This was a very busy year for me filled amazing opportunities to do two of my favorite things: learn and grow, and at the top of the list was an invitation to speak at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. I must admit that when they first reached out to me I had no knowledge of their existence, but after a quick search I discovered that they are an outstanding non-profit organization focusing on ocean education, marine/ocean research and exploration.
I always had a special fondness for ocean science and conservation, but as many people know by now I’m just hopelessly in love with science as it is, finding out that part of the reason for the event was to underscore and strengthen the relationship between ocean science, and space science because NASA is one of WHOI’s biggest collaborators, this made my excitement over attending this event practically a given. They arranged for me to arrive on December 5th and stay until Saturday 8th; this meant I would have plenty of time before and after the panel to visit their facilities.
On the day of my arrival after being greeted by Autumn Brown (WHOI Social Media and Communications Department) I was taken on a tour aboard the research vessel “Neil Armstrong” A 238 feet long ship, equipped with two full size labs and able to hold up to 44 scientists and crew members.
I’ve never been someone to withhold my excitement over anything that has to do with science, which means by that point I was pretty much jumping up and down. After internally gathering myself we moved on with the tour, we started by walking through the main lab, where I was shown all the clever ways in which they kept the equipment in place during “bouncy” voyages. We made stops at the CTD Bay, computer room, some of the double cabins, the library, even their “chill room” where crew members go to relax, and then moved on to the bridge. As we made our way up I couldn’t help but channeling my inner Spock, because even though this wasn’t a spaceship, it was still a ship designated to explore.
The event was scheduled for the following day Dec 6th and was open to all WHOI staff; coincidentally I was joined by one of my favorite scientist and science communicator Sarah McAnulty— @SarahMackAttack on Twitter. Sarah is a Squid Biologist and founder of “SkypeAScientist”. We were also joined by a panelist from inside the organization Julie Huber or @JulesDeep on Twitter. Following a brief introduction, each of us gave a presentation discussing ways in which using social media has impacted our lives, our careers, funding, networking, and any challenges we’ve come up against in terms of external institutional pressures, i.e. the idea that science communication is not a good use of our time.
After the panel we held a Q&A session, and I have to admit that was my favorite part. I loved answering the questions, and it was nice to see most of the people so genuinely interested in our takes. We even got approached by some of the scientists after the session was over, and they were kind enough to share some of their personal experiences in STEM and the ways in which it has impacted their views on the topic of science and social media. I tend to stay rather neutral when it comes to who *should* engage in science communication, because as much as I support scientists sharing their work with the public, I absolutely think that it is up to the individual. To communicate your work isn’t something that should be required of scientists, even if it’s helpful. However, visiting WHOI reinforced my personal views on the advantages and impact that science communication can have in other people’s lives, and just how much more accessible science can become thanks to it.
There is a lot of important work being done at WHOI, work I didn’t know about and that it’s been conducted all around the world and it’s aimed at protecting our oceans.
Our oceans hold about 96.5% of all of Earth’s water, It’s very hard to imagine any part of our lives that isn’t impacted by them.
Ultimately it is up to us to seek information, and to use it for the benefit of our world, but the need to understand and protect our planet has never been more important. When I think back to my younger days, and just how little to nothing I knew about the world in every sense, I can’t help but feel quite privileged these days, because eve though these opportunities did not just fall on my lap, to see one’s dreams and hopes materialize in the form of institutions like WHOI and the people who keep it going is a reminder that in the end there is hope for us. We just need to take those steps, we just need to care enough.