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GeoTalk: Introducing EGU’s new Head of Media, Communications and Outreach

GeoTalk: Introducing EGU’s new Head of Media, Communications and Outreach

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to the newest member of the EGU office, Terri Cook. Terri is an award-winning science and travel writer who has a passion for geology and storytelling. You can find her work featured in a number of news outlets, including Scientific American, New Scientist, Eos, Lonely Planet, and the L.A. Times travel section.

Last month Terri joined the office as EGU’s new Head of Media, Communications and Outreach. We are very happy to welcome her to the EGU community, and in this interview, we’ve asked a few questions to get to know her better.

(Credit: Cheryl McCutchan)

Before we get stuck in, could you introduce yourself and tell us more about your career path?

I have a pretty eclectic background! My undergrad degree is in archaeology, and my grad degree is in geology. For my thesis, I studied the biogeochemical evolution of black-smoker deposits and published the results in Science. Since graduating I’ve worked as an environmental consultant, a college environmental studies instructor, the Outreach Director for The Extreme Ice Survey, and for the past seven years as a full-time freelance writer.

How did you first get into science writing and outreach?

The home I grew up in had a meteorite as its cornerstone. I spent many hours daydreaming about that rock’s grand adventures, and it certainly inspired my interests in travel and science. I had always wanted to try writing, but it wasn’t until about 16 years ago, when I walked into a store and saw a stack of ‘Hiking Colorado’s Geology’ books sitting on a table, that I finally decided to try it. I contacted the publisher about writing the same book for Arizona, but they told me it was already underway–and then asked if I’d like to write one about the Grand Canyon instead? I jumped at that chance and have never looked back!

How did you first hear about EGU? What motivated you to be a part of the EGU office?

Another science writer told me about EGU’s Science Journalism Fellowships. Funding to follow scientists on location is ideal for the types of articles I like to write, so I applied and was honoured to receive one. I followed up my very positive reporting experience with a trip to this year’s General Assembly, where I was impressed by the strong sense of community and the avid interest in science communication – the short courses and session I spoke at were packed! So when I saw the job advertised, it was an easy decision to apply.

What are you most looking forward to about working for EGU? What do you hope to achieve?

It’s both a privilege and a big responsibility to manage communications for Europe’s largest geoscience society. I’m looking forward to helping spread the word about the cutting-edge research published in EGU journals and presented at the General Assembly. I also hope to implement a research-based approach to most effectively communicate the results of this research to policymakers and the public.

The sun sets over the scenic Wadi Rum in Jordan. (Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott)

As a science and travel writer, you’ve been to some pretty beautiful (and geologically interesting) places! What is one of your favorite spots and why?

If I can only choose one place, I’d have to say Jordan. The people there are warm and welcoming, the culture is fascinating, and the landscapes are really diverse–everything from the Dead Sea and the ancient Nabatean city of Petra to Wadi Rum, where The Martian was filmed. It’s filled with hidden springs, sinuous slot canyons, shifting sand dunes, and towering rock walls where the sun’s last rays illuminate the Great Unconformity—definitely a geologist’s paradise!

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

Job opportunity at the EGU General Assembly: press assistant

Job opportunity at the EGU General Assembly: press assistant

We have several vacancies for science-communication or science-journalism students in Europe to work at the press centre of the 2020 General Assembly, which will be held in Vienna, Austria, from 3–8 May. Applications from geoscience students with experience in science communication are also very welcome.

This is a paid opportunity for budding science communicators to gain experience in the workings of a press office at a major scientific conference, and to interact with journalists. The students will join the team assisting the EGU communications staff and the journalists at the press centre and are expected to help run press conferences. Other tasks include reporting on the events at the General Assembly through photographs and video (including producing a highlights video of the conference) and/or writing blog posts.

The position is open to university students (postgraduates or final-year undergraduates) in science communication/journalism and to students in the Earth, planetary or space sciences with some background in science outreach. Applicants must have experience in science writing or photo and video reporting, have an expert command of English, and possess good computer skills.

Further information

  • Only students with a student ID card and a Swiss or an EU (excluding the UK and Croatia) passport are allowed to work at the EGU General Assembly.
  • People who are presenting an abstract at the EGU General Assembly are not eligible to apply.
  • Tax regulations in your home country could obligate you to pay income taxes on the amount earned at the EGU General Assembly (including travel money). The respective taxation is your responsibility.
  • If you have other income in Austria in 2019, you will be forced to pay income taxes in Austria should the sum of all income, including the amount earned at the EGU General Assembly (including travel money), exceed €11,000 gross.

Work hours and payment

Press assistants will need to be in Vienna from Sunday 3 May in the early afternoon until late on Friday 8 April. They should expect to work between 50 and 55 hours and will receive a wage of €9/hour, in addition to a €150 allowance for those who don’t reside in Vienna (the city of your university is considered your current place of residence). Student press assistants also receive additional support towards travel expenses and complimentary breakfast and lunch at the press centre from Monday through Friday.

Applications must include

  • Cover letter and CV (one page each) summarising relevant experience
  • Two samples of recent science communication work such as photo features, videos or written articles (published or unpublished, aimed at a general audience; links to an online portfolio are welcome).

Application documents (in English) should be submitted by email in a single file to Terri Cook at media@egu.eu. Terri can also be contacted for informal enquiries by email or phone (+49-89-2050-76340). The deadline for applications is 9 December 2019.

If your application is successful, you will be asked to submit some information about yourself (including a copy of your passport and student ID card) to our conference organiser Copernicus.

The European Geosciences Union (EGU, www.egu.eu) is Europe’s premier geosciences organisation, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. The EGU organises a General Assembly that attracts more than 14,000 scientists each year, as well as dozens of reporters. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure, atmosphere and climate, as well as energy and resources.

Geosciences Column: Taking a Breath of the Wild – are geoscientists more effective than non-geoscientists in determining whether video game world landscapes are realistic?

Geosciences Column: Taking a Breath of the Wild – are geoscientists more effective than non-geoscientists in determining whether video game world landscapes are realistic?

For years, geoscientists have been both fascinated and perplexed by the beautiful (yet often inaccurate) landscapes present in several video games. But are people with a geoscientific education better at telling ‘fake’ natural features from real ones? Rolf Hut, an assistant professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and his colleagues sought to answer this question in a new study published in EGU’s open access journal Geoscience Communication

“Oh wow, that is a gorgeous volcano… which could never exist in the real world.” As a hydrologist I’m not an expert on volcanoes compared to some other EGU members I know. Yet, while walking through the fictional world of Hyrule in Nintendo’s latest installment of The Legend of Zelda game series: Breath of the Wild my emotions tend to constantly switch between excitement at the beauty of the landscape and puzzlement at the geoscientific… wrongness of it.

“That mountain could never generate enough runoff to feed a waterfall this big.”

“Ice capped mountains in the background of a sweltering dessert looks amazing. But it only takes me five minutes to get up that mountain, so there could never be snow there…” 

I know: it is just a game. First and foremost game designers had to make this game interesting to play and it wouldn’t have been much fun if you had to walk up a mountain for three days, (Edmund Hillary style) only to find a single piece of in-game equipment . So they condensed the game world. They made decisions that might hurt the sensitivities of geoscientists, but which ultimately made the game more enjoyable (and beautiful) for the majority of those people  whose wallets Nintendo is targeting. 

This whole process got me wondering: if I hadn’t been trained as a geoscientist, would I have had the same “this cannot exist in the real world” feelings that I now have? Would non-geoscientists interpret this fake world as something that potentially could exist? Given how many people play video games, versus how many are trained as geoscientists, this is an important research question. If people do ‘learn’ from games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, they might get a wrong impression of how the (geoscientific) world works.

Curiosity sparked, we set out to test this. And I say ‘we’ because this type of research requires the expertise of a statistician: Casper Albers, an expert of games for geoscience: Chris Skinner, an expert on science communication: Sam Illingworth, and finally someone who has spent more hours in the fictional world of Hyrule (where the The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is set) than is in any way reasonable: me. 

We picked screenshots from across Hyrule with geoscientifically interesting features such as volcanoes, glaciers, etc. Through a reverse image search (on Google) we then looked for real world photos with matching features. We wanted to ask both geoscientists and those without a geoscientific education to rate those pictures on “how likely they think that the features in the picture can exist in the real world?”. We wanted people to focus on the geo-features, and yet we assumed that normal photos would likely be instantly recognisable compared to the rendered images from the game world; so in order to account for this we applied an artistic ‘van Gogh’ filter to all images.

Two images used in the survey. Panels (a) and (b) are original and (c) and (d) are processed through the “van Gogh” filter. The left two images are from the video game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the right two images are from the real world. The bottom two figures were presented in the survey with the question “Knowing that this picture has gone through a “van Gogh”-filter, how likely do you think it is that the features depicted in the artistic renderings could exist in the real world?”. A 10-point scale was used, where 1 = completely unlikely to 10 = completely likely. (Credit: Rolf Hut et al. 2019)

We distributed our survey among geoscientists and non-geoscientists through social media channels and at the EGU General Assembly 2018. We found two very interesting results. Firstly, it (luckily) transpires that geoscientists are better than non-geoscientists at recognising what is a ‘fake’ landscape from a game; the difference between geoscientists and non-geoscientists is statistically significant. However, the effect is very small and both groups are fairly good in recognising which landscapes are and which aren’t from the game. 

What this research therefore highlights is that everyone, including myself, can continue to explore the beautiful countryside of Hyrule, without fearing that we will pick up erroneous knowledge about geoscience. 

Of course we have to be careful with interpreting our results: it is only a first study into this new field of science and we encourage anyone to build on our work by studying different games, different screenshots and people across more dimensions than only geoscientists versus non-geoscientist. Our paper is available for free via the open access EGU journal Geoscience Communication, and any questions can be directed to the corresponding author: me. Although please allow some time before I answer: chances are I am not continuously looking at my inbox because I’m spending my time wandering through the beautiful, but recognisably fake, plains, mountains and volcanoes of Hyrule.

By dr. ir. Rolf Hut, researcher at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands

[This article is cross-posted on Rolf Hut’s personal site]