Science ignites curiosity about the natural world, leading people to explore and advocate for it. Amy Randall-Barber from the BIO5 institute was joined on Science Talks by Caroline Mosley, the senior manager of communications and content at the BIO5 Institute, University of Arizona. Caroline's journey into science began with a fascination for ecosystems, studying invasive species in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked on protecting marine life and the environment. Now at the UArizona BIO5 Institute as the senior manager of communications and content, Caroline crafts compelling narratives that highlight the institute's groundbreaking research and innovations. She tirelessly bridges the gap between science and society, utilizing innovative communication channels to highlight the institute's pioneering work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ARB: Let’s start off with rapid-fire questions. First, Netflix or Hulu?
ARB: Dogs or Cats?
I have cats, but I love dogs.
ARB: Art gallery or history museum?
Can I say science museum?
ARB: That is great. I love it. Tell us a little bit about how you first developed an interest in science.
I grew up in Wisconsin and was fortunate to live out in the country around ponds. I always loved going outside and thinking of all the little critters in the ponds. I loved to catch frogs, learn about all the different bugs, and look at the algae. I was always interested in how everything was connected and how there was so much life in such a small little area. That to me was a starting point of seeing the natural world around me. My parents were very encouraging, so we went on a lot of nature walks and hikes, and I was immersed in nature which got me curious about how the natural world works.
ARB: Absolutely, curiosity is usually what sparks an interest in science. Before you got into science communication, were you a researcher? Can you tell us about your experience in the field?
Before I started writing about science and talking to scientists, I went to graduate school and I did environmental chemistry studying lake ecosystems in Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.
My project was looking at nutrient cycling. Basically, studying mussel poop. Nutrients means you follow the poop in a system like Lake Michigan, which is very oligotrophic, meaning extremely low nutrients.
In Lake Michigan, we have a lot of invasive species. I studied the Dreissena mussels, also called the zebra mussels or the quagga mussels that came from Russia through the St. Lawrence Sea Canal in ballast water around 50 to 60 years ago. Since mussels filter water, they draw the nutrients from the water down to the lakebed.
My job was to study that and it was fun. I spent time both in the lab as well as the field. We would go out on these little boats on Lake Michigan and scoop up mussels from the lake floor to count them and see how many were present in a square meter. I would also take these mussels onto the boat and do- little experiments to see how much they could filter.
I loved being on the water, being an active part of science. It was fun to see the mussels in their ecosystem, while at the same time also taking them out of that and studying the nutrients. We did chemical analysis to better understand how they filtered, how fast they filtered, and what they filter. I had a wonderful experience.
It was funny, I originally wanted to study ponds and did not want to study big bodies of water. But my parents told me there is a new program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee you should check it out. They thought all water research was the same, but limnology on the Great Lakes is more like marine research. Since those lakes are so deep, all the equipment we use is the same used for marine science. Another funny thing is that I get motion sick. Even though I had a fun time, looking back I do not think I would do it again because I spent a lot of my time being sick on the boat. I learned that about myself, but it was still great!
ARB: Oh goodness, well, we always learn new things all the time. So, what made you realize you liked science communication, more than being in the field?
I always love to write and read and I was a voracious reader. Growing up, I also loved the natural world. When I was in college, I thought about going into journalism. But there was a time back in 2008 when the economy was not doing too well. It was more about job security, so I thought going into science it would be more secure.
But as I was doing science and going through graduate school, I thought, I am so curious about everything, I could not focus on one thing! I loved talking to different researchers, faculty, and students, and I would rather talk to people about what they do and support them.
I found the field of science communication, and I could see there is a place for me. After I graduated, I did not want to go to work where many people at my school would go work, mostly in the field.
One of my lab mates got a fellowship in Washington, DC. I applied for this fellowship too, through Sea Grant and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Hence, I moved to DC, which opened this world with all these different people who are supporting science. And I started to see a path for me in these supporting roles.
Now, I have been on this journey to find a way to write and explore science while supporting research. So that is where I decided science communication encompasses that in many ways.
ARB: Moving on, what are you most excited about in your role here at BIO5?
I am most excited to talk to all the faculty members and students. The best part in whatever role that I have had at the University of Arizona is connecting with the people who do the work and learning from them. It is the highlight of my job. This is the reason as to why I got into this, getting to know people, and building relationships.
My goal is to show: How can I help you, to help me. How can I promote your research? How can I help you find services? If it is a student, then how can I help you get a portfolio piece? Making those connections is important.
Here, I am at that intersection that highlights the connection of multiple disciplines. Because that's where innovation happens. It is as cheesy as it sounds, but it is true. When you get people that come together, who think differently to solve problems, that's how cool things happen.
The role is challenging, and I like to be challenged.
ARB: Do you have any advice for the next generation?
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I have come to terms with that.
For context, my parents are retired physicians. They were always on a set path, and I always thought that's how life was. I have some friends who are lawyers and I have a friend who is a vet. Those are very set paths. You do step A to get to step B to get to step C. I always was looking for that path. I think realized is not easy to figure out what you like. But knowing what you do not like has been helpful for me.
People ask me, what do you want to do? Well, I can tell you what I do not want to do, and that might be more helpful. You might really like science and or science communication, but you do not like writing. That is okay! There are all kinds of science and communication. You can edit written stories, be a photographer, build websites, or learn coding. There are diverse ways to support science.
Plus, you do not have to know right away. It does get easier as you get older, and as you gain some experience and learn more about yourself. I would also say, do not be afraid. When I first graduated, I was in Wisconsin, and there weren’t any jobs for me. There was nothing that interested me, so I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and I did that by talking to people. So, another piece of advice would be to network, work on your LinkedIn, send messages to people with a specific ask. For example, ‘Hey, I see you work at NOAA, I am really interested in marine policy! What is your favorite part of your job?’
These little things can help you gather bits of information. Don't feel like you must know what you want to do now.
ARB: That is good advice. So, we have a fun question for our final question. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? And it does not have to be related to science.
I would love to talk to animals.
One of my favorite book series as I was growing up was Animorphs. I do not know if you have heard about it, but basically there was an alien invasion in this book series and these kids get these superpowers where they turn into different animals and that is how they save the world.
So, I would say turning into animals or talking to animals. You look at animals and you cannot help but anthropomorphize them and wonder about what they are saying.
ARB: Always wondering like what's going on in their little heads. Thank you so much for joining us today!