This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They have recently hatched in the Incubators (science writing programs at schools of journalism), have even more recently fledged (graduated), and are now making their mark as wonderful new voices explaining science to the public.
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
How did you get into science and how did you get into writing? And how did these two trajectories fuse into becoming a science writer?
I got into science first I guess, because my father was into science. We had this nightly ritual where he would come in and I could ask him questions about science. So for a long time that was my answer to the “what do you want to be when you grow up question.” I always really liked writing, but just assumed it would be a hobby rather than a career.
It really wasn’t until college when I was studying abroad and doing research that I realized I’m just not a very good scientist. I didn’t really care as much about the data as I did about the stories I could tell about it. Thankfully, I’ve had several really fabulous mentors who were smart enough to steer me towards science journalism.
Why did you decide to attend a specialized science/health/environmental writing program instead of a generalized journalism or writing program, or just starting a blog and hoping to break into the science writing business?
I knew I wanted to write about science, but I also knew I wasn’t really prepared for the big bad world of journalism. Graduate school seemed like the obvious solution to that problem.
Which science writing program did you attend? Why did you choose that one? What are your best experiences there?
I went to the NYU Science Health and Environmental Reporting Program. Looking back on the decision making process, all I really remember was being totally frantic, but I think the main reason I chose SHERP was Scienceline. That’s our student run website where work you do for class gets edited and posted for the world to see. And the world really does see, the site gets a lot of traffic, and often other bigger publications like Scientific American will pick up the stories and run them on their site too. Having something like that, where your work is turned from an assignment for class into a real, bonafide story for the world was really exciting – as was the idea of working on a website as a team of editors.
A lot of us joke that we loved SHERP but we might die if we had to do it again. It’s incredibly intense, between videos, stories, blogs, running Scienceline, doing internships, creating webpages, making podcasts, building infographics and everything else you’re running at 120% for 16 months straight. And the biggest thing I think I’ve gotten from that – aside from wonderful training and practice in all kinds of journalism – is a really amazing group of people I’m now connected with.
At SHERP you’re also building a network of people who are crazy good at what they do. There are the professors and contacts at almost every major science publication, who I can (and, unfortunately for them) do email for advice and guidance. There’s a network of alumni who are all over the place and full of tips and leads. And then there are your classmates, who are spectacularly talented. Somehow Dan Fagin dropped the ball and let me hang out with 15 of the best young brains he could find and I’ve learned a ton from them both during the program and after.
What professional experience you have had so far – publications, internships, jobs? Feel free to include a bunch of links here! What is your current job?
Another great thing about SHERP is the internships we get to do. While in the program I was lucky enough to hang out at three different places, first at OnEarth, then at Radiolab and finally at Scientific American. Scientific American has been kind (read: foolish) enough to let me stick around for a while longer, so I’m still there while I’m entering the world of freelance journalism now, which is both terrifying and super exciting. So, as a freelancer right now, I blog for Smart Planet, produce the Story Collider podcast and occasional segments for the New York Times Science podcast, work on the occasional animation, do some infographic type stuff for OnEarth, and write news stories and blogs for a handful of places. And, I’m always looking for more work (wink wink, nudge nudge editors. But seriously, email me).
Do you write a personal or science blog ? How much do you use social media networks, e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube etc., to promote your own and your friends’ work, to learn and to connect?
Technically I have my own blog. I say technically because I am horrible at updating it. But maybe now I will because people might actually click on it. I also have a site for highlighting work I’m particularly proud of (which the NerdNite newsletter recently called “fun and addictive” which was kind of cool).
I’m on all those networks you asked about, but I really use Twitter the most professionally. I haven’t figured out how to use Google+ in a way that isn’t the same as Twitter, and I use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends rather than business. I use Tumblr to collect wacky links and follow art blogs, and Pinterest to organize art that I’m using to make my own animations. I’ve also got this thing called Gimmebar, which no one uses, that I grab artsy stuff with.
Apart from writing, do you also do other aspects of science communication, e.g., podcasts, video, art/illustration, photography, infographics, or do you do any coding, web design and programming?
How do you see the current and future science media ecosystem, how it differs from the past, and what role will new, young science communicators like yourself play in building it and making it the best it can be?
Wow, this is really the question right? If I was living 10 years ago I don’t think I would have ever become a journalist. I’m not a news room kind of person. The idea of covering local politics or day to day news is just not what I’m interested in. (Obviously it’s super important and I am totally amazed by people who do it. My brain simply isn’t big enough to think that fast.)
So what I’m really excited by when it comes to journalism really wasn’t around 10 years ago. The ability to take a huge stream of information coming in, use it to tell a story and make something big and meaningful, and then give that meaning to people on all sorts of platforms is totally new. So things like The Atavist for example, which builds a really rich environment for story telling that’s customizable to both the story and the way the user wants to experience it. That the kind of thing I’m excited about, and that’s what I think the new generation of journalists is going to help create.
No, thank you!
Previously in this series:
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX