Today’s guests are the authors of Deep Sea News, Kevin Zelnio and Dr. M.
Kevin is a researcher at Duke Marine Lab studying the population genetics and molecular ecology of animals at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. He studied Evolution, Ecology and Geology at University of California, Davis and has a Masters degree in Biology from Penn State. In his seven years as a deep sea biologist, he has described five new species of deep sea animals with more on the way! At Science Online 2009, Kevin co-chaired a session on Nature Blogging with GrrlScientist. Kevin can also be found online at his homepage, http://zelnio.org and on twitter.
Dr. M is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate broadly synthetic research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Boston where he explored deep-sea diversity and body size. Dr. M has conducted deep-sea research for 12 years and published more than 30 papers in the field. He has participated in dozens of expeditions to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Dr. M’s research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary drivers of marine invertebrate biodiversity and body size, primarily on deep-sea systems often looking at the consequences of food limitation on biological systems. You can read Dr. M’s popular articles in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, and forthcoming in American Scientist. Dr. M can also be found online at his homepage, http://mcclain.nescent.org.
I ‘d like to start by asking each of you why you blog.
KZ: The environment I was in at grad school wasn’t very satisfying to my intellectual curiosity. What I mean by that is no one cared when I got really excited about some cool new paper unrelated to my research. I am very excited about science and deep-sea life and had to vent it out somewhere. People have always been impressed that I read so much and retain much of what I read, but i had no outlet for further discussion. Blogging was a natural fit for me.
I discovered and subsequently harassed Deep Sea News in 2006. Finally, Dr. M asked me if I wanted to do some guest posts. I struck out on my own after a while and created The Other 95%, a blog devoted to highlighting invertebrates, because ScienceBlogs (at the time) wouldn’t let Craig and Peter add me permanently to the network. I wrote at The Other 95% until mid-2008 when I was stressed out about finding a job and finishing my Masters degree. It has since joined the graveyard of blog dreams. [Side note: If anyone is interested in picking it up, I know my coblogger Eric and I would be interested in reviving the site. There is already an audience just waiting for more spineless fun!] I focused on Deep Sea News because it reaches a large audience and allows me to stay current with my field. Working with Dr. M is also a blast though I am unsure how he puts up with me.
I hesitate to advise anyone to start a blog. Blogging has many pluses and minuses. It’s a time sink. If you are in a professional position, your colleagues may not understand why you blog. It gives your employer (or other authority figure) something to hold over you. For example, “If you have to blog then you have time to write this manuscript or do this analysis.” This may not apply to all potential bloggers, but did for me. However, I am a firm believer in following your passions and dealing with the consequences later. The rewards have been substantial. I have been able to meet colleagues and start collaborations. I’ve been offered freelance writing and job opportunities and been given free books and other materials. Also, before we left ScienceBlogs to become independent, it was financially profitable in a small but not so insignificant way.
Dr M: It’s hard to believe Deep Sea News has been around for five years. I began the blog simply as mechanism to talk things I get excited about…the deep sea, new ocean technology, big ships, sea shanties, and pretty much anything ocean themed, partly because marine science is both a science and a culture.
I also felt that traditional media outlets did not cover really cool science adequately or correctly. Scientific studies were overlooked because someone thought they were not “newsworthy.” The public was being told what was interesting without getting to see all that was going on. As a result, science lost its appeal and passion as it was translated through an intermediary to the public. Deep Sea News allowed me to address these issues by initiating a dialogue directly between scientists and the public. Moreover, it allows Kevin and me to overturn stereotypes about how scientists talk, look, and behave. Unexpectedly but rewardingly, Deep Sea News has become an essential part of my scientific program and an integral outreach component.
Like Kevin, I am hesitant to recommend blogging to others. I usually discourage people – just ask Chris Mah at Echinoblog! The rewards are great but the time commitment to do this well far exceeds expectations.
What’s the best thing about blogging?
KZ: For me, it is the interaction with readers and other bloggers. Nature and science bloggers are a well-read and vibrant community whose enthusiasm and intellectual stimulation is as bountiful in real life interactions as it is online. Deep-Sea News has been blessed by a generous, loyal and brilliant readership composed of people from all walks of life. This becomes apparent in situations like our Oceans in the Classroom Donor’s Choose drive. Also, there is a bit of behind the blog interaction such as our colleagues sending us newly published deep-sea research, readers and lurkers sending us interesting links, and publishers asking us to review their books.
One of the things I like least is that blogging has given me a very short attention span. I lose focus easily and am anxious for instant gratification. Also, the lack of commenting on our site disappoints me. We have lots of readers, we are subscribed to, tweeted, and bookmarked. Why don’t people comment and why are commenters not interacting with each other?
