8 Things We Can All Learn From Elizabeth Kolbert | NerdyMates

The nonfiction side of writing also boasts an abundance of female heroes, like Emily Nussbaum, who won a 2016 Pulitzer for her prolific and thoughtful TV criticism, and her fellow New Yorker writer, Elizabeth Kolbert.

Weren’t expecting that, were you? One other pointer we glean from Kolbert—this technique is most effective when applied sparingly; you don’t want to wear it out.

2 Show—and also tell.

6 Persist.

7 Keep your readers guessing.

Though few writers have the luxury of working exclusively on projects they cherish every minute of, the job doesn’t have to be a pure slog. Find and nurture the aspect of writing that drives you, and the rest will be that much easier.

This approach lets Kolbert grapple with wonky concepts (like geologic epochs) while still relating a concrete story (a hike to a rocky outcropping with a group of geologists). When you opt to show and tell, you deliver a bevy of facts in a story that’s more memorable than any sterile treatise.

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Kolbert doesn’t readily personalize every story she publishes, but she does occasionally step in and describe her own experiences—like a night she spent at a sleep center with electrodes on her scalp and tubes in her nose for a story about the science of insomnia. In The Sixth Extinction, for a section about backpacking in mountainous Peru, she includes an aside about a shopping bag full of coca leaves presented to her by an ecologist:

A reader who can easily predict what you’re about to say may not remain a reader for long. One way Kolbert keeps us hooked is by interjecting an occasional wry observation or utterly startling turn of phrase, as with the ending of this thought:

I try to go on reporting trips when things are happening, but deadlines are complicated and things that only happen once a year are hard to plan around. For the book, a couple of times I tagged along on an expedition. Sometimes people kindly staged expeditions for me, but I had to work around their schedules. Some things took a year to schedule properly. You have a lot more time when it’s your own book. Or maybe you don’t really—my book was way overdue.

It’s good to devise plans, but it’s also good to shred them if they’re not working or if other opportunities arise. In an interview with The Open Notebook, Kolbert relates one small adaptation she had to discover in the field, in order to take notes while swimming:

Indeed, Kolbert’s travels transport readers to far-flung places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest, and an utterly wild preserve in the Netherlands. Along the way, she propels us forward using scenes with working experts, providing not just their scientific perspectives but also glimpses into their, er, natural habitats.

It’s the kind of writing that shows not everything has been done or written before—and that truth can be stranger than fiction. Make a habit of venturing outside your head and out into the world, and your writing will be indelible.

Your writing doesn’t have to be circumscribed by your credentials. Elizabeth Kolbert is many things, but she is not a scientist. All the same, she’s not dissuaded from researching and sharing insights on subjects from colonizing Mars to the future of automation.

The leaves were leathery and tasted like old books. Soon my lips grew numb, and my aches and pains began to fade. An hour or two later, I was back for more. (Many times since have I wished for that shopping bag.)

Just because recognition doesn’t come overnight doesn’t mean it’s not coming.

5 Don’t let anyone tell you you’re unqualified.

Kolbert began her career as a newspaper reporter in the mid-1980s; she headed the New York Times’ Albany bureau from 1988 to 1991. By the time she became a New Yorker staff writer in 1999, she’d been grinding out stories for some fifteen years. Even then, she was still years of hard work away from the National Magazine Award she eventually won for her 2005 series The Climate of Man.

3 Be adaptable.

A journalist, author, and adventurer seasoned by more than three decades of writing experience, Kolbert is perhaps best known for her book The Sixth Extinction, which won a 2015 Pulitzer for nonfiction.

Kolbert has chosen the setting of this chapter for other reasons, but having brought us here, she doesn’t shy away from a flavorful detail. This is the key: finding a happy middle ground that’s neither self-indulgent nor invisible.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s writing refuses to stay chained to a desk. Not content to muse from home about melting ice sheets, for instance, she journeys with scientists to the distant reaches of Greenland.

