How to Make an Impact as an Early-Career Scientist - Why Your Next Research Partner Should Be an Economist
You must be doing something right if you get paid to do as a researcher what you did for fun when you were five. Or so I told myself often during my first environmental consulting job out of college, trying to view a summer of soil and veg transects for new building permits on the border of Grand Teton National Park as something other than monotonous and morally ambiguous. I spent every day sifting through wildflowers, coyote tracks, and glacial deposits that had evolved into complex microbiomes capable of supporting this incredible and unique ecosystem. The sickly-sweet smell of sagebrush covered my body as I knelt on the ground and made my head spin. I would stand up every so often for a breath of fresh air, look out over the valley - and see the mass of concrete and pavement rolling out from the valley center like some kind of permanent fog. I would consider how soon the fog would reach my field site, how soon another house or road would obliterate the ground on which I stood. I’d feel sick all over again. So I’d crouch back down and get on with my work, as powerless to stop urban sprawl from claiming my favorite places now as I had been when I first discovered my love of the outdoors.
Every socially conscious earth scientist with whom I’ve spoken has encountered this feeling of helplessness at some point in their career. Some respond by increasing their commitment to education and outreach, while others pour themselves into studies that will produce meaningful and actionable data. There don’t seem to be many other options for early career scientists; whether you’re in academia or industry, research demands time and objectivity in quantities that preclude direct activism on environmental issues. Organizations such as 314.org are working to give scientists a greater voice in U.S. political institutions, and highly prominent scientists can take part in the science diplomacy pushing environmental agreements on the international stage, but those of us still in/ just leaving school need to find ways to make our research relevant in the public sphere now.
Understanding the physical phenomena behind the environmental changes in our own backyards does not prepare scientists to explain the socio-economic phenomena driving those changes. We can show with relative ease how the physical systems of the built environment interact with those of the natural environment to produce suboptimal outcomes. The largest barrier to successful communication between the scientific community and the wider public isn’t that scientists lack communication skills, it’s that environmental science is not necessarily a problem-solving tool to be shared with the public in and of itself. Environmental issues result from the workings of complex social institutions - if you want your environmental research to have an impact on environmental issues, you are going to need to partner with some social scientists.
I hope that at this point I’m preaching to the choir, but the distance (or, at worst, disdain) with which I’ve been treated by geo/biophysical scientists since switching from geoscience to environmental economics has been disheartening. I did not enter economics because I’m less capable or curious or outdoorsy than other environmental scientists; I just wanted a more direct tool set for protecting the places and ecosystems worth researching. Economists like 2018 Nobel Prize-winner Bill Nordhaus have been translating scientists’ warnings about climate change into viable, votable policy tools since the 1980s. Of course, policy-makers and the public do not always listen to economists, either, but explaining environmental issues as part of solutions-oriented policy packages does more to motivate science-based public action than environmental education alone.
Innovation at the intersection of science and economics will be critical to the success of any versions of the Green New Deal passed at the city, state, or federal levels in the United States. The bill’s recent defeat in the U.S. Senate should be viewed as an opportunity for more scientists (e.g. YOU) and economists to team up and weigh in on the types of programs and research that a New Green Deal should fund. Climate change mitigation initiatives in the United States largely ignore the socio-environmental interactions driving climate change— I’m thinking specifically of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)’s inability to address land use change. This market-based CO2 emissions reduction initiative engages power companies in participating states without addressing the underlying drivers of power consumption. Yet even if power companies in RGGI states transitioned to 100% renewables, the consumption of land and consumer goods driving power use would still emit greenhouse gases. Urban and exurban sprawl, unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices, melting ice caps - the environmental problems that you study are physical manifestations of the financial and social institutions studied by economists.
In a political climate capable of creating a Green New Deal, we can go beyond the limited scope of RGGI to address the structural social causes of high energy consumption and ecological degradation. One specific policy tool that scientists and economists can work together to improve is use-value assessment, a type of preferential taxation that incentivizes conservation on private land. Multiple levels of government could leverage use-value assessment (UVA) programs to address the direct and underlying drivers of climate change by:
Designing and enacting UVA programs to fundamentally improve social and environmental outcomes requires that policy makers understand dependencies in social and environmental outcomes. Data characterizing these dependencies at the resolution needed for policy design often does not exist, and cannot exist outside of an integrated earth and social sciences research framework.
