Weariland Review: YA Fantasy

Weariland Blog Tour October 16-23, 2016
Click the photo to be taken directly to the Merge Publishing webpage for this book!

A quick thank you to Merge Publishing for the book copy – there’s currently a giveaway for this book happening here. I’m honored to have this opportunity to review this work.

The best word to describe Mary Shotwell’s recent young adult novel, Weariland, is particularly apt given its cast of characters; that word is ‘(re)imaginative’. Shotwell, a Biostatistics PhD hailing from Ohio, takes a childhood favorite, Alice in Wonderland, and pushes the boundary of Carroll’s original colorful tale to take us somewhere new, grey, and, in the current favored style of young adult readers everywhere, Dystopian.

Shotwell jumps right into the action from page one with the gruesome and suspenseful murder of our beloved Alice, letting us know right off the bat that this will be very different from Carroll’s wonder-filled tale of wide-eyed and innocent exploration. Shotwell also uses these early pages to introduce some of her own creations – Lason, Alice’s granddaughter and the intrepid (if reluctant) protagonist, and the villain’s cronies, the tarmals, which play a big role in pulling Weariland’s dystopia into our own world. Shotwell builds suspense early by jump-starting the story with Alice’s death, and also uses this plot point to show us that Carroll’s story may be the origin of her tale but certainly will not control its course.

This book’s interesting premise – a complete 180 on an old classic that we all know and love – is one of its biggest strengths. Whenever there’s a progenitor of a work, the new author has to distinguish their work from the predecessor – Shotwell does this with ease through her complete re-imagining of Wonderland (without taking away any of the essentials; say, the White Rabbit).  I appreciated a lot of the little details she threw in – for example, the Rabbit’s “new” time-keeping device; these inside jokes for readers of Carroll’s work abounded, and I appreciated Shotwell’s dedication to working within Carroll’s world while simultaneously exploring brand new locations and beings in her Weariland with zeal. Imagination is not lacking in Shotwell’s vision for Weariland. It was exciting to watch the work come alive as new creatures, people, and places were unveiled in each chapter.

While the general content and premise of Shotwell’s book are to be praised, I did want to dedicate a small portion of this review to an honest remark on the book’s biggest weakness – poor dedication to craft overall. YA can understandably have a lower writing quality than many other genres given that YA readers are generally less interested in craft than content (and there’s nothing wrong with that). However Shotwell’s work here could have used more red pen and another draft. I think the lack of dedication to improving these elements, particularly dialogue, character consistency, and pacing, hampered the book’s storytelling as we waded through the middle towards the very haphazard ending.

Dialogue was flat and often meandered; there were detailed scenes constructed that didn’t push the plot or characters forward in development – if they had been cut, more important scenes near the end could have been given more prominence. Particularly, more time was needed to show, rather than tell, us about Lason’s mental shift from ordinary girl to extraordinary heroine. Characters were not always consistent in their relationships with one another (Lason and her mother, especially) or even with their own internal motivations. The inclusion of so many unnecessary scenes and so much messy dialogue in the middle meant that the book’s pace slowed down dramatically after the beginning, and then felt rushed at the end when we got to the more meaningful action (this also created the problem of plot holes as important details were left out when too many small details and characters had been given to us earlier, and had wasted our time). A reader of Weariland should be informed that the lack of attention to these various craft elements does not ruin the book’s commendable creative energy, but it certainly does not enhance the reading experience overall.

I will say that there were some great, shining lines sprinkled here and there – for example, “Food wrappers taking a break from their journey to the trash competed for desk space with stacked folders and papers”. With a truly unique premise, a leading lady I think many young adult women could identify with, and a good setup for future novels, Weariland has several of the elements necessary to be a successful YA novel.
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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Biology Coloring Book

Biology Coloring Book 2
Nyx is fundamentally confused by coloring books, being black and white herself.

It has been an odd month on ‘bee’ reviewed to be sure; articles, games, and now coloring books – oh my! Don’t worry, in two weeks we depart even further from the norm for Halloween!

