Zombies, Taxis and Science: Lessons From a Science Writer’s Conference

Brains… Brains… Brains… Photo from the Raleigh Living Dead Festival in downtown Raleigh. Photo by Cindy Honickman – triangle.com

A bunch of the Penn State Research Communications team attended the National Association of Science Writers annual conference at Raleigh, N.C. last weekend.

Unfortunately, for me, it was an abbreviated conference. With Sandy bearing down on the East Coast and with me terrified of being stuck in the Detroit airport — no offense Motor City! – I decided to bug out early.

But I was left with some pretty profound and some not-so profound lessons from my trip.

First, the not-so profound.

I was a little unnerved by the number of zombies patrolling the downtown Raleigh area chanting, “Brains… Brains… Brains…” during the city’s annual downtown Halloween party.

The presence of a bunch of geeky science writers and brain-starved zombies appeared to be shaping up into an altogether different sort of Frankenstorm.

Also in the not-so profound category: I discovered it’s essentially a tie between taking a taxi cab ride at 3 a.m. to the airport and weathering a historic hurricane at home.

Now. For the profound (at least for me).

In most conferences, there’s at least a bit of rivalry. You know: my company is better than your company. Our brochure is snazzier than your brochure.

Not so much here.

Oh, sure, I admit feeling a little bitter toward our Ohio State colleagues as the Buckeye football team knocked around Penn State on Saturday night.

But, I also felt that, essentially, we — Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, Nittany Lions, Gators, Tigers, and other institutions without mascots — are all on the same team in research. We’re trying to make the world a better, safer, happier, healthier place.

Not too bad of a way to make a living.

I met Nick Miller, who’s the senior media relations associate for research and science at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Like me, Nick was a journalist and – between you and me – transitioning from being a reporter to a media or public relations rep isn’t always easy.

But, as Nick pointed out, our work is different. It’s really not about selling the next widget or writing copy for another brochure. (Although it may include that.)

Nick put it this way: “It’s not too hard to come to work in the morning when you know that what you’re writing about may one day help save a child’s life.”


That’s not hard at all.

But riding in a taxi at 3 a.m.?

Well, that can be.

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