Hanging on to childish things

Astronomy blogger, podcaster, professor, skeptic, and all-around science communicator–extraordinaire Pamela Gay has written a melancholy and rather lovely farewell to free time from AAS’ quadrennial Seattle meeting (which is in full swing this week).

In case you haven’t heard of her, Pamela is one of the most energetic and prolific advocates of astronomy outreach, particularly in the realm of new media. She’s hosted the popular Slacker Astronomy and Astronomy Cast podcasts, was the new media czar for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, is active in the skeptic community, and—of course—writes on her blog and Twitter account. I have been a big fan in particular of Astronomy Cast, and spent many, many bus rides and long walks across campus during my undergraduate years listening to it.

When I visited Michigan State University’s astronomy department last year as a prospective graduate student, while visiting with the professors, one of them brought her up in conversation—I hadn’t known it, but it turns out that she went there for her bachelors degree. Her former professors marveled at her enthusiasm for all things astronomy- and science-related. “She was always very gung-ho,” one of them told me, even as an undergraduate.  But in her latest blog post, the luxury of owning your time is a childish thing, you can almost hear her saying, and she has had to put it (partially) away:

Somewhere in the past couple years I stopped being someone who could run manically and joyfully from press conference to invited talk to science talk, writing and recording as I run. It takes a certain freedom of movement to live that way. [. . .]

I think I became a responsible adult, and that means balancing time I could spend learning about things outside of my subfields with time I should spend collaborating with people with whom I can work inside my subfield.

With age (and collaborations and grants) comes telecons (and WebEx) and meetings. [. . .] I’m realizing more and more that the time I once spent learning non-required things and writing things for the joy of it is now taken up with committee work, collaboration communications, and paperwork.

Looking around this meeting, there are lots of bloggers, tweeters, and other new media communicators. As near as I can tell, they are mostly (but not entirely) young. While some of this is a technology bias—students are far more likely to be Facebook savvy—in part it’s a free time bias. It seems my next life stage, my next post-Seattle stage, is one of working with others (good) and knowing my choices on how to spend my time aren’t always my own (bittersweet). I am still a scientist and a writer. But now I am a voice in an academic choir of collaboration and committee work as well.

Her post made me realize that I am still rather lucky (or childish?) as a graduate student, for I’m still finding I have time time to do new things that I love. Case in point: Next semester, I am taking a class from BU’s Center for Science & Medical Journalism, outside of my degree requirements. It’s called Broadcast Science News:

The application of broadcasting techniques in science reporting. How to present complex scientific, environmental, and medical topics on radio and television.

The course is being taught by Gino Del Guercio, who

has produced and directed films for PBS, NOVA, A&E, and Discovery Channel for many years and was part of the team that developed and produced Discover Magazine. Specializing in science and history, Del Guercio has received numerous awards for his work including an Emmy, two CINE Golden Eagles, and an AAAS Science Journalism award for Television-the top US award for science television.

I am, to put it mildly, super crazy excited, and hope to share the results of my work in that class with you, dear readers, whatever they may be. Happy new year!

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