Identifying potential economist recruits starts at your field site, in your data set, or wherever you make your observations. Take note of the social and economic factors that you notice or suspect are at play - no need to understand how or why they might impact your work. Then look at the research posters in the economics buildings on your campus. Search for keywords relating to your work and “economics” in Google Scholar. Scan the research summaries of the economists at your local land grant university (note that some of them might be based in the agriculture and forestry schools). Reach out to these economists with your observations, questions, and ideas for collaboration; they are likely as excited as you to produce innovative and impactful research. Analytical advances from science and economics can and must be further integrated to make the true benefits of solving socio-environmental problems visible to the public, policy-makers, and ourselves.
*Thank you to Mariama for letting me share my thoughts on her blog! Congratulations on defending your master’s thesis! Thanks also to my UMaine environmental economics colleagues George Voigt and Eric Miller for their edits.
Listen to 'we persist.'—a podcast telling the stories of women and underrepresented people in the Earth, ocean & environmental sciences
The introductory and first episodes of 'we persist.'--a podcast focused on sharing the stories of women and underrepresented people in the Earth, ocean and environmental sciences is officially launched! Check out our podcast page for updated information on podcast episodes...but for now enjoy this introduction to what is to come.
This blog post is a little bit different. It's less focused on critical thinking around a specific environmental or science-related topic, and more of an update on life activities and what I see the future of Let's Do Something BIG. (LDSB.) to be.
Hi. I am Mariama. I am not sure I've properly introduced myself in this space before, but I am the person behind the sporadic posting of guest blogger material and the 'creator and editor' of LDSB.. I started this website in the fall of 2016 after diving deep into a thought dialogue about how wonderful words are as a motivator for change and a medium through which to educate. I was troubled by the state of the environment, where anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change was taking us and inspired to create a space where people from all walks of life could communicate their thoughts in relation to the environment or making the world a better place in general.
Over time, I have thought a lot about what makes (or could make) LDSB. unique, why people would or should choose to read the contents of this blog and community over others, and where I see this project going in the future. To be honest (and anyone who has read LDSB. posts from the beginning will know) the content of this blog has kind of been all over the place. It started as a place where interesting people from different places or walks of life could share what they thought to be valuable information for environmental advocates to know, has more recently acted as a platform from which to operate plastic pollution awareness campaigns, and a place where people could people talk about science communication. During this time, I have finished my undergraduate degree and have been nose-deep in graduate school work. As we speak this blog post is acting as a productive procrastination technique for me to delay finishing a final, 20-page paper and PhD application due this Friday. One thing that has remained consistent is that this website has been a space with content reflective of my thoughts and passions at any given point in time.
But I want this blog and community to have focus, and to be different.
Over the past year, different facets of my personal motivation and passions have been simmering, recently picking up in voracity, at times boiling over and resulting in hyper-motivation to inspire change in the world and spaces in which I work. I care a lot about equality (equality for all regardless of color, socioeconomic background, creed, gender or sexual orientation) and the environment. So, the logical way to combine these two personal motivators has been through advocating for equality and equal opportunity in the earth, ocean and environmental sciences. In the polar sciences, the realm in which I work, there is a huge gap between the number of women (of course just one type of diversity) who are graduate school level educated (nearly half) and who ends up in a tenured position in this area. This has to change. In general, diversity and inclusion in all earth, environmental and ocean sciences spaces is incredibly valuable to us striving to conduct the best science possible.
So, this space will continue to be a place to discuss the public-science interface and environmental advocacy, suggesting grassroots solutions as the way forward--but will grow to focus more and more upon equal representation and involvement in the earth and ocean sciences.
From this platform I will also be launching a podcast that interviews rad women and underrepresented people in the earth and ocean sciences (in all different career stages)--to hear stories of how people from all backgrounds came to be involved in science, how they overcame adversity and to learn what their science is about. There are already some wonderful podcasts out there about women in science (potential future post?!), but this one aims to be more broadly inclusive and specific to the earth and ocean sciences.
I've already spoken with some super interesting people, and am extremely excited to share some of these incredible conversations with you in the next several months!
Stay tuned, and have an incredible rest of 2018.
The alarmist approach to conveying science doesn’t really work for me: The earth is warming, glaciers are melting, all the phytoplankton in the ocean are going to die and the entire food web will collapse, so we need to study this now! It’s too Chicken Little. But I’m noticing, in all the literature I read and the grant proposals I’m starting to write, we are pushed to justify why our work is the most crucial, the most underappreciated, the first of its kind. We are trained to convey urgency and importance, sometimes over exaggerating what we know to be true, so we can get the funding or get the story published.
