About me

What I do now: Study for a PhD at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago, New Zealand. My dissertation research considers how winemakers and growers negotiate the jungle of scientific research and information related to their work, how extensions and journals and other communicators could communicate research findings with winemakers and growers more effectively, and what wine science as an intensely and inescapably interdisciplinary field can teach us about communicating science — to professionals and to the public — better.

What I’ve done before: I’m a refugee from an MD/PhD program, deciding to avert a mid-life crisis before it began by leaving med school (with my Masters of Science in microbiology) for a different road. Notwithstanding my love of medicine, I realized somewhere along the way that the life I pictured for myself when I “grew up” didn’t have much to do with the lives of the clinician-scientists I saw twenty years ahead of me. I wanted to be improving the way science is communicated not generating data in a lab (or writing grants for my underlings to generate data). I made the excruciating decision to change fields. After some hunting and pecking — and a lot of flack — I found my way into an English department to study composition, rhetoric, and how we can do a better job of te

aching students (and scientists) to write science.

Now I’m something of a hybrid: half-scientist, half-humanist, some days reading about Zygosaccharomyces, some days about Foucault, some days about technical communication, and most days about a little of all three.

Where I hope to be: Shaping some kind of science communication program, be that with a company, a university, or a non-profit research agency. Doing some science writing, but also improving the structures through which scientific research makes it to people who can use it: other scientists, professionals, and the public.

Where I am: Dunedin, the second-largest city on New Zealand’s South Island,  the main metropolis in Otago, and still a pretty medium-sized town. A beautiful spot on the coast, and a few hours away from the Central Otago Pinot Noir-growing spots.

Find my departmental page at the University of Otago here.

Erikas hair

Contact me: erika.szymanski@wineoscope.com

6 thoughts on “About me

  1. In my recent lecture in Sensory Evaluation of Wine in the Dept. of Vit. & Winery Tech. at at Napa Valley College, I concentrated on Brett. Your recent blog on Brett is the reason I quote from my lecture…”These olfactory defects in wine are common. A study by Chatonnet, et al. in 1993 tested 100 commercial wines (mostly French) and found about 1/3 of all wines had volatile phenol concentrations above perception threshold.” Quite a bit of brett acceptance.

    • Thanks! Indeed, I wonder if Americans have a skewed vision of the microbial world in terms of Brett in wine and, more broadly, in terms of food and wine microbiology. Perhaps in America our “blandized” palates, unaccustomed to fermented flavors by years of highly sanitized and standardized processed foods, have become less tolerant to a little Brett in wine versus the palates of our European neighbors? Then again, I’ve seen enough people enjoy that unexpected bit of barnyard that just a little bit of technical understanding of where those flavors originate might be a doorway into greater appreciation of microbial flavors in general.
      How I wish that I could sit in on your lectures!

  2. Hello
    I partiicipated in a discussion a few months ago on CM and found it most enlightening. So when I recently was asked “if there is any correlation between lactic acid in wine and lactose intolerance alergies in people?” I thought of you. Is there chemical subtleties between Lactose, Lactic acid and Lactase that could cause adverse alergic physiological manifestations specific to wine consumption?

    • Thanks for the excellent question. The good news for lactose-intolerant wine lovers is that they have nothing to fear from lactic acid in wine (or pickles, or sauerkraut, ect.) Most people who react poorly to lactose suffer from an intolerance, not an allergy; allergies are immune reactions to specific molecular shapes (“epitopes”), while intolerances can be caused by non-immune reactions. Lactose intolerance results from a deficiency in the lactase enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in the small intestine. Since we can only absorb lactose after it has been broken down into its component parts – glucose and galactose – a lactase deficiency means that undigested lactose builds up in the intestines and causes bloating, diarrhea, gas, and other discomforts.

      To the best of my knowledge, unlike lactose, lactic acid can be absorbed without first being broken down by lactase. Another pertinent consideration here is quantity: milk contains 2-8% lactose, i.e. relatively a whole lot, while wine contains much less than 1% lactic acid.

      In conclusion, then, the lactic acid in wine should be of no concern to most people who need to avoid lactose. A glass of wine makes a much better companion to a good dinner than a glass of milk, don’t you think?

  3. Pingback: Lovely whites from Santorini and why Minerality is like “I’m Good” | New World Winemaker Blog

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