Science Martini: Plant Biology with a Twist
A cloud of mint perfumes the air as I add ice to the mojito in my shaker and continue,
“...the smell of mint, lemon peel, cinnamon–are all chemicals that plants make to protect themselves against insects and other pests...”
Throughout my PhD, I worked as a bartender at a Peruvian restaurant in Portland, OR, where I would practice explaining my dissertation research in a game I considered bartop roulette: anyone could sit in front of me. The New York wine expert, the NFL football player (Hi Suh!), the travelers nostalgic for their backpacking trip around South America, and occasionally, my mom-- would rotate in the hot seat. To play, I fire off a casual anecdote to inspire guests to follow up with the deadly question:
"What is your dissertation on?"
And the clock begins. I have nearly 20 seconds to convey the beauty and importance of my scientific research questions (and purpose in life as a scientist) before their attention will trail off. So, no pressure.
I cannot blame anyone for politely acknowledging my impassioned description of the unknowns in my particular corner of biology before returning to network with the other Nike employees at their private event. I share the same mortal downfall. My attention meanders unless guided by an obvious path to my personal experience. This human limitation is a key component to my communication practice. Whatever slips through the narrow attention window, and piques the interest of the person-whose-old-fashioned-I-stir, matters. I glean direct feedback on my analogies and word choice. I learn which descriptions have the greatest potency to tap into a common, shared experience. Relating is by far the most powerful force I have found in human connection.
Some days I feel powerless. Numbers can be defeating—statistics on global carbon emissions, deforestation rates, biodiversity loss, increased poverty, inequality in human rights, and school shootings lead me to question whether I can have a positive impact.
Human connection is the reason I do research and seek out effective teaching strategies. Through deeper understanding, I believe it is impossible to not care or see the beauty in a cell, a forest, and the evolutionary processes that guide them. Science gives me hope; through scientific discovery--and relating with anyone--a shared experience of the the wild, beautiful, intricate world, more people have a reason to care.
-Adrienne L. Godschalx