You’ve probably run across that writerly dictum “show, don’t tell” before, but sometimes the situation calls for both. When Kolbert sets out to explain ocean acidification, she pulls on a wetsuit and takes us scuba diving. Any time she wants to describe a complex scientific finding based on an esoteric lab technique, she goes to the lab and has an expert walk us through the process.

The most challenging thing was reporting underwater. That is the hardest thing—when you see these amazing things underwater, but what can you do? You can’t take notes. When I was in Hawaii snorkeling, the scientists had these plastic slates with a special pencil to keep track of their experiments, that you can write on underwater. They loaned me one of those, so I took all my notes on my plastic tablet and transcribed it when I got back to shore.

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If nearly half the occupations in the U.S. are ‘potentially automatable,’ and if this could play out within ‘a decade or two,’ then we are looking at economic disruption on an unparalleled scale. Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle.

Sometimes what’s important isn’t so much technical expertise as the ability to do your homework and to zoom out and recognize what will be important to your audience.

Recent fiction luminaires include Hanya Yanagihara—a longtime writer by trade but a relative newcomer to the realm of novels. Her latest was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and was a 2015 National Book Award finalist. Then there’s Karen Russell, the MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner whose debut novel was a 2012 Pulitzer finalist. And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another “Genius” Grant winner whose novels have garnered a string of awards, and whose speech “We should all be feminists” was sampled by Beyoncé.

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In that same interview, Kolbert also speaks to the process of making adjustments based on her subjects’ schedules:

The question of how often you, as the writer, should insert yourself into a story that isn’t expressly about you is often debated.

If you’re looking for an inspiring female author from whose work you might glean a few writerly pointers, you needn’t search far. Whether you’re a hardcore fiction buff or always hungry for a fresh memoir, the world of words is suffering no shortage of brilliant women.

4 Let yourself appear in the work, once in a while.

Kolbert’s writing is sharp, scientifically complex, politically fraught, and at times darkly funny. In short, she’s exactly the type of author worth studying for hints https://twitter.com/nerdymates about the craft. Here are a few we’ve picked up:

Be flexible when you can. Kolbert’s willingness to shrug off her book’s initial timetable eventually paid off with a Pulitzer-caliber result.

Kolbert’s writing could hardly be called whimsical, and often gravitates to matters of extinction and survival. The subjects can feel as grim as a cave full of diseased bats in winter. But that doesn’t mean the day-to-day work of finding words for it is miserable; Kolbert makes a point of traveling to fascinating places and seeking out compelling characters.

1 Leave home. Talk to strangers.

Be patient; keep showing up and putting in the work.

8 Enjoy the work.

Calculators on the SAT: Tips from Experts | NerdyMates Blog

Allen: Is there such thing as believing in the calculator too much? Putting too much faith in it?

Have friends who also need help with test prep?

  • Obsessing over the calculator as the golden ticket to your 800.
  • Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | www.www.ted.com/profiles/6811055essay writing Jun 29, 2014 6:16:00 PM

  • I find the equation solver to be pretty helpful. Solving 3x+4y=6, 9x+2y=-10 is kind of a pain manually, and you can just type this in on the Ti-89. But typing it in correctly takes not much less effort that solving on paper, so I can go either way on this. It’s definitely not a “mandatory feature.”
  • How do you gain familiarity with a calculator? Pick one you like, and then use it for tests, homework, and anything else. To the extent possible, when doing classwork, don’t borrow other people’s, don’t use the class calculator. Gain familiarity with one calculator model.

    Fred: Oh, and implicit in all of this is that you should stay away from calculators that don’t have an entry line. That 4-function (only does add, subtract, multiply, divide) calculator in the closet? No way. Some scientific calculators don’t have an entry line — using one would be a large disadvantage.

    Bonus Q&A: What’s Your Favorite Calculator for the SAT and Why?

