>phd_year(4) = 1

My last year of grad school starts this week, and I already have homework.

I’ve been given a long leash this year to start pursing next-steps and post-graduation opportunities. I’ve decided I would use this time to pursue science communication and journalism. As part of the exploration, I’ve applied and been accepted to a science communication conference in College Park, MD. Part of the conference includes homework. (Note: I had been saying this conference was just outside Boston for months. I almost booked a flight to Boston.)

The conference runs from September 23-24, and includes a “Write-a-thon” where conference attendees will write an article (about anything, 500-800 words), then edit another attendee’s submission. The first draft is due September 4, and I currently have nothing. Not for lack of topics. I feel like I’m bursting.

I think I’ve finally picked out a topic, though. In the summer, I interviewed Dr. David Venus from McMaster University (my University, my department). He recently showed up in my Google News feed with an opinion piece published by The Star (Toronto) about Fake News. My original intent was to edit the interview about his opinion piece, reference his course he teaches about Media Numeracy, and run it on my radio show (The AlmaMAC). During the interview I realized there is a lot here to dig into.

In August, I also attended a course on Science Journalism in Montreal. I went in with no expectations, but as is the case when you surround yourself with a diverse group of very smart people, I left with a tonne (1 metric tonne = 1000 kg = 2204.62 pounds) of ideas. This is where I met Camille. She studies psychology. Particularly, she is interested in memory, and how it is affected by stimulants. A very concise way of describing her research is this very serious question: Can a witness’ testimony be admissible in court if they were “under the influence” at the time of witnessing an event. This struck me as interesting, so I kept this idea in the back of my mind.

Fast forward two weeks and I find this press release:

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 15.32.37

This is the connection I’ve been looking for! I immediately contacted Camille to talk about this paper, and start planning a story.

The story starts during the 2016 presidential election and, it would seem, the birth of Fake News.

But wait, that can’t be true. Misleading people through the news has to be as old as news itself. On top of that, what are we really talking about when we say “Fake News”? Lying in the media? Misrepresenting data? Drawing incorrect conclusions from data? What about using techniques developed by the advertising industry? When I started thinking about how to set up this story, I started to feel the term Fake News was way too ambiguous. How do I write a story about something if I can’t even assign it a definition?

Yeah. I think I have my topic.


>phd_year(4) is my attempt to openly and honestly record my final year as a Ph.D student. I am in a position that I believe many near-grads go through – transitioning to life outside academia. However, my experiences are my own. I acknowledge that my story exists within the context of my privilege, and will do my best to not overstep the format of personal narrative.

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