May 7th, 2007

Introduction

It occurs to me that I have aquired a lot of new friends, both email and live, and that I have never filled out the bio on my LJ profile.

The first thing I usually do when I find someone's journal that I find interesting, is to look at their profile so as to get a glimmer of what they are about. Mine was very blank, so I filled it in.

Have a look if you want.

A.

The Back Door of Science





I thought I could sneak in the back door of science.

Silly me. Of course it was going to be harder than waking up one day and deciding, "Hey, I'm going to be a scientist!" Forget all the years of careful planning that went into designing my major. Forget all the reasons behind the careful planning. Forget everything. I could do this because I woke up one morning and decided I could. 

R..i..g..h..t. It’s never that easy. Don’t get me wrong. I love science. I love technology. I research those topics just for fun, just because I never know what I’ll find. But, there is a big difference between loving science and being a scientist . . . especially when you’re essentially an English major. 

In my quest for a degree, I carefully considered all of my options. 

             • I took a fearless look at all of my strengths and weakness (I have absolutely no math gene; 
                I talk a lot; I like big words; I am enamored of punctuation). 

             • I looked for the easiest softest way out of school in the least amount of time (something with no 
                math or heavy science and which didn’t require a lot of hard thinking). 

And there it was, the perfect degree, General Studies. General Studies, as a major, is sort of like create-a-degree, just add water. Sprinkle in some interest and stir gently. Bake under extreme pressure and at the end of 4 or so years (add in an extra 13 in my case to account for life and kids) you have a well rounded educated person. In this program, you pick three minors and take many, many, hours of “interdepartmental studies” (that’s where the “well rounded” part comes in). It would soak up my almost finished degree in Kinesiology (which I had stopped in part 10 years earlier because of the MATH) and I would only loose 6 hours credit. Bingo. 

Easier said than done. Now, I only had to find the right combination of minors that described WHO I WAS and WHAT IT WOULD TELL THE WORLD ABOUT ME AS A PERSON. No small feat. 

I settled on English because I could take lots of writing classes, and if anyone could teach someone how to write, it was graduate students (there is something seriously wrong with that departmental logic). So what goes along with English . . . Linguistics! That’s about learning languages, right? Apparently not. It is about learning words, and grammar, and syntax, and origins, and many other things I had no clue about (but which would quickly become the bane of my existence). 

I need one more minor? How ‘bout art! I like Photoshop. I know which end of the pencil the lead is on . . . you mean at some point, I might actually have to know how to draw? Oh, okay, never mind. Health Sciences? It’s sort of like Kinesiology? Well, I guess . . . but only until I figure something else out. 

In the back of my mind, I’d had the thought that I would learn how to write and go on to be a great creative writer. I figured that if J. K. Rawlings could do it with Harry Potter on the back of a napkin, so could I. After about a year it dawned on me that jobs for creative writers were few and far between. It also dawned on me that it would be many years before I’d ever be a best selling author, and quite possibly, never. Damn, I hated reality. 

Okay, what are my next options? Technical writing, what about that? There were jobs for technical writers in the paper periodically. I could do that. What do you mean I need a science? You mean, like, I have to know stuff and junk. Hey, isn’t there math with that! 

A couple of my trusty cohorts, well acquainted with my limitations, came over to help me pick out the lest painful science. We broke out the general catalog and perused the list of possible sciencey minors: engineering, biology, biological engineering, chemistry (we won’t even go there), disaster science and management (does being a mom count?), computer engineering, and the list went on, each one with prerequisites that I didn’t have and didn’t have enough time to go back and pick up. Then I found it – Oceanography and Coastal Science. It had everything – fish, water, boats, fish, estuaries, the gulf, sampling, did I mention fish? If I am out sampling in the marsh, I can fish afterwards, right? It was perfect. 

Even more perfect was the idea of going to graduate school. I had been toying around with the idea of going to graduate school in Technical Communications. Most of my Linguistics and English classes were made up of graduate students and I was keeping up with them just fine. Then I had an epiphany. I could go to graduate school in Coastal Science! Scientists made more money than writers and scientists who could write were in high demand. I had made up my mind. That was what I was going to do. No matter that I didn’t have a science background, that I hadn’t taken any science above freshmen level in any field, that I didn’t have a math gene. I could do this because I was a Smart Girl. I could wing it! 

The next semester I actually started taking classes for my OCS minor. The marine biology class wasn’t too bad. The professor talked about coco pods for a couple of lectures, how they were a primary part of the food chain. I read in my text book looking for more on coco pods. Hmm . . ., they weren’t in my text. That must be extra material. 

My second OCS class for the semester was a scientific writing class. Excellent, writing. I’d taken lots of writing, just one more tool in the tool box. No, big. I could pass myself off as a technical writer. I’d had a couple of things published. It couldn’t be that different. 

Picture if you will going to a foreign country. You don’t know the language. You don’t know the customs. You don’t know the money and you can’t do the math. 

Homework: “Use the attached data as the basis of writing a mini methods and results sections for a manuscript. You do not need to use statistics to analyze the data, unless you want to.” 

Statistical analysis of data?

            “For example, Methods may have paragraphs such as:
             Site description and general sampling methods
             Details of sampling 
             Analysis and graphical methods used to examine the data.”

Sampling methods and what? I began to have an uneasy feeling.

            “The major taxa of Daphnia, rotifers, and copepods . . .” 

Copepods?

Did I mention that I was the only undergraduate student in this class? Everyone else was either a graduate student or Ph.D. candidate, IN A SCIENCE!!! 

Please, Sir, may I have a job now?

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After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, because of my OCS background and because somebody thought I could write, I was hired by Louisiana Sea Grant to write and officially document LSC's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Much of that text was used in re-writing LSC's Strategic Initiatives and other official documentation of the time.