But does that approach work for everyone? Of course not. Scientists have evolved beyond their peer-reviewed publications to need to communicate through multiple platforms: lectures, news media, personal interactions, blogs, etc. and to multiple age ranges: K-grey, non-scientists, policy makers, grant funders. So how do we best do that, hitting the sweet spot of communication?
Everyone is hooked in a different way. When you say the word “Science”, I immediately want to know more, but I’m a scientist. In that respect, it’s been a challenge for me to figure out how to communicate to a wider audience where just saying the word science doesn’t capture the attention of my audience. I am constantly asking my mom and business friends to read over my work. They each give me different opinions. But all of them have told me to stop leading with the scientific justification. During my Master of Advanced Studies program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), we were taught how to convert scientific work into an engaging “sticky” presentation. We read the book ‘Made to Stick’ and learned that there is a formula for communicating that boils down to one main idea: make it sticky. The goal is obvious, but the method to get there can take many forms—one needs to connect to the audience through surprise, inquiry, or a personal story. We practiced each of these different approaches aimed at connecting to an audience, and our peers let us know what worked and what did not work. We presented scientific papers in the stickiest way possible, sometimes feeling like we were doing the science a disservice by not divulging all the nitty gritty details.
I am now a first-year graduate student in the PhD program at SIO under Dr. Maria Vernet. I lead a citizen science project with the tourism industry in Antarctica called FjordPhyto. Our project encourages passengers to get involved in collecting phytoplankton samples from polar coastal fjords. They learn about the ocean in ways they may never have previously considered and the samples help us understand how the community of phytoplankton changes throughout the season in response to increased levels of glacial meltwater. I have had to communicate in a countless variety of ways. Some come more naturally to me, others I struggle to find the appropriate words and style through which to communicate. Over the course of running this project I have communicated with polar guide staff, trained non-scientists to follow scientific protocols, provided short videos introducing myself and the project to travelers. I even had a chance to board one of the ships to give in-person lectures to the guests. I share stories and results through the project website, blog posts, and social media platforms. I created a crowdfunding campaign to interest donors in supporting our project. I’ve started on the journey of grant writing, and I attend conferences to speak to a wide audience of scientists, educators, and policy-makers about my work. How do I know how to do all this communication and outreach?
I’m winging it.
Nowhere in our PhD program are we required to take courses on communication development. If we want that training, we need to look for opportunities offered outside of our program. The good news is, that training does exist. I’ve attended communication workshops, workshops on how to give a TED talk, and how to write for different non-science audiences. I’ve organized talks on science and career opportunities at classrooms, cafes, and pubs just to put myself out there in front of people. I’ve developed social media platforms and two websites that I post regularly on: www.womanscientist.com, which highlights my science career and showcases inspiring women in field sciences through blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and www.fjordphyto.org, which hosts information on the citizen science project we run in Antarctica.
What I’ve realized, is that the key to communication is to just do it. It is a skill you build over time. Just write. Just blog. Just make a video. Just start somewhere with anything you want to share. It doesn’t always have to be polished when you first start out. Forget perfection! I often reread old posts I’ve written and cringe. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I’m engaging with people. The key is to share that I’m a personable human, and a scientist. I’m not a sterile being wearing a lab coat, working robotically in the lab.
If you had told me when I was younger that I would teach high school classes, run two websites, speak on ships to tourists about science, write research papers and grant proposals, I would have told you you’ve got the wrong person. I was the shy kid at school. So shy in fact that multiple people wrote in my yearbook: “You seem cool, you should talk more.” What did they mean? What do people talk about?! I observed my peers trying to figure it out. Looking back, I realize this was my first step to learning the art of communication. How do people know what to say and when to say it? I analyzed. Overanalyzed. Just like a scientist. Then one day it hit me. Communication is an art. There is no right way, no one way. People are curious and want to connect with other people. So just share your stories. Be a personable person. Share the work you’re doing and the emotions you have about your ups and downs in science. Storytelling and communication are skills and once you build a good skill base, you can practice the art and transform it into something of your own.
