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 Michael Grisafe.
Hello, welcome to The SA Incubator. Let’s start from the beginning: where are you originally from?
I’m from a small, coastal town in Southern California named Ventura, but I’ve also spent some years in Chicago and NYC.
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 think that science and writing have always been major themes in my life, but until recently they just never came together. As an undergraduate I studied English literature and biological psychology. Then, after graduation, I worked at various times in pharmaceutical labs, in hospitals, and as a freelance writer. The weird thing is that my life in science and health care ran completely parallel to my writing without any shared themes.
When I came to the University of Michigan this year for a master of public health degree (MPH), I was excited to see that they had a blogging class that brought science and writing together. The class teaches students the fundamentals of science communication, and each week ten of us come up with science topics that we post to the class blog, “Mind the Science Gap.” Not only are we internally critiqued by our peers and instructor, but we get to see feedback in the comments section from the public.
It’s a very exhilarating sink or swim sort of experience (although our instructor, Professor Andrew Maynard, is there to make sure none of us totally sink!).
The class will be wrapping up soon, but several of us are discussing carrying on science blogs of our own, and I plan to submit freelance pieces to blogs in the future.
Why did you decide to try breaking into the science writing business without attending a specialized science writing program?
I’m interested in the intersection between health communication and information technology, so it makes sense for me to get a master of public health degree while taking classes in information science (I am currently applying for a dual master’s degree at the University of Michigan).
In the future, I want to create quality health information resources in the form of blog articles, mobile apps, websites, videos, and all of the myriad electronic communication venues which have cropped up in the past ten years.
When I was considering journalism schools, I found that many of them tended to focus on old forms of print communication, or were out of touch with the way communication technology is used now. So for me, it felt better to focus on a practical science degree while learning the technical nuts and bolts of the information technology that will be creating the architecture for future media.
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?
My first experience with science writing can be seen on the Mind the Science Gap student blog. Outside of the realm of science writing, I have interned for the trade publication Travel Agent Central and Luxury Travel Advisor, composed newspaper articles for a local newspaper, and written blogs and promotional copy on a freelance basis.
Currently, I work as a research assistant at The Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the University of Michigan where I edit educational videos for children with eosinophilic esophagitis, a rare chronic disease causing inflammation of the esophagus. I am also involved in a project that is creating a video game to teach children with recent traumatic spinal cord injuries how to take care of themselves and adapt socially.
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 don’t write a personal science blog yet, but stay tuned! Facebook is the primary place I use to promote blogs and learn about the articles that my friends are reading.
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 can create great websites… if it was still 1999! Needless to say, I’m running to catch up with more modern web design and programming classes. As I delve deeper into classes at the school of information at the University of Michigan, I plan to learn more about information architecture and web design.
On the back-end of blog sites, I am extremely interested in the metrics captured by Google Analytics (views, links to site, how long people stay on articles, etc.) and using this information to create better content that captures the public’s interest.
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?
I think that journalism in general is going through an extremely exciting/frightening “Wild West” transition in which it tries to figure out its place within the context of this new media sphere. I personally consider all types of communication, from blogs to “Tweets” to YouTube, as potential sources of legitimate communication and journalism, but it will be interesting to see what the public eventually settles on as its major news and information sources in the future.
Regardless, I think that the most important thing for science journalists is to make sure the information they are putting out there is truthful and high-quality, no matter what media venue it goes through.
Previously in this series: