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 grew up on an island near Seattle. It’s beautiful in the Pacific Northwest. I recommend visiting in the summer with a pair of hiking boots (and don’t bring an umbrella. Everyone will know you’re a tourist)!
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 remember writing short stories in elementary school and spending hours on essays in high school, choosing the right words for my rhythm and message. I always liked science, and senior year of high school I shifted into a higher gear during my biomedical AP class. We did genetic tests on C. elegans, contributed to the Human Genome Project, dissected animals and completed histology studies (I studied mice eyeballs). I was so revved up for science in college!
At Washington University in St. Louis, I studied English literature and psychology. I also discovered journalism, joining Student Life’s reporting staff. Wash U is such a research heavy university, I never had a shortage of science stories to cover. By this time I had worked in two labs and realized it wasn’t for me, but I enjoyed writing about science so much that I practically lived at Student Life’s underground office, thinking of ways to explain repeated evolution and protein envelopes to readers.
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?
After college, I did a string of science-writing internships. First, I interned at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s health desk, and then I moved to Boston to write for Harvard Medical School’s Focus, a bimonthly publication about new research. When I got heard the paper I had interned at in college was starting a new newspaper in 2008, I jumped at the chance and moved back to Seattle.
I spent about three years covering the communities of Snoqualmie Valley and Issaquah. It was wonderful – I interviewed city leaders, teachers, artists, Japanese-maple-tree arborists, elk enthusiasts and alpaca farmers. But I missed science writing! I think I covered every possible suburban science story. Even my editor said she liked my science articles best because I was so passionate about them.
I already knew how to report, but I wanted direction on how to cover scientific research. I also didn’t know how to break into the field without going to graduate school. Typically, you work a weekly before moving to a small daily and then a big daily, but newspapers weren’t hiring, making the career climb difficult. I realized that going to grad school would help me break into the science journalism world.
Which science writing program do you attend? Why did you choose that one? What are your best experiences there?
I am so lucky to be a Sherpie. I go to New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, but that’s a mouthful, so we call ourselves Sherpies. I applied to a few programs, but liked that SHERP had the student-run website, Scienceline. The professors are great, and once we finish our articles we put ourselves at the mercy of online commenters.
Class is fun, but I like interning the best. It’s nice to be back in the real world!
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?
Here we go! I blogged for The Seattle Times when I studied abroad in London, wrote for Student Life at Wash U and interned at the Seattle P-I and Harvard Medical School’s Focus after I graduated. Then I moved to Seattle to report and take pictures for the SnoValley Star (at one point, my editor and I wrote a 20-page paper by ourselves every week) and its sister paper, The Issaquah Press.
Since coming to SHERP, I’ve done a fellowship at Washington Sea Grant and interned at Scholastic’s incredibly cool science magazines for students: Science World and SuperScience. Now, I’m interning at Popular Science. It’s a total geekfest. I love it.
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?
Take me on as your protégé, Bora! I think you’re king on all these sites… seriously though, I put my work on Facebook and Google + and Tweet with my awesome classmates (the other day I got retweeted by an owl. My life is now complete).
I have a science-y blog idea up my sleeve, but I haven’t had time to start it yet. Stay tuned!
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?
That’s what great about SHERP – you learn about everything. I actually stayed at school until 2:30 a.m. the other day working on a radio piece about the naked coral hypothesis for The Doppler Effect on WNYU’s 89.1 FM.
Thanks to SHERP, I know how to create videos on Final Cut and produce podcasts with Pro Tools. Right now we’re taking a data class and learning about CSS code and Adobe Illustrator. Taking photos is great, too (if you don’t have a tripod, make yourself into one and exhale as you take the photo).
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?
Just read how Gary Schwitzer’s team chews apart science journalism for breakfast. There are so many amazing science journalists, but sometimes it feels like there are even more reporters who run press releases as articles, don’t call outside sources or don’t read the study. I think science journalism is a growing field, especially with social media. You can get all your headlines by reading Twitter and tweeting it to friends.
Readers want writers who can understand the big picture and the nitty-gritty of science and explain how it affects their world. I want to be a part of that.
Thanks Bora! See you at the next Tweet-up.
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Mary Beth Griggs
Amy Shira Teitel
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien