#MySciComm: Tatiana Eaves on making the jump from science to science writing and editing

This week, Tatiana Eaves responds to the #MySciComm questions! 

Young black woman outdoors - looking at the camera, and holding a camera
Tatiana Eaves hiking through the Appalachian Mountains in Boone, NC, taking photographs for a news article. Photograph taken by Katelyn Cartwright.

Tatiana is a biologist, photographer, and freelance science writer living in the Washington D.C. metro area. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology, with a concentration on ecology and evolution, from Appalachian State University and minored in Geographic Information Systems. She currently writes for Ricochet Science and the Ecological Society of America’s Journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, while simultaneously working as a web designer/editor/writer for the Refugia Research Coalition, managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. Connect with Tatiana on her online portfolio and @EcologistSays

The #MySciComm series features a host of SciComm professionals. We’re looking for more contributors, so please get in touch if you’d like to write a post!

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Okay, Tatiana…

1) How did you get into the kind of SciComm that you do?

I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, I just didn’t know what kind.

I was the 8 year-old kid running around outside digging for worms, catching lizards and butterflies to put under my microscope. I grew up in South Florida and was endlessly fascinated with the world. I would ask questions my parents never knew the answers to, but I didn’t care. I just loved asking them. I also loved learning and seeking out those answers myself. I asked for every science toy on the market for birthdays and holidays: microscopes, telescopes, chemistry kits, rock tumblers. I didn’t want to miss a thing. Everything about the natural world excited me.

My love of science grew especially while in high school when I opted to take my senior classes at the local community college. There, I jumped on an opportunity to assist the Biology professor in his research lab – this is the professor to which I owe everything to today. He introduced me to the world of ecology, and I immediately knew that was the field I would remain within. He was my mentor. We worked with a Florida jumping spider, the grey wall jumper (Menemerus bivittatus), and he showed me what lab research looked like. We built a mini arena to observe the vibrational patterns that these spiders create during mating rituals. They make various vibrations at different rates depending on which point in the ritual they are within. Listening to these sounds inaudible to the naked human ear and deciphering them amazed me. Not only did I learn an abundance about spiders, he taught me something new, a fun fact about an animal or insect, every day. We discussed what intrigued us about the world and he could answer just about any life science question I possessed. I thought that I wanted to do exactly what he did, run a research lab and learn endlessly about the animals and plants around me.

Then, I went off to college at Appalachian State University and joined two separate labs; the professors were both researching topics I enjoyed. One lab researched bird behavior and the other, plant hormone responses to stress. I had just as much interest in both of these topics as I did with the jumping spiders in the previous lab. This was where I thought my problems arose. I couldn’t choose. As time went on in college, I realized that every graduate student and professor I had ever met had their specialties, species and systems that they were most passionate about.

I was too fascinated by everything to narrow it down to just a few organisms. I was passionate about the whole institution of science.

I loved to read and learn about every animal or plant interaction I could. I got an internship the summer of my junior year at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the terrestrial ecology lab. There, I committed to specialize – I was going to study the effects of tree diversity/richness on Lepidoptera’s (butterflies and moths) diversity/richness. I combined my love for plants with my love for creatures. I thought this would be my dream job: conducting field research and taking the lead on a research project for the first time. While I did have a wonderful time working there overall, I most enjoyed the moments in the lab where I was writing protocol, problem-solving, analyzing data, and writing my report. I absolutely loved explaining and talking about my research. It was fantastic, but it also left me confused. The realization that I was about to finish college, and what I thought was going to be my dream job wasn’t, sent me into something like an early-life crisis.

On a whim, while I was still working for the Smithsonian, I responded to an email to apply for a remote, communication-like internship for the U.S. Geological Survey. After I returned home to start my senior year at Appalachian State, I received a call. I had gotten the position. The goal was to create a website for their new research group, the Refugia Research Coalition (RRC), to have an inviting, interactive location where scientists and natural resource managers could come together to discuss data and come up with management strategies.

I didn’t even know what climate refugia was before working with RCC, but this experience had incredible influence on where my path in science would lead. I loved what the internship required: constant calls back and forth between scientists, brainstorming, problem-solving, editing, writing, and learning. I served as their translator as I took the complex topics and made them easy-to-understand on the website. Together, we created a great product, and now I’m part of the team. I interned with them for eight months before accepting a part-time position.

But, I still wanted more. I wanted to reach further, to cater to a larger audience.

Yes, with the RRC the pages are written in such a way that it’s easily understood by a large audience, but I wanted to become influential in other areas too. I decided I needed more writing experience, so I looked around for writing internships/assignments. I applied for a position with the magazine Modern Treatise. Because they were an up-and-coming publication they didn’t have a lot of funding, but they had dreams of starting a science section. I was up for the challenge, and they sensed my eagerness and passions. Since I was their first and only science writer, this meant that I had to pitch ideas, then research and write an article at least once a week. I was also finishing my senior year of college, so I had a lot on my plate. This was a large jump into the world of reporting, but I felt really good about it.

My former research professor at Appalachian State was good friends with the owner of Ricochet Science, a science education website, and because I had shared my interests and concerns about becoming further involved in writing, he put in a good word for me. After I graduated, I started working with Ricochet Science and publishing regularly. I told everyone I knew about my articles and posted about them on various social media outlets to make sure I could reach a broad audience. Thus began my freelancing career.

I got the opportunity to present my online platform for the RRC as a poster at the 2018 Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) Annual Meeting. At ESA, I wanted to meet like-minded scientists who could give me some advice and/or have long conversations with me about the importance of communicating science to the public. After networking at the conference and talking to a lot of people that work for ESA, including editors for their journal publications, I was offered a part-time job on the editorial team of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a journal published by the ESA. There, I currently write short news articles for the dispatches section, assist in editing various articles for publication and other administrative tasks.

Publications in research don’t have a large influence on society, if a large audience cannot access them.

In my writing, I approach articles in a story-like manner. I enjoy drawing the reader in and making complex topics seem, well, less complex or daunting. My aim is that readers learn the methods of the research and terminology and truly understand them. Scientists too often use field-specific jargon that isolates certain groups, creating barriers between experts in the field and non-experts.

My goal is to bridge this gap – whether that’s through my writing or exploring new avenues such as outreach programs, or through policy. My journey in SciComm is far from complete. I hope to continue doing as much as can to make sure that the impact of scientific research doesn’t just end within the scientific community. Science shouldn’t be scary to the public; it should be invigorating, and I’ll keep going until everyone knows that.

2) What are your top 3 SciComm tips and/or resources?

1. Network, network, network.

Talk to all types of people, different fields, different backgrounds, just talk to everyone. You never know what can come of it or what you may learn from them.

2. Don’t be afraid to jump right out of your comfort zone (it’s exciting). Jump on projects you aren’t familiar with, try a completely new area of research, accept random positions, etc. It is never too late in your life/career to start something new.

3. Try everything once.

You never know what you don’t like unless you try it, and you might just love it more that what you do now.