Sunday, July 12, 2009

Researchers as Writers and What We Do Summers

The New York Times has an article on habitats that features a writer, Roxana Robinson, and her writing room in mid-Manhattan. The article is very eloquent and evokes Proust and the importance of one's work environment for creativity and getting the job done. Robinson writes in a very spare bedroom of her spacious apartment since she thrives on quiet and the absence of distractions. She has postcards and notes from famous writers for inspiration. She used to write in a large room with a fax machine, access to the Internet, etc., but found herself doing other chores and tasks and not writing.

I am sitting writing this piece for my blog looking out of my office window at home on a sea of green grass and woods, with colorful birds chirping and flying by. Last night we had a thunderstorm and nature is now sparkling outside my window. This week I have been sequestered and finishing up a paper on supply chain networks. Like Roxana Robinson, I thrive on peace for getting my ideas on paper. I often arise very early in the morning (my European friends tend to notice when I "beat them to work" because of my 3AM email messages to them) since then there are the fewest distractions and one gets long blocks of time for intense concentration and work. I also surround myself with letters and notes from those that I very much admire and who took the time to write me, which I very much appreciate. My most recent posting, which came from a dear friend and colleague in London states, and concerns my new book, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World:

Hi Anna

THANK YOU for this book on fragile networks. This is very topical. I just cannot put the book down. Fantastic.

Warmest congratulations.

Messages such as this one help to prop me up through the weeks and months of intense research that producing papers and books requires.

Of course, every once in a while, one also gets an uplifting phone call on one's work as I received yesterday (in the midst of finishing up the paper on supply chains). My uncle called and said that he had received a copy of my book and was near tears because he said it is so well-written and so relevant to his work -- designing bridges and at age 89 he is still a recognized authority even by the Europeans! I love to write and to communicate the research results. Communication is key, whether we do it in writing (essential), or verbally as in giving talks at seminars, conferences, and other venues (such as the World Science Festival in NYC that I took part in last month).

Insufficient and inexact communication may be one of the problems behind the lack of understanding, according to a recent study by the Pew Center, of the general population about science (and should I say, research, in general), although scientists and researchers are very well-respected. It is essential that the organizations that researchers work in and the publications that they publish in also help to get the news out in the media, from the newspapers to television. We, as researchers and writers, must focus on what we do best.