The Biology Coloring Book by Robert D. Griffin was a gift from my brother for Christmas and boy is it a genius idea. Coloring, particularly of small areas that require concentration like adult coloring books provide, has been shown to relieve stress in anxious college students – as a formerly anxious college student and now anxious grad student, I would spend many a post-final hour coloring to work out the stress.

What’s cool about The Biology Coloring Book is that you could actually use it before the final, not after. The left side of each spread is filled with coloring instructions that also give you pretty detailed, if succinct, information on topics from the ER, transcription, biogeochemical cycles, and anatomy. With 111 topics covered, there’s a lot of information in here! If you’re looking for help passing freshman bio (nothing more advanced) without bashing your head against a desk from the soul-crushing stress you’re experiencing (am I projecting?), this could be the book for you. There are even about twenty diagrams relating to basic chemistry (atoms, molecules, etc) so you can share with your stressed-out chemistry major friends.

Biology Coloring Book 1
This picture taken with assistance from the invisible fiance.

The drawbacks are, of course, that the diagrams are really detailed and thus not very fun to color. Sometimes the coloring ‘instructions’ can be a bit confusing and hard to follow (they’ve got a lot of small letter/symbol notation). If you’re doing anything more complex than freshman bio, this book is too brief to cover it for you (but hey, it never claimed to be a textbook)! Overall, it’s a fun concept and a great gift for any biology student you know to help them work through those first-year studying blues. I would recommend purchasing a large set of colored pencils and a really nice sharpener – there are several diagrams that require many, many colors (in my opinion).

While the detailed diagrams may not be the most fun to color, there is the additional benefit that they’re really helpful for showing you the concept (and helping you understand what’s going on). If you need a diagram to go along with a textbook explanation, this coloring book could prove surprisingly useful. All around, a fun book with a myriad of uses from stress relief to supplemental educational materials.

Best coloring pages include: animal cell (pictured on the cover), plant cell, prokaryotic cell, the fluid mosaic model, nucleus + ER, mitochondria + chloroplast, introduction to genetics, Mendel’s peas, DNA replication, transcription, protein synthesis, Charles Darwin, natural selection we can see, kingdoms of the living world, communities

Worst coloring pages: Sex linked characteristics III, ecological pyramids (literal boxes)

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Biopoetics: Crassostrea virginica

Photo by Jeremy Keith entitled ‘Oysters’ (Attribution 2.0 Generic), link through photo

First, a big shout out to all the sins for publishing this poem in their inaugural issue; you can find the link to the poem here, or listen to me read it aloud here.

Crassotrea virginica is one of five species of oysters. C. virginica is an Atlantic-dwelling species and the northern-growing varieties, living in colder waters, are known for their intense briny flavor. They are the type of oyster that a person eats, which means that they will not produce pearls. Pearl-producing oysters are from the family pteriidae (as opposed to eating-oysters from the family ostreidae) and generally live deeper in the ocean than eating oysters.

Oysters, eaten raw, are considered to be a luxury food – just as pearls are also a symbol of wealth. I found this juxtaposition, of food and inedible material both based in the same type of shellfish and also symbols of riches, to be really fascinating; it was the socioeconomic context of oysters that really pushed this poem into being more than the science.

It’s said that oysters taste better in the winter as they can be kept cold and fresh easily from the moment they’re harvested. Oyster shells, filled with calcium, can theoretically help plants grow in gardens if used as fertilizer; the calcium can reduce soil pH, add need nutrients to the soil, and strengthen cell walls (supposedly – it’s up to you if you trust this source). I wouldn’t recommend just chucking the shells into the garden though; it seems likely they would be difficult for your average soil-living microbe to break down. Crush your shells up first, and you’ll get some healthier, happier plants!

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Five Tools for Writers and Scientists

The commonalities between what I do as a scientist and writer are so omnipresent it’s astounding. For two fields that are ‘so different’, there is so much overlap. Recently, I was talking to my Uncle about a note-taking app called ‘Evernote’, something new I’ve added to my arsenal of tools to help me stay organized with all my various research, and I realized I was using it for both science and writing purposes. So behold, a list of five free applications you should know about whether you’re a scientist or a writer, to help you achieve all your goals!

Habitica: Motivation and Organization, but actually Fun

*Not this kind of pet

I recommend this app for everyone, everywhere. You can do pretty much everything on the app for free and the PC and phone versions are both easy to use.

Habitica is an organize-your-life, motivate-yourself tool that helps you make goals, form good habits, and get things done. The tool is actually set up as a game – you become a fully customizable character that can go on quests with other players to defeat mythical beasts, earn coins to buy cool armor, and feed/hatch/collect pets*. You lose health when you don’t do your dailies and gain experience (to level up!) and gold when you complete tasks.

Why yes, I am a blue teddy bear wield dual hooks riding a bee wearing garden armor with a phoenix pet. Is there something wrong with that?

The Dailies tab lets you set up things you want to do every day (though you can customize these to appear only certain days of the week). The To-Do section allows you to set up a list of tasks to be accomplished. The Habits section allows you to change small habits you do each day (Take the stairs? give yourself some points! The elevator? Lose some health).

As a writer, I use this to set a daily ‘write something’ reward and use the to-do section to set smaller research/community building goals. As a scientist, I use the to-do section to reward myself for completing work in the lab or remind myself to finish various assignments, order supplies, etc. It allows you to break down your life into small, simple goals and then gain no-cost-to-you rewards for getting things done, turning your stressful life into a fun game. One of my friends once suggested using Habitica to get over impostor syndrome and feelings of failure; she put ‘fail at something’ as one of her habits!

Freedom: Free Yourself From Distractions

As a human being, I am a chronically distracted person – email and social media are by far the worst of my distractions. With Freedom, not so! Freedom allows you to block certain websites for an amount of time you set (minutes to hours). When you try to access that website, you get one of those funny ‘not able to access the server’ messages and are reminded, sheepishly, that you should be working on something else instead.

Freedom also blocks apps, so don’t forget to put it on your phone to block Candy Crush from ruining your productivity.

Pacemaker: Set Personalized Writing Goals

Lichelle Slater, an author-friend of mine for almost ten years, recommended this one to me and boy am I grateful!

Pacemaker is the perfect website for a scientist working on a dissertation or potential publication or a writer trying desperately to scratch out a novel/writing routine. The website allows you to create a personalized writing plan based on the amount of work you want to finish (words, lines, worksheets, pages, etc are all options for measuring your completed work!) and the date you want to complete it by. Using these variables, it pops out a number of words/lines/pages/etc that you’ll need to finish each day to make your goal on time; you can then add your progress each day and it will adjust future days accordingly.

strategyBut what really makes this website great is that you can customize it so heavily; for instance, I have it set to ‘light’ writing on Friday (because I have class) and no writing on Tuesday (same reason). You can also have it give you a heavier workload on weekends/weekdays and reserve free days for you at the end… just in case. It also allows you to pick a writing strategy (see photo) so you can best plan out your writing needs. I have mine on Valley so that I can write less when grad school is most intense.

All in all, it’s a great tool for planning out any longer work of writing by turning it into small, achievable goals that you master day by day, according to the constraints of your own schedule.

Mendeley: Organize Your PDF Research

Oh Mendeley, how I love you. Before Mendeley I would download 600 PDFs and hope that my personal labeling system would work and that I would be able to find the paper if I needed it again. While folders upon folders are great, and headache-inducing computer searches are also lovely, Mendeley is a far better way to go. I know scientists generally download more PDFs than writers, but don’t worry writer-friends, I have a tool for you too, below!


Mendeley inputs all the details of your papers automatically upon downloading them and very rarely glitches. You can set keywords for each article so that when you search Mendeley by those words, the articles you tagged will pop up (instead of needing to search 300 different folders on your computer). You can also use a traditional folder structure for them, within Mendeley, but because it’s all in Mendeley it’s still easy to search the whole collection by author, title, etc. Also, because Mendeley is all synced up with your online account, moving all your research from one computer to another is a breeze! You simply log in on the new computer and Mendeley downloads all your files! No more lost research for you.

As I mentioned before, Mendeley inputs author, title, publication, and year as the PDF downloads, which leads to the best part of the whole application (besides the sweet relief of always finding every article you need). But the best part (for research articles) is that Mendeley will automatically do the citations for you (yes, you heard me write. That 200 page works cited can be done with a click of a mouse) making storing them in Mendeley and not on your desktop worth your while.

