Monday, November 03, 2008

344. Scientific Writing, Narrative Writing, and a Reflection on the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

PDF File of Sample National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF) that was funded back in 2002:

Writing a Scientific Paper is Like Filling Out a Form. Like Above. My advisor, Armand Kuris, said that first you tend to write the methods and results, and then you tack on the Introduction and Discussion in the end. I can see why, because Intros and Discussions require literature reviews, and you have to play the Intellectual Gossip Game of "Who Did What" and "Who Thinks What" just to plug in your current research to the larger picture.

PDF File on Guidelines for Writing a Scientific Paper:

Writing an National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Proposal (NSF GRFP) has three parts: (1) make up some science experiment you will be conducting on fellowship (2) track record of past research related experiences (3) a personal statement on the "what's the point of existence" relative to the Scientist's frame of reference. I think the Personal Statement is an opportunity for the scientist to break out of his or her "scientific writing" frame of reference, and has an opportunity to complete an autobiographical narrative. Please Visit Ecopistemology and Multi-Media Storytelling, BLOG #283. It's interesting to see how my evolved from just scientific writing (June 2003) to the ability to design and analyze nearly all forms of multi-media storytelling. I used to just "do science," but I realized that scientists forgot the context of their scientific activities. Since I am a female, I have a tendency to transform science and the university environment as some kind of Intellectual Seinfeld--a cross between soap opera and sitcom. *Sigh.* Dxmmit I am a female.

Inventory of Key Graduate Student Properties and Traits. Please visit Vic's Old Resume from Blue Horizons.

Intrinsic Properties That Will Allow Me to Survive as a Scientist in the Arts
--creatively systematic (I think creativity is quite logical!) / conceptual / integrative / determined / self-motivated / self-resourceful / craving challenge / goal-oriented / positive / energetic / open-minded / willingness to experiment and try new things, “in chronic calibration of intuition” / open to criticism / addicted to learning / ability to learn quickly / critical thinker / non-procrastinational / education through direct experience / adventurous / survivor of harsh field conditions / long-term endurance, physically and mentally / organized / meticulous to a reasonable extent / independent, but communicative and collaborative / never found bored / “I am one of those people, no matter how hard I fall down, I can get up and dust off my (hopefully not broken) knees, reflect on what happened and how I can prevent that from happening again, and then move on, with even more determination.”

These are just some documents and blurbs of my brain that I had an opportunity to share with Becca Selden, a bright, energetic, determined, hard-working graduate student in the lab of Drs. Steve Gaines and Bob Warner. She has been working with an NSF GRF, and we spent quite a bit of time this evening discussing how to potentially improve her proposal. It cuts into my work time, but you know what? Becca is an exceptional individual and it would be extremely difficult NOT to help her. As I mentioned, the last five years, I went through a natural selection of human relationships, weeding out about 95% of the people I met, and keeping 5%, and attempting to maintain relationships with about 0.05% (5-10 people), because that is all I have the capacity to do.

I don't understand how I was funded by NSF... despite all odds against my situation... like my GRE scores, for example. I received a 750 in math. 4.5 in writing (pathetic!). And my Taiwanese friend Meg (who learned English in 3 years) received a higher score than I did (both in the 500s). But I suppose that GRE scores aren't the only elements to which a student is judged upon. Glory Halleluliah! There is hope in this world!

I remember writing the remainders of my NSF proposoal over a weekend in Fall Quarter 2002, amidst a course of Invertebrate Zoology, NCAA tennis training, and studying for GRE exams. Even when I proposed to to apply to NSF GRF to my undergrad CCS advisor Armand, he looked at me with skepticism and suspicion, "Oh, that grant that people get if you have stellar GPAs and GRE scores?" Which I had NEITHER of them. Whoa. My confidence was pulverized. *Sigh*

I was so stressed out the few days before submitting the proposal on line. I was absolutely pissed off at my father, who made NO EDIT MARKS on my paper! I exclaimed to him over the phone, "But, didn't you READ it?!!" And he said he did. He saw nothing wrong with the proposal. Oh! Okay. So, at the time I didn't believe it. But I suppose that was a seminole moment in the relationship between me and my father. The notion that my father made no edit marks on my NSF proposal signifies that since the time my father started editing my papers (since age 6 or so...) and the near twenty years passing... there must have been a decline in the percent cover of red ink on my papers... to a point of optimality: NO ink on my paper. Essentially, my father's editing of my essays indirectly brainwashed me into scientific writing and scientific thinking (not that this brainwashing was intentional). Writing had a function. Every single word had meaning, was grounded in observational reality. Every word was designed to communicate a concept, a map, a notion. This form of writing was contrast to most of the "Flowery Bullshxt Writing Techniques" of the vast majority of students going through American Education: the goal was to Take Up Space With Words such as to Acquire a Passing Grade. I could never stomach these tactics. I am so poor at Bullshxtting. I wish I had that skill. I suppose I could survive in the world a little bit better than what I have been.

In addition, my advisor at UCLA, Peggy, emailed me her flaming-green edits (good, not all red!). My paper was covered with algae-green ink! Peggy didn't edit my grammar: she wanted to change the entire structure of my experimental design for my set of seed growth experiments. Due to time constraints, I had no ability to restructure my experiment, therefore rewrite my proposal. I took in no edits of Peggy's.

Despite all these odds against me, I found it absolutely hilarious that I received this National Science Foundation Fellowship! I remember... it was a Sunday morning in the middle of April 2003. I was alone in my room at the time. My roommate, Meg Ni, was out and about, and I checked the internet. And amidst a laundry list of names of who received the fellowship was... my name. My name? MY--NAME. MY NAME! MY NAME! MY NAME!!! Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!! And gawd knows what other incoherent noises came out of my mouth as I jumped for joy all around the room, as if I won the lottery or something. Uh, like an academic lottery of sorts. Winner of Indirect Competition. Or maybe, what would make me jump for joy like that? Finding the guy of my dreams?! Cliche, but ... More so like PUBLISHING MY FIRST BOOK (THAT'S NOT SELF-PUBLISHED). I will jump for joy, just like this NSF Proposal. My first book contract. Ya. I can't wait to jump for joy. What am I waiting for?!

I know for sure it was the first time in my life I screamed and jumped around uncontrollably, as if I were on some strange form of drug found out in the rainforest, performing some ancient wild ritual, and I just had a vision of all the Earth, Sun, and Moon Gods. But no, I just jittered and called my parents. My mom predictably said in a somewhat apathetic tone, "Oh, that's nice." Ugh. She doesn't get it sometimes. Later that summer she challenged me before I was off to graduate school, "Why don't you just go out and get a REAL job." Which I went crying to my father, and he told my mom to back off. My dad understood better what had happened. I remember sitting on the couch, mind-numbed and overshot with excitement, subconsciously asking, "WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?" Though the words never formulated at the time--hence it was subconscious. Duh. Now it's November 2008. "What does this all MEAN?!" Gulp. My last year of funding. And I am desperately attempting to transform all my failures into a few successes. In the mysterious realm of "environmental media." No. I am the Scale Girl.

Can the summation of successes lead to a great failure?
Can the summation of failures lead to a single success?

Against all odds, I did it.
I won the Academic Lottery.
Supposedly out of merit.
Or was it just a luck shot I had a very nice panel of judges.

I guess perhaps the judges (all crammed in a hotel room for a couple of days) were impressed by my application simply because I had the capacity to write what I did at such a young age: 21 or 22 years old. I can thank the UC LEADS program for that ability. UC LEADS was like enrolling in a masters program for undergraduates.

So, I go through most of my life every single day, feeling like I know nothing. But today, I took good quality time to helping Becca with her NSF proposal, which has helped me go down the Rabbithole of Memory Lane. I was so elated to converse with Becca--and help her--it made me realize that maybe I actually DO know something. Maybe I do have something to contribute.

Speaking of Memory Lane, I learned something profound today in the Evolution of Vertebrate Consciousness, which has essentially paralleled the evolution of technology. One day, every single human will have an iRobot, or iBot, such that all these independently evolved technologies will integrate into one single technological crutch for all human functions within an Interdependent Technocratic Society. So, back to fish brains. There are three types of neurons: sensory (input) neurons, associative neurons, and motor (output) neurons. The brain essentially evolved as a mere "add-on" to the spinal cord. And going from shark brains to monkey brains, all that happens is (1) additions of layers and layers of associative neurons that have increased ability to process sensory inputs and translate them to motor outputs (2) additions of layers evolved as independent, "decentralized" spheres (separate olfactory center, auditory center, and visual center), and that over time and space, these separate spheres started to integrate in functioning... such that organisms can have a multi-sensory experience of reality. Essentially, adding tracks to a piece of music. Consider fish brains to be Jack Johson: guitar and voice. Consider mammal brains to be Stravinsky's rite of spring: the syncing and synergizing of multiple strings of sensory-processing abilities to stream together into one reality. Just epic shxt in consciousness. From decentralized processing to centralized, integrating processing. Sam Sweet mentioned that it's easy to confuse a fish because if you expose a scent, a sound, and a vision to a fish, it would only have the ability to process one sensory input at a time, in order to determine whether to gravitate toward or run away from the source of the sensory input. But other organisms, largely mammals, can input and process multiple (simultaneous and conflicting) functions all at the same time and construct a multi-sensory reality. So imagine, what if a fish had the capacity to create a movie, it would only have a linear view of reality, tune into audio, then tune into visual, then tune into pressure, then tune into smells. It would be mono-layered. I should ask Sam Sweet, if a shark, a frog, and turtle, a bird, and an armadillo could make a movie, what would it look like, in terms of its neurological wiring? What if we had Smellevision and not Television? What about insect perception? What about plant perception?

It's funny to think, I am learning about the Design of Vertebrates, and it's all about Plumbing and Wiring. Like I'm learning how a car works. It's best for me to learn the operations of Biology before I venture into learning the operations of Biological Extensions of humans, aka Technology.

Given THAT aside... wow... talk about ASIDE.

So, I was informed by Becca that the NSF GRFP process and motives have changed--in a good way--from promoting Intradisciplinary to Interdisciplinary, Intellectual Merit as Practical Scientific Thinking, and Broader Impacts (relationships between Science and Society). I drove Becca back home (toward "Westside" of Santa Barbara) amidst traffic (there was a gunman chained to a fence over a freeway bridge earlier that day, this event did not help with the traffic conditions). We had a great conversation, and Becca has superb material to work with for her application. The whole goal is to Know Thy Audience and Fit Your Skills to the NSF Frame, in a more terse, flowing, but heart-tugging manner. A difficult trade-off to accomplish: selling yourself and selling your intellectual soul to the government through functionalist writing that cannot cross the line of flowery kissing-up.

Well, I suppose selling your soul to the government is better than selling your soul to... other industries of society that are more profit-oriented. Granted, the government--especially at mass-scales--have their own red herring agendas that are more correlated with personalities of political leaders rather than the representative voices of the mass accumulation of scientific literature, but I think this soul-selling is a much lesser evil than soul-selling to say... business... or Hollywood... who are more concerned with individual accumulation of money than any form of greater good of society. We are fortunate as scientists to have such time and attention from NSF. We as scientists are even lucky to have 15 minutes to present our research in conferences. I experienced such dire circumstances in the book publishing industry, as well as the Hollywood Scene, whereas I had to sell my soul within a one-minute monologue, a one-minute vocal demo, a half-a-minute book pitch (and if I was lucky, I had ten minutes), and the worst part is I had to PAY MONEY to even MEET these people to sell my soul to them. God shxt. Scientists have got it good. They operate under a different time scale than the rest of society (the university is like the long-term endocrine system part of society (an immense source of mutations, and novel signals that may represent innovation or detriment, but has a very slow lag time release of information... like some kind of endocrine system), I was reasoning with Becca, while business represent the vast bulk exchange of resources (the "visceral operations"), the media represent exchange of information (the central nervous system, but media has become to crass, it's more like the autonomic nervous system), and the government represents the higher integrative-regulatory-control functions of the central nervou system (as I call it Gov't, Inc.)--sometimes the government becomes part of visceral exchange of resources, it waxes and wanes become visceral and somatic anatomy and physiology).

Wow. I am getting REALLY off topic. And one more point, I was wondering how the human body analogy shifts with smaller scale societies versus larger scale societies. Maybe in smaller-scale societies, adaptive management is more feasible, and scientists don't necessarily represent the endocrine system, they actually have some central nervous system functions... well, that will be the day :-).

Anyhoo, Becca is full of potential. It's just a matter of formatting the paper: some minor things like stayin consistent with past and present tense, mixing up variations in word usage and sentence structure, deliberating between the use of first person or third person, use of bolding and subheading techniques to get to the point.

There were a few heart-throbbing components to Becca's application... which really caught my eye. One element is how Becca directly witnessed "simultaneousy conflicting value systems" in third world countries: where the value of conservation conflicted with the value of survival and having food for the day. Wow. That must have been an EPIC experience to directly witness that, which I marginally felt in Costa Rica (not exactly a third world country, but not super well-off either). Becca is considering in creating a Citizen Scientist program, which is just a phenomenal idea. It can go well with my future films on stakeholder perceptions.

1 comment:

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