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A sudden impulse led me to go web surfing in search of my fellow banana slugs from the halcyon days (for me at least) of ’92/’93 and wow did I hit a gold mine! For those reader who may not know this, the banana slug is the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz (See logo on top). I became a slug because I went through a graduate certificate program in science writing there, which not only turned me into a writer but also gave me such a taste for the graduate school experience that I proceeded to become a tenure-track grad student for about a decade and a half after that. Even now with Ph.D. in hand I have embarked on yet another Masters – this time a distance learning one in museum studies, which also has its roots in slug land, since I’m doing it to extend my repertoire as a science writer. But that’s a tangent I’ll take off in a separate post – back to the slugs…

Virtually every one of my classmates from that batch has gone on to impressive achievements, and I can’t say I’m surprised, though am proud as Punch (to borrow a phrase I haven’t used since my Enid Blyton-reading days, er.. think teen, rather pre-teen years!) of the bunch of us. I am also somewhat lighter in the pocket but richer immeasurably in what I can safely believe will be good if not great reads.

In no particular order of favoritism, here’s where we are now…

Rusten Hogness – The guy to whom I owe the title of my blog. Peregrines are obviously not the only birds on Rusten’s brain as you can see from his website. He runs a cool radio station out of Santa Cruz where you can listen to all manner of birdsong among other things. Rusten is also the person who planted the first seeds of interest about the history of medicine/science in my brain.

Lisa Seachrist – Lisa’s background coming into the program was the one closest to my own and we were of an age besides. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised to find out that of all our cohort, it was the two of us wrote books on genes and such – and coincidentally within a year of each other – although her’s is  likely to be a more accessible and fun read than mine. Certainly it hooks you in by its very title: When a gene makes you smell like a fish… (ha ha bad pun, fully intended). And it is illustrated to boot.

Lisa Strong-Aufhauser – Go figure in a class of 10, we had two Lisas. Not there was the slightest chance of ever confusing them with each other! Each was too individual in her own right.  A tall red-head with cascades of hair the color of autumn and a personality as just as vibrant, this Lisa was the most animated and energetic of us all. She was a natural history photographer who had lived in Yosemite before moving to the Santa Cruz hills just before embarking on this course. She and her husband Kim (an honorary member of our class) were the hosts to many a party (Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving etc) at the Schloss Stronghauser where the whole lot of us would converge for a riotous time. In her quieter moments, Lisa loved to photograph oak trees. She makes movies now besides doing work for the Exploratorium and has traveled to exciting places on work – Antarctica, Greenland. Egypt almost happened earlier this year, but inevitably red tape (not hair) entangled those plans hopelessly.

Miyoko Chu – was likely the most talented writer in the class – or at least the most lyrical and imaginative of our bunch, I think. And despite being among the youngest, she was also the most focused in her career path. Even back then she had a well thought-out plan – Santa Cruz was to be her detour year in writing school and then she was heading to Berkeley to undertake a PhD in evolutionary biology. She did it, and her lyrical writing (assuming it still has that quality) has found expression in a book called Songbird Journeys that I’m saving to read while I’m out camping next week in the desert. Oh, and I can’t not mention  the factoid that while in school she wrote a story about the science behind Jurassic Park because of which she actually got invited to a premier of the movie but one of the scientists that she interviewed and who was (if memory serves) a scientific consultant to the movie about extracting DNA from amber…

Larry O’Hanlon – Despite what I’ve said in the previous paragraph about the most lyrical writer, my personal favorite writer in class was Larry. Of Irish descent like his role-model Steinbeck, he was/is a born storyteller, blessed with the gift of blarney and perhaps cursed too, with the sense of melancholy that makes Irish writing great. In fact, I identified him with the storyteller label so closely that despite our edict to find adjectives for our classmates at graduation (which is how I landed peregrine) I stuck with my description, and John (Wilkes) allowed it because he too thought it apt. Among other things Larry manages the Discovery Earth website where I hope he continues to regale his readers with his peculiarly offbeat take on various situations.

Cynthia Mills – I chose the word keen to describe Cynthia because she was so interested in so many things. This interest manifests itself beautifully in her writing the most recent sample of which is a book about Darwin, that having discovered, I will now use without fail in my scientific thinking class, here in Egypt. Besides being a writer, Cynthia was also a fully qualified veterinary doctor with a Labrador that bore a marked resemblance to a sea otter or seal when it went swimming in the sea, which was as often as possible.

Karen Fox – It’s getting harder to pin my classmates down in words now without being repetitive or seeming hagiographic, and besides, Karen’s eloquence can tell you more about her than I ever could. Check out her website yourselves. Especially read her dating advice column – such a pleasure to see this subject handled in a humorous and informative way. But dating is by no means the only science Karen’s perfected to an art. Physics too takes wing under her skillful handling in books about Einstein and the Big Bang. I am also delighted to see that she written for children – something that only the very brave and talented should or could do.

Alexandra Witze – The baby of our class but only chronologically. No small fry here, that’s for sure. Professionally Alex the one who’s been on the fast track in science writing since the day we graduated and for some time now has been an editor on Nature. Before that she was on the staff of the Dallas Morning News on their science beat, and briefly before that did a stint in middle of somewhere-in-Wisconsin for a geology magazine. I should have taken a lesson or two from her experience, but instead borrowed that chapter in her life in its entirety.

Gabriela. Our only non-American and non-native English speaker. (I don’t qualify on either count because technically I am an American citizen and English is my first and best language, though I can speak Hindi and Tamil just as well, I can’t read or write well in either… actually, the latter not at all). Anyhow, at the time I wrote this post I hadn’t been able to find anything out about her. She landed the internship with Larry Gonick the cartoonist, which made me insanely jealous at the time I remember. I also know she moved back to Germany and got married.  I’m sure she’s enjoying a successful career there… she was always had the drive!

Then there’s me. Still a science writer after a fashion after all these years. Privileged to have numbered among this illustrious cohort. As for the rest of my life… well that’s what the rest of this blog is about.  One of these days I must write about John Wilkes, the creator and mastermind of the program. But he deserves a post of his own and so I’ll stop writing and slither off like a good slug now ~~~

I got this image off google from the website randomruckus.com
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