Mirjam Guesgen

Freelance Science Writer

I am a freelance science writer currently based in Toronto, Canada, with a particular interest in animal welfare.

I love communicating complex, scientific ideas in an engaging, balanced, thought-out and informative way.

Lessons science taught us - Story Collider Toronto

Near-death experiences, teaching stoned students maths and nearly throwing away 200 million year old dinosaur eggs. Needless to say, I had an eventful Thursday evening.

Yesterday I attended The Story Collider event in Toronto as part of Science Literacy Week (cheers SciCommTO and other partners!). I've been a fan of the podcasts and their way of telling great stories that, first and foremost, are stories about people rather than stories about hard science.

The key point I took away from this first ever Canadian show was science has the power to teach. Not just teach about the natural, physical or chemical world but also about our personal worlds. Here's what I took away:

  1. Life is hard. But rewarding.
    PhD candidate Cylita Guy shared how a near-death experience, 12 drunken teenagers (and one passed-out teenager), a bundle of bats down her shirt and a "fly my pretties" moment changed her from fieldwork-phobic student to a fieldwork-ophile. Collecting data at 3am in less-than-ideal conditions isn't fun, but the data and "cathartic laughing" experiences gained are priceless.
  2. You need to fight for what you believe in.
    PhD candidate (and photographer) Dan Weaver painted a picture of his yearly treks to the arctic to work at PEARL (Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory). He described the status-equalizing experience of all members of the research team shovelling snow to get out a blizzard and tips for not ripping your eyelashes out in -51.4 degree celsius temperatures. The scientist realized he needed to don his lab coat for more than fieldwork and shout through a loudhailer to try and save the research station he, and atmospheric scientists worldwide, held dear. 
  3. Being dropped in the deep end is your chance to swim.
    The Math Guru (seriously, she looked like she just stepped off a meditation pillow. It was awesome) Vanessa Vakharia divulged the secrets to a successful first day in math class. They are not what you'd expect: A dose of sexism, a hulking rugby teacher, four "mean girls" and a stoner student at the back of the classroom. Vanessa shared how she went from failing grade 11 math (twice) to fulfilling her highschool "cool kid" dreams to now running a successful math and science tutoring business in Toronto. 
  4. Sometimes the answer is right within your reach.
    Modern-day Indiana Jones Dr David Evans recounted a career-changing moment as a grad student. After days of lying on his belly with his face several inches from a rock face, searching for fossils in South Africa he decided to indulge his childhood tendencies instead. While throwing rocks across the road, David shared how he almost threw away the find-of-a-lifetime and how his stone-skimming changed their teams entire research plan as well as paleontology's view of dinosaur parenting.
  5. The universe doesn't care, but that's ok.
    Assistant Professor Renée Hložek shared the deeply-personal story of her father's death and the comfort that science offered. Her research on the cosmological beginnings of the universe (research that allows us to predict the end of the universe) helped her see that "the universe doesn't care" - a thought that put her at ease. It also allowed her to discuss her own eventual passing with her family and evaluate what life is really about: love, transportation, imagination, experience and learning.

A link to the Story Collider Podcast will be posted here when available. I encourage you to listen to these, and other, amazing science/life stories.