Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

Depleted Soil, Dirty Water, Bird Brains & Big Ag: ATXSciWri’s Best in Fest Shortlist

Originally posted on the Texas Book Festival’s site

For the past two years, one mission of Austin Texas Science Writers has been to uncover the best science and nature writing. In Fall 2018, we launched the ATXSciRead book club in collaboration with BookPeople. Our book club has tackled sci-comm classics, like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; welcomed authors near (Karen Olsson) and far (Deborah Blum, Katherine Eban); and sought out new voices on topics ranging from botany and indigenous knowledge (Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass) to race in medicine (Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat).

Here, we share our most anticipated science and environmental titles at the 2020 Festival.

Perilous Bounty by Tom Philpott

Teresa Carr – Board Vice President, Independent Science and Health Journalist

Compared to 50 years ago, today’s industrial agriculture produces far more food on less land — but at a cost of less diversity in crops, depleted soils, and heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. In Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of Agriculture and What We Can Do to Prevent it, veteran journalist and former farmer Tom Philpott makes the case that poor stewardship of natural resources have put American farming — and the global food supply — in grave danger.

I can’t bring myself to read too much doom-and-gloom these days, so I’m looking forward to Philpott’s reporting on the innovators who are developing resilient, soil-building, and water-smart farming practices that could very well prevent the looming crisis.

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

Julie Grisham – Board President, Science and Medical Writer

As a daydreamer, I often find myself staring out the window and watching the birds in my yard. And as a writer who frequently covers neuroscience, I know that studying bird brains has helped scientists uncover many new findings about how human brains work. So I’m excited about Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Ackerman’s book highlights recent research on birds, ranging from parrots to pigeons to penguins and more. Full of anecdotes and facts, it will make you think about our feathered friends in a whole new way.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

K. Angel Horne – Director-at-large, Nature Interpreter

While “activist fiction” doesn’t often make it to beach towels or wine-and-cheese-style book clubs, if one still has the luxury of literature in the fall of 2020, they are basically obliged to crack the spine of a darkly comedic examination of modern humanity framed by factory farming — don’t you think? Have you, after all, felt “cooped up” these long months? Have your grocery-store forays become a different beast altogether? Released this year, the book is not only timely, but lyrical and acute. It is a heist story and political commentary pregnant with complexity and presented through consciousness both homosapien and avian. Its deservedly lauded author, Deb Olin Unferth, has served us this opportunity wrapped in rich prose. Unferth is a Chicago native now teaching at UT Austin and running the Pen City Writers, a creative writing program at a max security penitentiary in South Texas. It is clear she is dedicated to uplifting the voices of those marginalized and confined, human and otherwise.

WASTE by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Eileen McGinnis – Board Secretary, Climate Activist

At first glance, a book about sewage might seem like a curious pick. But Catherine Coleman Flowers’ WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret is about so much more. Her book tells the story of rural communities of color throughout the United States that lack access to safe water and waste infrastructure. Flowers is the perfect guide: founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, she grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a Civil-Rights-Era battleground now enmeshed in a struggle for basic sanitation.

In a time of intersecting crises, WASTE promises a necessary — and deeply personal — education in environmental justice, as well as a path forward to building a more inclusive environmental movement.

You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Emily Moskal – Director-at-large, Communications Specialist

Listening is the crux of many of life’s most important connections. Author Kate Murphy wants to improve your life with a simple adage: listen better. In You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, Murphy explores the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience behind this oft-neglected personal skill.

Superman’s Not Coming by Erin Brockovich

Nika Sarraf – Student Board Member, Environmental Science Student

Erin Brockovich’s newest book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It details the water crises being faced by Americans throughout the United States, and what we can do as individuals to help preserve this resource. Brockovich is no stranger to advocating for environmental issues, and she continues to do so by stressing the importance of citizen science and individual responsibility.

Science & Nature Book Club: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

Science & Nature Book Club: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

The book club is taking off for the month of August. We’ll be back in September to discuss She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer. In this sweeping, resonating overview, Zimmer presents a history of our understanding of heredity—a force that shaped our society and that is set to shape our future even more radically.

From Goodreads: “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh presents a profoundly original perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation…Weaving historical and current scientific research, his own experience with his two daughters, and the kind of original reporting expected of one of the world’s best science journalists, Zimmer ultimately unpacks urgent bioethical quandaries arising from new biomedical technologies, but also long-standing presumptions about who we really are and what we can pass on to future generations.”

We’re still meeting virtually. Join us at by Google Meet Sunday, 9/6 at 4 p.m. to discuss.

Meeting link: meet.google.com/nbk-hgaz-ikq

Please support our regular host BookPeople by purchasing your copy through their online store.

SciComm Spotlight: Laurel Treviño

SciComm Spotlight: Laurel Treviño

By Madeleine Bullen, ATXSciWri summer 2020 intern

We are excited to introduce you to Laurel Treviño, the outreach coordinator for Jha Lab within the Department of Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin. Research at the Jha Lab examines environmental drivers of pollinator diversity, shedding light on the complex nature of wild pollinator foraging and exposing how urbanization has become one of multiple serious barriers to plant and pollinator gene flow. Being the busy bee that she is, we were buzzing to get the chance to learn more about Laurel Treviño and what she does. 

Treviño’s background in teaching, education, art, science, and translation has been a wonderful toolkit for her role as a science communicator. She earned her B.S. in biology at the National University of Mexico, and then an M.A. in botany and a M.S. in wildland resource sciences from the University of California at Berkeley. She has taught both high school and college biology and environmental sciences, and has spent time working as an environmental educator at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. At the Jha Lab, Trevino leverages her communication skills combined with her science background to translate scientific research results for the general public. Along with increasing science literacy, this has helped many people learn about the pollination services that native bees provide in Central Texas. Talk about being the bee’s knees!

Currently, Treviño is working on an article for publication in a scientific journal covering the Jha Lab’s Texas Native Bees course, which educates participants about Central Texas pollinators and encourages them to apply their new-found knowledge and skills to conserving habit for these beneficial insects. The program is open to the general public, and is popular with landowners looking to adopt better conservation habits on their land. The curriculum focuses on the overarching topics of native pollinator ecosystems, history, diet and behavior, diversity, and conservation. Students attend lectures on these topics and then get to apply their new skills in two labs and a field exploration. They are taught how to distinguish native bees from western honey bees and other flower-visiting insects.

 Fun fact: there are over 800 kinds of native bee species in Texas!

Since Treviño’s work is not directly in the field, the recent coronavirus pandemic has not majorly affected her role. Her focus is mainly on the outreach program and she has adapted to being remote. She noted that the pandemic has been particularly hard for many students and professors who have had to change gears drastically in order to continue their work. 

Treviño’s love of bees and nature certainly isn’t left at the lab. Being a committed conservationist both at work and at home, in her free time Treviño enjoys working on erosion control projects, cultivating native wildflowers and grasses, and tending to her native pollinator and vegetable gardens. She has furthered her connection to all things botanical and apian through her work with illustration and photography, and has long enjoyed watercolors and contour drawings. She especially loves photographing and illustrating native plants, which she says gives her a sense of belonging to the land. You can often find her spending hours on her stomach observing and documenting native bees nectaring, pollinating, and nesting. You can see examples of her work on the UT Austin Biodiversity Center blog.

As a parting thought, consider this: When a bee is in your hand, what’s in your eye? Beauty. Because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder.

Professional Bio-Writing Webinar

Professional Bio-Writing Webinar

Saturday, July 25 at 10:00 AM – 11:15 AM CDT

$15 – members
$20 – nonmembers
$40—membership plus workshop registration (save $10 by becoming a member when you register)

Register now

Do you have a biography that showcases your talents? All science communicators need a short, professional bio to introduce themselves to the world. On July 25, ATXSciWri is hosting a bio-writing webinar led by Susan J. Tweit, a plant biologist and award-winning science writer. Tweit teaches workshops at colleges, universities, and writing festivals and also coaches individual writers.

In this DON’T-MISS workshop, Tweit will talk about what makes a compelling biography and walk you through crafting a 250-word professional bio for yourself. You’ll be able to start working on your bio during the workshop. In addition, you’ll have the option to connect with other attendees to work on a shorter bio.

If you are a member of ATXSciWri, you’ll be able to share your finished bio on our website. Speaking of membership, join NOW to save $5 on your membership and get the discounted workshop rate—a total savings of $10!

WARNING – This webinar will sell out!  Register soon to ensure your slot.
Are you ready to be bold and promote yourself?

