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.
Today we introduce you to Daisy Yuhas (Twitter).
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I grew up and went to college in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved sharing stories, which meant that once I learned how to write, it was impossible to keep me away from pencil and paper. As to science, I’ve always enjoyed reading popular science stories, nature documentaries, and science class. It wasn’t until college however that the idea of combining science and writing crossed my mind. I was an English literature major and couldn’t shake my desire to take biology classes, so I tacked on a minor and spent my summers doing research (mostly involving birds, more on that later).
I got to try out science writing a bit during college both for our school’s online newspaper, Swarthmore’s The Daily Gazette and independently. For example, while working on a summer research project in Fairbanks, Alaska, I volunteered to help re-write a series of informational papers for the Alaska Bird Observatory where I was conducting my study. I still keep a copy of these stashed away for whenever someone asks me about woodpecker deterrents or what to do with a fallen nestling.
Why did you decide to try breaking into the science writing business without attending a specialized science/health/environmental writing program?
I’m not sure I ever consciously decided to go one route over the other. I love school, so to be honest any opportunity to take another class is welcome. But when I finished college, I took the advice of a few of my professors who had observed that taking some time away from academia had helped focus them more on their future path rather than jumping right into graduate school. So, I applied for internships and have been tremendously fortunate to have worked my way into science writing in the three years since I left college.
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?
Since college, I’ve had a string of really awesome internship experiences, as well as a few part-time jobs. My first internship was actually at CERN, where I spent about several months working in US LHC communications, writing news stories about the LHC’s start up and even a feature on discovery-making for the DOE’s magazine symmetry. The experience was a test of my omnivorous interest in science writing. I hadn’t taken physics since high school—I literally packed my bags to move to Switzerland while watching Great Courses DVDs on physics for the non-mathematically gifted. The first month or so I hit a very steep learning curve, but in all honesty it was an exhilarating challenge.
After CERN I spent some time at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago where I wrote for symmetry and the lab’s internal newspaper, Fermilab Today. I covered everything from the arrival of the Tesla Roadster—which meant I got to test drive a plug-in sports car—to the rediscovery of a long absent plant species on the lab site. Next up was Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, another wonderful lab. After two high-energy physics labs, Brookhaven was a refreshing return to other sciences! One of my favorite pieces from the lab was on a discovery concerning the role of molybdenum (which is not only an excellent element but fun to say) in the soil.
I took an unusual turn after leaving Brookhaven by joining a research group organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and sent to Argentine Tierra del Fuego. There I spent my days monitoring the breeding habits of Chilean swallows, shuttling along the Beagle Channel, and spotting penguins. I also blogged for the Lab of Ornithology and shared some of our field findings with high school students through a partnership with Brookhaven Lab’s education group.
Finally, I followed my bird-loving instincts to an internship with Audubon magazine—where I covered the rising wolf populations in France and an invasive nightmare in the Everglades—then to my current internship with Scientific American MIND. I also help manage a blog where particle physicists write about their work and experiences called Quantum Diaries.
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 blogged for symmetry breaking, Round Robin, The Perch, and Scientific American Observations but still haven’t created my own blog—mainly because I have a lot of different interests, from animal behavior to terracotta sculpture, and worry that a blog on the various things I love might be a tad incoherent. Perhaps someday I’ll settle down with a nice solid subject and while away the hours waxing poetic on its charms, but for now I enjoy variety! I’ve also played with the social networks you’ve mentioned and engage with them in varying degrees. I’m a late-adopter when it comes to Twitter, but I do have an account (@daisyyuhas) and am bit-by-bit getting better about using it. (Feel free to say hello, I promise I’ll reply!) I use Facebook and Google Plus primarily for personal stuff—friends’ birthdays and the like.
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’ve had a chance to tackle some basic coding and web work, and enjoy dabbling with any multimedia option available—even if it’s just playing the extra in an explainer video! At home, I love to paint and draw, and my first foray into illustrating a story has actually been for a Scientific American blog.
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?
What a great question! I think it’s a wonderful time to be a young science communicator. It’s a time of transition, which may make this career path feel incredibly unstable. But it also means we have many, many opportunities to learn, adapt, and expand our creative repertoires. It’s possible that someday, if things do become more stable, the freedom we are experiencing now will be harder to come by. I think that what we’re learning now will prepare us to tell stories in creative and collaborative ways.
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Mary Beth Griggs
Amy Shira Teitel
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien