Interview at Forecast

I’ve just given an interview at the Forecast podcast, hosted by Nature’s climate change editor, Michael White. Head over to the Forecast website to check it out.

What I love about Forecast is that it interviews climate scientists as fully-rounded human beings, rather than fact-generating robots. The humanisation of scientists is so important for science communication. If the audience feels like they can relate to a scientist, they’re more likely to trust them and take an interest in what they say. Michael does an exemplary job of this, because his interviews aren’t just limited to reporting the results of recent studies. He also asks his guests how that research was done, how they became a scientist in the first place, and what life is like as an academic. These are the sorts of conversations scientists actually have with each other, and it’s refreshing and fascinating to see them captured in online media.

I approached Forecast with an idea for a podcast I’d had rattling around in my brain for months. I am a person who stutters. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog before, but there you have it. When I’m talking my throat likes to close up and block the words from coming out. This is frustrating.

In academia these days there’s quite a lot of discussion about equity and diversity. Usually this is around gender, sometimes ethnicity, sometimes sexual orientation. But I’ve yet to hear any discussion about disabilities. Here I am with this very obvious disability (at least, it’s obvious every time I open my mouth) and I’m sure my colleagues have questions about it, but everyone is too polite to ask.

Those who do say anything – usually my closest friends, and only after I bring it up – generally say something along the lines of “you’re so brave to be a scientist anyway and not let this stop you”. I was really taken aback the first time I heard this, because I’d never even thought about it that way. My disability has never factored into my career choices for a second. There are very few jobs that don’t require some amount of speaking, and I like science and am good at science, so why would I do anything else?

But this got me thinking. About 1% of the population stutters (mostly men, I’m the unlucky exception) and surely there are some aspiring scientists in there. Maybe they’re not all as stubborn as I am. Maybe it would help them to hear from someone who has made it work.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this podcast helps somebody. You also get to hear about ice-sheet/ocean interactions, model development, my new postdoc, and all the different Commonwealth countries I have lived in.


5 thoughts on “Interview at Forecast

  1. Well, if you hadn’t brought it up I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Anyway, if the King can get along, I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

  2. Kaitlin, I’m impressed by your courage and determination. Please allow me to reveal a secret. I received my Ph.D. at age 36 nearly 40 years ago, an accomplishment I never imagined could or would happen. I had known since childhood that my performance under stress was dismal, not from stuttering, but from an inability to control my fright and flight syndromes. When speaking before a crowd, even though I knew the subject material, I often could not bring forth coherent sentences. My head would be like mired in mud and watching a ravenous lion charging toward me.

    However, I was fortunate. At age 33 I had completed a masters degree and was unsuccessfully searching for a job; my wife had been supporting us. Unknown to me, a well-known professor at a different university had been talking to one of my professors. Three times he had called me, each time encouraging (begging) me to join his research group and work toward a Ph.D. Twice I declined, but the third time, still unemployed, I couldn’t refuse after he offered me a three-year TRF.

    I knew I was not Ph.D. material, but my new advisor apparently thought differently. I had an ability he needed, and he had an ability I needed. His ability was taking me under his wing and doing much for me that you have done for yourself. I’m not proud of my performance, but in the end my research work earned the university millions and saved some companies millions. Some of my work became known in a number of countries.

    Relax! Yeah, easy for them to say. I recall a cartoon of a blindfolded man standing next to a wall with 12 rifles pointing at him. The executioner yelled, “If you relax it won’t hurt so much.” My advisor gave me a copy of “Your Erroneous Zones” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. The most important points I learned from that book were that “You know more about the subject than your audience does” and “It is OK to fail.” I highly recommend this book.

    At the beginning of the book Dr. Dyer poses the 25 questions listed below and then shows how to find positive answers. I especially like number 25. My wife of 46 years will be the first to confirm that I’ve yet to repair any deficiencies. But deficiencies aside, I can see that your current and future research work may have the potential to save the world hundreds of trillions of dollars if your debugged computer programs can more accurately predict whether sea-level rise by 2500 will be 12cm or 12m.

    1. Do you believe that your mind is your own? (Chapter I)
    2. Are you capable of controlling your own feelings? (Chapter I)
    3. Are you motivated from within rather than from without? (Chapter VII)
    4. Are you free from the need for approval? (Chapter III)
    5. Do you set up your own rules of conduct for yourself? (Chapter VII)
    6. Are you free from the desire for justice and fairness? (Chapter VIII)
    7. Can you accept yourself and avoid complaining? (Chapter II)
    8. Are you free from hero worship? (Chapter VIII)
    9. Are you a doer rather than a critic? (Chapter IX)
    10. Do you welcome the mysterious and the unknown? (Chapter VI)
    11. Can you avoid describing yourself in absolute terms? (Chapter IV)
    12. Can you love yourself at all times? (Chapter II)
    13. Can you grow your own roots? (Chapter X)
    14. Have you eliminated all dependency relationships? (Chapter X)
    15. Have you eliminated all blame and fault-finding in your life? (Chapter VII)
    16. Are you free from ever feeling guilty? (Chapter V)
    17. Are you able to avoid worrying about the future? (Chapter V)
    18. Can you give and receive love? (Chapter II)
    19. Can you avoid immobilizing anger in your life? (Chapter XI)
    20. Have you eliminated procrastination as a life-style? (Chapter IX)
    21. Have you learned to fail effectively? (Chapter VI)
    22. Can you enjoy spontaneously without having a plan? (Chapter VI)
    23. Can you appreciate and create humor? (Chapter XI)
    24. Are you treated by others the way you want to be? (Chapter X)
    25. Are you motivated by your potential for growth, rather than a need to repair your deficiencies? (Chapter I)

  3. Winston Churchill, George V ‘s Prime Minister, comes to mind and his speech defect appears not to have precluded a roar.

  4. Hi Kate,

    I mentioned this to Michael over Twitter, but I think the biggest issue with a lot of people who don’t stutter is recognizing that what they think is “helping” someone with a stutter is really just acting based on their own comfort level, and isn’t about helping the person with the stutter at all. My first college roommate stuttered, and it made me understand how self-centered all of my previous interactions with stuttering had been. Congrats on all of your progress, by the way!

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