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Student Interview with Dr. Kirsten Sanford

With the conference being only 21 days away and the schedule close to finalized, excitement is in the air in Boulder, CO. All sorts of great scholars, performers and experts gather on campus, and I had the privilege of speaking to one of them before the big week. Dr. Kirsten “Kiki” Sanford may be a Neurophysiologist (which sounds intimidating, I know) but she’s also a black belt in tae-kwon-do, radio host of This Week in Science, hula-hooper, blogger, science journalist and just a really cool person to talk with. I was lucky enough to talk with her about participating in the Conference on World Affairs and her unique career, and here’s what she had to say:

1. What is the appeal for you to participate in the CWA?

I come to the conference for two reasons. First, I’m interested in meeting with other participants. It’s a great venue for meeting interesting people, making connections and potentially finding someone to collaborate with. Second, the Conference on World Affairs is a really neat forum to talk about unique issues that you would never see at other conferences. I think it’s good to meet with the community and to share information.

2. What part of the CWA and being in Boulder are you most looking forward to?

I know that Boulder offers a lot of outdoor activities, but they kept me busy from morning till night last year. Last year I got to meet lots of other panelists and community members and I got to see the campus. I’d like to see more of the town and surroundings this time. And I definitely hope to see lots of students at the panels. There’s no excuse not to go because it’s right on campus!

3. What inspired you to bring understandable science to the public?

I started “This Week in Science” before grad school just as a hobby. I wanted an opportunity to research other fields that I wasn’t studying and also to teach people about how interesting science is. Then halfway through grad school, I was left without a research lab because my professor left the country. I took a year off and got a job in San Francisco. The thing I missed most about school wasn’t the research, but the radio show and teaching. That time off make me realize what’s important to me. I still wanted to get a PhD for the credibility and to back up what I had to say, but I was most passionate about communicating with other people.

4. What is the best part about your job?

The best part of my job is interacting with people. I like answering questions and helping people to learn. It’s rewarding to make an impact on someone.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face in your line of work?

It’s always hard to put yourself out there and try new things. It’s hard to put out an idea and look for people to back you up. But every time you challenge yourself, it’s worthwhile. Also, funding and budgets have been really tight lately so it’s hard to start up new things. What’s so great about the Conference on World Affairs is that it’s free; you have access to things you would usually have to pay for.

6. What type of audience do you typically try to reach?

I’m not as in touch with students anymore because I don’t teach in classrooms. But a lot of students listen to “This Week in Science”. My target audience is around college age to early 40s but really anyone who is curious about the world and who asks questions. You don’t have to know a lot about science to be interested intellectually about what’s happening in the world.

7. What advice would you give to a CU student who wants to pursue a career is science, science journalism or teaching?

Try new things. Find an internship, volunteer, look for opportunities to work for local newspapers either on campus or in the community, work on the college radio station or local television station. It defiantly takes effort but just look all around you at different choices. Start small with a new interest and see where it takes you.

8. On college life:

Now that I’m older and done with school, I look back and see the amazing resource that college is. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be exposed to all different kinds of ideas, opinions and types of people that you don’t get once you’re in the workforce. It’s a free resource that you won’t get anywhere else. Take advantage of it now while you can because as you get older, have a job, start a family, it’s a lot harder to take advantage of.

Check out Dr. Kiki’s blog at http://www.kirstensanford.com/kirsten-sanford/

Listen to This Week in Science at http://www.twis.org/ or Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour at http://twit.tv/kiki

Watch her on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CiMF2epQrw

And most importantly, come to Dr. Kiki’s panels the week of the Conference on World Affairs, April 5th –April 9th. Programs will be available right after Spring Break both on-line and in print.

Renee Sheeder is an English major in her third year at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She wrote this blog post as part of a project for her WRTG 3020 class.

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