Dr. M: Seeing our daily hit rate grow from a mere dozen per day to now well over 1,000 per day is one of the most rewarding aspects for me. It serves as a visible metric of our outreach efforts. The fact that so many people use us a resource and are passionate about the oceans is exciting. Using this support we have managed to fund several marine and aquatic theme classroom projects through DonorsChoose . As Kevin mentions, readers seeing stories and thinking automatically of us is fantastic. I never thought through Deep Sea News that we would have this large and varied impact as leaders in marine outreach. My interactions with other ocean bloggers, in an informal but very close community, have also been rewarding.
I thought blogging would make me famous, rich, and powerful and that blogging groupies would follow me everywhere. For some reason that hasn’t happened, and that is my least favorite part of blogging.
KZ: Really? I have blog groupies…
Has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?
KZ: YES! I actually look for things more and pay more attention to my surroundings. Sometimes I rehearse how I might write about something in my head. I’ll be on a hike with my son and think about blogging it afterward. I rarely do, but think about it constantly.
More importantly, blogging has helped me learn to communicate effectively in fewer words, and that has carried over into my research writing. I had never learned about paragraph and story structure. I’ve learned a lot about writing from interactions with journalists at Science Online over the last 3 years. Rebecca Skloot and Tom Levenson had fantastic session on writing at last year’s conference. They emphasized paying attention to structure, a lesson I now impart wherever I go!
Dr. M: Blogging has enriched my overall science program in many ways. Many new research questions as well as the way I think about the deep sea were shaped by interactions with others on Deep Sea News or by posts I wrote for the blog. Some of my ideas also originated there. One of the foremost ways the blog influenced my ideas was through interactions with Kevin. As he said, we were brought together through blogging and not through science per se, although our exchanges have evolved into the latter. Also, like Kevin, I believe blogging continues to benefit my writing.
How do you promote your blog and attract readers?
KZ: Really, the only way to attract readers is by writing good posts and letting people know about them. As I said above, I have a short attention span. Right now as I type this I have Facebook open, a Google Chat is underway, Twitter is dinging at me, and Friendfeed is open. I check Google Reader every time a feed gets updated.
All these social networking services are intertwined and you can probably check any one of them and get the same information. I spend a lot of time and effort to keep in touch in multiple venues. I don’t want to lose our current beloved readers and am always trying to reach out to new readers. Links to all my social networking tools are on the blog’s “About” page. Please feel free to follow me!
Dr.M: Early on I tried to promote our blog heavily through various avenues such as commenting on other blogs, participating in carnivals, sharing links, and other blogger initiatives. I still participate in these now that we have built a readership, but I concentrate most on providing rich content that will attract new readers. Kevin has also been active in multiple social networks that increase our visibility.
Is there a story behind the name of your blog?
Dr. M: The name was decided by a quorum of twelve. They were not very imaginative. I always preferred “Kevin and Dr. M’s Deep-Sea Spectacular in 3D.”
KZ: Actually, we have in the works plans for a 3D website. It will be part of our upcoming fan club. Members will get 3D shades with their initiation packet and will be able to see deep-sea anglerfish swimming at them as if they were coming out of their monitors!
Do you feel you’re part of a community with other nature bloggers?
KZ: Yes. The nature blogging community is great and interested in many facets of nature. I’ve made tons of new friends from blogging, and many of them are now colleagues with whom I am writing papers, exchanging ideas, and planning future projects. In particular, the ocean blogging community is an amazing group of people with fantastic credentials and an array of experience. I feel the quality of the ocean blogosphere is among the best of any out there. I get excited when I see updates in my Google Reader! Also, I’ve been supportive of the Nature Blog Network from its inception.
Dr. M: The blogging community, especially among ocean bloggers, is wonderful. Interactions with Jason, Rick, Miriam, the knuckleheads at Southern Fried Science, Chris Mah, and others continue to be gratifying. In many of cases, my interactions with them in terms of blogging and science have merged. For example, a former student of mine works with Rick at CORAL and Chris Mah and I collaborate on deep-sea biodiversity work.
Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?
KZ: Blogging is a great way to share experiences and information, but it is hard to get started these days. The blogosphere is saturated, making it hard to get noticed. You will not make money from it but it may bring you other opportunities. The key is to follow your passions, write well, pay attention to structure, and let the world know what you’ve written or created! It’s imperative to comment on other blogs.
Additionally, follow lots of great people on twitter and post interesting links and updates yourself to gain more followers. When I get a new twitter follower that I don’t know, I go through their first page of tweets and will only follow back if there are enough interesting things there that I care about. Also very importantly, have few expectations. Setting the bar high right away is sure way to get disappointed and quit before you have a chance to succeed.
Dr. M: I agree with Kevin. In addition, I would encourage new bloggers to be passionate and write to their interests and strengths. Consistency in this will lead to success in other areas.