To take arms against a sea of troubles: my life in blogging, and farewell

I started blogging in 2007, at my mother’s deathbed.

This isn’t the story I usually tell. I usually say that I always liked to write, and that I was inspired by the communications education at the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, and that I had been reading other blogs like Deep Sea News and Blogfish and Malaria etc. and Pharyngula, and wanted to join the conversation. All this is true.

But really, I started blogging as I sat for long hours as my mother slowly – too slowly – faded away from cancer. It was non-smoking-related lung cancer that had spread to her brain, and she hadn’t been aware for weeks.  There was no conversation to make. I had dropped all my second-year graduate school classes so there was no work to do. There was just a quiet house, and a computer, and the promise that there were other things in the world beside this.

Part of my writing was motivated by that promise. The other part was motivated by the people. Online, I found people who cared about the same issues I did, who balanced science and communication, who were hilarious and irreverent, and who also believed that one of the keys to saving the ocean was just trying to pay more attention. Meeting in person was almost always a delight, and causing a bit of trouble together (#DSNsuite, anyone?) even more of a delight.

Now, over five years later, blogging and other social media (mostly Twitter), have taken me farther than I ever thought possible. Blogging about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch motivated my doctoral dissertation. The social media skills I developed through independent blogging helped to make the SEAPLEX cruise more successful than I ever thought possible. Blogging about iron fertilization, and seafood, and privilege, gave me the ability to help shape a larger conversation about what the world should be. And blogging was one of the major reasons that I was selected for my current job, which is the reason that I’m writing this post.

I love science. I love spending time with my creature friends (even I did kill them to begin with) – delicate bubble snails and flower-like jellyfish and graceful little copepods. I love figuring out what they are, and asking questions about what’s going on with them, and poking around in the ocean and in the lab until some answers (and more questions) pop up. But there is only so far science can take us. Science can inform, but cannot decide, the hard choices that we as a species must now make.

Starting this February, I’m entering the policy arena as a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. For the next year, I’ll have the honor of working at the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Democratic staff, particularly with the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs. Part of the reason I’m able to do this is that I was able to show rather convincingly that I had plenty of experience translating technical information for a general audience. In fact, the interview went something like this:

“We see that you are a qualified scientist, but can you write?”
“You seem very confident.”
“Google me.”
“Ok, you can write.”

I’m beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to spend a year at the center of United States environmental policy. But to grow, you have to give something up, and independent participation in social media – especially on issues relevant to the Committee – is not compatible with politics. So, starting on February 4th, just after the Science Online conference, I’ll be taking at least a year-long leave of absence from all public social media.

I don’t know what will happen after that year, since I don’t know what will become of me. Perhaps I’ll re-emerge in a research post-doc position, free to participate online as I please, and with lots of stories to tell. Perhaps I’ll fall in love with Capitol Hill, stay in policy, and continue to avoid a public online presence. Perhaps there’s another path that I don’t know about yet. Regardless, please know that it is all of you – friends and commenters and lurkers – that have made the last five years a formative experience in my life, and a tremendous source of pleasure.

My activities and contact information will continue to be updated on my professional website, and you can follow the Natural Resources Committee Democrats on various social media.

Fair winds and following seas.

37 Replies to “To take arms against a sea of troubles: my life in blogging, and farewell”

  1. “Fair winds and following seas” seems the wrong sentiment when you’re heading straight into the maelstrom. Your contributions here will be missed. Try not to be too rough on those politicos, best of luck, and once more, unto the breach!

  2. Miriam, I’m going to miss your voice! But I am also so excited to have an amazing fighter like you getting into policy. I have more faith in the fate of science and the scientific endeavor knowing that you will be doing this work. Thank you so much.

  3. Hi,
    I have enjoyed your blog for a while now, and learned a lot. I suspect Washington will be better with you there, but I will miss reading your blog. Although, I had engaged in the technical writing thing for a while, writing from a more personal point of view didn’t happen for me until I lost my mother–odd how a void like that seems to open something that allows us to express ourselves in new ways. Good luck in Washington.

  4. Congratulations! I wish you all the best of luck, and thank you for all of your amazing contributions here and on Twitter. Will we at least see you at Science Online before you disappear into the Beltway?

  5. I am so sad, and yet so -thrilled-! You are going to knock their socks off, and advance the cause of things ocean in the real seats of power. This post & what you’re about to set off to do is a clarion call for the value of science writing & engagement.

  6. We’ll miss you, but wish you nothing but the best of luck with this exciting new opportunity.

  7. Miriam, I’m going to miss your voice!

    You haven’t heard heard her shanties then. (kidding, ducks).

  8. Oh, I was wishing the REST of you fair winds & following seas. As for me, I wish for strong lines and properly battened hatches. You know I’m fighty. :)

  9. I was a Knauss Fellow myself in the 1999 year-class, so I actually have a decent idea what you’re going to be facing up there. Regardless, thanks for all of the entertaining and informative writing, and we’ll all be waiting for you to get back to blogging. Best wishes in D.C.!

