Meet Riley D Thoen

Department of Plant Biology

Writing is valuable because it allows us to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and work with the world, and no matter what my future holds, I know writing will help me.

What topics do you enjoy writing about? 

Anything that I find compelling or that I have any interest in. This can include plant evolutionary ecology, plant conservation, and even personal interests, like sports and video games.

Are you working on a current writing project? If yes, what is it?

Currently, I am working on writing two manuscripts for scientific publication. My manuscripts are each on plant conservation of species in fragmented prairies; many vast prairies in the United States have been converted into agricultural lands, leaving only small plots of land with native prairie. My manuscripts aim to deduce demographic consequences for species living in fragmented prairies by understanding which parts of the life cycle are most affected by this fragmentation.

What is your writing process?

I start my writing process by opening up big chunks of time to sit down and write very rough first drafts of whatever project I am working on. From there, I will read through my first draft and make the appropriate changes to improve the flow and message I am trying to convey. I then ask my colleagues for feedback on my writing, and they always provide useful feedback to improve my drafts. From there, it is a cycle of feedback and edits to ultimately craft a piece of work that I am proud of. Notably, the toughest part of the process is always getting the energy to write that first draft. I have struggled to summon the energy and motivation to write first drafts in the past, but the most important thing I have learned is to block out a chunk of time and remind myself that I can write a good draft. 

In your opinion, what is the value of writing? Why do you write?

Writing is valuable because it allows us to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and work with the world, and no matter what my future holds, I know writing will help me. I write because I need to write to communicate my science with the world. I also write because I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others, and it feels really great to have a tangible piece of work to point to and to be proud of. 

What has working on The Classic Journal meant to you? 

I have enjoyed reading the works of undergraduate students at UGA while reviewing for The Classic Journal. It is always a treat to get to read such diverse pieces of writing from students, and I appreciate students’ willingness to work on improving their manuscripts in the revision process.

Describe your experience working with undergraduate students. What does that relationship look like to you? What have you learned? What have you taught? 

I have mentored two undergraduate students on independent research projects using my study system. I try to base my mentor-mentee relationships around shared growth and feedback. Basically, my goal is to help them grow as scientists and writers, and the best way to do that is by listening to the skills they want to gain and offering opportunities for them to develop those skill. The main thing I have learned from mentoring is that every student is different, and each student requires differing amounts of feedback and guidance. I have also learned that students are very motivated and are so willing to learn new things (truly, this makes mentoring easy).

Describe your experience with the publishing process.

I have been on both sides of the scientific publication process, both as an author and a reviewer. In my experience, receiving reviews is usually tough; reviewers generally give a great deal of feedback, which can sometimes be harsh, and it can be tough to not take it personally (publications are a lot of work, after all). On the other end of things, as a reviewer, I try to be objective in my review of manuscripts – obviously, the submitted works are not my own, so my personal opinion should not matter as much as my objective review of the science in the paper.

What would you like for undergraduate students to know about the publishing process? 

Stay positive. Most of the time, reviewers are trying to submit objective reviews of the manuscript you submitted; ultimately, they just want what’s best for your paper and they want to see good works published (though there are some bad eggs who do submit subjective and unfair reviews). In many instances, receiving bad reviews is discouraging, but know that the changes you need to make will improve your piece and help you get published. 

What is your biggest writing pet peeve?

I recently completed my written comprehensive exams for my PhD, and to study, I read close to 50 scientific papers. Without question, my biggest pet peeve is papers that are too long, especially when the same paper could be much shorter and be the same quality. Keeping papers “short and sweet” makes the main messages much more digestible and much easier to read. So write concisely and only include what is necessary for that main message!

Name one writing tip you believe more people need to employ.

Do not overthink your first draft, just do it. I recommend just getting that first draft done without looking back. After the fact, you will be able to edit that draft and cut it down. Once the first draft is done, though, it is all smooth sailing (and editing) from there.