When I attended the BEACON Congress at MSU this summer, there was a great session on social media led by Danielle Whittaker, the Managing Director of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. One of the activities during the workshop was writing an Up Goer Five description of one’s research. Up Goer Five started with the popular web comic xkcd, and aims to describe complicated things using only the 1,000 most common words. (And, since “thousand” is not one of those, people often say that the aim is to describe complicated things using only the ten hundred most common words.)
Since I was going to judge the entries of others, I figured I should give it a shot myself. There is a convenient Up Goer Five text editor that highlights words that are not in the top 1,000. Here was my entry:
All things get sick. Why? We use little water animals to learn why things get sick, how they and their babies change after they get sick, and how them getting sick changes the other animals and things.
Rereading it now, I think it’s not bad, especially given that it was done quickly. It’s pretty short, though. Others were definitely more entertaining. Here’s Rich Lenski’s entry (done before the BEACON Congress):
My team works with really tiny things that live in little bottles. We watch the tiny things change over time – over a really long time. The tiny things that do the best have learned to eat their food faster and faster, before the other guys can eat their lunch, so to say. Well, the tiny things don’t really learn, but it’s kind of like learning – and even better, the best ones pass along what they learned to their kids. A really cool guy came up with the idea of how this works more than a hundred years ago. My team’s work shows he got it pretty much right. But there’s a lot of stuff he didn’t know, and we’re figuring that out, too.
Of the ones done at the Congress, some of the most entertaining ones (in my opinion, at least) involved plants. I think part of the reason for that is that “plant” is not one of the 1,000 most common words, so the plant ecologists needed to talk about “big green things” instead. The winning entry at the BEACON session was written by graduate student Colleen Friel, who described her research this way:
We study big green things that use sun light as food and littler things that use some parts of the air as food and live in the ground that the big green things live in. The big green things give the littler things food made from sun light, and the littler things give the big green things food they made from the air. This makes both the big green things and littler things happier. We want to know how the big green things and the littler things talk to each other and decide how much food to give and take.
My students always have a hard time with Rhizobium-legume mutualisms, so perhaps I should update my mutualism lecture to include that description of them? 😉 Some others that I particularly liked are here and here, and you can look through them all by searching on twitter for #upgoerfive and #2015beacon.
Overall, it was a fun challenge, and good be a good addition to future lab meetings where we work on our elevator pitches. What would your Up Goer Five explanation of your research be?