This is a series of Q&As with new, 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 Hillary Craddock (blog).
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Sussex County, New Jersey. Located in the northernmost part of the state, it is less than two hours away from NYC but surrounded by orchards, cows, and mountains. Over the past six years or so, I have lived in central Pennsylvania, northern Virginia, and southeast Michigan.
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 can’t remember a time that I wasn’t into science. As a kid I dug up our backyard in search of dinosaur bones (unsuccessfully) and worms (very successfully, much to my mother’s chagrin). Writing was something I picked up along the way; my high school had fantastic English, history, and science teachers who all encouraged us to write well and think about different subjects, no matter what we wanted to do after high school.
Science and writing fused together for me after college when I noticed that a lot of important topics, from vaccine efficacy to disaster preparedness to global warming, either aren’t communicated to the general public at all or aren’t communicated very well. This lack of communication left a void too easily filled by misinformation and complacency, and I felt that it was an important part of my job as a scientist and (eventually) a public health practitioner to convey research findings to the public in a clear, interesting manner. I took a science writing and communication class at Michigan, through which I was able to write for Mind the Science Gap. This provided an invaluable opportunity to practice, and improve, my science writing.
Can you briefly give insight on your writing process? Once you get a topic you’d want to write about, how do you proceed from there?
I come across a lot of new and interesting topics through my blog feed, research, and discussions with friends and family. Out of all those sources, I try to choose topics that might be not only interesting but also useful to the general public and health practitioners. Depending on the topic, I proceed by searching for news articles, press releases, and scientific literature. If the topic is outside my area of expertise, I do some background research so I can explain complicated concepts to my audience.
Apart from writing, do you also do other aspects of science communication?
I do a lot of in-person science communication. At Michigan, I work on an influenza study that investigates flu dynamics in households. I enroll families and interact with them at blood draws and illness visits, and I often field questions about influenza vaccines and other infectious disease topics. Answering participant’s questions and engaging in a dialogue with them is one of my favorite parts of the job.
I’m also a member of the Public Health Action Support Team (PHAST). Through PHAST, I’ve done public health outreach in Mississippi (Gulf Coast and Delta regions), eastern Kentucky, and Detroit. The work we do involves a combination of collecting survey data, providing public health information on behalf of local public health organizations and/or non-profits, and answering any questions that may come up. We help facilitate communication between our community partners and community members.
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?
Most of my experience has been in infectious disease research. As an undergraduate, I studied the pathogens involved in Colony Collapse Disorder in European honeybees for two years (PSU Dept of Entomology). Following that experience, I worked with a nematode pathogen and wildlife disease through Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. After my bachelor’s degree, I branched out into the molecular pathogenesis of West Nile virus at the Maryland Pathogen Research Institute. Last summer, I interned with the Epidemiology Unit at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), investigating a cohort of Lyme disease patients. I currently work for the Household Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness study (HIVE), studying influenza dynamics within the household.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans include getting my PhD, with my work focused on infectious diseases. Ideally, I would like to join the Epidemic Intelligence Service after my doctoral degree and pursue a career in public health practice. My ideal career would involve working at the intersection of infectious disease epidemiology and disaster preparedness and response.
How important a role do you think young science bloggers and communicators, such as yourself, have in today’s society?
I think we have a big role, but we have to step away from the keyboard every now and again. In order to communicate science to everyone, we need to reach the people who don’t have a reliable internet connection, are working too many shifts to spend idle time in front of the computer, or don’t know the exact search terms needed to find a technical article. We also need to supplement our blogging with volunteering and face-to-face community interactions to remind ourselves why we engage in science communication.
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Mary Beth Griggs
Amy Shira Teitel
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien