23 October 2017
Geoscientist and singer-songwriter shares her creative side at AGU’s Open Mic Night – and you can, too!
By Bronwen Konecky
Science is about discovering universal truths. Music, they say, is a universal language. So what better way to communicate science than through music?
I am a paleoclimatologist and geochemist. But on the side, in the rare moments of downtime when I’ve put my research to bed for the evening, I am also a singer-songwriter. Scientists and artists don’t often find themselves in the same room, let alone in the same brain, so for years these two parts of my life have remained fairly separate. That is, until the AGU started hosting an Open Mic Night at its annual Fall Meeting.
I’ll admit that the thought of performing in front of my professional colleagues was not appealing at first; in fact, it sounded eerily similar to a stress nightmare. But it turned out to be one of the meeting’s greatest highlights. The room was packed full of geoscientists with secret creative hobbies: musicians, poets, short story writers, rappers, inventors of strange instruments made from garden hoses. Who knew? These kindred spirits were a more supportive audience than any I’ve encountered, giggling or ooh-ing or clapping or nodding along with each performance.
I’ve long appreciated music as an outlet. It helped me survive graduate school by providing three perfect antidotes to science-induced stress: an electric guitar, a distortion pedal, and a wonderfully supportive band. But the AGU Open Mic has shown me the power of music and art as science communication. After all, a catchy song is an incredible teaching tool. If you listen to Richard Alley explaining subduction under the Pacific to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” it will get stuck in your head for days, ensuring that you’ll remember something about how water and subducting slabs influence volcanoes.
Perhaps even more importantly, artistic performances communicate what it’s like to be a scientist. They remind public and professional listeners alike that scientists are not robots in lab coats, but real people with our own quirks, hobbies, and talents. Geoscientists are starting to express their individuality more frequently, to much public delight; consider the infamous NASA “Mohawk Guy.” If your version of a Mohawk is a punk-rock ukulele or a string of geology puns set to a beat-poetry rhythm, the open mic is the place to show it.
And if you’ve been longing to tap into your creative side but don’t know how amongst all the research, proposals, manuscripts, teaching—believe me, I understand—it’s never too late to try. Give it half an hour per week, and before long you’ll have composed so much geoscience-inspired art that you won’t be able to resist sharing it with us next year.
– Bronwen Konecky is a Research Scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She performed at AGU’s Open Mic Night in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Learn more about Open Mic Night at Fall Meeting and sign up to perform!