This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They – at least some of them – 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?
I’m originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. No, I do not normally have a southern accent. But if y’all want, I can surely put one on.
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’ve been vaguely interested in science for my whole life, but in school I loved reading and history much more. Stories were just so much more fun! Then, my freshman year of college I took a geology course, and I was hooked. I majored in geology, and added a second major in archaeology my senior year.
I joke to a lot of people that I just really like old rocks. And I do. They’re great. But the reason I like them is that they contain one of the most amazing histories ever recorded. The only difference is, the story they’re translating isn’t inscribed on paper. Instead, it is etched on every single piece of rock and soil in the world. And forget those puny thousand-year timescales that we have for written human history. Geologists study a history stretching back billions of years, through cataclysmic events, and gradual serene changes, and the entire evolution of life. You can’t get cooler than that.
I eventually realized though, that I was singularly unsuited for life as a geologist. I liked ALL the stories, and didn’t want to pick just one to research. That, and staring down microscopes at thin sections induced seasickness. Around the same time that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I realized two important things: 1. My family and friends had no idea what I was saying when I was trying to tell them what I learned in geology class. And 2. I really liked writing. The obvious answer to my “what to do” dilemma was simple: Write about Science!
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 went to a program directly after finishing up my undergraduate degree. Starting a blog and hoping to break into the business didn’t make sense to me because I knew nothing about the business in the first place, and didn’t have a job I could fall back on and survive on while trying to make it in the business. To be honest, I didn’t really think about just going to a standard journalism program or writing program. I knew that I wanted to focus on science journalism, and the specialized programs seemed the way to go.
Which science writing program did you attend? Why did you choose that one? What are your best experiences there?
I attended NYU’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP). I chose it because it had interesting classes, and it’s placement in New York City (where a lot of science journalism publications are based) meant increased access to internships.
I had some fantastic experiences at SHERP. We pitched stories at the New York Times, saw a specialized planetarium show at the American Museum of Natural History, visited Brookhaven National Labs, and got to meet a veritable parade of experienced journalists, authors and experts that came into class to talk with us.
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?
I had internships at the American Museum of Natural History, Popular Mechanics, and Discover Magazine. I’m currently a freelance writer and fact-checker, as well as working part-time as the Associate Producer of a NOVA scienceNOW episode. (Tune in this fall!)
Do you write a personal or science blog (URLs)? 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?
I’ve been busy doing this whole real-world work thing, which meant that my blog The Rocks Know has not been updated as much as it should have been. But it’s finally back after a five month sabbatical! I use Twitter more than the other sites (@MaryBethGriggs). I have a website that is currently being updated.
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?
I do some basic photography and video editing, but my main focus is on writing and fact checking. Because there is nothing worse than an un-checked fact.
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?
I think that like most other media, the various forms of science journalism will become more interconnected as time goes on. We see it now, with animations, slideshows, videos and podcasts accenting stories, or even telling them independently. What I don’t think will change is the storytelling. I think that young science communicators will continue to do the same things that our more experienced colleagues are doing, working to find the best possible way to get the story across.
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX