information on each subtopic.
When it was posted, I was so excited. Looking back on it I see some errors, like how it’s too long to hold the audience’s the attention and I covered four topics when I should’ve focused on two. But it doesn’t change that I really like how it turned out for where I was in my writing career at the time. It was a small milestone.
ACT-America: Barbecue, Cold Fronts and a Diversion from the Plan, NASA Earth Expeditions Blog
The experience of flying on a C-130 Hercules was incredible. It was the last article I wrote for NASA Langley before ending my internship: a science flight. This blog piece was going to be different than a traditional article like the MAVEN one.
Public Affairs Officer Joe Atkinson said I had freedom to take the article in nearly any direction I wanted. Which is absolutely too much freedom for a person with the tendency to overwrite like myself. Honestly, I had so many ideas it could’ve been a book:
“Flight of an Intern” publishes Summer 2019, featuring Andrea’s first science flight across half the United States. It includes exclusive interviews with scientists, the amount of Peanut Butter consumed to avoid flight sickness, and the jokes the crew shared during the encounter!
After some much needed advice to keep it to a reasonable length, I focused on the food everyone ate, a little about what I learned, and the casual conversations everyone had. After three or four rounds of cutting paragraphs (Again, I write too much. All of the time.), Joe and I decided that it was as close to the word count as I was going to get.
It was refreshing in some ways to write a candid article styled like a travel agenda, but still routed in science. It reminded me that all sorts of topics connect to science writing, similar to Grub Street’s article about how climate change will kill the Bloody Mary. Essentially, the experience encouraged me to branch out beyond news-style writing, even if it’s just for my own personal blog.
Eureka! Creative Scientists Need Coffee Breaks, Let’s Get Sciencey
Inspired by an article from Vivienne Tam on why scientists need more coffee breaks, I took everything I had learned in my Creativity class that semester of graduate school and applied it Science. I loved the opportunity to bring a new part of non-science to the field. Usually I copy words of Bruno Latour or explain how different audiences need different levels of science explanation. This was different.
Social Psychologist Graham Wallas’s Creative Processes talks about how we solve problems creatively: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. My advertising classes use this to explain one of the methods for creativity. There are many different methods, and everyone has their own personal process, but Wallas highlights the general steps for the general public.
After reading Tam’s article, I immediately saw how her logic for coffee breaks met the criteria for incubation in the creative process. Essential, the significance of this is I had solid academic evidence to explain how scientists were creative.
Most science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is simply dismissed as uncreative. It’s something anyone can do if they have the skills. I disagree. STEM learns about the world we live and creates knowledge from it. While you can’t creatively answer “2+2=4,” current researchers are looking to answer questions that require a cycle of creative thinking. Recognizing the problem, looking to the sources to see if it’s been solved, developing your own way to solve the problem — all of these are parts of the creative process.
Many of my STEM friends simply accept themselves as not creative. Which isn’t true. They are simply creative with numbers and elements rather than paint and cameras.
Beyond the Metal: Investigating Soft Robots at NASA Langley, NASA Langley Research Center
I met two interns, Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick, who were helping develop soft robot actuators using 3-D printing. I thought their project was awesome. With permission from their project lead, I wrote an article. With the way the robots moved, I felt like a GIF or video was necessary to fully share the story. An image could not justify the sheer alien way the robot moved across a table. (There design changed a semester later, showcasing all of the hard work.).
Even though I led the story — and therefore showed the videographer, photographer, and social media lead what I wanted captured and how I wanted it shared — I still was learning. I would generally suggest something for a video, then Gary Bazinger would adjust the angle and be sure capture a little of everything. I might say I wanted “the interns controlling the actuator” as a photo, and Dave Bowman would take a few shots, then try a different one that I hadn’t thought of. Social Media Lead Natalie Joseph made suggestions for questions and phrasing so we would have a perfect audio. I loved how this was so different than a school project, that instead of “leading” meaning “telling everyone what to do,” it meant “directing the team and letting the team use their strengths.”
To my amazement, the NASA flagship page picked up on the story:
Which led to general reporters picking up the story. It felt viral. News sites I read shared it, including Fox News, Business Insider, and Interesting Engineering. It was a treat seeing how people wrote their headlines:
NASA eyes soft robots for dirty jobs on the moon and Mars. I shall call him Squishy. (cnet)
My absolute favorite was:
(A title doesn’t get better than that. The theme continues in the article. You want this in your internet history, trust me. Read it.)
While it’s exciting to see something you created go everywhere on the Internet, it was more than that. Seeing it go everywhere solidified to me that I know a good story when I see one. I know how to identify worthwhile topics about science to share. It made me feel like everything I had learned in school and at my internship was valid.
Where will 2020 take me?
I don’t know yet. Still continuing a graduate degree, still writing about science, still sharing my two cents with the world. I’ve learned so many things, met so many wonderful people, and discovered more about myself than I could have imagined in 2018. All I know is 2020 holds a new year, new opportunities, and new stories. That’s what I’m looking forward to.