I finished my first novel in the middle of the fourth grade during a timed math quiz. I got a "B" on the quiz and my little purple notebook went into the bottom drawer of Mrs. Lindstrom's desk. Writing became a significant part of my life when my family moved from our rural home in Washington state to a remote town in northern Cameroon. The laptop my Dad had so carefully shepherded from the United States with its accompanying entourage of surge protectors, power strips, and adaptors died within a few months of arriving in West Africa. We had no tv, no movies, and rarely anything on our short-range radio. A voracious reader in normal circumstances, I consumed the boxes of books we'd brought with us within six months.
I hiked all over the hills that surrounded Banso, explored the town, captured birds to keep as pets in painstakingly created cane cages, made a slingshot out of tire rubber, volunteered to help on med-evac flights going in and out of the hospital, sent letters chronicling my adventures to friends and family back home and, in desperation, began to write to entertain myself.
It is a habit that has endured. While working at U.C. Berkeley, I've learned how critical good written and verbal communication skills can be in working with colleagues and effectively communicating research findings, both to the scientific community and the public at large.