A Final Post

Well, this semester certainly flew by. I think I’ll avoid saying that I’ve had a great time at U of M and that I can’t believe I’m graduating in just a couple of weeks because I think everyone else in the capstone is experiencing the same thing. Instead, I’ll just tell you a little bit about my project and stay in my happy place denying the fact that I won’t be returning to Ann Arbor next Fall.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.10.52 PM

Something I dream of is living in a world where people are well informed and communication is flawless. Naturally, this can’t happen, but I wanted to dedicate my time to creating a project that would at least give a little push in that direction. Because I am a bit of a science junky, especially in biological science, I created an analysis of misconceptions in science. I focused on GMOs (and a little bit on vaccines) to investigate the question of why the opinion of the general public seems to differ from the opinion of the majority of scientists. My overall goal was to encourage the audience to do more research on anything they don’t fully understand before forming an opinion about it.

So, here it is: http://kngilb.wix.com/capstone-portfolio

And with that, I’m officially done with my work at the University. I can’t believe it’s over already.

 

michaelscottgif

If My Project is Dry and Boring, What Does that Say About Me?

For the capstone project, I’m looking at common misconceptions in science and the way we communicate scientific ideas to the general public. I’m attempting to figure out how the general public gets their information on scientific matters, such as GMOs and vaccines, and how these kinds of topics become some of the most misunderstood ones. This has the potential to say a lot about me, but for the most part I think it showcases my love of science and the advances we’ve made as a society, and my desire to educate the general public on these issues so that we might have a population that is more welcoming to new discoveries and technologies.

My biggest fear is that this whole thing is going to turn into a dry, boring research essay. I fear that it may misrepresent me as a person in that way. I like to laugh and joke around, and I don’t take myself very seriously. Most of the the photos of me on Facebook and other social media involve really unflattering faces. I want to incorporate this part of my personality into my project by putting a bit of humor into it, which will hopefully keep people more interested. There are a lot of ways that I’m thinking about doing this, but it will (hopefully) be tasteful and not so overpowering that people think I don’t take my topic seriously.

As my best friend tells me, I’ve got a knack for logical thinking, and I’m very stubborn. I read everything first as a skeptic. I think that this trait will easily come through as I analyze and debunk false, sensationalized, and exaggerated articles about certain advances we make. The risk I run here is sounding pretentious or like I’m attacking a specific person or source, which I catch myself doing fairly often. A side effect of my passion for science is the tendency to go on rants about anything that interests me, even when I notice that my audience’s eyes have glazed over. To combat this, I’m going to try to be concise while still highlighting things that I think are important to know and understand.

Tl;dr: passion for science and educating people about science, humor, and logical thinking are the biggest things I want to highlight in my portfolio.

Hello, Again

Well, those three semesters went by way too fast. It simultaneously feels like I was in the gateway course yesterday and like it was ages ago. For those of you who don’t know me, or don’t remember, my name is Kristen and I’m a senior majoring in Neuroscience. I’m from a small town near Flint, and I know how to milk a cow. I’m not really sure that the last part was relevant, but it’s interesting, right?

My major doesn’t typically call for a lot of writing, at least not the kind that the classes within the minor do, so I’m not a part of very many writing communities. The two types of writing that I want to focus on here are scientific reports and the writing done in more English-geared classes, like English 225. Both of these types of writing set out to convince a reader of something. They focus on framing available information to the writer’s advantage to make the piece more effective, but this is where the similarities end.

When writing a scientific paper,  several materials make up the content, and that content doesn’t change. Typically, it involves a question that I set out to answer, a bunch of experiments that I did to answer the question, the results I got, and how I interpreted them. The only bit of creativity I had for that kind of writing is in designing the experiments to be done and explaining why my methods were the best that could be done. Even the introductions, which include background and explain why my particular topic needed to be studied, have specific forms that have to be followed in order to be approved by supervisors or publishers. The collaborative nature of science writing is also quite a bit different from any English class I’ve taken. Several people can contribute to a publication in science, though usually only one person will write the manuscript. This is advantageous when combating deadlines, but to me had its drawbacks when trying to get my own voice heard.

In contrast, an argumentative essay allows the writer to decide what to include to best support the argument. My voice was the only one to come through in a piece of writing. In an essay I would have written for 225, a class I took with Bessie McAdams, one of the best teachers I’ve had thus far, I had more creative license. I could choose how broad or specific I wanted my topic to be, I had a small amount of freedom with page length, and I could use any source (within reason) that I thought could be used to my advantage.

It’s difficult to make the switch between these two kinds of writing. I can still remember writing my first research proposal and getting it back with lines through almost every paragraph because I was too wordy or didn’t cite a source that should have been used in a specific place. Likewise, in my essays I get criticised for being too concise and not expanding on points that could strengthen my argument.

Though I will likely use scientific writing more often in my career, I will probably keep up more creative projects, too, because the two balance each other out, and that’s ultimately why I’m in the minor.

I Get Why They Call It A WEBsite

Like most of my fellow minors, my brain is now mush from one the most challenging semesters thus far. Perhaps the hardest part about making the ePortfolio was the tireless linking to pages, documents and other websites. I can’t even imagine what it would look like if there truly were a map around the internet based on links. Thank goodness I don’t have to think about it.

I can’t believe that as soon as I hit the publish button on this post, I’m done for the summer. It’s a bittersweet moment. I’ve had a blast this semester and can’t wait to continue on in the minor!

Peer Reviews

In every English class I’ve ever taken, we’ve been required to do peer reviews. In most of my classes, nobody actually wanted to read through three different people’s essays and offer suggestions for improvement, mostly because they were afraid of offending or honestly didn’t know how to improve the writing. I’ve been to countless classes where we did peer reviews that resulted in comments like, “Your essay was so good, I might just consider a title change!” with no new suggested title, or thoughts on where I might go with it.

These types of reviews were always a disappointment and made me feel like I was wasting my time. My English professor freshman year, though, had a different take on things. She said that peer review wasn’t necessarily so that you could improve your paper based on what your peers suggested, but so that you could look at others’ writing and find where their strengths and weaknesses were and apply your own thoughts to your own paper. Many times, she said, she never even looked at comments made by her peers when she was in graduate school, but applied her own critiques to her work.

Either way, I always feel like I fail at reviewing other people’s work. I can offer so many comments of “I like what you did here, that was very clever,” and “That title is so catchy.” What I’m bad at is pointing out room for improvement. I don’t think I’m afraid of offending someone; it just seems to me that every suggestion I make would be a total style call, and mine would be different from the author’s. This way, I don’t benefit from reading my peers’ work, and they don’t get much out of it either.

So far, this gateway course has provided much more insightful reviews, since everyone in the class wants to write. I always get such great feedback from all of my classmates, but I almost never know what to say when it’s my turn to reciprocate. I think I’m too easy to please when it comes to writing, as I’ve always enjoyed reading things. I’m great at sentence-level editing and correcting grammar, but these things are trivial when it comes to reviewing the roughest of drafts.

I guess I need some help on my reviewing skills. I know I’m supposed to ask the big questions: what was the main argument? Was the essay/poem/story effective at getting the point across? Does the tone sound appropriate? These questions should serve as a guide, but it always seems to be the same thing: “Yeah, I totally got the argument, and I love that you used this form to make it. I wasn’t really confused at this part, I think that you’re being too hard on yourself with your comments.”

I think that part of this is because I’m afraid of offending, but mostly it’s because I think everyone is so much better of a writer than I am. I almost don’t feel qualified to comment on their writing because I’m not even close to their level. This is harsh criticism of myself, and I know it’s probably not warranted. But I guess it’s true that we are our own toughest critics, and I’m continually working to grow out of it.

Less Drama, More Science

No matter where you go, writing is an important skill to have. This was one of the things that I wrote about in my application to the writing minor. Giving it some more thought, I realized that sure, writing is important, but the types of writing differ so dramatically that just saying a person is a “good writer” has a bunch of different meanings.

In the science field, there is only one kind of writing. I’ve practiced this kind of writing. State what you wanted to do, why you wanted to do it, how you did it, what the results were, and what implications it could possibly have. It’s tedious and not exactly fun, but it definitely accomplishes the goal of communication. No doubt, communicating is important, but this type of writing is not what I pictured myself doing. I’ve always wanted to take the boring literature and translate it for the layperson. I know that research is losing a lot of funding mostly due to the fact that scientists cannot communicate their ideas to the regular public.

Magazines like Discover are a perfect example of this. It is so important to close the gap between scientists and the general public so that more people can be interested in funding projects. There are two main issues  that I have with these magazine. One: they are too highly dramatized. Two: since they are print magazines, there is still a large delay in the time it takes for the information to reach the public.

I once read an article in Discover entitled “The Humans With Super Human Vision” (July-August 2012). I immediately perked up because hey, that’s really cool. I wondered about X-ray vision, maybe infrared or night vision capabilities. I was so disappointed upon reading the article because the apparent “super power” that these people had was an extra cone in their retina. This basically means that they had a different type of color receptor which allowed them to distinguish between very similar shades of the same color. The article made it seem like this was some sort of amazing discovery, that perhaps there was a whole new spectrum of light that we couldn’t see. But really, it was only found in very small numbers of women, and they could tell you when one shade of blue was actually different than another that a normal person would think was the same.

This dramatization really bothers me. I think that it is essentially counterproductive, because it sucks people in and then leaves them wanting more. They get instantly disappointed because they were expecting superman and they got “Actually I think this is more of a robin’s egg blue.” Who would want to support research about this? At least be realistic with the titles. Lead with what the implications could really be, not what people supposedly want to hear. I think it would be the best thing in the world to start a blog that has the same objective: communicate with the world the things that people are doing behind closed doors in research labs, but do it honestly. This way, there is no deception, and maybe the science world wouldn’t be hurting for money.

Who We Are as Writers

Going about the repurposing project has been daunting, and every time I come up with an answer to a question, it only seems to raise even more questions. The most difficult question of all lies in choosing an audience, because in doing so, we must also decide what we want our piece to make the audience do. It isn’t enough to simply entertain, we also must make a convincing argument. In thinking about what we want to inspire, we must also think about how we want to be presented as writers. This is a difficult question to answer, and one that I think causes me many issues when I do try and write.

I want to be so many things when I write: I want to be smart, funny, sarcastic but serious, cynical to a point, but not quite depressing, honest but not brutally so, and of course I want to be original. My problem arises when I try to be all of these things at once. I find myself picking apart everything I say, thinking, “oh, that’s too cheesy,” or “I don’t think everyone will get that reference,” and so I pull things out and put in things that seem safer to me.  Putting in the “safe” options kills almost any chance I may have had at achieving my goal of being funny or honest. I’m not quite sure how to achieve these goals, though, or if it’s really even possible. Many times I will set out with an idea for a paper, and I’ll attempt to be funny by throwing in a joke. Maybe I’ll let the joke sit in my paper until the very end revision, because I thought it was pretty funny, but in the end, I will inevitably decide that the joke is not funny, and cut it out right before I turn it in.

Every time I have that “light bulb” moment, I want to rush to write down my ideas. I tell myself, “this is going to be the best paper in the history of papers!” And typically I start off very strong. I start to lose momentum around the middle of the assignment, when self-doubt sinks in. I reread what I’ve completed and think it isn’t smart, it sounds like I’m making things up. It isn’t funny, just sad. It’s too sarcastic, bordering disrespectful. And since it is too sarcastic, it ends up sounding uncaring. I cut the first paragraph and rewrite it. The second soon follows, and so on. The process ends with my shining diamond of an essay coming out as a lump of coal. The disappointment is similar to finding that same lump of coal in my stocking on Christmas morning.

I am slowly realizing that my writing doesn’t have to be all of those things at once. There are times when it can be humorous, and other times when it can be serious. Just because one of my pieces of writing is academic and intelligent sounding doesn’t mean that the next can’t be whimsical and fun. When I think about how I want to be presented as a writer, the last thing that crosses my mind is “I want to be safe and boring but meet all of the requirements.” What I really want is for people to get my personality from my writing. I want to quit cutting out the things that make my writing unique in favor of those that make it mundane and predictable.

The key is to kill the self-doubting voice in my head that says my writing isn’t good enough.

Repurposing

I’ve given a lot of thought as to how I’m going to tackle this repurposing project. The whole thing sounds like a giant beast that I have to slay, beginning with choosing the piece of writing that I wanted to use as my starting point. I finally decided on my narrative about family, which makes the argument that family is just a group of people who have learned how to fake a smile together. This was very difficult to think about changing in terms of the audience, because who wants to hear that? I originally thought about writing a short story (or a long work of fiction), but I still wasn’t sure who I wanted to direct it to.  After a slew of really fantastic suggestions from my peers, though, I narrowed my choices down to screenplay or some sort of public service announcement. This still left the problem of the audience. Who wants to hear this mildly depressing argument about family not being that perfect? Probably no one. So then I thought: maybe someone needs to hear it.

Shelley mentioned to me in class something about foster parents or people looking to adopt children, which I think is a very interesting concept. Perhaps these people need to know what they’re getting into before they finally take the plunge and have children. But then there’s also the question of what I want the piece to do. I certainly don’t want to dissuade anyone from adopting children, as I think this is an important aspect of society, and lord knows there are so many kids out there who deserve loving parents. So I now I’m thinking that it shouldn’t be some sort of depressing announcement that makes people feel as though they’re getting into something that they shouldn’t, and they need to rethink all of their choices. I want to make people laugh about it. I want to take my gloomy narrative and make light of it, in the form of a video (or a screenplay that eventually gets remediated into a video).

I think, then that my repurposing project will be redirecting my essay, whose audience was just my professor, toward potential new parents to adopted children. It will be in the form of a funny video with serious undertones, and be used to inform people that life with kids will not be all sunshine and rainbows. I’m picturing a younger sister pounding on a bathroom door and fighting about stupid arbitrary things like who ate the last bowl of cereal. I’m kind of terrified that it’s going to fall flat, though, so I’m also considering other options at this point.

Taking Authority While Writing

Let’s be honest: We all saw parts of Janet from Penrose and Geisler’s article, Reading and Writing Without Authority in our own writing. Many of us are handed a bunch of reading assignments and are told to construct an argument regarding them. Many a time, I catch myself paraphrasing something from a piece of writing in a way that could, in fact, strip its meaning. Why do I do this? The fact of the matter is that I just don’t care enough about the subject matter to really join in on the conversation taking place. I know that joining a conversation could start a disagreement, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s something that I’m just not passionate about, I don’t want to exert the effort to argue my point. Part of me is also scared that I will be torn to shreds by someone who knows more about the topic.

On the other hand, when I am passionate about something, I have no trouble taking authority in my writing. I tend to read everything as a skeptic. I like to start by thinking, “I bet a lot of this is just BS.” This helps make it easier for me to develop an argument. If the author can convince me that I’m wrong by the end of the piece, then I’ve probably enjoyed it, and I’ve truly decided where my opinions are. If I can point out various holes in the argument, it tends to make me more passionate about the whole thing. This, in turn, motivates me to join the conversation and take authority when I write. In other words, I produce something more like Roger’s writing. It’s more engaging and it isn’t scared to just come out and say “This is my argument.”

Last Thursday, during her interview, Maria Cotera told us to write about things that we’re passionate about. She said the best writing happens when we really love what we’re writing about. I think that it’s the passion that turns writing from a Janet to a Roger. We need to understand and be interested in what we’re writing about in order for it to really join the conversation. Though we cannot be that passionate about everything we read (some indifference is inevitable), it’s still important to at least attempt to write like Roger. I realized upon reading this article what a bore it must be for people to read Janet-esque writing, which is basically just summarizing the sides of the argument and making a bland statement about which side the writer agrees with. Her essay certainly didn’t strike me as particularly good. It was definitely eye-opening to read this article because I never realized that I was doing this, or that there might be something wrong with it. 

As a writer, I want to engage readers with what I have to say. I don’t want someone to pick up something I’ve written and feel absolutely nothing after having read it. This requires thrusting every ounce of passion I can muster into the subject at hand, even when I really don’t want to. Reading this article helped me figure this out.

So, here’s to being a Roger even when the material isn’t particularly enthralling.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: So, let’s recap. If my essay looks like something Janet might write, I’m probably not interested in the subject matter and I’m trying to fake it to make it. If it looks somewhat like something Roger may create, I’m really making the effort.

Reflections on Maria Cotera

I had the pleasure of attending the interview of Maria Cotera, a professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies, in which she discussed her writing process and offered advice to young writers. When asked how she became interested in writing, she spoke mostly of her mother. Watching her mother write provided the first sparks of inspiration in which eventually provided the motivation to write her own stories. Upon hearing this, I immediately reflected on my own reasons for writing. I felt so small. I’ve never had someone to inspire me to write or to look up to in admiration. There have definitely been writers that I’d like to emulate, but this was never the reason that I wrote. My own motivations are more selfish, lying more toward ego as the reason.

Thinking more about this, though, made me think that perhaps it doesn’t matter what our reasons are. Not everyone can have a superhero to show them who they want to be. All that matters is that we write.

One of the main pieces of advice to young writers that Ms. Cotera offered was to write about something that we’re passionate about. No doubt, the words come easier when we want to be saying them, and we can be so much more persuasive when we really believe in what we’re arguing. Perhaps this passion outweighs the need for a grand reason to write. Or, better yet, perhaps this passion is the reason to write. Do we really need someone or something to inspire us to be writers? I think not. I think the passion behind what we write is the reason that every writer writes, and that a person can provide the spark to ignite said passion. For Cotera, it was her mother.

Another piece of advice that Cotera gave was to keep blogging. This particularly piqued my interest. While blogging is an immediate form of writing that allows people to communicate on things that matter, I am surprised that so many professors and writers are fully behind the concept. Of course blogging encourages creativity and intelligent conversation, but it seems to me that it discourages much of the revision process that so many teachers have pounded into my brain as the most important part of writing. Blog posts are fast. Mine get read over maybe once or twice, which is kind of scary, but I never revise as harshly as I would an essay or other assignment. There just simply isn’t enough time. Though I am but a beginner in the blog world, I am finding that the whole process forces me to really think about how I feel on specific topics and it’s a great way to find out who I really am.

This interview made me think about the reasons behind writing and what the best way to approach it. Her advice to young writers like myself is invaluable, and I will take it into account when writing my own pieces. I hope to be able to incorporate the passion that she says should be found behind any sort of writing.