Random Walk 26: Zi Yan Chen on ComSciCon-GTA


Welcome back to the show, I’m your host Adam, and this week I am going to be talking to ZiYan Chen about communicating science as a researcher and grad student. But before we get to the interview, I’m excited to announce that as well as being a guest on this episode, ZiYan is one of our very first guest authors on our website, scientificanada.ca . This is a big deal for us! One of my first goals I had with this project was to get to a position where I could start sourcing articles from contributing writers. But I wanted to make sure I did it ethically.

In a lot of cases, young scientists and science communicators aren’t paid for their work. In a lot of cases, communicating research to the public, writing articles that don’t end up in an academic journal, or doing outreach activities are seen as secondary to “real” research. A lot of aspects of academia seem to operate under the expectation that experts will volunteer their time and expertise. As much as I wanted to get scientificanada to a place where we could start taking articles from contributors, I didn’t want to do it unless these writers could be compensated in something concrete. Like money. And that’s where our Patrons have come in.

At this point, we are still operating at a loss, considering website hosting, purchasing domains, not to mention the time I spend recording and editing episodes and our site. But over the last year I’ve been putting away contributions from our few but consistent Patrons, and because of them, I’ve been able to start commissioning articles for the website. So first, thank you to everyone who has subscribed to our Patreon, I couldn’t do all of this without your support. Second, please check out ZiYan Chen’s article, up on scientificanada.ca/category/articles . She’s written a great piece about attending ComSciCon-GTA, or, the Greater Toronto Area’s first Science Communications conference, including a whole load of take-aways that are super useful for anyone just starting out in “sci-comm”. And thirdly, all of this will always be free – the podcasts, the articles, everything – but there is so much more I want to do with this platform. There are so many scientists and researchers with fantastic stories and opinions, and so many different voices that need to be shared, and I want to help get these stories heard. If you want to help us keep doing what we’re doing, and then some, please consider joining our Patreon. As little as 1-dollar per month helps, and with that you will get early access to all of our content, as well as some bonuses every so often.

Anyway, thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy my interview with Zi Yan Chen,, about attending the GTA’s first ComSciCon.


Thanks again to Zi Yan Chen for joining me this week, and be sure to read her article on scientificanada .

Before we go, though, I want to try a new segment. I’m still workshopping the name, but maybe I can call this Journal Club or something? I think that’s not horrible. We’ll see. Anyway, what this segment is, is some highlights and stuff I’ve seen around the internet this week.

This week, I want to bring your attention to two things. First, I want to tell you that our good friend, friend of the show Tareq Yousif, recently did a week-long take-over of the Royal Canadian Institute for Research’s social media accounts. He talks a lot about your brain and light, and how they play together. Check that out, I think the best place is on Instagram @RCIScience .

The other thing I want to direct you to, is this really interesting thing The Atlantic is doing. They’ve started a new reporting office and email newsletter, specifically for Climate Change. It’s called Planet, and it’s more than just a dedicated column in the Atlantic about Climate Change, they are saying it’s a completely distinct office and team, all committed to Climate Change as a right-here-right-now threat that affects every aspect of everyone’s lives. They talk about the things you can expect from the project.

From their launch article:

First: We will cover climate change in the present tense—not as a distant threat, but as a force that is already reconfiguring business, culture, society, and life on Earth. This outlook doesn’t reflect our prediction about where the world is heading; we think a detached assessment of the facts allows for no other conclusion.

Second: We will recognize that the economy is made of real stuff—purring servers, fields of alfalfa, wind-spun turbines, muscle and bone. So we’ll also recognize that solving climate change and zeroing out carbon pollution requires getting elbow-deep in reality. A gallon of gasoline isn’t a price by the side of the road; it’s a physical reserve of fossilized sunlight, the refined residue of what was once 25 metric tons of ancient sea life. To leave fossil fuels behind, we must find a new source of energy to replace that prehistoric sun.

Finally: We will understand that climate change is too serious to be taken seriously all the time. When Justin Bieber plays a laid-off oil-rig worker in a music video, it isn’t just an entertainment story; it’s a climate story. When one in four childless adults says that climate change shaped their reproductive decisions, it is of course a climate story, but it’s also a sex story. And when the government of Tulsa, Oklahoma, repaints its giant downtown statue of an oil driller to look like Elon Musk, and then doesn’t even get the Tesla factory it was angling for, it is very funny, in addition to being a scandalously pathetic use of tax dollars.

The Atlantic launches Planet

So all of this is what you can expect from Planet by The Atlantic, and I’ve been following this thing for a couple weeks now, and I like it. I think it’s a pretty interesting premise for starting big, pretty much separate magazine devoted solely to climate change, but I think it makes sense. There are enormous cultural shifts happening because of it, and they’re happening right now, all over the place. Climate Change is really the one big problem facing humanity and it makes sense to start treating it as this one unifying lens. Some articles I found interesting were The Best Way to Donate to Stop Climate Change (Probably) by Robinson Meyer, Photography Has Gotten Climate Change Wrong From the Start by Kim Biel, and What Donald Trump Taught the Electric Car Industry, also by Robinson Meyer.

So I’d recommend checking that out, at www.theatlantic.com/projects/planet .

So, that’s it for this week. If you liked the show, you can find more at scientificanada.ca or wherever you find podcasts. Join us on youtube to watch videos of the interviews we have on our show, and please consider supporting us on Patreon.com/scican . And thanks to Boonie for letting me use their music. You can download their EP Not a Care in the World at the website boonie.rocks . Thanks again for listening, and I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for your support!

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