For the first Currents blog post of the school year, Sallie Lau, the managing editor, interviews Brittany Hoedemaker, the editor-in-chief, about the importance of science communication, what makes good sci-comm, and what readers can expect out of Currents this year.
Who is Brittany?
I’m a second year SMEAgol and the editor-in-chief of Currents! Perhaps more importantly, I’m also a golden retriever enthusiast, a native Seattleite, and a shark lover.
I’m sorely tempted to make this a Q&A just about golden retrievers hahaha.
OMG please do.
Bonus question: What makes golden retrievers adorable?
EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM! They’re fluffy and goofy and unconditionally loving and they might literally be angels in fur!
I AGREE. Also, they look like they’re smiling all the time and just living the good life
I would 100% trade lives with a golden.
But then you wouldn’t be a super awesome marine science communication expert! When did you start being interested in science communication?
It was a gradual progression into the world of scicomm. I think working at the Seattle Aquarium in high school really opened my eyes to the power of science communication. Finding a way to connect people to the marine environment in a way that was personal felt like my life’s calling and to date is my favorite “job” – but it took me a while to realize I could make a career out of it. Toward the end of undergrad I realized there needed to be someone who acted as a voice to my peers. They were doing incredible work but the general public didn’t know about it! So I realized that needed to be my role in the science world.
I really like that! That it’s both something you love and feel like you need to do! You wrote a Currents piece about rare shark (Sixgill?) last year. It was your first piece, right?
Yes! Good memory. They’re actually pretty common throughout the world but sightings in Puget Sound have become more rare. My love of Sixgills goes way back to 2001 and actually spurred my interest in marine science!
That’s a really long-term relationship haha! Do you have any goals in terms of how you eventually want your articles to sound? Any dream projects or ideal audience interactions?
Yes. Unfortunately there’s a lot of shaming out there right now – of people not doing “enough” or not doing the “right thing” in terms of sustainability. I don’t think that’s a productive or inclusive approach. It’s important to me to communicate to people that sustainable living isn’t always easy and isn’t always perfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try. I certainly suffer from a severe case of perfectionism, so I understand feeling like you need either 100% commit (be a plastic free raw vegan biker) or do nothing. But in reality, there’s a spectrum of ways to live with the earth in mind and all are valid as long as you’re trying your best.
I definitely also try to be the plastic free vegan biker haha, or that’s how I envision myself sometimes: effortlessly cool and sustainable. But being sustainable does take effort, so it’s hard to live up to that image. Do you have people whose approach to sustainability you really admire?
Yvon Chouinard is always an inspiration. I admire his realism and honesty about running a corporate, consumer good business but also taking radical measures to do so sustainably.
The Patagonia dude.
I have some reservations about Patagonia but he sounds like a decent fellow.
I agree! That was my point earlier – of course you’ll have reservations about almost anyone/any brand/ any organization. I eat, study, work, and breathe this stuff and I’m not a perfect model of sustainability. So it’s unfair to expect that out of others. Let me rephrase that…I think it’s unfair to expect that out of those who are genuinely TRYING. Those who aren’t, let’s just say there is massive room for improvement and there is an opportunity for communication to encourage that improvement.
Do you also have sci-comm people or authors you fangirl over?
I think Anthony Leiserowitz is rad and am grateful for the tools he’s provided communicators to improve climate communication. I also majorly fan girl weathercasters, especially the Climate Matters folks. They’re often the voice of science for the public and have to find ways to translate technical data into forecasts that make sense to their audience. They also have the incredibly difficult job of communicating natural disaster related risk to their communities – a job that’s becoming even more critical as climate change contributes to an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events globally.
Climate change science communication is extremely important!! Is it something you’re doing now? What is good cli-sci communication to you?
It’s something I try to do (see here and here)! As with all communication, audience is key, but when it comes to climate change, it’s especially important. With such a complex and somewhat abstract concept, you have to find the messaging that will resonate on a personal level with your audience and hopefully motivate them to take action. Understanding your audience’s values and cultural context is crucial in finding common ground, building trust, and establishing an entry point into the climate conversation.
What do you think of the climate strikes that happened on September 20th and 27th? Is it bringing more people into the conversation?
Absolutely. It’s taking a global and somewhat invisible problem to a scale that’s local and visible. And hopefully soon it’ll help tip the scales from talk to action.
What a great start to the school year, eh? Do you remember your first week at SMEA?
I remember having to introduce ourselves and our goals and what brought us to SMEA in each class. This meant we got to hear this from each other about four times (since most of our classes were taken together) and was actually really helpful in ingraining everyone’s names and interests in my mind! Diving back into school was weird and wonderful, I’ve always enjoyed school and was happy to be in a learning environment again. Getting used to a new schedule was hard though.
I feel you! I was really excited and nervous that first week during introductions because what do you mean I have to define my goals and know myself?? But SMEA and SMEAgols have helped me do a lot of personal and professional goal setting. Do you think Currents has helped you grow professionally? If so, in what way?
Yes! I actually was hired for my jobs this summer thanks to Currents. They saw my writing, liked it (especially this one about clean beauty), and hired me to write for their organizations on climate change and food security. It was awesome to work on sci-comm throughout the summer and I’m excited to bring the things I learned to Currents this year!
That’s so exciting!!! What can we expect from Currents this year?
For SMEA students, expect that this year we’re going to really devote time to developing their stories and their writing skills during meetings. We’ll workshop pieces together and have a more collaborative writing process for those who want it! For our readers, we’ll start the year hearing from our second years about their summer research, travel, and work experiences. Then expect to hear from some new voices as we welcome the first years into SMEA! I’m excited to see what fresh perspectives and topics they bring to the blog.
Other places you can find Brittany’s writing: