Back to the blog, and off to the moon

Gentle Reader, as the Victorians said: Perhaps you have missed my voice in the two years this blog has been silent. Or not. Either way, I’m glad to be back.

I broke off blogging in 2012 as I began a year of intense tenure-oriented work. My dean and I had agreed that my best chance for achieving that holy grail of academe would be to focus on traditional scholarship rather than persevering with a newfangled form that leaves tenure committees flummoxed. No peer review, no glory.

And so, I conducted a study of hyperlocal competition in Riverhead, L.I., which was vetted by my peers and accepted for a poster session at the annual conference of a major academic journalism group. I gave papers at two other conferences, winning an award at one. I got grants to survey the information ecosystem (how’s that for a phrase) of Brookhaven, L.I., a large, diverse suburban town. And in March 2013, I submitted my tenure portfolio at Stony Brook.

I’m still waiting for the result, these 15 months later, but that’s another story. My dean tells me the answer will come this summer. For those of you unfamiliar with academia, my job hangs in the balance. Stressful? Naaah.

I have roused from its slumber because of my involvement in solar system exploration. Hah! You weren’t expecting that, I bet. I am part of the E/PO in SSERVI’S RIS4E team.

Translation: SSERVI, the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, is a NASA-funded interdisciplinary project that will “[c]onduct basic and applied research fundamental to the lunar and planetary sciences while advancing human exploration of the solar system” (emphasis added). E/PO = Education and Public Outreach, which NASA and other federal research funders now require in grant proposals. My part is to teach a science journalism course based on the work of the RIS4E team.

RIS4E: It’s pronounced “rise,” and it stands for Remote In-Situ and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration. Situ, synchrotron, studies, science: The four S’s = S4. In a future post, I’ll explain the in-situ and synchrotron parts—once I understand them better myself. RIS4E, based at Stony Brook, is one of nine international, multi-institution research teams in SSERVI.

Lots of acronyms and unknowns, but it’s all very exciting. My class, which I’ll teach in the spring of 2015 and again in Spring 2017, will have a limited, competitive enrollment. We’ll begin by building students’ understanding of best practices (dreadful phrase) in science journalism and of the science involved in this project. Some of Stony Brook’s RIS4E scientists will be guest speakers. We’ll take field trips to RIS4E labs on campus, at Brookhaven National Lab and at the American Museum of Natural History, and maybe a road trip to visit RIS4E researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center and the Naval Research Laboratory, both in Maryland.


Photo: NASA

I will ask the team’s grants managers to tell us about the architecture of scientific research: how it is funded, managed and published, how the web has changed that, and the role of grants in the university’s finances.

The students will blog about what they’re learning, bringing the public along on their educational journey. Among other written and multimedia work, they will profile the scientists and produce “explainers” about the science and technology they encounter.

The best part comes last. In June 2015, the entire class and I will spend 10 days on the Big Island of Hawaii where RIS4E scientists will be studying a certain lava flow on the Kilauea volcano that resembles a lava flow on the moon. The students will continue to blog and will gather information, take pictures, capture audio and shoot video of the weeklong field camp. We’ll be staying with the research team in rented houses in the town of Volcano, right outside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. We’ll spend a day or two touring the Big Island before returning to Stony Brook to put together a Journalism Without Walls website with our stories, photo galleries, podcasts and videos.

The RIS4E website will feature or link to all of the class’s work. (In 2017, field camp and our trip will be in New Mexico.)

This joint effort between the research team and a journalism school is unique to RIS4E among all the SSERVI teams, Stony Brook planetary geologist Tim Glotch, the RIS4E principal investigator and team leader, told me. It may be the first such project; I would very much like to learn about similar efforts elsewhere.

And that’s why I have brought back to life: to document what I learn about focusing a science journalism class on a research adventure of this scale. In the end, I hope to make a contribution to the literature on the pedagogy of science journalism education.

This post also appears at

  1. Way cool, Barbara. Good luck! PS I have missed your blog — and you as well. Another rendezvous at the Angel is in order!

    • Rhoda Selvin
    • June 13th, 2014

    Sounds fascinating! Good luck!

    • Judith Graham
    • June 13th, 2014

    What a great idea! I can’t wait to hear more about it.

  2. What a great project…refreshing to read your honest take on the tenure process…

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