  10. If a pseudonymous political blogger emerges a few months down the road writing about maritime issues, the thought that it could POSSibly be you will NEVER even OCCUR to cross our minds. ;)

    And I am going to be using the “Google me” story in my Biological Writing class in the future.

  11. “You are going to knock their socks off…”

    Those and also the scales from their eyes, I suspect. Even the politicians won’t be able to squirm away from Miriam’s passion for the ocean and her ability to show others what she sees through her eyes.

  12. Good luck Miriam in DC. We were hatched from the same nest at Brown – Im a bit older, but you have been a role model for me in my coming out as a public scientist. Iv’e long admired – even envied – you excellent writing and ability to translate science for the masses. Including other scientists from different areas. Much of what I know about iron and plastics Iv’e learned from your blogging. Ditto for twitter.

    I am sad to loose you from the web and also to a degree from academic science. But I’m really glad someone with your drive, talent and commitment is heading to DC to set some things straight. I’ve been toying with leaving academic myself, to do more direct policy and conservation application (and have even applied for a few non-academic jobs). I think a lot of us are feeling like we need more direct action, now.

    I hope to see you back after your stint as a policy wonk, but for now, thanks for all the great blogging!

  13. How exciting!! I’m so glad to have met you :) You helped this little undergrad to see the Bigger and Better things beyond the piece of paper, you motivated me to get curious and to know there’s life after being an English major ;) Thanks so much for blogging and being a kind, amazing person ! I know you’re gonna continue to do great work on behalf of all of us — and I, selfishly, hope you’re able to return to blogging: your stories are always interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking. The ‘blogosphere’ needs more of you.

    Wishing you very, very good luck and hope that our paths cross again sometime!

    Ann (Missmolamola)

  14. Delighted that you will be helping those foolish CongressCritters to decide! Best of luck.

  15. I won’t lie…I was definitely getting teary eyed reading this post…not only did you leave the coast I love the most…but now this…How am I to survive without your presence in my life =**(

    I feel a reflection coming on….I remember when I had only but heard of the great Miriam Goldstein…a woman of pure online and oceanic legend….then alas I finally got to meet you over a nice foamy root beer in portlandia (as I was not of the age to drink the fine ales I now frequent). Over the past 5 years from my undergraduate and now into graduate school, you have stood, a beacon of light and inspiration. Inspiration to not only be a kick ass scientist, but to dabble in such things as blogging and twitter. I’m gonna miss you M.G. (thank goodness I get to see you on Thursday). So this weekend as we get into all sorts of debauchery…I raise my glass to you (maybe a couple of glasses) and toast to one of my greatest heroes in science.

    Thanks for everything.

  16. While I’ll miss your blogging, nothing but good can come from a voice as powerful as yours fighting in the political arena. Best of luck, and thanks!

  17. I recently read China Mieville’s Kraken and thought of you. Now I will re-read it to myself, aloud, in the best impression I can do of your voice.

  18. Miriam, you were one of the first 5 science bloggers I met in real life, and that helped me set the tone for how to conduct myself. (Kevin and Southern Fried Scientist were no help at all, you understand).

    Your awesomeness is why you’re leaving blogging and it sucks but to do less would be less awesome.

    Got get ’em Miriam!

  19. Lovely post. I can only dream of being half the blogger you are.

    Unlike Johnny, I wish you delicious meat and bread entirely without weevils!

  20. No. I’ve seen too many pseudonymous political blogs blow up horribly. I’d be foolish to jeopardize serious national issues to serve my ego. My ego is big enough to survive the year. :)

  21. Good luck! I love seeing people find jobs thanks in part to their blogs (even if it means the blogs have to be put on hold). :)

  22. Miriam, what a beautiful post! It’s been an honor and a blast to be in the same cohort with you. I already miss your insightful comments during lab meetings and your wicked sense of humor (how many double/triple/quadruple entendres can one person make?). You made our lab a better place professionally and personally, and even managed to teach Mark a little about this thing called the internetz.

    This Wednesday, Alison, Darcy, Meg and I will raise a girly cocktail glass to you at Cucina Urbana and wish you a good cruise (and death to your enemies). We know you will excel as Chief Sci on your current expedition. I, personally, feel a little better about our nation’s future knowing you are in DC providing smart, balanced counsel to the folks in congress.

    See you in back in port, and to borrow a phrase, onward ever onward. -J

  23. Miriam, I’ve been following you online quietly for some time. I agree with the other sentiments that your personal voice will be missed, but what a fortunate thing for us that you are going to be in a place where you can have some influence on issues related to ocean conservation. I wish you the best and look forward to your return.

  24. Good luck looking after our ocean we share with the rest of our world. I hope you can make a difference.

  25. another teary-eyed reader, here! best of luck, and i too will miss your posts. keep fightin’ the good fight!

  26. Well, heck. I just discover this wonderful blog, via the debate over Carl Safina’s work, and then read that she’s left the house. Good science is always needed in the corridors of power but it takes a buddhist’s sense that an immovable object can be moved — one atom at a time.

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