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Accidental Communicator: USU Scientist Building Broad Cyber Audience

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012

USU College of Science grad student Andrew Durson
In his native North Carolina, USU grad student Andrew Durso holds a giant aquatic salamander known by locals as a 'hellbender.' Durso’s blog, in which he writes about his studies and research in herpetology, was featured in ‘Scientific American.’
USU grad student Andrew Durson at Science Unwrapped
Durso, right, a doctoral student in Biology, answers questions about snakes at a recent Science Unwrapped event hosted by USU's College of Science.

Strolling across campus during the first week of classes, Utah State University grad student Andrew Durso sported a T-shirt with the Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road album cover. He’d do well to heed Sir Paul McCartney’s lyrical admonition, “You never know who may be listening to you.”


“I reluctantly started writing my own blog at the urging of a friend, a high school science teacher in Chicago, who writes for his students,” says Durso, a doctoral student in biology. “I thought, ‘Nobody’s going to read this.’”


To Durso’s surprise, people do read his blog, which details the herpetologist’s studies and musings about snakes. Among his audience are editors at Scientific American, a leading science journal with a worldwide audience of millions, who selected Durso’s “Life is Short but Snakes are Long” as the publication’s Aug. 21, 2012, guest blog.


The North Carolina native is astonished by the attention generated from the feature, as well as regular hits — averaging about 300 per post — regularly garnered by his blog. He uses Twitter, an online social networking service, to promote his missives to interested audiences.


“I’ve learned that sending tweets to well-known people in my field helps to broaden my network,” says Durso, who studies snake ecology with faculty advisor Alan Savitzky, professor and head of USU’s Department of Biology. “Those tweets are forwarded and continually broaden my contacts.”


He recently realized another advantage of cyber networking when he, Savitzky and seven other Aggie scholars attended the Seventh World Congress of Herpetology held Aug. 8-15 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Following the conference, he selected several of his favorite talks from the gathering, secured permissions from the presenters, wrote about the presentations for his blog and tweeted the post to followers.


“It’s like having a scientific conference continue on and on at everyone’s convenience and at no expense,” he says. “In the past, scientists had to continue their communication by correspondence, with a long lag time between responses. Now, we can communicate within an instant and bring new members into the discussion.”


Durso says comments submitted to his blog are among one of the most edifying aspects of his cyber-publishing endeavor.


“Most of the comments are positive,” he says. “And it’s an opportunity to hear ideas from peers and clarify my own viewpoints with a global community of people with similar interests.”


Related links:


Contact: Andrew Durso, amdurso@gmail.com

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

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