Interview: ATG's Dr. Amanda Welch

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

Jet LeBlanc met up with Dr. Welch to discuss her writing program and ask a few questions.

Jet: I’m really curious about the manuscript writing program you’re doing. Can you tell us a little bit about what goes on in the workshop?

Amanda: The manuscript writing workshop is an 8 week program that I put together. We’re doing it completely virtually, because of COVID, and it covers everything from getting started with writing your Results section, writing mechanics, picking out a journal and publication ethics, to all of the kind of nitty gritty things in between for developing it. And what it really focuses on is science articles or journal articles as being stories. The human brain really loves stories. We make up stories even when there isn’t one around! And when you use your science article to write a story – and I don’t mean make anything up – I don’t mean fiction writing, I just mean putting it together in a logical manner in a way that creates curiosity and interest. Stories make an article more likely to stick with you. I think we’ve all, when we’ve done any sort of training whether it’s scientific or in the humanities, there’s always been some article or something that sticks in your head. Maybe the main idea sparked a lot of curiosity or interest, or maybe you really liked the way it’s written and it’s stuck with you, even though maybe you read it 20 years ago.

Jet: It reminds me of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.”

Amanda: Yes! I tell this story to people in my manuscript writing workshop. In case my graduate school mentor ever reads this, he used to get on me all the time. I was a horrible writer.

Jet: I find that hard to believe!

Amanda: Brian will tell you how awful my writing was! He would get so frustrated because he would say, “Amanda, you give such a nice talk, and you tell a story so well, and then…I get this.” (Laughter)

He used to print hard copies and write all over them, and he’d gesture at these red-covered pages…so I did a lot of research trying to figure out what was going on. Because I always liked writing. I used to, you know, write stories with friends and we’d trade things back and forth, and it wasn’t until I was looking for something on the internet about writing, trying to figure out why something was boring and dry, and I came across this idea of scientific writing as story telling and something just clicked. I was like “OH! I get this now!” and that helped me develop at least a more interesting writing style, and something that was more clear and logical.

Jet: Well, he was a good advisor, wasn’t he?

Amanda: Yes! And it stopped him from having to bleed red all over my pages. (Laughter)

Jet: OK, now for our traditional three questions from the list of questions we like to ask our interview subjects. One - tell us your favorite thing about your current role.

Amanda: I love that I get to be in with everything at the beginning, where everyone is really excited about a project. I get to participate in a bunch of different projects, so that makes my brain happy because I get to learn a little bit about everything, and I’m there at the beginning when everyone is really excited about the project and where it’s going. And then they go away and do their work and I don’t have to be part of that at all. Then with manuscript writing I get to be around at the end, when everyone is really happy because they have results to write up, and I don’t have to deal with any of the long slog in the middle. So that’s probably my favorite parts. I get to do all of the fun parts without any of the bad parts, and I get to learn about a lot of new things.

Jet: I’ve proofread some of our critiques, and I get so caught up and excited by the potential of the science these folks are doing. That’s what you’re talking about, right?

Amanda: Oh, yeah. That’s the fun part. Like we worked on a quantum science proposal, and they were talking about how currently, in quantum science, they could measure the time difference between 20 feet of elevation. So, time actually changes by a very small fraction of a second if you raise a clock by 20 feet into the air, and they can measure that! And that just blew my mind.

Jet: If you had a magic wand, what is the first thing you’d change about academia?

Amanda: The idea that you have to go on from grad school to post doc to tenure track, and that is the One True Way. There’s a lot of different things you can do, and I think just the value of getting a PhD. and getting through that is something that in and of itself is valuable, because you’ve learned something, you’ve contributed to society, and I don’t think we celebrate that much, as a culture. We’re sort of like ok you’ve done this, what have you done for us lately? I really think just that one narrow pathway to careers is something that academia needs to move away from.

Jet: One more question, and I like this one a lot. If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you advise yourself to do, to prepare for your current role?

Amanda: I think I would tell myself to relax, and that it’s ok to read more about the things that interest me. Because I wasn’t always just interested in my particular niche in academia, so I liked reading about all sorts of subjects, and I think I would go back and tell myself to not stress about where I was going to end up, and enjoy the journey a lot more.

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