Of course, I still get nervous. I obsess over whether I’ll say the right thing, have the right explanation, give the right answer. But I remind myself that I’m human too. I have the skills, now I’m working on the art and I can communicate in the ways I feel impact a wide audience. Whatever I say, it will be OK. If I want to use the alarmist approach to hook people, or avoid it and just use a personal story, I can do that. I have a lot of fun in my line of work as a young world-traveling oceanographer, and I want others to be curious about the natural world, pursue that curiosity, and be inspired to get involved in science themselves. That is the angle I take when sharing my science.
The following post is from the Let's Do Something BIG. Plastic Free July Support Group on Facebook. Check it out and join in on the conversation of how we can each reduce our single-use plastic consumption.
A Brief Introduction
When I first started cutting plastic out of my life, there were LOADS of things I learned and struggled with initially, as each of you will find in the next month or so of implementation. You can read more about that experience here, but this page will provide you with several need-to-know things to help to reduce your waste. Just a few things to note before those tips...No matter whether you are doing the challenge for the whole month or just a week, use this group to post updates and photos from your efforts to complete the no-plastic challenge and share the things you have done to cut it out. Feel free to share tips, ask questions and post a TON because the more content we have, the more education that can be done. For the month/week during which you complete this challenge, please collect every bit of plastic that you intentionally/unintentionally use that would otherwise be thrown away or recycled in a glass jar with a lid. At the end of the challenge, I plan to get a photo of everyone's jar/each person with their jar and a brief tip/post about your experience. Photos of tips and experiences of ambassadors will be shared on LDSB’s instagram. The idea here is not to throw out every single bit of plastic in our lives right away if it is still functional (doing so would be really wasteful), but to use these things to the extent of their lifetime and then replace them with more sustainable materials once they are tossed away. (i.e. if you use tupperware/plastic containers to take your lunch around in, you would ideally replace those once they are no longer usable with some sort of metal or glass container) The overall point in this challenge is to become more aware of how much plastic is everywhere in our lives, and what we can do to reduce our use of it--as it is really quite terrible for the environment (SEE BELOW). RIGHT! Let’s get started!
Tips and Tricks for Avoiding Plastic
Single-use plastics are everywhere, here are some tips to avoiding them:
Resources, Videos and Information
There is SO MUCH information online! Learn more about zero-waste living and plastic-free alternatives, and how people have worked these things into their lifestyles.
This is a good list to get you started.
WHERE TO BUY
This is a list, by state, of shops with package free shopping options around the United States. Similar maps exist for the UK and other countries around the world. Have a search and share with us what you find!
Lauren Singer also recently started the Package Free Shop, which has free shipping all over the US for orders over $50. They ship plastic-free, and have loads of plastic free products available online.
Sure, you’ve agreed to my pleas of getting involved with the challenge, but WHY? Why does it matter? As plastic can only be down-cycled it can never, ever be gotten rid of once it is produced. Every. single. piece. of plastic that is produced will either end up in a landfill or the oceans. Yes, recycling is better than not, however keep that fact in mind. Right. Okay. But how does the fact that it ends up in the oceans affect me? Out of sight, out of mind, right? I beg to differ. Plastic has detrimental effects on life that subsists in and off of the oceans (including us!). Aside from the fact that the ocean faces mass extinctions due to other environmental issues, plastic contributes to putting this life in danger. Watch these videos for more information:support group page updated with such materials, so check back from time to time for further guidance and resources. Also keep in mind that this process will inevitably be quite challenging, and at times all of us will fail, but what matters at the end of the day is that 1) we all learn something and 2) in at least some small way we are reducing the overall amount of single-use plastics consumed. Thank you so much for getting involved with this project, about which I am very excited. Cut out that plastic, stay optimistic and always remember that together we can do something BIG. Good luck!
Get excited for another round of plastic-free inspiration with posts on our Instagram from our ambassadors throughout all of Plastic Free July! If you are keen to learn more about plastic consumption reduction in general or to become an ambassador yourself, check out LDSB.'s Plastic Free July Support Group on Facebook. Watch this space for a Plastic Free July round up post towards the end of the month, and try your darndest to refuse single-use plastics for this month of July!
My name is Jill Pelto, I am a Masters student at the University of Maine in the Earth and Climate Sciences Department, and I work in the Antarctic. My research addresses the history of the ice sheet over the last 10,000 years, focusing on the retreat of ice in the southern Ross Embayment. This sort of paleoclimate work is done in large part to learn about the sensitivity of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the past to various ocean and climate parameters, to better understand how it may respond to current change.