PLEASE register HERE

“My stories rise from the intersection of head and heart, love and loss, science and storytelling, hope and grief, devastation and restoration, the well of life itself.”
Susan J. Tweit
Members-Only Happy Hour with Juli Berwald

Members-Only Happy Hour with Juli Berwald

Grab your favorite snack and libation and join us on Thursday, July 16, at 6:00 pm for members-only happy hour and discussion with Juli Berwald, author of Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. Berwald will be talking about her latest book project.

RSVP at atxsciwri@gmail.com.

Not a member? Join at ATXSciWri.org for access to this and other members-only events as well as discounts on workshops.

Science & Nature Book Club: Beating Back the Devil

Science & Nature Book Club: Beating Back the Devil

In July, we are discussing the timely tome Beating Back the Devil by Maryn McKenna. The book takes you into the inside world of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. McKenna follows the first class of medical detectives at the EIS after September 11 as they work to confront naturally occurring outbreaks as well as the man-made threat of bioterrism.

We’re still meeting virtually. Join us at by Google Meet Sunday, 7/5 at 4 p.m. to discuss. Email atxsciwri[at]gmail[dot]com to get the meeting link.

Please support our regular host BookPeople by purchasing your copy through their online store.

Internship Now Open for Applications!

Internship Now Open for Applications!

The Austin Texas Science Writers social media internship is designed to offer real life marketing and communications experience while serving to increase awareness of the organization’s mission and offerings. In addition to hands-on experience with traditional social media content creation and community management, the internship offers the chance to connect and work with a range of professional science communicators and engage directly with the local community. 

We encourage candidates with interest in any of the following areas to apply: editorial, videography, photography, marketing, advertising, journalism, media and public relations, digital communications, science. Our internships are of a flexible nature and we aim to provide students and young professionals with the opportunity to gain experience in the areas that best serve their goals. 

We expect this internship to begin June 1 and last approximately 10 weeks. Expected hours per week are 3, but there may be optional opportunities for community outreach that could result in additional hours if desired. The schedule is flexible, and some to all of the internship hours can be served remotely if this accommodation is needed. 

Benefits and Responsibilities 

This is a paid internship with a weekly stipend of $50. The intern will be responsible for brief daily check-ins with our major social media platforms as well as creation of online content based on our social media plan. Other duties might involve: helping to draft a monthly newsletter, developing static and dynamic content for the blog, and contributing ideas on outreach to peer groups (e.g, students or recent graduates). In addition to the stipend, interns receive the following benefits:

  • Professional mentorship on a science communications project of intern’s choosing throughout 10-week period
  • A year-long non-recurring membership to Austin Texas Science Writers at the student or associate level (depending on educational background) 
  • Access to networking and professional development workshops
  • Direct access to professional science communicators who can offer insight into the broad field of sci-comm roles and opportunities 


Helpful skills include: experience writing and/or editing in English, attention to detail and grammar, social media proficiency, some photography and/or videography experience. If you have 70% of these skills and a strong desire to grow through guidance and practice, we encourage you to apply. 

How to Apply

Applicants must submit the following by Monday, April 27:

  • Résumé with relevant coursework and work history
  • Up to three samples of your work (writing, photography, design, etc.)
  • Two academic or professional references 
  • A brief cover letter stating your interest in this internship opportunity — including specific skills you would like to develop

Email cover letter, résumé, two references and samples of your work to: atxsciwri@gmail.com

Science & Nature Book Club: ATXSciRead The Weil Conjectures

Science & Nature Book Club: ATXSciRead The Weil Conjectures

Sunday, 4/5 4-5 pm at BookPeople


Join the Austin Texas Science Writers for a book club devoted to the best of science and nature writing. We’ll revisit the classics and explore cutting-edge titles, from neuroscience to natural history, astrophysics to animal behavior. This month’s read is The Weil Conjectures, by local author Karen Olsson. Book club members get 10% off this month’s book at BookPeople.

Tabling at Astronomy on Tap ATX

Tabling at Astronomy on Tap ATX

Tuesday, 3/24 7-9 pm at The North Door


We’ll talk with Astronomy on Tap attendees before and after the event to sign them up for our newsletter, promote our upcoming events, and distribute free swag.


Sign up here to volunteer with us.