Reasons to write

Once upon a time, writing was reserved for certain professions, such as lawyers and clerics. I often start anything I write with ‘Once upon a time’, fully intending to delete it eventually. This may seem odd, as research in science is all about looking forward, exploring what we don’t yet fully understand, but research often has both a history and a direction;  it can be helpful to appreciate how our understanding has evolved over time. This is why I find ‘once upon a time’ a useful way to frame how new findings fit into this evolution – are the findings a continuation, or a sharp turn? Writing is also a fantastically effective thinking tool, as explained by writer and medic Atul Gwande.

Writing is one of the most effective tests of understanding that I’ve found, and I regard writing as the best way of pulling different ideas together. The problem is that as writing and publishing have become cheaper and easier, the industry has become less focused, fat and lazy. Too often an idea is over-inflated to fill a book when it would be more effective were it shorter (much shorter).

This is where blogs are useful. Blogs are short, focused articles that express opinions and although they can include links to further reading, a blog post should be understandable without the need for further reading. The Science Shorts blog was started last year to give students and staff an opportunity to raise awareness (using a blog post) of anything they consider important or interesting.

Below, Science Shorts editors (all undergraduate students in the school of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience) explain how they see their involvement in the blog project and why you should consider writing a post for the blog.

As an added incentive, student authors of posts that appear on the Bristol Science Shorts blog before we break for Christmas and New Year will have the chance to win £100

Nadin Szabó (first year, neuroscience) – People question my passion for language and literature when my focus and career choice are clearly scientific. I always answer that the two do not cancel each other out. How should the public be informed about the world of science if the communication about developments is non-existent? Having established that, I aimed to participate in writing-related activities each year. Journalism classes, being a reporter and then copy editor embodied this goal. Currently, continuing with blog editing fulfils my dedication to writing. Hopefully, blog writing will be a sort of symbiotic relationship: I will continue developing as a writer and the readers gain knowledge of new scientific concepts.

Ashley Chow (first year, physiological science) – Learning about science has made me realise its societal importance. Without it, global issues such as global warming, cures for diseases, wildlife protection, are things we could be blind to. Therefore, science communication is one of the most important ways to relay these messages to society. The blog allows people to communicate aspects of science others may not know about, thus increasing awareness and knowledge in topics outside of one’s course. Being a part of the blog has allowed me to encourage and help others communicate their ideas of science; I hope to aid the importance of scientific communication to others, with my role as a junior editor.

Harry Dyer (second year, Neuroscience) – Opportunities to explore creative writing whilst doing a science degree don’t come up that often and luckily the science shorts blog is exactly that. An excuse to develop your writing skills, a place to shed a light on a topic you care about, a good foundation for a career in journalism, a break from the mundane essay writing of your degree, a place to find out if you’re overusing commas in a big promotional sentence, all are equally valid reasons to get involved. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m the greatest writer on earth, however, after joining as an editor I have been able to work on my weaknesses whilst providing help to the writers. With the challenges we face today, it is more important than ever to be both a good scientist and a good communicator.

Iona Marshall (second year, Neuroscience) – So often the sense of wonder about science is lost during education. Particularly after the disappointment of finding out that not much of science involves blasting model rockets into the sky on the school field, or watching baking soda and food colouring fizz out of a papier mâché volcano. I think what is fun about science communication is that it can bring back that sense of wonder about science. While it’s still true that not much of science involves blowing things up, good science communication can persuade people that science is more interesting than they were led to believe at school.

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