Journalist in Residence
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
Rosalind Reid has been Editor of American Scientist, the interdisciplinary magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, since 1992. Since joining the magazine staff as an associate editor in 1990, she has collaborated with dozens of scientists and engineers to develop illustrated articles on their research and on a range of professional and social issues related to science.
Ms. Reid came to the magazine from a career in news writing and editing. After receiving baccalaureate degrees in political science and journalism from Syracuse University, she worked as a reporter at daily newspapers in Maine and North Carolina, earning awards from both state press associations for her columns and investigative and news reporting. She holds a master's degree in public policy sciences from Duke University, which she attended as an HEW Public Service Fellow.
Ms. Reid began writing and editing articles about science and engineering in 1984 while on the staff of North Carolina State University, which she served as assistant news director and research news editor until 1990. At American Scientist her editorial projects have focused on physics research and issues in the conduct and societal role of science. During her tenure as Editor, the magazine has won numerous awards (including, for 2001 and 2002, Gold and Silver awards for General Excellence in the Society of National Association Publications' Excel competition). Recently she directed the development of American Scientist Online (launched in May 2003), a fully illustrated content database and suite of online services.
Ms. Reid conducts workshops for scientists on communicating science through pictures at Sigma Xi meetings and teaches an annual course module at Duke University on the public communication of science. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.
Dr. David Gross, Director
Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics
University of California
Santa Barbara, California 93106
I wanted to write as the close of my visit nears to say, most of all, thanks. I don't actually know what will come of my time here as Journalist in Residence over the long term, but I'm grateful to have had the experience, and I can say without qualification that it's been a good one. I will return to American Scientist energized and stuffed full of physics-at the top of my potential, so to speak.
After interacting for years with individual authors at an arm's length, I've learned (by coming here, into the belly of the beast) a great deal about the community of theoretical physics and how lively a thing it is. I've observed just how much patience it takes to be a theorist. In pattern formation and cosmology, I've seen how decades can be consumed in the slow, torturous meander through the clash of ideas to the formulation of successful equations to the interactions that develop experiments or observational tools that themselves might require decades to give a successful test of theory. Whew! In string theory, on the other hand, a different sort of patience is required as new ideas spring up quickly and fall away again and again, with only the slightest possibility that they will be testable. Seeing the process as it plays out, in all its human dimensions, has been invaluable. Full of surprises. And fun. I've learned by watching but also by making naive and sometimes appallingly stupid statements to people who have patiently (there's that patience again) set me straight. This is an environment in which one will get set straight, smartly and thoroughly. It's a place where candor seems to be respected and expected, and where an astounding range of conflicting and passionately held ideas can flourish all at once. This last fact is especially refreshing. I'm often told, when I restate a hypothesis I've heard or a result I've read about, that I've got it all wrong. I find here that it's the theoretical physicist's prerogative to say just that: Scientist X is all wet!. That response, of course, turns out to represent only one view. The next one you'll hear can be quite different. The important thing is to understand what undergirds each argument. I leave with my skepticism honed. And with a sense of freedom from orthodoxy and the limitations of received knowledge, a grasp of what a living thing science is.
I have about a half-dozen feature articles and one short essay in progress with authors I've met here; a few other visitors or permanent members have or will become informal advisors or occasional book consultants or reviewers for the magazine. And I've looked ahead with a few people to moments in the coming years, including upcoming KITP programs, that will provide good points for review articles. The new contacts I've made here-all of them lively minds certain to be involved in pushing their fields forward-are invaluable assets for the magazine.
The open secret of the workshops is that they've been for my benefit more than for the participant's. These conversations have given me a number of ideas about how better to do my work. More important, I've learned what physicists value and what excites and concerns them about how their work is communicated. I do think that the workshops that focused on issues of shared interest served as a way of bringing people together for conversation-graduate fellows and senior scientists, condensed-matter theorists and cosmologists. This is also the intent of colloquia, of course, but I sensed that the participatory nature of a workshop created a particular kind of interaction that seemed to work well in the KITP context.
I've particularly valued my interactions with postdocs, graduate students and other younger scientists here. They're wonderfully open, and they often have striking views of the goings-on at conferences. They also struggle with issues that are quite novel and distinct, and have been particularly grateful for help with communication issues.
Since I plan to make time to listen to KITP talks online (what a discovery!), I don't actually feel that I'm leaving. Still, I pack my bags reluctantly. The staff's been fantastic and deserves extra kudos for stretching to accommodate the launching of both the artist-in-residence and journalist-in-residence programs at once. I will keep an eye on the continued developments here-and contemplate putting pen to paper once I begin to understand how the view from inside looks once I'm back in the Editor's chair. There are indeed important stories to tell.
With warmest regards,