About Us: Liz Neeley

Liz Neeley is our Assistant Director of Science Outreach. She focuses on the communications training and media outreach aspects of our work, and she specializes in social media. This week, she stirred the pot, asking some of our writer friends to share their uncensored thoughts on the state of science press releases. Check out Taming Beastly Press Releases for a summary, but be sure to click through to the complete responses, and jump into the discussion on twitter or in the comments section.

Here’s a little bit more about Liz:

Liz loves live-tweeting science talks. Two computers, three twitter handles, a livestream, and chat moderation? No problem… (right?)
Photo by John Meyer

1. Where did you grow up?  All over the place! My dad was in the Air Force (thank you for your service, Dad) so we moved every three years or so. My full list goes: Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Iceland, Germany, Ohio again, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maryland again, and finally Washington State. People usually want to hear about Iceland of course – I was pretty small, but I remember all the amazing geology: volcanoes, bubbling mud, hot-springs, geysers! And the ponies – I was really into the shaggy Icelandic ponies. I was in Germany when The Wall fell. My mom and dad tried to wake me up for the celebration, but I didn’t really understand (and I excel at sleeping deeply).

I counted up all my moves just now, and, including the ones in between cities (but not within them), I think it’s been 18 all together. It was occasionally hard to always be “the new girl,” but I am so grateful because I learned 1) your little town is not the center of the universe, but neither is any other city; 2) you can always start fresh – you create your own identity, people don’t give it to you; and 3) you can very happily make friends wherever you are and be at peace with the fact that the people closest to your heart are on the other side of the planet.

2. What did you think you were going to be when you were growing up?  I am pretty single-minded. I got it into my head to be a fish scientist when I was in second grade in Iceland. A diver came to our classroom with a sea urchin shell, and I was just floored that it was an animal in the first place, and that it could live in the ocean in such a cold place. I don’t know if I was an obsessively outdoors kid, but I was crazy about animals. Fish were alien in wonderful ways, yet they have recognizable eyes and faces, so that was that for me. (No invert enthusiasts are allowed to yell at me for this – I was eight!)

3. Why science? What drew you into science?  A bunch of things from grade school onward made deep impressions. I remember learning Morse code so we could telegraph notes with blinking lights (second grade). I remember dissecting a tulip and looking at the developing seeds (fourth grade). In sixth grade, my teacher had us set up and run this entire independent economy for most of the year – we created our own currency and rules, and discovered first-hand about supply and demand, and liquidity, why you can’t just print more cash!

The biggest thing for me though, was an NSF Young Scholars in Mathematics and Science program that took me to Villanova University for the summer my junior year of high school. We’d spend the morning in lecture, afternoon in lab, we had independent research projects… and I was utterly addicted. I did my undergraduate at University of Maryland and went straight into a PhD program at Boston University out in Woods Hole. I studied reef fish color patterns and did my field work in Mexico, Bermuda, Jamaica, and Belize. I have been insanely, disgustingly lucky. I am grateful for every second of it, and it tells you how ridiculously fortunate I continue to be that I don’t truly miss it.

4.  What kinds of jobs did you have before coming to COMPASS?  I had a charmed transition out of grad school, as hard as that was (for more context, see my careers post). I thought I was taking a summer leave of absence from my PhD, and one of my advisors said, “There’s a group called COMPASS, go find them.” I did, and Nancy was very kind to me, but there were no positions, so she introduced me to SeaWeb. I started a part-time internship that I parlayed into eventually being the International Coral Program Coordinator. I worked in Fiji and Papua New Guinea on locally managed marine protected areas, did some work on the cyanide fishing problem and live fish trade, and on a big deep-sea coral conservation campaign in partnership with Tiffany & Co. – it was one of the highlights of my career up to that point. We hosted these high-powered events for fashion magazine editors in Manhattan, I got to dabble in some international trade policy, it was brilliant.

This is how we harvest our tomatoes.

5. What would you be doing if you weren’t with COMPASS?  I have too many answers to this! I really like the small amount of programming I’ve done – so something in developing or modeling would be really satisfying. I also love graphic design, so perhaps user interface design. I especially like thinking about how all the gestural commands are going to change how we interact with our technology. Oh, and landscape architecture. I think what all of these things have in common is how logic, attention to detail, and aesthetics all interplay – and ultimately are supposed to get out of the way and support people in connecting, creating, relaxing, etc.

6.  What do you do in your free time?  I am slowly turning into a parody of a Seattleite! We garden (yep, in the median) – I have been making a lot of pickles lately – that and artisan-recipe breads. I’m actually rather obsessed with baking bread, as all my Facebook friends might ruefully note. I also love hiking, which makes sense because we did a lot of Volksmarching in Germany and the Pacific Northwest is glorious. But I also love running, which is surprising. I desperately hated running in high school and college, even though I loved my sport (volleyball). Now half marathons are my favorite distance, what do you know? It’s that theme of reinvention again.

7. What have you read recently?  I’m right in the middle of a series called Otherland by Tad Williams. It’s a fantasy set in the near future, in which the internet is navigated through immersive virtual reality rigs. The protagonist is a young South African woman who teaches VR at a technical university. She and a Bushman friend are pitted against a powerful international cabal when they start digging into this spectacular and secretive network. It’s provocative and imaginative, with lots of literary references. I like science fiction and fantasy, there is definitely an escapist element for me, but I like it even better when it riffs off the themes I’m thinking hard about in real life.

About Meghan Miner

Meghan was a Science Outreach Specialist at COMPASS.

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