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 in San Jose, California and Portland, Oregon.
How did you get into science and how did you get into writing? And how did these two trajectories fuse into becoming a science journalist?
I always enjoyed writing and wrote for my college paper. But growing up, “scientist!” was my go-to answer to the what-do-you-want-to-be question. I was curious to know how and why things worked, and I completely glamorized the idea of standing alongside beakers in a white lab coat. I studied neurobiology in college because I love the notion that our thoughts and behaviors come from biological mechanisms. People are so fascinating and mysterious, and the fact that scientists can track down the physiological manifestations of our psyches thrills me.
But, it turns out, I wasn’t meant to be one of those scientists. As much as I liked the ideas addressed by science research, lab work and me just didn’t gel. Realizing I was more excited by talking about science rather than conducting it myself, I found my way into science reporting for Seattle's community radio station KBCS.
Producing science radio stories immediately felt more fulfilling than any other pursuit I’d known. I loved everything about it – going out and recording interesting scientists, obsessing over my scripts, voicing my stories, and sitting at the computer so transfixed by editing I’d barely break for trips to the bathroom. From there I found my way into other radio and video opportunities, and then most recently I've started working on science stories for print as well.
Why did you decide to try breaking into the science writing business without attending a specialized science/health/environmental writing program?
I feel like I kind of sneaked into the field by starting out in community radio. My first experiences with science reporting were so hands-on and so gratifying, I never questioned whether I was qualified to start working for bigger outlets. I think it helped that radio has a sharp learning curve. Once I'd battled through my first few stories I felt hooked on figuring things out for myself.
That said, I'm not sure if any sane person would have stuck with the route I took. I talked recently with a researcher who told me the teen brain is wired to survive adolescence by having a heightened sensitivity to reward, and I immediately recognized that as the way I got through my first couple of years of freelance science journalism. My career pattern felt like one step forward, two steps back, interspersed with a few leaps. Basically I had to find ways to see let-downs as motivating (“Hey, my fourth pitch to this outlet actually got a me a personalized rejection email!”)
What professional experience you have had so far – publications, internships, jobs? What is your current job?
I interned at Seattle's NPR affiliate KUOW, producing stories in their news room and helping with the production of their news magazine show. Since going freelance my radio highlights include producing for other NPR affiliate stations, PRI's The World, Deutsche Welle's Living Planet, NHPR's Word of Mouth, Radiolab, the Chemical Heritage Foundation podcast. I had a stint as a production consultant for a video start-up, which was a whirlwind tour of New York's tech scene.
Right now I'm balancing an exciting new podcast with The Mind Science Foundation, a contributing editor position on the healthcare beat for CBS's SmartPlanet, assignments from Dr. Oz's website, around one story a month for radio, and the always-present need to keep pitching to other shows and publications.
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?
I have my blog for SmartPlanet, and then I sporadically blog about my work at audreyquinnaudio.com. I also tweet to learn about what friends and colleagues are doing, promote work I like, and promote my own work @audreyqq.
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?
It's actually writing that's the more other aspect of science communication to me at this point. But besides my work in radio and video, I do website programming for podcasts and am plotting a foray into comics journalism.
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?
Clearly I'm biased in coming from a multimedia background, but I think the increasing ability (or even necessity) for journalists to cross mediums is redefining the science media landscape.
Besides that, I'm seeing a big push for more interactive science content, which I find both exciting and a little concerning in some ways. Interactive science media, usually presented through apps on handheld devices, allows for unprecedented creativity in the way we share science. But my concern is that it puts even more focus on an audience that already has better access to science – people who can afford those handheld devices.
If we can use that progressive energy to also bring science to people typically excluded from the science media conversation then I think we'll really have achieved something as a generation. Whether that means using science media more creatively, or just sharing a voice not usually heard in science journalism, will completely depend on the individual.
And thank you!
Previously in this series: