2013: The UnderStory’s Year in Review

Some boletes stain blue when bruised. I found this one on a mushroom hunt with mycologist Greg Bonito and his lab earlier this year.

Some boletes stain blue when bruised. I found this one on a mushroom hunt with mycologist Greg Bonito and his lab earlier this year.

Looking back on the past year has been very satisfying. When I think about where I was at this time last year and what I intended to accomplish, it is very gratifying to realize just how far I’ve come.

In January of last year, I had just finished editing my first feature article at American Scientist. I’m really proud of how it turned out, which has much to do with the talent of the authors Ashli Moore and Paul Bartell, as well as the patience and intelligence of the American Scientist editorial staff, who always made time for my many, often rookie questions.

One of my big goals for 2013 was to gain multimedia skills and experiment with producing podcasts and videos. In May, I went to UNC JOMC’s Multimedia Bootcamp, along with quite a few other science writers, and I made my first video during that whirlwind of a week, learning how to shoot A-roll and B-roll and edit clips together in Final Cut Pro. Continuing in that multimedia vein, in October I went to a workshop on producing audio slideshows at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, resulting in this piece about dog and bonobo cognition. I am really pleased with how it turned out. This audio slideshow rekindled the Pizza Lunch Podcast Series at American Scientist, which had languished during some staff transitions. We’ve been posting more podcasts since, so check out that page for more interviews with prominent scientists.

In April, I went to the Editor’s Bootcamp I at the Poynter Institute to get some formal training in editing. I especially enjoyed meeting Pulitzer Prize-winner Kelly Benham, who has a dynamic personality and self-deprecating sense of humor. This workshop helped me understand how to make the writing process smoother for both writer and editor. The biggest change in my editing thereafter was to “coach” more up front and do less editing line-by-line until the manuscript is finalized, a process which saves both writer and editor time and the headaches of large rewrites.

In June, I blogged about the job market in ecology, resulting in my first post to go viral. Largely due to this post, the number of views that this blog accrued in 2013 was more than 20 times what it was in 2012. The post continues to be one of the most popular on the site, along with this 2012 post about the most endangered trees in North America, which gets much attention through internet searches. I will be writing a follow-up to my June post soon, so keep checking in.

In August, I went to the annual meeting for the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis. You can read about my favorite talks there, two of which I wrote about in more detail here and here. I also enjoyed meeting some other ecology-oriented science writers, especially my chats with Virginia Gewin and Liza Lester, and was turned on to some new blogs written by ecologists, such as Jacquelyn Gill’s The Contemplative Mammoth.

In November, I served on a panel on career routes in journalism for an Environmental Journalism class at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

This was the first summer in eight years that I did not once visit my old research stomping grounds at Mountain Lake Biological Station. I missed it, and so I intend to return and visit an ongoing experiment over this coming summer.

As I continue to explore the digital landscape, I will be going to ScienceOnline Together next month, and I will be creating a digital portfolio to showcase my work as a new page on this website. Stay tuned.

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