Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Finding Grace

No, this is not a review about the book by Alyssa Brugman. I attended a Scientific Writing Workshop at the Eureka building earlier in the week not because I didn't know how to write scientifically but I wanted to know if I could learn anything new from the nine hours or so lecture and of course, it is free. Turns out I discovered a little bit more than that.

There wasn't much in the scientific writing department that I didn't already know. To be honest, all the pointers in the workshop isn't exactly the be all and end all. There's a different requirement from each journal and you have to cater to the requirements of each journal as you submit to them. Also, a lot of the things covered during the workshop was truly elementary stuff and I was quite surprised to see many who didn't know those stuff. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they are really, really new to all of this (although some of the participants were actually lecturers). Well, it's still good to have a refresher course, I suppose. That's the reason I was there anyway but the difference is, I know those stuff but they don't.

There was this one slide towards the end of the workshop that reminded me very much of someone complaining about the comments he received from his dissertation examiners. The slide was about how you should face rejections (more likely how NOT to react).
Do Not Tell the Editor
- everything looked okay to me
- one of the reviewers agreed with me so I did not change anything
- the reviewer(s) who disagreed with me knows nothing about ....
- "everybody" knows things work this way
- you should accept this article beacuse you published one that was worse than this last year
I was nodding my head off as each point was projected on the screen. The points were too similar to that incident that it was impossible for me not to connect them both together. In fact, that person has trouble major issues with rejection. It is clear for all to see except himself. It's a pity really especially when he can so easily label others to be "over sensitive" when it is he himself that has epidermis the thickness of a tissue paper.

What actually kept me awake was the antics of a certain person I call the "Eager Beaver". Don't get me wrong, the speaker was very interesting but I easily get distracted whenever they regurgitate things that I already know. This eager beaver was so engrossed with the speaker that he nodded in agreement to practically all of the points put forward, laughed at all of the speaker's jokes and flipped his head from speaker to screen and back ever so often I was getting a headache just following the movement of the bobbing and turning head.

There was also this terrorist-looking dude (I don't mean to put a label on him or stereotype but he did look like one and for the sake of illustration, just bear with me for this instance) sitting next to him and whenever the Eager Beaver were to nod his head too enthusiastically when in actual fact there wasn't anything really interesting with what the speaker has mentioned, he would turn his head and look at him with a serious I-want-to-eat-your-first-born stare. It was simply entertaining just looking at the two of them and they kept we awake throughout the workshop.

I also discovered some new things about my friends. For example, I found out that one of them can be quite brazen, so much so that I was ashamed of myself! And here I thought I can be quite thick-skinned. It was all fun though but sometimes I feared getting clawed at by some old aunty that he insulted. :P

Another person I realised was quite kiasu. OK, maybe A LOT. OK, maybe I already know but definitely not to this extent. Although he sat behind all of us in the auditorium, he would be one of the first out the door and queueing up for food. For the first time, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he's really hungry but when it happened again, it all but confirmed my suspicions.

During the last part of the workshop, we were suppose to work in groups to edit a horribly written abstract. When it came to giving our answers, our team managed to name most of the mistakes including the most important last piece that enabled everyone to go home. :)

The speaker commented that we were behind the Koreans who managed to name the most number of mistakes among all the participants that had attended his workshop. I have a strong hypothesis on how they managed that feat. What they actually did was probably pull out the lecture notes and named every point there is, hoping to nail all the fifteen mistakes in the process, very much like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Sure, you can name the most number of mistakes this way but you sure won't get a high precision rate. At least our team's success rate was pretty high (nearly 100%).

You'll be surprised to hear some of the silly answers given by other groups. It really shows what a novice they are at scientific/academic writing. Even lecturers can give you the lamest of answers. Sure, there's nothing wrong in trying. In fact, if you do not try, your chance of success is 0% but if you gave it a shot, it would be 50-50. I agree with that saying very much but in this case, I agree with another one even more.
"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
Ultimately, I learned a lot of stuff from this workshop but unfortunately, they do not belong to the scientific writing category. I still enjoyed the nine hours or so, although I was pretty late. :P All in all, I learned two important things from the workshop, 1) you have to find grace in your writing to capture the attention of your readers and 2) use hot pink to make corrections! ;)


  1. i saw your eager beaver falling asleep towards the end...
    not so eager after all, eh? ;)

  2. oh well, they do get tired faster, no? from all that nodding and flinching....hahaha!!