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What is: AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program

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I am pleased to present this guest post by Jessica M. Morrison.

Working with the media can be a daunting proposition for a scientist, even more so for a scientist in training. But what if you could have a glimpse into what it’s like to be on the other side – while you’re still in grad school?

The Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program organized by AAAS (the folks who publish Science. You may have heard of it…) takes science and engineering students out of the safe, warm confines of the ivory tower and tosses them into the unfamiliar, frenetic world of journalism.

For ten weeks each summer, places like Scientific American, the LA Times, NPR and the Philadelphia Inquirer have the distinct pleasure of gaining a specialty reporter. You’ll learn to turn an idea into a story, a paragraph into a sentence and an email into a phone call. And you’ll have a better understanding of what it is that a reporter needs from you once you go back to the laboratory.

2012 Mass Media Fellows at AAAS headquarters in Washington, DC.

2012 Mass Media Fellows at AAAS headquarters in Washington, DC.

The program is intended for scientists who want to become more comfortable sharing their message in the media and with the public, but it can also be a welcome bridge into an alternative career.

Sometime between my first and second years of graduate school, I realized that my strengths were in communicating my research. It made sense. I was a journalism major before I switched into science. I applied for the Mass Media Fellowship knowing that I wanted to become a science journalist.

I spent my summer at the Chicago Tribune working side-by-side with a couple of the best science and health reporters, as well as those on general assignments. Chicago has a notoriously gritty history, and I had the good journalistic fortune of reporting directly to the editor of the investigative/watchdog team.

By the end of the summer, I had juggled as many as five stories at once, gotten over my fear cold-calling sources, made life-long mentors and landed two stories on the FRONT PAGE of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE!

So how do you get this gig? You have to apply.

The application is now open, but it will close on January 15, 2013. So, hurry!

You’ll need to fill out the application form, update your resume, submit writing samples – one showcasing your ability to write for a general audience; and one specifically providing news coverage of a recent journal article, round up three letters of recommendation and request your transcripts.

If you’re not ready to apply this year, and you’re wondering how to make yourself competitive, I have three words for you. Share your science.

Write for your college newspaper, contact the public information office at your university and ask to help write press releases, start a blog.

Get involved with outreach. Explain climate change to local civic groups, lead a field trip for elementary students, volunteer at a local science museum.

If you aren’t already active on Twitter – come on over! Follow @BoraZ, @edyong209, @maggiekb1, @stevesilberman and @deborahblum to get started. I’m there, too, @ihearttheroad.

Finally, reach out to former fellows. The Mass Media Family is large. The program has been active for around 40 years, and its reach grows with each incoming class.

The technical details are here: AAAS – Mass Media Fellows.


Previously in this series:

What is: Open Laboratory 2011
What is: Science Online London
What is: #NYCSciTweetUp
What is: Science Online New York City
What Is:
What is: The Story Collider
What is: NASW
What is: #SciFund Challenge
What is: Journal of Science Communication
What is: ScienceOnline2012 – and it’s coming soon!
What is:
What is:
What is: The Young Australian Skeptics’ Skeptical Blog Anthology
What is: SciBarCamb?
What is:
What is: USA Science & Engineering Festival
ScienceOnline NOW!
What is: ScienceOnline Seattle
What is: ScienceOnline Bay Area
What is: ScienceOnlineVancouver
What is: Generation Anthropocene?
What is: Marblar
What is: Biomeeter – find your way in the world of conferences


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  1. 1. helenchappell 2:01 pm 12/6/2012

    As a 2011 Fellow, I recommend this program to every single person who asks me how I ended up where I am now. If you’re a young scientist and you find yourself loving everyone’s science except your own…well, check it out!

    And don’t think it only sets you up for a career in journalism. I (very occasionally) write freelance pieces, but my day job is as a museum exhibit developer. It’s dramatically different than journalism in some ways, but remarkably similar in others. Essentially, my job is to take an idea or topic, fish out a story, figure out the best way to tell that story, and then work with our graphic designers to make it happen. And if you thought journalism word limits are tough, try writing a 30-word museum label. Sometimes I wish my training was in poetry, because every single word counts.

    If you want to know more about what exhibit developers do, check out our blog, Or come see us at ScienceOnline!

    Link to this
  2. 2. evelynjlamb 10:57 pm 12/6/2012

    I can honestly say I would never have gotten a start in the media at all without the fellowship this past summer summer. (I was here at Scientific American!)
    There are so many good science writers out there, and I am very fortunate that the editors here have helped me kind of figure out what I’m doing and how to find my voice in the crowd. If you are a scientist who might be interested in working in the media, this is a great way to try it out. If you’re like me, you’ll be plopped in with almost no background in how to write, and the summer will be a great on-the-job training.
    The fellowship has also made me eager to get back in the classroom, which I will next year. Communication science and math to people other than my grad student peers in this format gave me a lot of ideas that I hope to bring to my classes!

    Link to this

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