I am also a climate change artist, and I create paintings that address both positive and negative environmental topics, with the aim of using art as a platform for effective science communication.
As an undergraduate student I worked on two separate majors at UMaine: Studio Art and Earth Science, and I developed a strong drive to link the often disparate fields. In my painting and printmaking courses I sought to compose images that shared what I was learning in my classes about the climate and glacier systems. I was inspired to share important environmental topics, as well as subjects that are simply fascinating to learn about. I was able to work in the field several times in my undergraduate career with Dr. Brenda Hall, and created field sketches and watercolors while doing work in these places, which included a field season in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Over my five years in these programs I continued to develop ideas for showcasing science in my art, with my overarching goal being a meaningful communication
about our natural world.
I wanted to gauge reactions to my artwork, and my initial audience was my classmates, professors, friends, and family. I was able to hear various interpretations of what my art communicated to them both emotionally and informationally. My objective was to engage people broadly by creating pieces that could express clearly and impactfully.
So far, the most successful and creative approach I have developed is incorporating graphical data into my artwork. I use x-y plots that tell simple stories of change over time, and link these with a visual message about the research question. Several topics I’ve chosen are: increasing temperatures over the last century and how this affects forest fire frequency; melting sea ice in the arctic and how this impacts species that rely on it; a shift in the United States to green energy use and how this inspires further conservation.
One of the first steps I plan to take as I finish graduate school and begin my career is to collaborate with scientists from a myriad of disciplines to communicate the research that they do with a broader audience. Art is a powerful form of expression, and is an excellent platform for inspiring thought. Whether I can transform reactions to my art into inspiring action is a question I hope to be able to answer in the years to come; but, without a doubt, I will try! Another major goal of mine is to continue to use my data art to teach younger generations about our changing world. It’s absolutely crucial that we share and instill an understanding of the impact of humanity on the environment, in school systems world-wide. I helped to develop a lesson plan about my work with Science Friday’s Ryan Becker, and it has been absolutely wonderful to see the creations of students from around the world, and how the students have learned from this!
I still have a lot to learn about communication, and I am continuing to explore different ways to mix science and art. One of the biggest inspirations for me has been working in Antarctica; it has been so impactful to actually visualize the role of the ice sheets for maintaining the sea level and climate in which we live today. Once I finish my degree, I plan to make a series about the beauty and vulnerability of these locations.
Young scientists are entering a field that needs more clear, and more diverse, communication with the public. As a result it is important to seek out a variety of methods for sharing the outcomes and messages of research, and note that collaboration with others (journalists, artists, writers, teachers, etc.) is a really successful way to achieve this. It’s important for us as scientists to start thinking outside of the box, and begin to explore unique, alternative methods through which to communicate science.
Effective communication of science to a wide audience is arguably as important as the science itself, although it receives less attention in the academic world. As a first-year master’s student, I can finally say that I am relatively confident in my ability to read an academic journal article and come away from it with an understanding of the scientific questions answered and the big-picture implications of the results—provided that the paper relates to my specific sub-field. The further the topic strays from atmospheric dynamics as inferred from ice core chemistry, however, the more lost I become. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the importance of publishing technical papers in academic journals written for an audience of experts. But everyone—experts, non-experts, people of all academic levels and concentrations—is dependent upon nature. And in a world where the natural sciences are increasingly tied to politics, it is essential for policymakers, and those who elect them, to be able to understand how we affect nature and how we can better coexist with it.
One of my favorite sessions at the 2016 American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference involved talks by scientists about their research, with the caveat that they could only use the 1,000 most used English words. This was a refreshing break from many of the other talks I’d been to that day, which, as an undergrad attending my first AGU meeting, had been way over my head.
It took one Google search to find this helpful Text Editor created by Theo Sanderson. The page allows users to type into a box and underlines any word that is not one of the 1,000 most used. As an example, here is the original text of my undergraduate thesis title and abstract followed by the “translation” I came up with:
“Evaluating Precipitation in Southern Alaska using Ice Core and Automatic Weather Station Records”
Precipitation in Alaska is sensitive to the Aleutian Low (ALow) pressure system and North Pacific sea-surface temperatures, as shown by the increase in Alaskan sub-Arctic precipitation associated with a shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) in 1976. Precipitation in the high-elevation accumulation zones of Alaskan alpine glaciers provides critical mass input for glacial mass balance, which has been declining in recent decades due to warmer summer temperatures despite the winter precipitation increase. Twin ice cores holding a climate record of more than 1,200 years, collected from the summit plateau of Mount Hunter in Denali National Park, Alaska, show a doubling of annual snow accumulation over the past 150 years, with most of the change observed in the winter. Other alpine ice cores collected from the Alaska and St. Elias ranges show similar snowfall increases over recent decades. Here we use Automatic Weather Station (AWS) data from the Mt. Hunter drill site (elevation 3,900 m a.s.l.) and from nearby Denali climber’s Base Camp (elevation 2,195 m a.s.l.), as well as from various low- altitude coastal sites throughout south-central Alaska, to evaluate alpine and lowland Alaskan precipitation on annual, seasonal, and storm-event timescales over the time period from 2013- 2016. Through this analysis, we determine that synoptic patterns associated with individual storms at the Denali ice core site are consistent with seasonally-averaged anomalies for the wettest seasons over the entire south-central Alaska region, which provides confidence in our ability to use the ice core as a regional climate proxy. We focus on the role of variable ALow and North Pacific High strength in influencing seasonal variations in Alaskan storm tracks and find that differences in synoptic conditions, such as precipitation, sea level pressure, and winds, are associated with differences in the paths of regional-scale storms between summer and winter. Our analysis will improve our paleoclimate interpretations of the 1,200-year Mt. Hunter accumulation record as well as improve our ability to understand low-elevation hydroclimate proxies from lake sediment cores.
1,000 Most Used Words Translation:
“Studying stuff that falls from the sky using sticks of ice and stuff that has already fallen from the sky”
Stuff that falls from the sky in the highest-up US state responds to changes in where the air goes and to how warm the big water body is. In high-up places that are home to really big bodies of ice, ice-rain is important for the big bodies of ice to stay as big as they are. They have been getting smaller because it is getting warmer, even though more ice-rain is falling during the time of year when it's cold. Two sticks of ice were taken from one of the big ice bodies, and they can tell us what the air used to feel like and how much stuff used to fall from the sky. They show that in the past 150 years, the number of ice-rains has gone up times two. Most of the going-up has happened during the part of the year when it's cold. Other ice sticks taken from places close by show pretty much the same thing. Here, we look at how much ice-rain has fallen from the sky at the high-up place we took the ice sticks from, at a slightly lower place, and at several different places that are much lower (next to the big body of water). We are studying how much has fallen at these places each year, each part of the year, and during times when the sky is angry, for the time from 2013 to 2016. By doing this, we found out that when the sky is angry at the high-up places, it is also angry at the lower places. This makes us feel that we can use the ice sticks to find out how the air used to feel and how much stuff used to fall from the sky in this whole area. We also focus on how the sky is acting to make rain and ice-rain come in from different directions at different times of year. This study will help us use the ice sticks to learn more about how it used to be in this area. It will also make it easier to use sticks of brown stuff from the floor of little bodies of water to understand how the air used to feel and how much stuff fell from the sky in low places that don't have any big bodies of ice.
Obviously, effective science communication for a wide audience would fall somewhere in between these two renditions (unless you happen to be giving a talk in a kindergarten classroom). This task was initially difficult for me—I don’t normally think of storms as “times when the sky is angry”! —but it became easier as my brain shifted its way of communicating. This makes me believe that science can be made understandable for an audience of any level, as long as we challenge our minds to think in ways we aren’t used to, or necessarily comfortable with. Fundamentally, what truths do we as scientists want to convey?
With that, I challenge you scientists out there to try this exercise for yourself! And if you are coming from outside of science and run into road-blocks in understanding technical scientific writing on a platform put out to the general public, reach out to the authors to let them know. For it is the collective responsibility of scientists to make the science we do digestible by the general public.
Of course we all know walking is good for our health; it benefits our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems as well as our lungs, mental clarity, and emotional well-being. We also know walking is better for the environment than driving because oil drilling, emissions, tires, and car fluids contribute enormous amounts of pollution to the atmosphere. Fact: one gallon of gasoline creates about 19 pounds of CO2 because the released hydrocarbons attach to oxygen in the atmosphere.
However, there are numerous other benefits to walking that I’ve only discovered after being forced to take baby steps.