Evernote: Better Organize Your OTHER Research

Evernote does everything – you can make to do lists, organize receipts and bills, take notes, organize documents, set reminders, and (my favorite function) ‘clip’ and attach different things from the web so it’s all in one place. Gone are the days of 3000 bookmarks where you search tiny, 9 pt font in 500 different folders for the one link you need. I’m pretty new to Evernote, but so far I’ve found it easy to use and easy to find what I’ve clipped. Because it has a little ‘clip’ button that goes on your bookmark bar, it can clip things for you with just one click! Plus, just like Mendeley, this syncs to all your different devices so you’re never without an important link, document, or list while on the go or switching to a new computer.

I hope these tools help you organize, motivate, plan, and achieve goals! If you really like one in particular (me with Habitica) consider throwing a subscription in the bag; while it might not give you too many additional features, it’s important to support our developers – they’re hardworking, creative people too!


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‘Bee’ Reviewed: 50 Mathematical Ideas

50 Mathematical Ideas 1
Nyx finds math to be very confusing.

Okay, so this was a bargain book I picked up because it had the word ‘topology’ on the back and I had very recently become faintly aware of how neat this area of math actually is. The book has some cool features (timeline to accompany each concept, good graphs and illustrations), but unfortunately I’m not going to be able to recommend it on the basis of:

  1. Poor, confusing writing
  2. Too many ‘obvious’ concepts
  3. Little depth to each concept

To the first point, Crilly struggles with syntax. Consider the sentence “It was a clever each way bet”; it makes one pause. A better construction would be “It was a clever bet, either way” or “Either way, it was a clever bet”. This is one simple example of poor sentence structure; when we get math entangled with this poor writing, it makes the book far too easy to put down.

I think this book also really struggles with knowing its audience. Crilly obviously isn’t trying to appeal to mathematicians, but he includes concepts that nearly everyone knows alongside concepts more foreign to the average reader. There are very few readers who don’t already understand what a number system (or literally zero) is who also want to learn about Riemann’s zeta function. Crilly could have done a book about the five things you need to know and given us more story (and math!) to boot. And unfortunately, story would’ve been really helpful because the book was a tad bit dry. I relished the bits of history and humor when they were included and would have loved more and for the story to be woven in with the math instead of plopped down ungracefully in separate chunks.

50 Mathematical Ideas 3
Nyx is mostly concerned with the taste and smell of math.

I will say that math and physics are the areas of science where I am most uneasy. When I wrote a collaborative piece on mosaic knot theory for my undergraduate Neuwrite/edu chapter, I worked with a brilliant mathematician and physicist. It still took us nearly a year for me to write our piece; an essay that shied away from the math whenever possible in favor of telling a story. Math has never been my main love or interest, but I wonder if wrapping math/science in stories might ease the terror many people feel when encountering theoretical math concepts and broaden everyone’s mathematical horizons. Clearly, that was not Crilly’s intention here, so I can’t really fault him for not doing that – after all, ’50 Mathematical Ideas’ will clearly be some kind of a list. Still, it was clear to me that this format was part of the reason I found the book to be disengaging.

What I would recommend this book for is a quick scan of the back cover – find the five things you don’t know much about and spend the afternoon researching those things instead of reading this whole book. Personally, I recommend topology, fractals, the travelling salesperson, relativity, and the parallel postulate (which encompasses non-Euclidean geometry!).

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Check it out: all the sins

I was lucky enough to have the amazing folks over at all the sins decide to publish two of my poems – “Brilliant Moonbeam”, a found poem from the beginning of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and “Crassostrea virginica”, one of my ecofeminist poems that looks at the world through a marine life lens. The poems will be published in their inaugural edition, which went up today!

The lovely editors over at all the sins wrote a pre-release post entitled “Submissions: Round 1“, where they talk about their transparent editorial process (which, as a poetry reader myself for a lit mag and a struggling wannabe poet, I think is pretty neat). There was also a little nod to one of my works in there: “Some pieces embraced the theme more literally, playing with Dahl-like language and, as you’ll see in our first edition, creating found poetry from his original text” which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Beyond the warm and fuzzies, another line particularly resonated with me, now that I’m beginning to see the ‘other side’ of the submission situation as a probationary poetry reader over at Storm Cellar Quarterly (more about that sometime later). That line is “we looked for art that had something to say”.