    Start Improving your SAT Score Today:

    Fred: Oh, absolutely. Throughout my career, I’ve seen so many students who think that the right calculator will magically solve all their math problems. These students go through the trouble of firing up their Ti-84, navigating a slew of menus to find a high-powered cubic equation solver, slowly enter in the equation carefully, hit enter, and get an rounded answer like .588 that they have to convert back to 10/17.

  • To improve the accuracy of 4-function calculations (but be careful what you type!)
  • SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

    Intro to Calculators on the SAT

    The most important lesson for calculator use, again, is to have a calculator at all. Secondly, it’s key double-check all entries. Thirdly, you have to develop familiarity with the calculator. And finally, use it mainly for four functions, plus just a bit more.

    Calculators are appropriately used for a few reasons:

  • Spending hours loading complicated programs into that Ti-84.
  • Calculators are allowed on the SAT, and not using them correctly can put you far behind. SAT experts Fred Zhang and Allen Cheng discuss which tips and strategies worked for them in getting perfect scores.

    Many Scientific Calculators, like the Casio fx-300MS (Fred’s personal favorite for the SAT I), have an entry line, as do the Ti-83, Ti-84 and Ti-89.

    2. Always Double Check the Entry Line

    Calculators on the SAT: Tips from Experts

    • To speed up complex 4-function calculations (typing 3823 * 84 is much faster than doing it by hand)

    Allen: Absolutely. My favorite SAT calculator is the Ti-89, and I check the entry line all the time. If you’re a high scorer, it is crucial for preventing careless mistakes. If you’re not a high scorer, it lets you double check the order of operations, and lets you match the equation on the paper.

  • Relying on using the advanced functions of each calculator.
  • It gives you answers back in fraction and “rationalized” format: so if the answer is 10/17, it will give you that, instead of a decimal jumble like 0.5882352 (which leaves you to match it up).
  • Our golden rule: if what you’re trying to do with your graphing calculator is NOT doable on a scientific calculator, you are likely overusing your calculator.
  • 4. Know When to Put the Calculator Down

  • It’s a relatively simple calculator, meaning all teachers will let you use it for exams that allow calculators, so you can get a lot of practice using this calculator.
  • You know the answer is a fraction like 5/13, but the calculator only outputs decimal equivalents.
  • Allen: So just how important are calculators to the SAT?

    Allen: I like the Ti-89 the most. It’s one of the most powerful calculators acceptable on the SAT. Why do I love it?

    The College Board Official Calculator Policy says that you don’t need a calculator for the SAT. They say that because, politically, the College Board needs to make the SAT seem accessible to people of all income levels. The reality is that a calculator, and the right calculator at that, is an absolute must.

    Allen: I agree. Calculators can’t make your day, but can definitely break your day. You need to avoid mistakes to get a good score on SAT Math, which you need to do if, for example, you are aiming for a top engineering school. Here are our top tips.

    What do we not recommend?

    The only drawback is that, if you find that there is some graphing calculator function you must use, and you’ve found it to be helpful, it won’t be on this one. But I’ve personally never found such a “mandatory” graphing calculator function, at least not for the SAT I.


    • You feel like you have to use a super-complicated program to solve it

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that you should really only be using the calculator to do combinations of the four basic functions, like (425+25)/3 – (42*4)/3.

      1. Bring a Calculator

        Key Calculator Actionables


      • It has much more functionality that most other calculators (and is more expensive as well).
      • Fred: For sure, the Casio fx-300MS. I have so many reasons for loving this calculator (and they’re not paying me to say this):

      • Master one calculator.
      • Why you’re leaving points on the table if you only take the SAT once

            Fred: Always, always glance at this to double check before you hit enter. Glancing takes less than a second, and so many times, I caught myself typing (425+25) instead of (424+25) or reversing a decimal. A few mistakes like that on the math section can cost you up to 50-100 points! By double checking, I have managed almost never to make a computation mistake.

          • It has an Entry Line, and we talked about how important this is.
          • When you have to use a large number of key-presses or menu navigations to get to your answer. More key presses means more chances for mistakes.
          • It’s a relatively simple calculator, so you’ll never be tempted to boot up the cubic equation solver, which we discussed before is often less than optimal.
          • We’ve taken the ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAT, and a whole slew of standardized tests as well as class tests. Whenever calculators were allowed, 9 out of 10 times they were of substantial help. When you need to multiply 2392 x 323, it’s faster and more accurate to do so on a calculator. Bring your calculator!

            Beware of Using a Calculator When:

            If you’re hoping to get the most out of your calculator, you must, must, must use one that you are used to. One that you’ve used for 20 hours or more, ideally. You have a vague muscle memory of where the keys are, what settings there are, and so forth. remember this: the worst calculator is an unfamiliar calculator. A familiar scientific calculator is far better than an unfamiliar Ti-89.

            Now that you know these tips, go out and conquer the SAT Math section!

          • Bring a backup to the test, or at least backup batteries.
          • Fred: I would say they’re of medium importance on the SAT I Math section. You absolutely need to have the right calculator strategy. On one hand, most of the work on the math section is interpreting the problem — a calculator can’t do that for you. On the other hand, you can really mess up with the wrong calculator strategy.

            As an aside, do you know how to swim or ride a bike? If so, then you know how important being familiar with an activity is. Calculator familiarity is no different.

            Other Posts You May Be Interested In:

            Fred: Oh, by far, in school when I had to use one I wasn’t used to. I’d be hunting around for the “sine” symbol. I’d find it, but then realize I have to hit another button at the same time to activate it. And to add to that, halfway through the quiz, I realized the calculator angle unit was set in radians instead of degrees, so my answers would be all wrong.

            Fred: For sure, calculator over-users suffer from typos on the calculator, and the conversion of rounded numbers to fractions.

            Calculator Uses and Limitations

          Allen: I’ve seen those in my day, and the kicker is that the math problem would take 2 minutes to do on the calculator, while if you just thought creatively about the problem, you’d get it in 15 seconds.

          SAT Strategies

          How to figure out your target SAT score

        What does this mean you should do?


        What’s an Entry Line? It’s a line at the top of the calculator that shows you what you’ve typed:

        3. Be Familiar With Your Calculator

        Allen: What would you say your worst calculator experiences were?

      • For minimal other uses

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    A Tale Of Troubling Events At Stanford GSB

    Here’s the short story: Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Garth Saloner, who has been serving as dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business since 2009, will be leaving his post next essay writingwww.nerdymates.angelfire.com/ summer. He was having an affair with GSB professor Deborah Gruenfeld (of Leanin.org fame) who is getting a divorce from former GSB professor Jim Phills. Phills is currently suing the business school for wrongful termination and now teaches at Apple University, where he had been teaching before being terminated and while on leave from Stanford.

    But this isn’t just a story about an acrimonious divorce, an illicit affair, or even an angry, scorned husband wanting to get even. There are educational and financial elements to the tale as well. According to a lengthy Poets & Quants article, there are “allegations of professional and financial retribution against…Jim Phills, contempt for school rules and policies, and claims that the Graduate School of Business is a hostile workplace driven by personal agendas, favoritism, and fear.”

    Other claims now being made against the GSB include the accusation that the school is sexist and ageist: Of the 40 senior staff members who have left Stanford GSB in the last five years, most have been women over the age of 40, with the remainder almost all men over the age of 40, highlighting a “hostile work environment” for people in this demographic. (This is an assertion that was presented in a letter signed by 46 current and former staff members, the “Group of 46” – read more about this letter and the complaints on page 5 of the P&Q article.)

    • Get Accepted To Stanford GSB—Webinar On Demand!

    For more details, please see the P&Q article.

    • Catching Up With Recent Stanford GSB Graduate Tim Eisenman

    Related Resources:

    • Do Stanford GSB Grads REALLY “Change Lives. Change Organizations. Change the World.”?

    The GSB’s reputation has been shaken. In fact, GSB’s whole culture is now being scrutinized due to other troubling events that point to arrogance, poor social ethics, hedonism, and contempt for laws and policies. 

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