Watching a baby take its first steps is a singular moment, an unforgettable milestone worth celebrating – and so begins the bittersweet struggle of a child becoming independent. From the day my first daughter could walk, she insisted on it, and gone were the brisk walks with baby in stroller, allowing me to get exercise everywhere I went. Instead, we now walk at a snail’s pace, taking an hour to walk around the block, while stopping to notice every stone, leaf, insect, piece of litter, etc. It can be frustrating when I’m trying to get somewhere, but when I’m patient and go at her pace, I’m reminded that each leaf, flower, and rock is wondrous. I realize I overlook many important and interesting things that exist on a small scale because I’m focused on getting somewhere, and forgetting the journey is utmost.
People have walked to find peace, joy, and mindfulness for centuries. Henry David Thoreau wrote extensively about the benefits of walking to enliven the body, spirt, and mind. Zen Buddhists and others practice forms of walking meditation, an ancient tradition.
Walking is a great equalizer – it removes auspices of status, and puts us, rich or poor, on equal footing with all the other species who only move under their own power, and with our ancestors that lived prior to mechanical locomotion. Walking moves us at a pace in keeping with our physical development, literally grounding us and connecting us to the Earth.
Walking is to slow down and disconnect from technology, giving the brain a chance to collect itself, as opposed to the high alert required at all times when driving. Too many people go from their house, to their car in the garage, down the road to work or the store, and back into the house, with barely more than a few steps on the actual Earth, or a few breaths of outside air, day after day.
Walking is a powerful political act as well. In 1930, Gandhi and many followers walked 240 miles to the sea to gather salt, which at the time was illegal under British Rule. Eventually, this act of nonviolent protest, this walk, lead to the repeal of the salt tax, and eventually to India’s independence from Great Britain.
From 1958 to 1981, an extraordinary woman known as Peace Pilgrim walked over 25,000 miles back and forth across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, teaching the steps to inner peace to thousands of people while advocating for nuclear disarmament and world peace. In present times, on any given weekend across the world, supporters join together in walk-a-thons and marches to show solidarity and raise awareness and funds for various health and social concerns like multiple sclerosis and equal rights.
Getting to walk is a luxury I value, and is often my only option for getting around during the day. It certainly isn’t always easy, but helps me be more mindful in planning my day, as it takes extra time. It also reminds me to have gratitude: for strong legs, heart, and lungs; for the hand-me down jogging stroller that gets us around in the rain and snow; for those who keep the bike path and sidewalks clear; for considerate drivers; for my girls’ adventurous and cooperative spirits; for our warm clothes; and for the blessing of getting to live in a walkable town with a 360 degree view of beautiful scenery. It’s been an adventure these last couple winters, pushing through the ice and snow, the girls wrapped up in a lambswool and a down sleeping bag.
So, yes, it takes effort, and I have to remind myself constantly that doing things that are hard is good for me.
Walking has helped me get to know all the different neighborhoods I’ve lived in, and going a different way each time helps me keep a fresh perspective on life. We have encounters with wildlife; birds, insects, and even fish, that we would never have seen if we’d been in a car. We smell and feel the air change as we go from dry warm areas to shady moist spots where the path heads into the shadows or dips into a drainage area. Walking outside connects us to the seasons and cycles of the Earth as we see and smell the plants that are blooming at any given time, and as we witness the phases of the moon and the angle of the sun which helps us instinctually track our journey through time and space.
Walking helps me reconnect to myself, to the Earth, and to my community. We notice things when we are walking, rather than driving, because they go by slowly. Getting to know the neighborhood gives me a sense of connection and belonging, and having eyes on the neighborhood helps everybody. Generally, more connections within any system contribute to a stronger and healthier system, resilient and resistant to damage.
In these uncertain political times, I crave opportunities to build connections with inspiring and uplifting people and things. As simple as walking is, it has helped me change my attitude about how I can be of service in the world. In my present life stage as a stay-at-home mom, I still yearn to contribute professionally, especially with the constant barrage of bad news about our environment and political crisis. Walking as a contemplative practice, like yoga or sitting meditation, helps me stay present and mindful of the things that unify all of us. Walking helps me focus on positive solutions, rather than despair. I notice what is working, what is wondrous.
I realize walking to work or errands is not an option for many, but nearly all of us can dedicate at least a few steps each day to enjoying our present moment, to honoring mother Earth, and to peace for all beings.
I used to feel discouraged that the most important accomplishment of any given day was just walking my daughter to school and back, but now I feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity. I now see it as a chance to expose my children to the beauty of the world. My individual actions may not change the world, but I believe if enough of us declare peace in our personal sphere of influence, we will knit together a strong fabric of peace that connects different individuals and different cultures across the globe, to the benefit of all.
Bipedalism, walking upright on two feet, is one of the key reasons humans have been so successful as a species. So if walking, in many respects, makes us human, maybe walking more can help us be more human – more humane. Maybe it is under our own two feet where we can find many answers to help us make peace in ourselves, with each other, and with planet EARTH, while saving money, staying healthy, and building community connections.
Sara Tremayne currently lives in beautiful Girdwood, Alaska. Enhancing connections between people and the rest of Nature drives her personally and professionally as an adventurer, a mother, an artist, an environmental educator, and a landscape designer - specializing in native plants and habitat restoration. She is grateful to be a part of the worldwide community who are working for a healthy planet and world peace.
In 2016, only 25% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates in the UK were female. Throughout history women's contributions have been limited by their exclusion from most formal scientific education entities. I have chosen to write this article because I am very passionate about the subject of getting more women into historically male-dominated scientific fields. I am currently studying physics at Sheffield Hallam University, and am part of a noticeable female minority on the course. Although I don’t feel intimidated by this environment, there must be a reason that there are so few women in this field.
Another personal incentive for me to raise awareness on this issue is that my idol Vera Rubin died in 2016. It was a year when the deaths of many famous people were reported widely in the media, but I saw barely any mention of the passing of Vera Rubin. Possibly this was because she wasn’t a celebrity, or perhaps because her work in science wasn’t considered as noteworthy as having released an album or being in a movie, which is another issue in and of itself. This lack of recognition of her passing just seems so fundamentally wrong, as the research she carried out led to the current theories surrounding dark matter and the chemical makeup of our universe. And, as citizens of this universe, shouldn’t we care?
Recently a major blockbuster movie was released called Hidden Figures, displaying the prejudice against women working at NASA who were instrumental in helping calculate the moon landing. I feel like this really helped highlight the issue to a wider population. So I want to use this article as a platform to discuss some of the women that have played a major role in scientific developments and why it is so important that we encourage people of all genders to pursue their dream job.
What women have there been in science?
Although universities were initially established in the 11th century, it was not until the 1700s that Laura Bassi became the first female professor. The late 19th century saw rise of higher education available to women, including the establishment of the renowned Cheltenham Ladies College in the UK. Despite the limitations to formal female education, there have been many influential women in science throughout history, here are just a few:
Why do we need more women in science?
It’s not so much particularly that we need more people in science, the issue is that gender roles are stereotyped, and that not all young girls are being encouraged to pursue their dream jobs. This is the same cause for there being fewer male nurses, and it’s just wrong as every person should be able to pursue their dream job. It’s easily possible that young people aren’t given enough encouragement to follow their passions, but it’s also possible that many people aren’t presented with the opportunities in the first place.
A lot of the historic reasons for women not pursuing such careers were due to the preconception that they would be unable to work a job and look after children at the same time. Nowadays this has been made less relevant because of childcare being made available to more people. However, there are still sometimes judgements passed on women who choose careers over having children or pressures imposed upon women in professional careers to not have children at all. The brilliant Marie Curie is quoted to have said: “I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”
How can we encourage more women into science?
Young girls are typically encouraged towards traditionally feminine roles according to tradition, with statements made throughout life suggesting that women should be intimidated by the typically male-dominated field of science. WISE is a campaign for gender balance in STEM that enables people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in the field. They aim to influence society from an educational level to the level of the boardroom in industry; it is organisations like these that we must get behind to encourage gender-equality within science. However, encouraging women to pursue their scientific interests starts at home and in schools at an early age. If children are told they can, then they are that much closer to trying.
At my university I am part of the physics society and I would love to go with the physics society into different schools to encourage young people into science. I think it would be great for them to see that I, as a non-stereotypical or not “nerdy looking” person am studying the nerdiest of subjects.
To finish with a quote from QuynhGiao Nguyen, a materials scientist at NASA: “If this is really the passion you want to pursue then pursue it without limitation or hesitation. Put your heart and soul into it and break the stereotype.” (June 2016, Media Planet) So, let’s unite, and using our hearts and souls together we can do something BIG.
Rhian studies physics in Sheffield, United Kingdom and grew up on a dairy farm in the rolling hills of North Wales. She loves everything science and outdoors related.