For Conversational Biology series
Welcome to Life and Biology’s new blog series called “Conversational Biology”. There are several reasons that I’m initiating this effort and I wanted to put them up front.
*Before all that, I have a confession to make. I am fairly proficient at starting projects and not seeing them through to completion. This particular project is one that I have considered for quite some time and have finally started. Time will tell if I stick with it or not.*
My first reason for writing this blog series is that I would like to create a body of work that is approachable for everyone, but goes into college-level depth on all topics in biology. This is an effort that contrasts with textbooks that are often difficult to wade through or are simply not a pleasure to read. A collection of books have been written recently that include the F-bomb in their title. A couple years ago, I had a failed attempt at my “Conversational Biology” goal whereby I started explaining biology with the crudest, most vulgar language I could come up with. While it was fun to write in such a profane approach, it just didn’t feel authentic. In another science outreach effort, I created a series of YouTube videos that presented various biological topics in a conversational tone. That was a far better approach as it felt more authentic to me. However, the videos (despite their low production value) were time-consuming to create and have thus failed to continue. I have high hopes that this blog-based approach will be more manageable and yet valuable to the reader.
The second reason for this series is that I turned 40 years old this past year. If you’re older than 40, you might be able to relate to my experience where I started to do a philosophical examination of my life by reflecting on the “first half” of my life and thinking through what my “second half” of life should look like. My first 40 years were fairly productive with 20+ years of education, a variety of jobs, and building a family. At first this made my second half of life seem like it would need to be exhausting to keep up the pace I started. This series of blog posts will be an attempt to conquer one of the biggest stumbling blocks I had up to age 40…writing. If there is something that grinds me into the ground every time, it’s writing. Blog posts seem less daunting than writing a book, so I’ve decided that I’m just going to take on blogging as a way of daily-ish writing motivation. Yesterday was my oldest son’s 13th birthday. I’m using his milestone as an arbitrary “fork in the road” whereby I take my writing output seriously. How did I mark the occasion? I wrote 1415 words! Very likely this was the highest word count I’ve ever achieved in a single day. I hope to look back at this and remember how hard writing was until I took it on with full effort.
Enough about me. My third reason for writing this series is to provide my students with supplementary reading for the courses that I teach at Montana Tech. Currently, those courses are: Principles of Living Systems (POLS), POLS lab, Discover Biology lab, Introduction to Evolution, Virology, Immunology, and Biotechnology. I’m always asking students to read the material and then write out the most important concepts as if their parents or non-biology majors were the audience. The writing professors call this “synthesis”. I just figured it was a good way of remembering the material. In fact, when I was a student, I had a habit of daydreaming during my study sessions about how I would teach the topics I was learning about to other people.
Finally, even though my third reason was based on helping my students in college, I suspect that education is about to go through a major upheaval. There is so much information available to everyone that can muster a Google search, the high cost of college will soon be viewed as outrageous (assuming the consensus already haven’t put the cost in this category). Perhaps in the future, advanced degrees will be merit based. That is, passing a “class” will be based solely on whether the student shows an understanding for that material. Will college degrees be boiled down to passing tests rather than sitting in lecture halls? If so, students will still need to learn the material. Perhaps writing a series of blog posts in a conversational manner to cover all the topics you might come across in current biology courses will be a way of replacing the lecturer of the future.
Next article: Central Dogma of Biology