International SciComm, Tall Trees, and a Bridge: My Week in San Francisco

Sorry, I lost my head in San Francisco, and it’s taken me quite some time to find it again – my apologies. Since it’s the beginning of another scholarship and fellowship application season, it’s only right to properly honor the trip that kicked off last year’s season: the World Conference of Science Journalists 2017.

Before attending or hearing about the WCSJ conference, I thought I was alone and too unique in this world. Prideful, yes, but I knew of zero other people pursuing my same or similar degree path that desired to explain and communicate science. I thought for sure that I’d have to pick between science and writing upon graduation because I was never exposed to the community of others that think the same way I do, others that blend the two worlds so artfully.


Then, after a random post by friend Tyler Plum informing me of this fellowship, I applied. Soon after, I received the email saying I’m one of 22 fellows to attend and work the WCSJ. What I didn’t know is how much larger my professional world would soon grow, yet, still seem so small.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.54.46 AM.png
A year ago to date, Tyler posted this on my wall. Thanks, friend!

There are conservation issues protecting birds in New Zealand, more specifically the kiwi, just like there is a need to protect hellbenders here. There are social justice debacles in Cambodia as well as in the States, and everyone in the world deals with science misinformation.

I offically have a friend from Montenegro, and it’s Anđela Đurašković, who is pictured here.

This group of 22 20-somethings were merely random Facebook friends for a few months. Now, we’re international friends who hope to see each other again someday amidst our travels and adventures.

Rithy Odom, from Cambodia, and Ellen Rykers, from New Zealand. Both talented writers and kind-hearted people.

Plus, because it was a fellowship, I had the opportunity to attend a special workshop session by Diego Graglia, an independent journalist near Santa Cruz, Calif., and Rob Irion, a professor from University of California, Santa Cruz. Both experienced writers and teachers, they helped immensely at strengthening our headline writing and lede skills. They also introduced us to the first opportunity of professionally networking – amongst the fellows and with other editors from across the world. This helped prepare us for the week to come, especially when covering our two specific sessions.

By the end of the conference, each fellow covered two sessions. Mine were personally way out of my wheelhouse. One was how to profile scientists, something I’ve never done before, and another was about neurons in the brain, which, granted, my sister does research on the brain and is cool, but it’s a dense subject to cover.

And there were plenty of opportunities to discover the new-to-me city, too. I managed to do almost all of the big touristy things to do in San Fran, like ride the trolley down from Lombard Street to viewing the sun rise over the Bay Bridge and visit the other cool bridge, too (on a game day, too!).

The Golden Gate Bridge was a little clouded in fog, but it didn’t dampen my excitement for the game!
Chinatown was a must-see, and the food was incredible
Lombard Street makes Morgantown roads look halfway decent.

The WCSJ also planned quite a few exciting excursions, too. A donor provided tickets to see Tested.Com, where I saw Adam Savage talk about creating things presently and from his Mythbuster days. I also met Simone Giertz, “The Queen of Shitty Robots.” She was an inspiration from my Arduino days to just go out there and build, even if it’s not perfect, and it was a true honor to meet her.


The California Academy of Sciences was a dream (and the food was nothing short of incredible). My field trip day was spent amongst the Sequoia sempervirens of the California coast. I love trees – they’re just so dang cool! It was a check off the bucket list for sure.

Tree hugger. (For size, I’m 5’4″.)
When something is as grand as these trees, it’s good to zoom in and notice the intricacies of the leaves and bark, too.

Overall, from this trip, besides gaining fun experiences, I learned how to be confident in poking around a new city and discovering this whole new window of opportunity and network of other science journalists.

But maybe the confidence didn’t come from the traveling. Maybe it was the Crocs whilst traveling.

Trolley rides aren’t complete without the Crocs #comeasyouare

Please let me explain myself because there’s a story that might convince you.

My layover flight was delayed, so I was considering going to grab food. I look down and see a pair of pink crocs next to my blue ones, and I start talking to the nice lady sporting them.

One thing leads to another, and the next thing I know, we’re down at Sbarro’s and she’s paying for my pizza.

Talk about a great day.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 12.23.12 AM.png

Oh, and I was able to visit my cousins! It was odd seeing extended family for more than two hours over Christmas dinner, but it was refreshing and wonderful for sure. Kidding – they’re lovely cousins, and I wish I could see them more.

There are no cousins in Louisiana currently, but that’s where I’m headed next! I’m attending the OCEANDOTCOMM event, sponsored by LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium). It’s bringing together scientists and journalists to figure out how to communicate a certain event or problem in the #scicomm world. I’m honored and excited to be a part of this team of innovators, and I can’t wait to check another state off my list!

What can I say, #WestVirJillianTravels as frequently as she can 🙂

Until next time, my dudes.

Giant redwood, giant smiles.