When I was in the seventh grade, I got into a shouting match with my science teacher. He absolutely insisted a fertilized egg was an embryo. I disagreed- the textbook was very clear that a fertilized egg was called a zygote, and I deserved the two points I “missed” on the test because the answer guide he used was wrong. When the class period ended, I had gained two points and a reputation with the teachers for being disruptive and “argumentative” in class. It was the beautiful beginning to a long and colorful history with the facts and science.
A multimedia internship here at Mizzou promoting research funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation gave me a soapbox to stand on and preach the good word of science. I could tell stories via video, blog, even with comics; a dream come true. There were so many tools and toys I wanted to practice reporting with. Given the present political climate, the internship feels less like a job and more like a cause. The problem was: I had no idea where to start.
I had never worked with scientists or research before, but I had been a reporter since my sophomore year of college so being thrown into an environment and coming back with a story was my job. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself, over and over again. Sitting in on the grant meetings, I quickly learned that trying to understand the concepts about plant breeding, sampling and “strains” wasn’t going to work. But that was okay, because I didn’t have to understand the fine details of RNA sequencing. I just had to understand the logistics of the research process. That’s where the stories were, not in the definitions of terms, but in the way information flowed from one place to the next.
With the help of the other outreach members, Jackie Olson and Katy Cawdrey and significant guidance from the boss Jon Stemmle, I learned about how the research efforts bled into different areas around the scientific community in Missouri. For instance, the Shannon King and Tyler McCubbin from the grant were also a part of a science outreach program called Science on Wheels. There were stories buried in the jargon, and knowing how each piece related to each other helped. And the scientists themselves were always available to explain. For example: The plant samples are sent off for RNA sequencing. Once the sequencing was complete, however, it wasn’t as easy as writing up a paper. I hadn’t realized the information of an experiment came back as raw data that needed to be coded and programmed until I talked to Sidharth Sen, a graduate bioinformatician.
For all of us on the grant, scientists and journalists alike, there’s a lot we don’t know, and the more we know the more we realize how much more work there is to be done. For a reporter, this is good, even exciting! This means a constant supply of stories, and we can’t wait to share them with you.