Hello everyone, and welcome to my very first official blog post.
Yes, that’s right. I’ve gone and done it. After many years of internal debate, to-ing and fro-ing, I have decided to start an actual, continual, found-on-the-internet, blog.
To all of you who know me already, cheers for having a look at this thing. For those who don’t, I’ve covered this a bit better in the About section if you want to look there, but I’m a 4th year Geology student studying at Imperial College London. I’ve been interested in palaeontology ever since I saw Jurassic Park at the slightly inappropriate age of 5, and whilst this obsession tends to leave normal people fairly quickly, it managed to stick with me up to the point where I’m considering it as a career choice. However, I’ve still got a few milestones yet along the way, and number 1 on that list is my MSci project.
The MSci degree, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a kinda weird degree done within the UK which acts as a half-way house between a Bachelors and a Masters. In short, it’s a longer Bachelors (4 years instead of 3) where the final year allows for studying of some Masters lectures to give a broader knowledge of the subject. It lacks the specific focus of a Masters, and doesn’t give quite the same number of “points”, but still allows for a smaller, individual project to be completed: the MSci project. This is undertaken in a similar fashion to a Masters project, but in a muuuuuch shorter timescale (3 months) and a much smaller scope, designed to produce work that serves as an introduction to the world of scientific research, rather than make huge leaps and bounds/win nobel prizes.
Now, as well as a love for Spielbergian Blockbusters about DNA manipulation run amok, I’ve also garnered a deep appreciation of science communication to the general public. I’m one of those weird kids who grew up asking their parents to record Attenborough documentaries that were past their bedtime, as well as requesting to be read passages from the Dorling Kindersley Encyclopaedia of Dinosaurs as bedtime stories. These things sparked some passion for learning about the world I live in which has stuck with me to this day, and in some odd way I’m indebted to the people that decided that this wonderful information was worth posting in the first place.
Now I’ve grown up seeing science go through peaks and troughs. The internet, social media and new TV shows have been great at really pushing interesting science stuff to the front of the public eye, and that can really be seen with the rise to popularity of celebrities like Bryan Cox and Ben Goldacre, and in the widespread interest surrounding events like the Mars Curiosity Rover. However, it’s also brought the bad. Creationism in America and even within the UK has received a weird, and worrying, sort of revival recently, with the internet providing a platform to spout nonsense from that wasn’t really available before hand. The online world gives a wonderful form of expression where everyone is on a level playing field, but this really brings problems when anyone can go online, declare evolution impossible, and from the outside have supposedly equal say to someone who is well informed and well versed on the subject. This in my opinion is dangerous, and I think that we really need clear, helpful and interesting promotion of science to make sure that people understand how the world around us actually works.
The thing is, people ARE interested in science-y stuff. People are smart, and people are inquisitive. We wouldn’t have got where we are as nations, as civilisations, or even as a species without that innate drive to explore and question our surroundings, without even knowing if we’ll get an answer. When complicated, tough to grasp things are explained in a way that doesn’t condescend, or shoot above the heads of a general audience, they’re welcomed with open arms. But, these things need a little push occasionally to get to that point. A scientists’ greatest strength is also their downfall in the public domain: they care about results over presentation. Whilst this makes research the best it can be, it also makes things messy. The whole Ida business shows how people tend to latch on to stuff that appears straightforward and easy to understand, even if the truth is a lot more complicated, ambiguous and in all honesty needs to be discussed over the length of time it takes to consume several beers down the pub.
So where is this going? How am I going to tie up all these sporadic and rambling loose ends in one concise, simple way I hear all five of you readers cry? My aim with this blog is to produce something which documents my entire MSci project from start to finish, through my eyes, which can show anyone who is new to the subject the complete progress of scientific research; from idea, to data collection to drafts and finally publication. I’m pretty new to the subject myself, but I’ll aim to catch people up with what’s going to be discussed as best as I can through my own scrawlings and the much superior work of others. I also might have to be sliiiightly careful about revealing too much info incase I jeopardise my chances of getting this research out into the real world (although if possible I would like to get it in something entirely open access anyway, but that’s a post for another time…). But by the end, it should be a completely documented account of my work: successes, failings, missed and met deadlines and those oh-so-inevitable all nighters.
My first proper few posts will be up fairly soon, and they’ll be a general overview of what my project actually is, what I have to do and what I’m aiming to discover. I’ll also put up some glossary posts of general info which will probably be combined with my super exciting recent visit to the Natural History Museum. In the future, I’ll be doing shorter blogs about my day to day work, and I’ll probably throw in some additional general palaeo-news, as well as anything I find where science, the arts and the general public collide. More info will follow soon!
Maybe I’ve been a tad over the top with the way I’ve set this up. It’s quite a big aim to try and open up the entire scientific world with one blog, about one science project, in one subject, in one university, in one country in the world. But I’m hoping it’ll be at least interesting to the few that stumble upon it (fingers crossed) and I guess you’ve got to start somewhere.
Anyway, congratulations if you’ve made it this far through this incredibly long winded first post, but I do have to warn you – we’re a long way from the finish line yet.
Today’s post title comes from this great song.