Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to Busy-ness

After four months of living at home, I am finally back in Boston for the fall semester. I can hardly believe it! Actually, it was the lead-up that was so confusing; now that I've been here about a week, I'm pretty sure I believe it. Being at college in the city - surrounded by people, schoolwork, and various modes of transportation - is a completely different experience than being at home, and I was definitely nervous about the transition (in fact, a part of me wished my already-long summer could have just kept going). However, now that I'm going to new classes, living in a great apartment with my friends, and trying out more Boston restaurants, I remember why I picked this lifestyle.

When I'm away at school, life moves faster, people talk more quickly, and it seems like there's always some activity I should or could be doing. All of that's kind of exhausting, but it's also completely ideal. If my weeks weren't chock-full of 8am classes and science magazine meetings and ever-looming exam dates, it would be pretty difficult to move forward and to become a more skilled writer, a stronger leader, and in general a more organized, successful individual.

I've realized that the part of me that wants to go to The University of Sitting on the Couch With My Cat doesn't quite jive with the part of me that wants to pursue a career as a science journalist. And I've realized that once I tap into the latter personae, I actually like doing homework, sending emails and going to meetings. As a college student, I'm supposed to be busy, and I thrive on it. That doesn't mean I won't still take time to sit on the couch (albeit without my cat) but I'm ready to be back at Northeastern, and I'm excited for what's in store.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Science of Serving

So far this summer, I've worked on my blog, created a LinkedIn, and watched plenty of new movies with family and friends. I've also been waiting tables at a small café about 20 miles from my house, a summer activity that's taken up a large part of my time lately - I've worked the past 8 days in a row. With all the time I've spent making small talk with strangers and writing down breakfast and lunch orders, I thought it would be fun to write a blog post that combined my summer job with my long-term career aspiration: science writing.

Working at a restaurant, especially one that includes a gelato shop and coffee station, requires me to keep a lot of different people and things in my head at one time, and it's easy to get confused. However, as I've worked longer hours and more time at the restaurant, I've found it easier to memorize orders and keep everything straight. By now I can make a latte, brew a new pot of coffee, scoop and ring up two ice creams and take out a table's order within a 10-minute time span. Some of the café's more experienced servers can move even more quickly than I can, and it occurred to me that becoming a skilled server might involve training or rewiring your brain in some way, which would make for a great blog topic.

So I looked it up, and found nothing. Surprisingly - or maybe not that surprisingly - no one seems to have done a study on how servers' brains work (i.e. how they memorize orders and juggle all the different aspects of restaurant function at the same time). I think "The Science of Serving" sounds like a great idea for either an investigative article or a scientific study, but it doesn't seem to have happened yet. I can't explain how my brain is different as a result of working in a restaurant, but I know I've managed to train myself to work more than a week in a row without complete exhaustion. The scientific links to serving aren't as obvious as the links to say, cooking, but I do think there's something to the idea.

When I wrote my first blog post for NUScience, I had trouble coming up with an topic. The blog manager told me that everything is science on some level, so I could write about whatever I wanted. My post ended up being about music therapy, but with that logic, I could have just as easily written about the science of being a server. If I can take an order, scoop gelato and brew coffee all at the same time, then couldn't I be a server, a journalist and a scientist at the same time too? That kind of combination is easier said than done, but I'm certainly doing my best.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Word Count is the Bane of My Existence

Since elementary school, I've embraced all kinds of writing - journal prompts, stories, persuasive essays, and the like. I don't think I've ever gotten a writing assignment that I haven't wanted to do, and most of the time I enjoy all parts of the writing process: drafting, editing, and turning in the final product. I've always felt confident in my writing skills; however, I'll admit that I'm one of those people who just can't stick to the word count. No matter how  scattered I think my idea is, I never fail to write more words than needed, whether that number is 100 or 1,000.

Estimating very roughly, I'd say that I've written about 3,000 papers in my life, a number I'm sure will grow exponentially as my college career continues. If I write an average of 500 extra words for each essay, that means I've written 1,500,000 unnecessary words in my lifetime, or 3,000 pages. Considering the couple of hours it takes to cut down a 3,000 word monstrosity to a more respectable 2,000 word piece, I imagine I could save myself weeks of time if I could quit writing when I hit the word count. But I can't seem to stop myself from going over. I've always got more to say. Like, I can't help but write too many sentences. I always have one more thing to add.

There are two factors at work here. First, I have the common problem of trying to squeeze too many words into one sentence or paragraph, which any reader of this blog has probably noticed already. Run-on sentences are easy enough to shorten during a rewrite, but I have more trouble cutting out whole sentences or paragraphs, a necessary step when I'm more than 50 words over where I should be. I tend to get attached to my ideas, and so have to seek out an objective editor to suggest where to cut down. I always manage to get to the word or page count that was assigned, but I can't help but think my life would be easier without the extra work.

Still, the wordy, sometimes rambling tone of my first drafts is a part of my writing process, and I'm not sure that it's bad for my career. I like to get all my thoughts out on paper before I think about the word count, and although it might take some extra time to get each paragraph just right, I know that I will get to the heart of what I want to say. And it's a known fact that too much material is better than not enough.

That being said, especially in journalism, I need to know how to be concise. Paragraphs in news articles are often only two sentences, and the pieces themselves rarely run more than a couple of pages. After spending high school crafting 8-sentence paragraphs and 10-page papers, learning to write like a journalist was something of a struggle for me. By taking Journalism 1, reading news websites and writing articles for the campus newspaper, I'm made significant progress in my ability to write succinctly. I'm sure my first drafts will always run an extra page and that my blog posts will often be a paragraph longer than I intended, but I'm pretty confident I can conquer my fear of the word count.