Tag Archives: science writing

The Origin of this Science Writer

6 Aug

Last week, Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science started a post that’s collecting the stories of how science writers came to this particular career. I finally got around to adding my contribution, which I’m reposting with relevant links.

At 16, I published my first article of science writing, a profile my high school chemistry teacher—also a part-time caterer— for the school’s literary magazine. At the time, I thought of myself as an educational sponge rather than a writer. I was a math and science geek who also loved language and literature. But I had no idea that I could combine the two. Instead, I pursued chemistry, fascinated by the machinery that powered life.

That interest fueled me for almost a decade until I was 5 years into a Ph.D. program at Indiana University. It was 2002, and I felt like academic science was pushing me to learn more and more about less and less. I knew I wanted to finish the Ph.D., but I had to figure out what I would do next.

I read the “alternative careers” books for scientists. I volunteered and later worked on staff at a hands-on science museum. But I also contacted Holly Stocking, a (now retired) professor at the IU journalism school, about her science writing course. That class changed my course completely. Over the next 2 years, I wrote for the campus newspaper, applied for internships, and finished my Ph.D.

A month after my Ph.D. defense, I moved to New York City for an internship at Discover magazine, followed by an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship at WNBC-TV. In the last 6 years, I’ve been freelancing for publications such as Discover, Science News, ScientificAmerican.com, Science Careers, Nature Biotechnology, and a number of science and health publications for children. I’ve also worked on science exhibits, serving as the research coordinator for the permanent astronomy exhibits at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

I love the opportunity to learn about new ideas, talk with interesting people, and put those pieces together to tell a story. I’ve written about my advice to new science writers before—particularly those with extensive training as scientists. More on that here.

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Science Writing Resources (Friday follow-up)

16 Nov

Last Friday afternoon, I spoke on a panel about media careers for the “What Can You Be With A Ph.D.?” Symposium held at NYU Langone Medical Center. I talked to several  students and postdocs after the program and wanted to pull together a list of resources related to careers in science writing.

It was a fun session– I learned a lot from my co-panelists and the auditorium was full of people with a lot of interesting questions about careers that blend science and communications– including journal publishing, medical communications, medical science liaisons (MSL– a career, incidentally, that I didn’t know anything about until Friday), and yours truly, who talked about my mix of freelance science writing experiences. The overall symposium program looked  terrific– I wish that I’d had access to a careers program of this size and quality when I was a graduate student.

But back to science writing:

I also got a few questions (after the main session) about freelancing. A few thoughts:

  1. It’s not a good fit for everyone. You’re starting a business, so you have to think about all the issues (and potential insecurities) that go with that: finding health insurance, start-up costs, lack of a retirement plan, etc.
  2. Getting started is hard work, and it will probably take a while to prove yourself. Persistence is key: continue to pursue opportunities, get experience where you can, and build your clip file.
  3. It is possible to start a freelance business even if you don’t have a huge cushion of savings (I didn’t). Think about practical strategies that will allow you to start slowly. Having some source of steady income while you ramp up is essential if you don’t have a nest-egg to fall back on.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 23: For NYC-area scientists interested in learning more about the transition from the bench to a writing career, Science Writers in New York has a program on December 1: Goodbye Benchtop; Hello Laptop.