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 Alison Schumacher (Mind The Science Gap articles).
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. Go Blue!
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 wouldn't call myself a science writer, per se. I just wrapped up my Master’s degree in public health, with a particular focus in health communication. I’ve always been interested in health, and how we, as professionals, can better communicate health problems to the public. My undergraduate studies were focused in medical anthropology, where I learned about differences in how individuals and communities understand disease and health, and how those differences impact health outcomes. Since then, I’ve been passionate about describing health issues and solutions to populations in a way that is relevant and personal to them.
This past semester, I was presented with the opportunity to enroll in a course at the University of Michigan School of Public Health (mentioned in a previous post by my colleague Michael Grisafe) that provides students the opportunity to post weekly blog posts on any health or science topic of their choice. I have always enjoyed writing, and was excited to have to opportunity to consistently practice and receive feedback on my ability to describe different health topics to a real audience.
Why did you decide to try breaking into the science writing business without attending a specialized science writing program?
Although I didn’t attend a program specifically geared toward scientific writing, the department of Health Behavior and Health Education at UM School of Public Health offers a specialization in health communication. Through my coursework I was able to develop skills in message design, audience profiling, message tailoring, and health education material development. Course projects allowed me to develop health education programs, PSAs, brochures, posters, and more, and each project provided insight into how to produce final products that are comprehensible, relevant, and important to the target audience.
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 know the basics in technology (I’ve made videos and websites), but my expertise is limited. I am, however, very interested in and excited about all the possible avenues for communication. Advances in technology are allowing more tailored, and personal health communication programs to be developed and disseminated and I hope to get into the mix at some point in my career. I’m all about creative ways to inspire health- related behavior change, and welcome any and all methods to reach out to potential audiences.
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?
The number of possibilities for science communication is huge and growing! The public is constantly battered with health messages—don’t do this, don’t eat this, get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, get tested, etc—and sometimes it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and what to ignore. I think as young professionals the best thing we can bring to the field is passion. I believe that passion about a particular issue or topic comes through in good writing. So, in order to make a statement amongst a sea of health messages and campaigns that passion must stand out! Through my master’s education I have met countless individuals with wonderful enthusiasm for the field and new ideas for how to promote health in the United States and abroad. I believe that through this enthusiasm and ingenuity we will certainly help to make the science media ecosystem the best it can be.
Thanks so much!
Previously in this series:
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien