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?
Hi everyone—thanks! I grew up in central Maryland and attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland before moving up to Hershey, Pennsylvania for graduate school.
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’ve been writing since…well, since before I could actually write. I have a huge box back home full of pictures books I’d illustrated, from sickening love stories (90% of them) to warped renditions of Disney movies. I grew up (and continue) submitting all sorts of writing to competitions or anthologies: short stories, essays, poetry, anything. I credit my inspiration and motivation to my love of reading.
As for science: every kid, at one point or another, is a scientist, discovering their world by making up their own little experiments when a parent isn’t around to answer the “whys” and “hows.” A 4th grade school assignment I recently uncovered depicts my adult self in a white lab coat with a bubbling green test tube, exclaiming, “I have discovered a substance!” The creativity of experimental design coupled with the fact that there are SO MANY things we still don’t know has always been a very attractive challenge to me.
It was only about a year ago when I realized that science writing is…well, it’s actually a thing—as in those reporting the weekend’s baseball scores aren’t necessarily the same people detailing the latest Alzheimer’s breakthrough. The bridge between the Ivory Tower and the Average Joe is strengthening, but still rather flimsy. I see no greater use of my scientific resources and writing skills than to do my best to close this gap for my readers.
How are you hoping to break into the science writing business?
I began my blog, “Gaines, on Brains,” last August, where I write about recent discoveries, debates, or FAQs within the neuroscience field. It’s garnered quite a following and has targeted precisely the audience for whom I set out to write: laypeople. I also have blogs with my local news source, PennLive (“Gaines Explains Brains”), as well as LabSpaces (“neuroBLOGical”), a great social networking site for scientists and science enthusiasts.
Neuroscience is a wonderfully fascinating intersection of chemistry, medicine, physics, psychology, development, engineering—everyone wants to know what déjà vu is, why yawning is contagious, or how coffee wakes them up. I’ve received great feedback from my readers, and especially love when they suggest topics for me to investigate!
Which graduate program are you attending? Why go for a science degree and not a journalism degree?
I just completed my first year of the Neuroscience Ph.D. program at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA (yes, I’ve eaten my weight in chocolate since being here!).
I identify as both a scientist and writer. And with this type of writing, I am also a translator. Just as one must integrate oneself amongst native speakers to truly pick up a new language, I feel obliged to work directly with scientists, exposing myself to the newest literature and delving into own original research. What better way to get writing material? The knowledge and experience I’ve picked up in this program have been invaluable in my science writing—in an indirect way.
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’m all about social media! It’s a great way to connect with my readers and promote not just my writing, but share or tweet other interesting stories. I’ve discovered so many great science blogs and, frankly, get most of my science news from various social media outlets. I’m on Facebook, Twitter (@GainesOnBrains), Google+, and LinkedIn, and I’ve made many new professional and personal connections because of it!
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?
Big question! I write by the notion that most people these days can’t concentrate on anything for a long period of time. I don’t know if that’s true for the general population, but it’s certainly true for me. We’re all busy multitaskers constantly inundated with to-dos and flashy electronic things. That’s why I believe the 140-character limit of Twitter, Facebook sharing, and simple infographics are the future of information dissemination.
I’m always on the hunt for how people are getting their information. Then I plop my contribution there, in as few words as possible. It may get lost in the shuffle, but that’s the nature of communication these days.
We live in a world where “OMG” and “LOL” have been added to the Oxford Dictionary, 175 million people log in to Facebook each day, and every form of print, old and new, is becoming digitized. Whether this evolution is for better or worse, it’s important to keep up with it, nurture it, and develop science media into the best it can be for everyone.
Thanks for having me!
Previously in this series: