The Journey to Science Friday

by Miranda Bell Tilcock

I published my first manuscript in January 2021, titled “Advancing diet reconstruction in fish eye lenses in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Publication and the subsequent press release led to quite the whirlwind of attention and interviews. The most notable was being featured on Science Friday. This was unexpected and the email chain left me as a bundle of nerves. With the one year anniversary approaching, I thought I would write a blog about this crazy experience. 

Author with a California Chinook salmon. Photo from Miranda Bell Tilcock.

When you are featured on Science Friday, the first step is a pre-interview-like process via phone call. I can only assume this is to get a better understanding of the research, how you sound, and kind of dictates the flow of the 10-12-minute segment that will follow later. As someone working from home with two loud children and a third on the way at the time, I spent my time pacing around my front yard answering all sorts of eye lens peeling questions. I’m not exactly a soft spoken person, so I can only imagine what my neighbors must think of me after hearing me discuss how the lab I work in is probably a graveyard of lost eyes. I can only assume that we are now the “crazy eyeball lady” house to avoid on Halloween!

My interview was going to be a pre-recorded zoom meeting a few days after this initial phone call. Normally these are live interviews, but with the pandemic, they were pre-recorded. I spent the days in between practicing what I wanted to say and rehearsing with Kat Kerlin, UCD’s amazing News and Media Relations Environment Writer.

To be honest, the morning of the interview, I was a complete bundle of nerves. I also decided to dress up for a radio interview. Finally, it was time to get on the zoom call with Ira Flatow. I was clearly very nervous in the beginning and responded with not so great answers to his questions. This only led me to become even more nervous and awkward. My internet must have taken pity on me, because it suddenly went out during the interview. This led me to go into full blown panic mode as I frantically tried to reconnect. This was probably the longest 3-5 minutes of my life, staring at the wi-fi and hoping for it to start working again and finally it did! They were patiently waiting for me and super understanding of the whole experience. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because my nerves completely went away from the stress of the internet outage. Ira Flatow did his intro for the segment and we did the full interview all in one take without another hitch.

Since then, I’ve been asked, how did you get on Science Friday?

The answer is, I don’t really know, but here is what we did for our paper.

1) Find out who is at your campus that does science communication and writes press releases at your university. For us at UCD, we are so lucky to have Kat Kerlin. She wrote a wonderful press release for our paper that was able to be distributed widely.

2) Don’t be afraid to be a little goofy. When Kat interviewed Dr. Carson Jeffres, Dr. Rachel Johnson, and I for the press release, we couldn’t help but be a little silly while answering some of the questions. The topic is peeling fish eye lenses, so it’s hard to be too serious about such an odd topic. This led to a mixture of quotes that were both a little funny but also informative. But because they were a little goofy, they were memorable.

3) Yes, it helps to have an odd, attention grabbing topic like fish eyes, but science doesn’t always have to be super weird to get attention. It helps if you can explain whatever you are studying in a way a general audience will be interested in it. I always think about how I would want something explained to me to keep my attention. What kind of presentations and interviews do I enjoy listening to? Then I try to emulate it. Sometimes I even practice on my kids and see if I can keep their attention. 

All of this and probably a dash of luck, contributed to being featured on Science Friday. Thank you to Kat Kerlin for her wonderful press release that was seen by so many people like those sifting through all the various studies to be featured on things like Science Friday. As well as for doing a mock interview with me and making sure I sounded smart on the radio. Also a huge thank you to Drs. Carson Jeffres, Rachel Johnson, and Andrew Rypel for being such amazing mentors, co-authors, and providing guidance throughout the whole project and paper. And last, but certainly not least, the rest of my wonderful co-authors: Dr. Ted Sommer, Dr. Jacob Katz, and George Whitman. Without all their input, the paper would not have been as wonderful and attention grabbing as it was. I might have been the one featured on Science Friday, but it was certainly a team effort getting me there!

Further Reading

Miranda Bell-Tilcock, Carson A. Jeffres, Andrew L. Rypel, Ted R. Sommer, Jacob V.E. Katz, George Whitman, and Rachel C. Johnson. (2021) Advancing diet reconstruction in fish eye lenses. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.  DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13543

Press Release by Kat Kerlin 

Seeing the world through salmon eyes by Science Friday

UC Davis Unfold podcast

About Andrew Rypel

Andrew L. Rypel is a Professor and the Peter B. Moyle and California Trout Chair of coldwater fish ecology at the University of California, Davis. He is a faculty member in the Department of Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology and Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences.
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