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.
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you from?
Depends who's asking. For you, I'm from New Zealand, Australia and Pittsburgh, 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?
I decided to become a biologist when I was 17, after reading a book called “The Panda’s Thumb” by Stephen Jay Gould and another one called “The Making of Memory” by Steven Rose. Although I wanted to be Stephen Jay Gould when I grew up, I somehow ended up a yeast geneticist instead. Not quite the same, but not so bad either.
I spent many happy years messing around with yeast genomes—I named a yeast gene, even —but I was happiest when I was learning about and writing about other scientists' work. Then, when I was doing my postdoctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh, I impulsively decided to spend my summer vacation week at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop.
That completely changed my life. Within the first five minutes of the first presentation (it was by David Corcoran, science editor at the New York Times) I realized that I actually wanted to be a science writer.
Which science writing program did you attend? What are your best experiences there?
I'm currently a student in the MA in Professional Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University. I am the only person in their Science Writing track, which makes me a gigantic geek in the eyes of all my classmates. Though to be fair, I am a gigantic geek. I enjoy learning about web design and document design, but my favorite class is obviously science writing. It's taught by Mark Roth, a science writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and I feel like I'm learning a ridiculous amount from him.
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?
I write mostly for other scientists at the moment. Like lab geekery at BitesizeBio.com, and about vocational issues for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I also help out on the public information committee for the American Society for Cell Biology. I want to write more for non-scientists though, and I have some internships and things lined up to help me get there.
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 blog at The Blobologist, which is a lot of fun, though I wish I had more time for it. A lot of my time is spent on structured procrastination because I'm also an editor at ScienceSeeker.org, the biggest and best aggregator of science blogs around. My job is to read posts on biology, chemistry and academic life and pick my favorites every week. This is not a task for the faint-hearted.
Social media is incredibly important to me, Twitter in particular, because it allows me to be part of the science writing and Science Online communities without living in one of the big cities.
What are your plans for the future?
I finish school at the end of the year and then I plan to go freelance. Like a boss.
No, thank you! It was because of you being the first person to follow me on Twitter that I stuck with it through those awkward first tweets. So I O U a bunch of incredible friends.
Previously in this series: