The best science artists (according to the European Space Agency)

I am making this list based on certain online sleuthings I made a few months ago.

There was an art competition announced … and it was an art competition that specifically had to do with satellites and climate change. Those were two topics heavily featured in my PhD dissertation, so I thought, why not enter? Especially because the guidelines specifically said, you can enter as your artwork a film or an animation. Animation is the only sort of artwork that I know how to make, so I figured I could come up with something.

The competition was run out of the European Space Agency (ESA) climate office. I decided to make an animation celebrating all their satellites. The winner got 30,000 Euros. It was too good of a chance not to take.

Before I started my animationi, I went about scouting the Twitter account of the ESA climate office, and was I in for a surprise. They were announcing their competition on it, sure enough, but then, they were also contacting lots of individual artists and telling them … hello! Check out our contest, we like your art, and we hope you enter. Of course, they never contacted me, so I wasn’t sure what the point of entering was at all. They seemed to already have a short-list developed.

But lets take a look at some of these favored artists!

Someone called Ruth Mottram, who is a climate scientist working on Greenland, tweeted at Jackie Morris Art, telling her to enter. The ESA climate office saw the tweet, and said:  lovely work! Hope you enter!

Looking myself at Jackie Morris’ images on her Twitter feed, yes, they are very beautiful. Look at this.

After that, the Climate Office didn’t wait for recommendations from people. They just started tweeting people outright asking them to enter. First, they tweeted at Ralf Schoofs. I looked through the illustrations on his Twitter feed, and I don’t know … They are nice, but maybe a little staid. Except I did like this one of little fishies.

Then the Climate office went and tweeted at a British astronaut. He doesn’t seem to be an artist at all, but I guess they were hoping?

Then, per another recommendation, they told “the Light Dreams” that they’d love to see a submission from him. The Light Dreams got a little huffy, and said, did you just call me a budding artist? I’m way above budding. So let’s take a look. I looked at the art on his pinned tweet. It is not exactly the style of art that I like, and maybe a little generic-looking, too.

They tweeted at Dr. Niamh Shaw. She has a Ph.D., and does art, and is she an astronaut to boot? She’s a big deal apparently. Looks like she does theatre, though I’m not sure I found real samples of her work.

At this point, the ESA Clean Space Office got in on the act, too. And they started helping out the Climate Office, and tweeting at artists as well. They tweeted at someone named Marianne Tricot. And the Climate Office was all, thank you so much! So what kind of artist is Marianne Tricot? Well, I don’t know, because I didn’t find enough images of art on her Twitter to get a clear view, and her website is down. “In maintenance mode.”

Then someone named Peter tweeted to someone named Vero that he hoped that she would apply. Her art looks really cute. And the Climate Office thought so, too, because said they hoped she would apply, as well. She did indeed apply, but she waited till the last minute (as did I) to upload her submission, and the website got stuck (as it did for me). So she tweeted back and they told her, don’t worry, we’ll make sure it gets submitted.

A few days later, the Climate Office, tired of a step-by-step approach, went ahead and tweeted at a bunch of artists en masse. But none of them were that impressed at the invite, apparently, because none of them answered. So who are these illustrious ones?

First was Melissa Gomis … I couldn’t find much art on her twitter page, but I did find a video she’d made on Vimeo. I thought it was kind of boring. And too abrupt in transitions, no?

Second was Zahra Hijri. Lookie there, first [and only] non-white person they tweeted at. I can’t find much art on her twitter page, but any case, she seems to be a very accomplished journalist.

Third was Susan Hassol. She seems to be a “big deal” as well. She makes climate change videos. What do you think? I wasn’t quite in the mood.

Fourth was Rosamund Pearce. It looks like it’s her job to make visualizations for the Economist magazine. I dislike that magazine, first. But this video she made is pretty cool. It has all the content you need right in the video; you don’t need a caption, which is nice for when you’re just scrolling through a Twitter image feed.

Fifth was Ed Hawkins. Another “big deal”, it appears. But where is his art? The little sun and rain cloud at the top of his website?

That was the end of that list. But then someone named Knurek tweeted to someone named Kiciputek to make a submission. And the Climate Office said, that would be lovely. But Kiciputek has canceled his/her account, so I don’t know what’s on it.

And that was a wrap. None of them ended up winning, though.

I applied with my little animation. I knew it was a long-shot, but I thought, I can’t pass up the chance (I didn’t have a job at the time!) The submission website got stuck as I tried to submit, like with Vero. I tried it again and again, and it finally worked on the third try. At least, I thought it did. I was able to check online to see if my video was ever downloaded by the Climate Office, and it was not. I emailed them, and it hadn’t arrived. I had my confirmation email and everything, so I sent them that, plus sent them the video directly, and I guess it got considered in the end.

The person who won was Shane Sutton. Looks like he does all sorts of large-scale art, so I think it must catch the eye really fast. He’s what I’d call a “real” artist — meaning he does it with his hands. But can you tell what this is supposed to be?

 

A very girly science feed

I am working as a science communicator, like at a real job, can you believe it?

Well, I like shiny things, a la Taylor Swift, and I like pretty colors, and softness, and sparkles and flowers and things like that. So my plan is to use my new position to populate the online presence and outreach presence of the project I’m hired under with all those favorite things of mine, in the name of science.

So far, I’ve mostly made Twitter stories. This one has pretty flowers and pretty glaciers with a sunrise behind them, and a cute girl, too! This one was a little more sedate. Nothing very silky and golden and whimsical about it, but it’s still okay.

Right now, I’m trying to make a series that I shall call, “how we know what we know.” I am trying to make the introductory frames, first. I’ve had to do a couple of takes. My first attempt looked like this. I loved the pretty ocean water and its rich, sparkly green-ness, and I loved the glacier, and I loved the diamond moon, and the blossoming pink tree … but then I realized that it was way too busy.

So I had to take out a lot of the pretty stuff, and I ended up with this, instead. But that’s okay, because I have my girl back in it, and she’s not just another white girl, and it’s a cleaner and clearer view of things overall. It’s just a work in progress for now.

I made these videos in Blender.

No need to listen to “life wisdom” advice

I think they are most usually 100% fake. I just read a blog post with 50 tips for living your best life.

At one point, he (or she?) advises us to: decide your goals for the next five years, and then achieve them in 2 years!

And just a little bit later, his next tip is: don’t obsess about the outcome!

Um, you actually can’t do both of things at the same time. What a loser.

In general, I most especially hate those people who say things like: if you really want something, then you’ll make it happen! Just don’t give up.

I think the people who say that 1) are pretending they achieved something big when it really wasn’t and 2) are mis-allocating credit for their own determination that ought to be better attributed to luck.

 

My best tips for your AAAS Mass Media Fellowship application

I was a fellow at WIRED magazine this past summer, so for any of you applying now, here’s what I remember from my own application process.

1. A lot of the final selections are down to fate. Last year, I worked on 2 fellowship applications. I really wanted one of them. I spent 5 months perfecting every essay and briefing my recommendation writers and stressing over every last thing. My application was spat out the first round. For the AAAS mass media fellowship, I was much more ambivalent. I put my application together in 4 days, tops, spread out mostly in early January before the application was due – and asked for recommendations in a somewhat off-hand manner. From sundry clues and intuition, I got the sense that I breezed through the selection process. And I can tell you that I was just as qualified for the fellowship from which I was tossed as this one. So keep in mind no matter what you do with your application, the final decisions are not in your control. If you’re not chosen, possibly your application wasn’t strong; but more possibly the devil was sitting in corner cackling at you being heartbroken. Sad but true.

2. Follow the format of their sample resume. I was able to obtain a sample resume from AAAS to see how to format my own (you can probably email the contact to get one, too.) The resume sections they suggest are: a qualifications summary, Educational and Professional Experience (in a quick list), Professional Societies, Science Writing (a list of publications), Science Outreach and Mentoring, Online Outreach, University Teaching, Awards/Honors/Fellowships, Professional Service, Poster Presentations in Science Outreach, Peer-reviewed articles, Science Abstracts. *These suggested sections were also listed on the Application Tip Webpage, but it was still very helpful to see the actual sample resume.*

I mostly stuck with those sections in my application resume, except I did it a little differently at the end: Qualifications Summary, Educational and Professional Experience (in a quick list), Professional Societies, Science Writing (a list of publications), Science Outreach and Mentoring, Online Outreach, University Teaching, Awards/Honors/Fellowships, Professional Service, Presentations and Talks, Peer-reviewed Articles, Poster Abstracts. In all, my application resume was 3.5 pages.

3. Science writing samples can be locally or personally published. I had eight pieces listed under the “Science Writing” resume section. These are pieces that you’ve already published aside from the two pieces of sample writing you submit. Now, none of my pieces were published in very prestigious places. In fact, two of them were personal essays that I had just published as online PDFs myself. Three I had published in my University/community newspaper. And three others I had published on a science graduate school blog at my university, that pretty much accepts any submission. So don’t worry about where you’re publishing, just as long as you’re publishing.

These were my eight:

The Governors of Bonn: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2017/11/summit-talk
Fossils that slumber in the mountains and the mud: http://www.thepipettepen.com/feature-article/fossils-that-slumber-in-the-mountains-and-the-mud/
The Women of Bonn: http://www.dailytarheel.com:8080/article/2017/11/summit-entry-eight-real-1116
Arctic tales of icy trails: http://www.thepipettepen.com/blog/arctic-tales-of-icy-trails/
The making of Mr. Turtle: http://www.thepipettepen.com/blog/mr-turtle-gets-sick/
A trip to World Water Week: https://issuu.com/nejlike/docs/swea_3
An EcoPark in Jordan: https://issuu.com/nejlike/docs/ecopark
Curie and Brontë as BFFs: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2017/04/column-curie-and-bront-bffs

I submitted them just as they look above, and in the same order: the title and the URL next to it. I didn’t want to risk embedding the URLs in the titles as hyperlinks and then the links becoming corrupt. And I also realize, looking at it now, quite a lot of my articles were not necessarily super science-oriented, but had a lot of personal reflections involved, too. I included 2 articles where I’d interviewed someone — I think that’s important to include as interviewing scientists is a big part of the work when you’re on the fellowship. And I guess it goes without saying none of these samples should be boring technical writing!

4. It doesn’t all have to be about writing. I stressed about this, since on the one hand, it is called a “Mass Media Fellowship”; but on the other hand, nearly all the work of past fellows at their sites has been science writing, rather than videos or illustrations. So did I want to include science outreach activities that were not strictly science writing, and how much emphasis should that get? Looking back over my application, it looks like I ultimately decided that my science writing experience would get top billing, and everything else was relegated to the second half of the application questions. For the questions, “What in your background has prepared you for this fellowship?” and “Have you had previous media-related experiences?” I focused on science writing, without much mention of science animations or science outreach in schools. But then the science animations and the science outreach made up the bulk of two later questions: “Describe activities, other than previous media experiences, you have undertaken that increased public understanding of science” and “What community outreach or educational activities have you participated in, science-related or otherwise?”

5. How to answer application questions that seem repetitive. It seems like the questions we answered last year are still the ones required now. The main six are:

  1. Why are you interested in this program?
  2. “What in your background has prepared you for this fellowship?”
  3. How do you think the skills learned will impact your future career?
  4. “Have you had previous media-related experiences?”
  5. “Describe activities, other than previous media experiences, you have undertaken that increased public understanding of science”
  6. “What community outreach or educational activities have you participated in, science-related or otherwise?”