It is so hard to let our art speak for itself. Something in the process of expression gets the art muddled on its way out of us – our fingers mangle it, our synapses do damage as the chemicals that birth the art flow past. We are imperfect vessels for our art, though sometimes it is exactly the way we ‘taint’ the art as we express it that makes it so valuable or revolutionary. Still, at most we should be co-vocal with our art; we should never be its sole orator. And yet, it is hard to let our art speak – instead of us speaking about our art and what it could or should be. It’s a new kind of listening. It is humbling to hear that my art was chosen because it had something to say. Maybe, with each poem I read and write, I am learning more how to listen.

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Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

Me, the impostor: Somehow they let me graduate? I need to get off stage quick before they figure it out and take my diploma back! Me, looking back: I worked hard for this moment, and I deserved every cord I was wearing!

Last week I wrote a post about impostor syndrome (you can find it here) and promised to follow up by discussing ways of handling impostor syndrome. It’s funny because even when starting this blog I felt like an impostor – who am I to start writing as though I have advice to give or am worthy of someone’s precious time, reading my words? But day by day, I’ll keep writing and pushing through until I can live with this impostor syndrome and even welcome it as a reminder of my personal growth.

The key is to learn how to live with your impostor syndrome – not to resist it and try to force it to go away forever. I’ve compiled some advice on the matter, and came up with some of my own, and I thought I’d share it with you – I hope it helps whether you’re earning a degree, getting a new job, or finding a new group of peers:

  1. Recognize that feeling incompetent and being incompetent are two different things: And try changing how you feel by watching this compelling TED talk
  2. Keep a praise journal/celebrate your accomplishments: make sure to regularly celebrate your accomplistments in a way that is memorable for you (going out for dinner, rewarding yourself with a special treat, etc). A praise journal is another way to do this – a small notebook you carry around where you write praises on one page and your negative feelings on a separate page. When you fill up a ‘negative thoughts’ page you can rip it out and burn it, then re-read all the praises you’ve received as it burns.
  3. Have a Praise Ambassador in your life: this is someone, a friend or family member, who knows your struggle and is specifically looking out for you to give you praise for your accomplishments; this person can be responsible for taking you out for a drink or simply giving you that much-needed and oft-overlooked praise for being the awesome person that is YOU
  4. Talk to your peers and advisers: If you trust your peers and advisers, even if it’s scary, it’s a great idea to open up to them about your feelings of insecurity. It’s always good to hear from those you know, trust, and find to be competent that you are competent too.
  5. Don’t idolize anyone: everyone is human; even if you don’t always catch someone’s mistakes, trust me, they’ve made plenty. Idolizing others makes it easier for you to belittle yourself via comparison. Trust me, just stop.
  6. Come up with a “key reassurance”: this is a phrase, a mantra if you will, to repeat to yourself whenever you feel the rising tide of anxiety. For me, something like “You are worthy of this success.” is in the works.
  7. Avoid the ‘humble brag’ at all costs: The humble brag is often used by impostor-syndrome sufferers to not actually take ownership of how awesome your accomplishments are – don’t “it was no big deal” a goal you’ve made and don’t allow your self-deprecation to overwhelm you either. If you’ve done something great – go you, 100%! Be honest and straightforward about your achievement, or else the anxiety will catch on the ‘humbling’ joke you made and never go away.
  8. Plan time to manage the anxiety: I do this for the blog by making posts weeks in advance. I think every post is terrible right after writing it, but after giving the post some breathing room I’m able to see it for the quality material it actually is and can then go on to post it. Give yourself whatever time you need (long or short!) to manage your anxiety.

Lastly, I’d like to leave both scientists and writers with something I found in the 2008 Journal of Cell Science – it’s called “the importance of stupidity in scientific research” by a professor at Yale named Martin Schwartz. He contends that being stupid is crucial to the process of research because being stupid is the fundamental step to making discovery – you must admit to not knowing in order to research and answer your question! Writers and scientists both do this in our own ways through our variant and beautiful creative processes – so don’t let a little bit of feeling stupid get you down. Pick yourself up and get back to writing/research – where you belong.

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Pandemic

Nyx: Does this box make me look too small?

Today we’re reviewing something a  bit different on ‘Bee’ Reviewed – a board game! Pandemic is the brainchild of Matt Leacock. The game is a great example of integrating science and culture, and it’s also a super fun game you can play with kids (teaching them that they, too, can be a scientist or researcher!).

Pandemic is a cooperative game, meaning that all the players are on the same team, working together to beat a very difficult game; this style is pretty non-traditional as the average best-selling tabletop games (Monopoly, Life, Stratego, etc) are all competitive. This mirrors the cooperative structure of science – we build on the works of others and must work together to succeed. In the game, you play as a team of medics, pilots, researchers, and scientists (each with your own special ability) working to stop four diseases from taking over the world by finding cures. If you’ve ever played Plague Inc, this game was the precursor to that app and is multi-player (up to four people, the recommended age being 10+). Together you treat disease, research cures, build research stations, and travel the world to stop… a pandemic.

Beyond being a ton of fun and, because of the element of chance, having a very different game each time you play, Pandemic reinforces the importance of science to our modern society and health. The game also builds communication skills and the ability to think several steps ahead and describe that logic. It pushes people to take risks because you can only be so certain that something will work, but be all in on that risk together. It’s a great game for families to play together and bond but it also mirrors so many of the ways the scientific community actually functions (without boring you with real virology). The only way you could dislike this game is if you’re fundamentally opposed to not being competitive or are a super troll in real life (in which case people will hate you for spoiling their attempts at team work and you should politely go back into your cave and leave them alone to yell at people on the internet).

One of my favorite things about Pandemic is that it shows scientists and researchers, logic and strategy and knowledge, saving the world. I know it’s just a game, but it might be nice if knowledge and logic and science were given a little more world-saving appreciation in the modern era (over punching people or superpowers). Pandemic aims to do just that while simultaneously providing you and your team mates with many, many hours of fun for only $25.

The only thing I can fault this game for is that it has a lot of small pieces – you wouldn’t want to play in areas with very small children, who might try eating the pretty disease-cubes and choke. But other than the mess of cubes, that you’re almost certain to lose one or two of over time, the game itself is well designed, easy to learn, and pretty fast to play (for a cooperative game). The game has several levels, ranging from Novice to Legendary, so you can even ‘customize’ game play based on how tired you’re feeling when you sit down to start.

Not convinced? Watch this episode of Tabletop with Wil Wheaton to see all the fun you’re missing.

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Impostor Syndrome

12990940_1281985721816145_1685345968374993656_nThis is a photo of me, talking confidently – practically non-stop – about my research on “Native Bee Diversity and Abundance” at my undergraduate college. A student, bottom left, dutifully takes notes for a write-up she’ll be doing later for extra credit. Inside, not visible to the viewer, I am practically paralyzed in fear. It’s not just because it was one of six presentations I had that day. It’s not (only) that I hate public speaking. It’s because at most of those presentations, regardless of my credentials, I feel like an impostor – someone who shouldn’t be there, someone waiting for others to figure out that I don’t belong either.

This affliction is labeled “impostor syndrome” and it’s something I’ve seen a lot of writers, particularly those about to start MFA programs, mention. While many suggest it gets better/easier the longer you’re at something, it affects some people throughout their entire careers; like this literary agent and editor or even Maya Angelou who, having published eleven books to great acclaim, said “I have written 11 books…but each time I think, Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it mentioned as much in the science circles, although I freely admit that I see less science blogs than writer blogs in general. When I am in the company of other writers, I take some solace in the fact that – likely – some of them also feel this way:

But now I have a book deal, and I still feel like a fraud. My agent and my editor are wrong; my book is terrible; no one will buy it; the reviews will be heinous; and soon everyone will see me for what I really am: a desperate woman sitting in a workshop while two real writers dismantle all her feeble pretensions. Sometimes I feel so anxious about this impending disaster that I’m even a little bit impressed with myself, because it’s astounding that someone with such crippling insecurities can even get out of bed, much less continue to write. – Heather Young

