Scicomm advice: 7 life lessons that will help make your science matter
Updated: Jul 29
Terry Wheeler studies bugs.
Insects, that is, and he writes haiku about them. He also works at McGill, and runs a blog called Lyman Entomological Museum, which is a delightful collection of musings about life as an entomologist. He recently posted a piece called “to a young naturalist” which proposes a required reading list for a budding researcher/naturalist much broader than text books and field guides.
He writes that a snapshot of his field camp library “was a nice little microcosm of General Life Advice to the Young Academic Naturalist.”
Wheeler’s insights, derived from fundamentals such as A Naturalist’s Field Guide to the Artic and the much less obvious Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, encompass many of the lessons I try to share with clients and colleagues working in science and sustainability.
Wheeler’s message is that there is a lifestyle richness found in being multi-dimensional, and having interests broader than our career focus. Looking beyond our field of study can also go a long way toward making connections with non-scientists who might never think about such issues otherwise. Wheeler’s life lessons point to ways we can give “science” a face, a personality, an approachability that is fundamental to bridging the science-public gap.
These snippets encourage us all to remember there’s more to life than the lab, computer screen, or field site.
There were so many quotable phrases in Wheeler’s piece, I couldn’t have reasonably shared them all via social media. So, I’ve directly quoted Wheeler (with his permission), re-purposing his library catalogue into:
“Don’t be a scientist 24 hours a day. Get yourself a hobby. Work with your hands as well as your mind.”
“Know your organisms, know the organisms they interact with, and know the place they’re in […] it gives you a context for everything you study.”
“The place you’re in is bigger than data […] It’s hard to separate science from a broader view of the world. So don’t try.”
“There are people who will, inevitably, see you as a questionable character. Revel in that.”
“Your interactions with nature, even fleeting ones, will affect you, change you, inspire you. Let them.”
“Don’t be afraid to write about science with the words of a novelist, the rhythm of a poet, the imagery of an artist.”
“Do more than simply document those patterns. Be an advocate. Be an educator. Be an ambassador. Be a leader. If not us, then who?”
Update July 2017: Terry Wheeler succumbed to cancer this summer. His wisdom that inspired this post can hopefully help us all carry his spirit onward.