Tuesday, May 2, 2017

At the library

It was dark on Water Street as I stepped out of the library. I waved goodbye to J and headed down the sidewalk. Across the street, small white lights glowed around the sign for Pie in the Sky, our local bakery.

"Kirstin!" I heard someone call to my right. My friend, Kristina, stepped towards me, hands in her red jacket pockets. I thought she had already gone home but was glad to see she was still there.

"Do you want to go for a tea?" she asked, nodding toward Pie in the Sky. Of course I did!

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Sitting in a folding chair, I leaned over to arrange a few items in my backpack. The lower floor of the library was probably as full as it had ever been, with seminar attendees milling about and chatting. I was proud of the job I had done. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone in a flannel shirt and jeans approaching me. I looked up.

"I have a question, if you don't mind," he began. "Can you define 'benthic'? Because I always thought it meant things that were deep, but your research is right off the docks."

I explained that "benthic" referred to any organisms that lived on a surface, no matter what their depth. It was a good question, and I chatted with the man for a few more minutes.

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I stood up at the front of the room, laser pointer in hand. Someone dimmed the lights. My title slide formed a white square on the projector screen. Orange stripe at the bottom for color. Text in blue for contrast. I called it "Fauna most foul: discovering how and why dock fouling communities change over time." I thought my title was pretty clever.

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Backpack on my shoulder, I walked into the seminar room. Folding chairs were set up in rows with a projector in the middle. Only one other person was there, typing on her laptop in the front row. I slowly approached.

"Hello, are you in charge?" I asked.

She looked up at me with thick glasses and a smile. "Nope! I'm the other speaker. Nice to meet you." We shook hands.

She was more than enthusiastic about her research, talking at lightning speed about plate tectonics. She made seismology sound like a trip to the candy store. She was a beginning Ph.D. student and actually reminded me of myself a few years ago.

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I love sharing my research with others, so when an opportunity opened up to speak at the Woods Hole Public Library, I took advantage of it. The population of Woods Hole, Massachusetts has a much higher proportion of scientists than your standard small town, so I was glad for the chance to practice communicating my science to an educated, albeit non-specialist, audience. I also got to connect with new acquaintances and spend time with a good friend. It was a great evening.

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