Dog Scientist - I have no idea how to science
Credit goes to memegenerator.net for helping me make this dog version of me

Knowing that so many other writers are going through this puts me much more at ease. But with other scientists, this lack of confidence, this completely overwhelming insecurity, is rarely talked about. When I walk into the lab to see my fellow scientists hard at work rushing around testing hypotheses, I quickly become overwhelmed. I’ve only done two surveys and one molecular study – and I didn’t really understand the whole process. I’m going to fail out. How did I convince everyone to let me make it this far? I forget everything as soon as I learn it – how am I supposed to make it six years and do my own research? I can’t fool these, guys!

I can’t give much attention or time to these anxieties or they quickly get out of hand; but every moment I am in the lab, they’re there. Nagging. Causing my voice to shake when I talk to my adviser; making me stammer. When will they find out?

So I decided to write this post – first to reassure any other lonely PhD candidate out there that yes, impostor syndrome is a thing and you (and I) should be fine. I did find some other resources about impostor syndrome in Science/PhD programs – here’s an article from Science and one from HigherEd and here’s a more personal account from the blog of Megan Fork, an Environmental Research PhD candidate at Duke. It’s natural and okay – as a writer, a scientist, a student – to feel this way. And you are worthy of your success. You, my friends and fellow self-labeled impostors, worked hard for it.

Part two of this post will be coming in a week or so – where I give some advice about how to deal with impostor syndrome. Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Feel free to drop me an email or a comment!


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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Best of the Best from 2001

She's really not as tiny as this picture makes her look...
She’s really not as tiny as this picture makes her look…

This book, The Best of the Best American Science Writing is just chock-full of what we love on this blog (in case you missed it, that’s science and writing)! If you missed my first review of the two essays selected from the year 2000, check it out here.

The year 2001 had two philosophical essays – “Bioscience, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor” by Freeman J. Dyson and “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought” by the late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayer.

Dyson’s essay was short and, in my opinion, inspirational if frustratingly vague. It was the kind of sweeping rhetoric one expects to see at a political convention – lots of grand statements, few practical applications, even fewer facts. The essay begins by explaining that there are two kinds of technology – green and grey – and that we are about to see a switch from grey technology domination (for the last 3000 years) to green technology domination.

Dyson makes it clear that he believes green technology could be a great equalizer, eradicating global poverty and creating sustainable environmental practices but not that it will do any of these things. He urges scientists, business leaders, and religious leaders to work together to promote ethics in association with green technology – the only guiding ethical principles he gives us are that the free market must not extend to human genes and that biological warfare is to be avoided. While I found the essay to be inspirational, galvanizing me to want to take action in a new and uncertain technological future, I also found it to lack application and thus usefulness. Luckily, the essay is a short call to action and thus you don’t waste time searching for practice when there is only theory. If you’re looking for something to pump you up before you volunteer to save the world, this essay is it.

Mayr’s essay is much harder to get through, using more dense terminology than Dyson’s essay; personally, I struggled to get through his section on a new philosophy of biology but adored the rest of the essay about Darwin’s influence on modern thought (and may just write a blog post about it!). The essay isn’t revolutionary in it’s content, more in it’s concept. Those of us who recently underwent any public schooling would be able to infer most of what Mayr is saying about how Darwin impacted the world. What seems to make this essay so important is that Mayr actually does say it, and all in one place. According to Mayr, Darwin has had a profound impact on religious thought, predetermination, our understanding of the ‘Perfect Cause’ (a philosophical idea since Aristotle), racism and typology, and more.

Mayr’s essay can get wordy – he is particularly prone to longer sentences. However, Mayr generally makes sure that when he introduces new terminology that he gives adequate time to explain it’s meaning (for example essentialism or teleology). Most readers will enjoy learning how Darwin has so drastically shaped our worldview in only 150 years; according to Mayr, he accomplished a lot in that time. His dedication to every reader’s understanding makes this essay a worthwhile undertaking for all readers, recently introduced to Darwinism or well acquainted.

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