This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They 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 Francie Diep (Twitter)
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let's start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I grew up in Bothell, Washington, which is about 45 minutes north of Seattle. I lived in Los Angeles for seven years before coming to New York City and becoming a science journalist.
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?
In junior high, I used to write short stories imagining my and my best friend's fabulous future lives--you know, assuming we'd stopped being zitty and timid and awkward. In my stories, we were married to our crushes and still living in Bothell. How dreams change, right? I would email the stories to my friend, so we could discuss them over our (landline) phones. No, I don't have any copies of those stories anymore. There was no Gmail back then; you had to delete all your old email every once in a while.
I got into science because of Mrs. Talle and Ms. Black, my high school biology teachers.
In college, I majored in English and took a lot of science classes. After I graduated, while I was looking for a job, my former science professors asked if I would TA for their classes. I gave lectures, ran office hours, graded quizzes and showed people how to dissect fruit fly larvae for three years, before I discovered science journalism existed as a separate, specialized field. It just seemed like a good fit.
Why did you decide to attend a specialized science/health/environmental writing program instead of a generalized journalism or writing program, or just starting a blog and hoping to break into the science writing business?
I chose a specialized science journalism program because I was really certain that was the kind of journalism I wanted to do. Actually, after going through the program, I'm now more open to other kinds of journalism, but I think my program (NYU SHERP) was excellent preparation for any kind of journalism, with an emphasis on science. Does that make sense? I'm really glad for everything SHERP taught me.
I chose to go to school because I thought it would be faster than trying to break in alone, and I thought it would help me get quality, educational internships. I think that's true, as I interned at Scientific American (Thank you!) starting my second semester in SHERP.
Which science writing program did you attend? Why did you choose that one? What are your best experiences there?
I went to New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, which I chose after comparing the syllabuses of SHERP and the other programs I was considering. I thought the stories SHERP assigned were like the kinds of stories I saw getting published and read. I also admired the quality of the writing I saw in SHERP's webzine, Scienceline, and I liked that it's based in New York, the center of U.S. publishing.
I don't want to advertise for my school on your blog here, but if wants to learn more about NYU, they can email me or do a web search on it.
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 now report on tech trends and futuristic ideas at InnovationNewsDaily. Don't be fooled by the generic "staff" byline; that's either me or the one other staff writer we have, scrambling to post enough stories every day to keep our content fresh.
It can be hard to find a way to break in before you get that first great internship. I wrote for The Myeloma Beacon and took a journalism class through UCLA Extension, using the hefty discount I got as UCLA staff (Remember the part about my teaching undergrads to eviscerate fruit flies?).
Do you write a personal or science blog (URLs)? 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 don't blog now, but in college, I actually kept a blog about writing, science and my love life (Boom chicka wow wow). I turned some of those blog posts into stories for my college's literary magazine. Once in a while, people would recognize me at parties because of the blog. I know this will sound like a challenge, but I am not going to link my college blog, sorry. My old blog taught me that I not only loved writing, but I loved interacting with readers.
I now use Twitter to link to great reading and multimedia projects, including my friends' and my own. I really like Twitter for getting a sense of what people are talking and thinking about. I like checking Vimeo sometimes for cool projects researchers have posted.
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?
In my job now, I usually only write. I took some video and photos while reporting from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, but then sent the clips to the video team for editing. I'm grateful to work for a place that has dedicated video and infographics people, but it does mean that I don't get to do as much myself.
As a student, I learned to make videos, infographics and websites, all of which I really enjoyed, so I try to find projects in my free time that further those skills. I'm working on visualizing a dataset about Brooklyn now.
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?
Ohmygoodness, Bora, this is a big question! I don't know what the science media ecosystem was like in the past. One thing that might be pretty new is the sense of peer review, where blogs like the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Health News Review and individuals like Ed Yong critique science journalism on the Web today. That's something I feel proud of, in this field. I'm glad science journalists watch each other's work, hold each other accountable.
I think in the future, more journalists will have to deal with big datasets. Data are becoming more and more available, from all kinds of agencies, and they hold important stories. To make science media the best it can be, we'll want more journalists who will learn, early in their careers, the programming skills to organize these data.
Photo of Francie (top) by Kat Cheng Photography
Previously in this series: