Three years without an attention span

Photo: Eurasian red squirrel © Peter Trimming CC BY-SA 2.0

Warning: navel-gazing.

Today, Scientist Sees Squirrel is three years old.  This is somewhat startling to me, as is the fact that I’ve written about 240 posts on the blog.  In honour of this blogoversary, I went back and re-read my very first post: Does an academic need an attention span?  I was relieved to discover that, while it’s a little clunky, it doesn’t hold up too badly.  In that debut post, I explained that I picked the name “Scientist Sees Squirrel” in recognition of my lack of an (academic) attention span, and I spun that in two directions.

First, I had some thoughts about the costs and benefits of a career characterized by highly diverse (some would say “unfocused”) research interests.  I won’t rehash those here – you can read the post – but I will admit that since then the path of my scientific research has taken even more sharp turns.  If I ever get that project on carbon sequestration in maple sugarbushes off the ground, I’ll have jumped the short-attention-span shark so thoroughly it will probably be time to retire.

Second, I predicted the unpredictability of what I’d write about on the blog.  I nailed that one, in the very act of getting it wrong.  In forecasting potential topics, I started with a list of my research interests.  As it turns out, I hardly even blog about my own research (which is probably just as well: this is the only instance I can think of offhand, and hardly anybody read it).  I probably should have predicted I’d spend a lot of time writing about writing (after all, I was working away at The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, a pretty good indication that I had writing on my mind).  I couldn’t possibly have predicted I’d spend so much time writing about the etymologies of Latin names, but I discovered just how much fun that can be, and it’s become something of a hobby (not to say an obsession).

Along the way, I’ve discovered that some blog posts are wildly popular and some aren’t, and I that can’t reliably predict which will be which.  I’ve discovered that writing a blog is a pretty effective way to meet new people at conferences (“Hey, aren’t you Scientist Sees Squirrel?”), which is awfully handy for someone who struggles a bit with conferencing as an introvert.  And I’ve discovered that both friendships and collaborations can be sparked by blogging.  This year I published a paper with a terrific group of like-minded bloggers, and I should soon have a manuscript ready with a couple of very bright readers of Scientist Sees Squirrel who took one of my posts and ran with it.  Fittingly, each of these projects represents another sharp turn in my scientific path.  (Squirrel!)

I don’t know what I’ll write next here, but I’m sure there will be something.  There are, after all, squirrels to be seen everywhere.  I hope you won’t mind me pointing them out to you.

 © Stephen Heard  January 3, 2018

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