2017: A year of “Mulled Science”

2017It’s the end of December. I’ve finished another semester of undergraduate teaching, and I’m looking ahead to the next calendar year full of new students and new adventures in my professional and personal life. This is also the time of year when everyone trots out a year-end retrospective on their little niche in the world. Why shouldn’t I get in on the action? I started my new blog almost a year ago (on February 1), so the end of 2017 marks almost one year of “Mulled Science.” As experiments go, this one is certainly less scientific than most of my science projects; instead, it’s been a creative exercise in trying something new. Here are some highlights of my (near) year of writing in a public forum:

• I didn’t have a specific topic or vision for what I would write about when I began the blog. From the depths of the ocean, to the tiniest microbes, to the far reaches of the universe, to cats and dogs and foxes–various topics that have caught my eye this year have been fair game. I’ve learned a lot by reading and reflecting on different areas of science, which has been personally satisfying. One of my main goals in starting a blog was to be able to discuss topics that go beyond the confines of the classes I teach and engage with any science I find personally appealing.

• Another goal this year was to read more books about science. I used many of the books I came across as topics for blog posts, which gave me an outlet for reflection on different aspects and themes of contemporary science writing. Many of these posts fostered the most engagement with you, my readers. Thank you for reading, and for providing feedback and comments online and in person!

• I’ve learned a lot about blogging as a practice. A blog can be whatever you want it to be, but mine is not particularly refined. Both my writing and my website are definitely a work in progress. Perhaps I’ll figure out how to be more catchy or flashy or topical to go viral in 2018…but probably not!

• I’ve become better acquainted with a number of people in my community who are engaged in efforts to spread the word about science locally and online. By presenting hands-on science to more children and families, participating in science book discussions, learning about Wikipedia pages for women in science–even by participating in the local March for Science–I’ve expanded my own participation and broadened my perspectives on options for civic engagement by scientists and science communicators. In the online world, I joined the Twitter community (@mulledscience) to both listen and contribute to broader conversations about science communication and community engagement from different perspectives: as a scientist, educator, scientific editor, and blogger. I’ve learned a lot from this science communication (or “scicomm”) community and have been considering ways to continue my engagement in these efforts both in my blog and in my professional and personal activities next year.

And so, as the year draws to a close, I want to thank you for reading my fledgling experiment in science writing. I’d also appreciate any feedback you may have, or suggestions for topics or themes. What would you like to learn more about in 2018? Sometimes I track down specific ideas in science or science communication, and sometimes they just come along as new research reveals more about the world around us.

As a case in point, I’ll leave you with one new science tidbit that was published about a month ago. A genetic trait in humans determines whether your earlobes are attached to the side of your head at the base or hang free. This trait has been considered a fun and easy way to introduce dominant and recessive traits to beginning students in genetics for decades (free earlobes are generally described as dominant to attached earlobes). But recently, researchers working with large samples of human DNA have discovered that almost 50 genes contribute to constructing something as modestly unassuming as an earlobe (see links below). As a geneticist, I find the nuance of genetic programming to be so much more interesting than thinking of traits as “either/or” propositions. This study gives me new food for thought in thinking about genes and teaching genetics to my students.

Learning about the intricacies of our world and refining our models of what we understand when new information comes to light–those are the exciting moments for me in science, both large and small. From gravitational waves to tiny microbes, how we learn and discuss ideas in science, how to excite the next generation to learn more about the world around them… stay tuned and stay in touch with me in 2018. I’m looking forward to the next year of conversation.

 

Read more:

• General reading about the news in earlobe genetics:

Maldarelli, Claire. 2017. “Everything your biology teacher told you about earlobes is wrong” Popular Science https://www.popsci.com/amp/earlobe-shape-genetics

 

• The scientists’ primary article about earlobe genetics:

Shaffer JR et al. 2017. Multiethnic GWAS reveals polygenic architecture of earlobe attachment. Am J Hum Genet 101: 913-924. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.10.001

 

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