I don’t know about you, but I spent quite some time puzzling out how I wasn’t just going to repeat myself for some of these. I mean, #1, #2, #4, and #5 kind of flow together. I did end up repeating myself, but I tried to keep it to a minimum:

For #1, I tried to answer the question without falling back on, “well, I’m interested in the program because I’ve already done science writing for x, y, and z organizations.” I wanted to avoid that, because you’ll just be listing all those organizations again when you get to question #2. Instead, I tried a more overarching approach: I like science writing, these are some of the key insights I’ve learned so far, and being part of this fellowship will help me to learn more.

Or, I guess you could also flip around my answers to questions #1 and #2. Just as long as you’re not answering with the same material!

For #2 and for #4: yes, these were tricky! In fact, in my notes below question #4, I wrote: “what can I say that I haven’t said in other sections?” I ended up describing briefly 3-4 different science writing experiences for question #2; and for question #4, I chose one of them and expanded on it.

For questions #5 and #6, I described science outreach that wasn’t focused on writing. For me, this meant either making science animations or working with kids. Of course, the wording of question #5 somewhat threw me, since science animations definitely are a “media experience”, no? I tried to wiggle out of that one by pretending the question referred to not “media” as in books and digital material, but “media” in terms of a “formal media organization.” Which was honestly just a racket on my part, because that would imply the media experiences I listed for question #2 and question #4 were very formal, and they were not. Just a graduate school blog here, a student-run newspaper there.

Any case, for question #5 I ended up describing mostly science animations, and for question #6, I described science outreach with kids. This seemed true to what the questions asked for. Although things definitely overlapped, because some of the science animations I wrote about in question #5 were actually completed with a group of kids; and some of the science outreach with kids described in question #6 involved making a video.

In conclusion: having written all this out, I’m no longer quite sure that my application was actually very well organized, but I think it would be true to say that there is a certain fluidity to the questions, and it’s possible to answer a question in multiple ways. An answer to one question could also work as an answer to another. I guess just mix and match things as best as you can and try not to repeat yourself! Just convey the depth of your experience and your interest in the fellowship at every turn.

6. The “sample news story” writing assignment. I was at the AGU conference in December, 2017, and while wandering around the exhibition hall, picking up as much swag as I could, I was offered an issue of “Science.” It’s kind of funny because I am just now realizing this must have occurred at the AAAS booth (which both runs this fellowship and publishes “Science”.) I wasn’t going to take the magazine at first (oh, I’ll just toss it) but then I did, and when it came time to write my “sample news story” for the application just weeks later, I remembered I had the magazine and flipped through it to pick the story that seemed most interesting to me. And I think this was more efficient than trawling through whatever thousands of articles I could have found on an online database. The story I chose was about dinosaurs, so not even my field of expertise, and it took me a while to understand the article, but that was okay.

7. Do connections help? I don’t know if I’m now making up this memory, but I feel like when I was at the AAAS booth picking up that issue of Science magazine, they must have also mentioned: hey, and we have this fellowship you can also apply to! Maybe I picked up a hand-out about it, I don’t remember, but I didn’t “sell” myself or even exchange names, or grandly hand them a resume. So it looks like that’s not necessary.

But then, very randomly, I met up with a friend for dinner during the conference, and her other friend also joined us. This other friend had been a AAAS mass media fellow in summer 2017, and while we were at dinner, she told me about her experience, I asked her some questions, etc. I never thought much of it, but these days, I’ve been getting emails from AAAS about helping to judge the 2019 year’s crop of application. Apparently, once you’ve done the fellowship, you can be part of the selection panel. I have no idea if the woman I met was on the selection committee, but maybe she was, and maybe she saw my name and gave me a good word? But probably not. Very likely the application is “blind”, meaning they don’t know the name of the person they are judging.

So in conclusion, I would guess that connections don’t help that much, it’s just you and your application.

