Short Road Away From Home

Today morning I got to hear that I had failed to get among the prizes of the first Asian Scientist Writing Awards that was hosted by the Asian Scientist Magazine. It was truly a jolt to my senses, as I looked forward to the outcome, to get myself three paces uphill, along the steep ascent of scientific communication. Scientific Communication is truly not a race for the light hearted, since there is a high possibility of abject failure in your race to succeed in the running tracks of this competitive domain and the journey is akin to a marathon and not a 100m dash where a high degree of creative adrenaline will cut you out from the rest. This is a stark reality that stares you right at the face and it is fact not myth that very few succeed in the playing fields of scientific writing.

From experience I know that sending magazine articles down the throat of pigeon holes and postman boxes of the electronic age will not get you column space or a voice on paper. My yahoo e-mail address is cluttered with my many attempts to catapult scientific magazine articles down the black holes of general e—mail addresses which are the only portals available to many of the well-known scientific magazines. Rarely do we get access to authors and columnists and in the climate of seclusion and building hermitages, and finding your place in any of the acclaimed scientific magazines is as rare as a Venus transit. To be frank, I have given up writing to magazines, as I have realized that the chances of fruition of anonymity and amateurship, is very remote and requires connections and professional linkages to make that jump across to the field of dreams of scientific writing.

This year, I have written more than 25 scientific articles and poems and only two have made their way to getting published in the Sri Lankan Scientist Magazine. The others are pasted as wallpapers in my Researchgate profile waiting for some random strike of lightning for approval. Although a blog is a better front for scientific postings, I have deliberately stayed away from starting a scientific blog due to the meagre nature of hits on scientific blogs unless you turn out to be a blue whale in the scientific communication oceans, perhaps a tenured-professor or an ardent scientific wordsmith. So, the ambition of starting a blog was wiped away by the negative tide of thought which pretty much knows that unless there is a serendipitous event in the coming horizons, I will never make it as a scientific communicator. It’s a hard truth to swallow – that one of your greatest ambitions will be extinguished before the fire actually blazed and that sorry state of affairs looks increasingly likely as my greying hair, but unlike the white follicles there is no silver lining – wisdom – to early retirement to a fledgling career as a scientific communicator.

Empiricism is a challenge of the intricacies of the firing neurons and scientific writing is the outflow of creative juices that are churned in the blenders of the human mind, and both are offspring of the same matriarch, science. Mother science is the first frontier and the last destination of the human mind and in between lies a beautiful narration of muscled and serendipitous outcomes that will litter the streets of discovery. Scientific communication is the narration of the story for all to understand, from the Nobel laureate to the street pauper and in this story lies the interface of technical brawn and creative beauty and together they form a beautiful strain of science from the bench to the bedside.

Therefore I lie here wondering whether I will ever make it as a scientific communicator, to be able to simplify the labyrinths of science on A4paper and to chronicle vast arrays of metadata sets into meaningful compasses pointing the way forward to scientific utopia.  Perhaps lightning will strike and perhaps it will be bare or ominous skies but what is certain is that with every rejection there is a sense of defeat and dilution of confidence, which I hope will be as transient as a flame from a match. I don’t know what the future holds for my ambition as a scientific communicator but I will always be fearful of rejection; but at the same time, I will also by shy to accept free passes to success. I would rather earn my ticket than be a beggar extending my palm for a few sympathetic coins. I owe myself that – to want to be measured by the ink spilled on parchment and not on my pleading self.

Scientific communication will always be a long and winding road and time will tell my story of pitfalls and perhaps the occasional podium. The short road away from home looks increasingly tempting and in spite of my broken dreams I think I will stand my ground a bit longer and practice my trade as a scientific communicator. I might not move mountains but at least I will enlighten a few minds of the intricacies of science along this journey down the road to finding myself, first as the man with the pen in hand and equally importantly, as the man who persevered with the pen in his pocket.

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Author: meandererworld (Dilantha Gunawardana)

Dr Dilantha Gunawardana is a molecular biologist who graduated from the University of Melbourne. He moonlights as a poet. His poems have been accepted/published in Forage, American Journal of Poetry, Kitaab, Eastlit and Ravens Perch. He mixes science with poetry for a living, when what matters is the expression of both DNA and words into something serendipitous. Although an Australian citizen, Dilantha is domiciled in Sri Lanka, his country of birth.

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