30: Engineering nerd infiltrates Texan, brings sweets

Zia Lyle

The first step of the scientific process is to observe one’s surroundings and ask questions. Last spring I went undercover as a journalist, escaping my life as an engineering nerd to do what journalists do best: ask and observe. 

As part of the inaugural group of Science & Technology staffers, I did all I could to make my disguise seem believable. I memorized AP style rules, carried around my recorder and spent hours perfecting the “news” style of writing. I didn’t want anyone to question my ability as a reporter after finding out that I studied how to solve equations all day, not how to structure articles. 

But the engineering side of me was impossible to hide completely. I approach writing a story as I do solving a math or physics problem — laying out premises and equations (quotes) before solving the problem (telling the story). As I got to know the rest of the S&T department, as a staffer, associate editor and editor, I found that many of my other science-minded Texan writers approach writing a story the same way. 

It is this awareness for the scientific process that makes science writing of all kinds important now more than ever. When I joined the department, I wanted to learn more about cool research happening at UT. But over the past year, I’ve come to consider the department more than a place I can pose as a journalist. Under the mosquito net, my staffers and I write accurate and insightful stories, sharing scientific discoveries with the public in an easy-to-understand way.

While some of the research the S&T staffers report on may seem out-of-reach and unrelated to the everyday struggles of students, the fact that there are researchers out there who constantly strive to save the planet, to save lives and to save facts means that we can have a future that perseveres past the troubles of today. 

My staffers fight for science every day, not by politicizing it, but rather by doing all they can to share its greatness and importance. 

Thanks to Ellen Airhart for creating this section so dozens of science (and engineering) nerds can have a place to develop their writing skills. Thanks to Eva Frederick for bringing her passion to the department and for inspiring my love of bad puns and baked goods. To Julianne Hodges, I appreciate your love of detail and the beauty with which you approach a story. To Kate Thackrey, I can’t think of a better person to carry on this section. You’ve kept me sane and taught me so much about the world of journalism. I’ll miss you the most.

During my time at the Texan, I’ve written about bacteria that can clean up oil spills, empathy mirrors, the impact of volcanos on Earth’s climate and self-healing batteries. I’ve helped create special pages about energy, bees, video games and my favorite: Earth Day. 

From all the questions I’ve asked researchers and all the observations I’ve made, both about my staffers and about reactions to S&T stories, I’ve found that what matters most about science is not the way it changes, but the way it stays the same, continually giving hope. 

As I leave the cubicle under the mosquito net, this engineering nerd will throw off her disguise as a journalist. Because I know I leave behind a community of science-minded staffers that will do all they can to protect and preserve the beauty of science.