8. Don’t worry too much about labels. This goes along with what I said earlier about my science writing publications having been exclusive to community/student newspapers and university blogs. You don’t need to have published in a big name organization. Also, which I think is interesting, one of my science outreach activities in question #6 was taking place between myself and kids in the apartment complex I lived in as a PhD student. There was no fancy-sounding name or non-profit attached to this, it was just something I did after getting to know some kids who lived around me. I hesitated to include it, because I think often we perceive “community outreach” as something that happens within the fold of a formal organization, like a school or a museum, where there’s some sort of higher-level supervisor who can back up that you volunteered there. When you’re doing the same activities with your neighbors, it suddenly doesn’t count; and there’s no official “volunteer log” that lists your hours. Well, I ended up mentioning my apartment outreach anyways, just a sentence in question #6. Granted, it was packed alongside many other more ‘official’ sounding activities. But by the time I was applying, I had put aside the more official-sounding outreach. So being able to talk about the apartment outreach gave things a nice, continuous ring. It showed I still had heart in the game, that these weren’t activities I had just given up on.

And I think that’s the major insights I can provide based on my own application. Good luck, and if you have questions, feel free to post in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

Finally, I actually started blogging when I was a fellow, so you can read my posts from my time at WIRED here. If you click on the link, you’ll see all the posts are in backwards chronological order. There’s everything from my first day at WIRED, to the thrill I felt when I published my first article,  to my favorite moments, to various heart-aches and disgust and failures and tantrums scattered throughout. It was an interesting summer.

 

Fashion for the job

Am I an airhead? Possibly. I say that because a lot of people were murdered or almost murdered in the US last week, based on religion, race, or politics; and I haven’t really been that affected emotionally. I think I just have accepted that this is normal. Can’t bruise me anymore unless it hits closer to home.

So let me instead tell you what I wore to a job interview last Friday. Yes, indeed, poor obscure me had a job interview. It was a rainy, rainy day, and there were puddles everywhere and cars raising the surfs on the streets, so I wore:

1. Light brown boots (short ones; the brim came to just above my ankle); not rubber ones, but leather (I  hope fake leather) ones. So more or less, neat and tidy small boots with thick red laces. My dad bought that for me, I’m sure it was on a big sale.

2. Green leggings. Dark green. They were $25 and I’ve had them for about 3 years. They were only that expensive because I was trying to be good and bought them from a locally-owned store.

3. A simple cotton black-and-white plaid dress. It comes to just below mid-thigh. It’s a very light material. It has a very nice, trim design. It doesn’t billow out or anything. And it has about 3 buttons or so coming down the neck to my ribs, and a nice collar, and it’s sleeveless and has these nice ruffles on the hem. It was $3! And it’s very simple but it honestly looks really nice. Maybe it’s the plaid, or the black color.

4. Over that, I wore a tan colored jacket – a professional-looking jacket. Not a “suit” jacket, though, because it’s longer. It has buttons down the front, is a nice material, and comes just above where the plaid dress hem stops. No pockets. Nice collar. Etc etc. I didn’t button it so the plaid dress showed through the part. I’m pretty sure I got this jacket in high school, I think it was $11. This might have been the fifth time I wore it. Surely, I haven’t worn it more than 10 times.

And that’s it, not counting the coat and the umbrella. Ah, I was also wearing a necklace from my uncle that I got in middle school, and a bracelet from my aunt I got last year.

People and their word

During our wrap-up in Washington DC, we had several interesting panels. One of them was about science videos. I asked two of them afterwards (a person from NPR and a person from PBS) if I could send them some of my science animations to get their feedback. There was a third person there, a lady from Vox, but she just looked so annoyed as I approached her that I didn’t bother.

The two others said they’d be happy to provide feedback. That was a month ago. An email to each and a follow-up, and I’ve heard nothing. Of course, you know in the back of your head that could happen, but when you meet someone in person and their nodding their head “yes” and smiling at you, you kind of have some more faith.

When people try giving advice, they love to tell you: reach out to everyone! People LOVE talking about themselves! People are SO flattered that you’d want their opinion. People would love to get back to you.

Who are these people and why are they trying to kid themselves and everyone else?

In the end, someone connected me to someone else who works at Pixar. We all three had an hour-long Skype chat (this person at least kept his word.) He looked at my animations and gave me lots of feedback. It was great, I got so many good tips and advice, I just feel like such a loser though and like I don’t know how to do anything.