A Science Communicator in the Making

by Tara Campbell

My dad set up our first computer in the kitchen when I was eight years old. It was beige with a dark green screen and a keyboard that made the most wonderful clacking sound—a sound to this day that I find soothing. From the first time the text-based game Zork loaded, I was hooked. I did not realize it then, but this perfect platform for storytelling, learning and sharing began my lifelong relationship with technology and writing.

Over the course of my career, I have worked exclusively at the interface of technology and non-technical people in computing and communications. My take-away from this experience is that technology is meaningless without the positive engagement of those who utilize it, and yet it is desperately misunderstood, at times even feared. While science and technology are key to humanity’s progress, we are inhibited by the general population’s limited understanding. Without the support of a broad range of perspectives, ideas that could make a big difference are set aside in favor of safe lines of thinking that do not require a complex understanding of science or technology.

My college career started without a solid direction as there are so many areas I have a strong interest in. Pinning down exactly what I wanted to do back then was impossible, so I began filling my electives with science courses. Everything about human biology and human genetics was amazing. Understanding weather patterns and climate change was just the tip with environmental science. Then I took astronomy and fell in love, sure that I was to move on to become an astrobiologist with a background in toxicology. However, sociology proved to be equally fascinating—I could not get over how society shapes us, how what we are exposed to every day impacts who we become. This information turned what I had learned in psychology upside down and left me contemplating how the areas of sociology and psychology fit together in conjunction with what we know from the biological standpoint.

Nevertheless, a common theme throughout my studies finally made itself apparent. I was enthused by what I learned but I was most passionate writing about it. Topics that made my head spin were things I had to work out for others to understand, to make that ‘ah-ha!’ click in their minds too, and I discovered that I have both the passion and the skill to do so. My education channeled the quest for knowledge into creative communications to share the wonders of the world with others. In the end I found myself with an unusual set of interests and skills: I am an IT Technical Analyst for a financial investment firm with a degree full of science and creative writing.

After I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Literature and Writing with a text and image concentration, I thought I was set. Mission accomplished, Campbell. Since that time I have advanced to a new position, traveled to London and Rome as part of a study abroad group, and written a science fiction novel, but still I crave more. I want to surround myself with knowledge-seeking people, and share with others the amazing discoveries and possibilities at the cutting edge of science, medicine and technology.

We live in a society flooded with statistics, where facts are a mouse click away, and yet the more fact-based evidence we present, the less our audience is inclined to pay attention or be persuaded by our findings. Ours is a culture that demands emotional and visual stimuli. How we package and present information is as important as the discovery itself. This is where creativity and storytelling in a variety of mediums and from a variety of perspectives plays a vital role. Based on my undergraduate work in writing with a focus on the intersection of visual and textual elements in digital media, I feel prepared to pursue graduate studies that will advance my ability to play this key cultural role.

Tara Campbell entered the M.A. in Science Writing program at Johns Hopkins University in summer 2016. She earned a B.A. in English Literature & Writing with a concentration in text: image from Marylhurst University in 2015.

Image: Women Scientist posters by Tara Campbell