Early this month, I got lucky. The boss asked me to cover a workshop – Science, Journalism, Media – Communicating Science in a Changing India. He had no idea how much the opportunity meant to me. He is, in fact, still quite clueless on the fact.
Anyway, we took off, on the 19th of August, (with me were Geetha from Resonance and Priya from Current Science) at the break of dawn, or so it felt, to board Chennai Express. We arrived at the guest house at 3-ish noon and proceeded to Elliot’s beach in Besant Nagar. The agenda – wash off the travel fatigue by frolicking in the waves. This, followed by a good night’s rest, refreshed the three of us, and we were ready for the day to come.
Following office instructions, I met with Rahul Siddharthan from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, who, I was informed, would instruct me on my role in the workshop (something to do with reporting). Now – here’s the best part – the three of us meet the man, and he looks at us quite calmly and exclaims "But, I didn’t ask for anyone to be sent here”. Then as a charitable afterthought, he adds, “now that you are here, you could probably make some notes”.
Well, obviously! What were my options, really? And so we settled in, in what we decided were the most obscure seats in the hall, and I whisked out my notebook to jot points, just in case. But, as it turned out, I couldn’t.
The workshop was abuzz with scientists and science communicators, many of who are my idols that I stalk on twitter. I felt like an actor-wannabe attending one of those film-award affairs. I was surrounded by the superstars of my world, and I was dumbstruck. Literally. And unlike the seemingly polite and formal meetings that are often witnessed within the Academy walls, everyone here appeared to have a strong opinion that they blatantly expressed. How was I expected to take notes with all the drama on stage? So, I didn’t.
I won’t get into summarizing the workshop proceedings here. There are quite a few reports around already. In fact, if the boss insists, I, myself, might have to compose one for the Academy records. Instead, this is where I will justify how and why I got spooked.
I realized, during those two days, that everyone in the workshop was interacting with everyone else, in between the sessions. Perversely, the three of us from the Academy were huddled in an isolated corner. Turns out, all three of us were shy/introverts. Throughout the course of the workshop, the journalists I idolize – during their sessions – offered numerous tips on networking and establishing relationships (you have no idea how much they stressed on this point). But, how on earth was I expected to walk up to one of the scientists (who i also hero-worship) and say – hey, let’s keep in touch?!!! How do people do this?!
There were multiple accomplished communicators around me whom I wanted to walk up to and declare that I love their work. But, I just couldn’t pick up the courage. Instead, I sat in my seat (during most of the coffee breaks) and brooded. Can I never become a science journalist just because I am people shy? Do I need to change my personality to write award-winning stories (a girl is allowed to daydream!) in Science? Can I change myself at this age to accommodate for a career I aspire? Or should I simply stick to the non-mainstream media 'science writing'?
There was an entire period of questions and reflections. And then, just like that, following a week of misery, I snapped out of it. I knew I am here to stay. I’ll figure it out. Fingers crossed. Or, maybe I should Google this a bit....