Working with TV crews: A guide for scientists/researchers

50641096Summary Huzzah! You’ve been approached by a group of TV people who want to highlight your work! Congrats! Making your science accessible is a great thing to do, because it helps to make you a better communicator for grant applications and conferences, and because it also makes the world a better place. But doing TV can be unnerving, and can sometimes cause frustrations that might leave you wondering why you ever bothered to do TV in the first place. I was once a full-time scientist, but now I work as a TV producer/host trying to make your science accessible by interviewing people like you. I’ve written this article as advice, to help you have a positive experience when you work with people like me. If nothing else, I suggest that you keep in mind that TV crews will usually have different objectives than you will. Below, I explain that concept further, and then offer some suggestions that you, as a scientist interviewee, can use to feel a sense of control through the process. Continue reading

I did a Reddit AMA

Well, I did a little Reddit AMA, and it went to the front page! I’m so flattered that people liked it. The questions were great, and Jen Gardy even chimed in to help answer questions. It was a lot of fun and I’ll definitely do that again some time. Here’s the link.

Congrats co-author Jorn!

Jorn Cheney is a grad student at Brown University in the lab where I once worked as a postdoc. Some work we did together has finally come out the other side of the peer review process, and is now offically accepted. Congrats, Jorn! Here’s the full citation:

Cheney, J. A., Ton, D., Konow, N., Riskin, D. K., Breuer, K. S., and Swartz, S. M. (In Press). Hindlimb motion during steady flight of the lesser dog-faced fruit bat, Cynopterus brachyotis. PLoS One. Accepted April 30, 2014.

(I’m also happy for myself, since I haven’t had a paper come out in a while.)

It’s been a while

I can’t believe I haven’t updated in so long. The book is out in the US and in Canada. It’s selling well. The reviews have been pretty kind. I guess I’ve just been so busy I haven’t updated, but I thought I’d just put this up so you’d know this website is still active. Now you know.

The Venus Flytrap Adventure

 Tim Reid played Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinatti. He has nothing to do with this post, though.

With my first book, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, coming out this March, I’m looking for any possible way to help it get noticed. To that end, my literary agents at Folio suggested that I consider a gift to go along with galleys sent out to buyers by the publishers. The best gift, they said, would be something unusual that fit the theme of the book. There would be a few hundred, so I should be careful about price, since I would be paying for these gifts out of pocket.

I brainstormed with some people at work. The first suggestion from one of our interns, Oakley, was scorpion-filled lollipops. I loved the idea, but those turned out to be too expensive. Then one of our star producers, the brilliant Seonaid Eggett, suggested little envelopes of venus flytrap seeds. Perfect.

The plan was to put ten to an envelope, so I contacted Matt and Leah at The www.FlyTrapStore.com, and arranged to have a few thousand seeds sent to me in Toronto. They’re based in Oregon, but apparently shipping flytrap seeds across the border isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, when the seeds arrived, they looked like this:

seeds1

This is what 2,000 venus flytrap seeds looks like.

They’re smaller than poppy seeds! Can you imagine searching an envelope for ten tiny specs?

Thinking quickly, my wife Shelby and I decided we could put them into Eppendorf tubes so that they would at least be visible. The smallest size I could find was 0.5 ml tubes. Here’s how it turned out.

Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube

Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube

It only took one evening to get the seeds dispersed into tubes. I ran a bunch of those tubes over to the good folks at Simon & Schuster Canada, and they took over from there.

Here’s what the final product looks like:

seeds3

seeds5

To be clear, I’m not saying the book comes with Venus flytrap seeds for people who buy it in the store. This is just for the early promotion.

And here’s a look at what the Americans got:photo 2 photo 1

Cool, eh?

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid

The joke goes like this:

How do you know Jesus was Jewish?

His mother thought he was a god, and he thought his mother was a virgin.

I know my mom has no illusions about me (she’s an atheist), but it might be my own Jewish heritage that makes me so afraid of reading the stuff my mom writes. My mother’s written short stories and novels since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve dared to start reading anything of hers, I’ve always come up against proof that my mom feels emotions, has urges, and is actually a human being. I can handle pretty much anything from other authors, but if there’s so much as a little ankle showing in something my mom’s written, I suddenly turn back into an insecure 12-year old. As a result, I’ve never read a Mary W. Walters novel cover-to-cover. I’m pretty much the worst son in the world.

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid was co-written, mostly over Skype, by my mother in Toronto, and John A. Aragon, a close friend of hers in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve read reviews of the book that say it’s a fun, fast-paced Western that borrows themes from the legends of Don Quixote and Billy the Kid (Great!). I’ve also heard, from my own mother no less, that there are graphic scenes of heterosexual and lesbian sex in the book (Oh God why?). Clearly I’d been planning to avoid this book at all costs, but my mom foiled that plan this past fall.

Of all the jerky things to do, my mom read an early draft of the book I’d written. She provided encouragement, and extremely helpful comments, and then she selflessly promoted my book on social media. I literally think everyone she knows has been talked into buying my book. What’s worse, I really believe she did all of that out of love and support, with no expectation that I’d read her book in return. The guilt was crushing me. By Christmas it was clear that if I didn’t read her book soon, I was going to hate myself forever. That’s why, against all my instincts against it, I started reading a book full of sex scenes written by my mom.

It’s the story of Roz, an eighteen-year old stable-hand in the turn-of-the-20th-century New Mexico who falls in love with a married woman and gets quickly thrown into an epic journey across the wild West. The book is cut up into small, digestible chapters (I like that in a book), each of which is “spoiled” by a title that tells you what’s about to happen. I’d keep trying to guess ahead of the plot, but the book kept heading me off at the pass. All in all, it was a rocking good ride.

Before long, though, the inevitable happened.

I tried to imagine it was my mom’s coauthor who wrote the sex scenes and that somehow my mom’s role in the writing process did not even involve reading those passages at all. That didn’t work, though. What resulted was a book where I always felt like I’d enjoyed what I’d read so far, but was constantly stressed that the whatever might happen in the next chapter might send me spiralling into hell.

I’m thrilled to say that I finished the book last night. Yup, now I’ve finally read one of my mom’s novels. Don Valiente didn’t really change how I feel about my mom. She’s still brilliant, funny, and full of surprises. What did change for me in reading the book, though, is that I finally feel less like I’m the worst son in the world.

(Of course, there are all those other books she’s written…)

I recommend The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid to anyone to whom my mother has not given birth. The book is available on Amazon.