I am pleased to present this guest post by Jessica M. Morrison.

Working with the media can be a daunting proposition for a scientist, even more so for a scientist in training. But what if you could have a glimpse into what it’s like to be on the other side – while you’re still in grad school?

The Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program organized by AAAS (the folks who publish Science. You may have heard of it…) takes science and engineering students out of the safe, warm confines of the ivory tower and tosses them into the unfamiliar, frenetic world of journalism.

For ten weeks each summer, places like Scientific American, the LA Times, NPR and the Philadelphia Inquirer have the distinct pleasure of gaining a specialty reporter. You’ll learn to turn an idea into a story, a paragraph into a sentence and an email into a phone call. And you’ll have a better understanding of what it is that a reporter needs from you once you go back to the laboratory.

The program is intended for scientists who want to become more comfortable sharing their message in the media and with the public, but it can also be a welcome bridge into an alternative career.

Sometime between my first and second years of graduate school, I realized that my strengths were in communicating my research. It made sense. I was a journalism major before I switched into science. I applied for the Mass Media Fellowship knowing that I wanted to become a science journalist.

I spent my summer at the Chicago Tribune working side-by-side with a couple of the best science and health reporters, as well as those on general assignments. Chicago has a notoriously gritty history, and I had the good journalistic fortune of reporting directly to the editor of the investigative/watchdog team.

By the end of the summer, I had juggled as many as five stories at once, gotten over my fear cold-calling sources, made life-long mentors and landed two stories on the FRONT PAGE of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE!

So how do you get this gig? You have to apply.

The application is now open, but it will close on January 15, 2013. So, hurry!

You’ll need to fill out the application form, update your resume, submit writing samples – one showcasing your ability to write for a general audience; and one specifically providing news coverage of a recent journal article, round up three letters of recommendation and request your transcripts.

If you’re not ready to apply this year, and you’re wondering how to make yourself competitive, I have three words for you. Share your science.

Write for your college newspaper, contact the public information office at your university and ask to help write press releases, start a blog.

Get involved with outreach. Explain climate change to local civic groups, lead a field trip for elementary students, volunteer at a local science museum.

If you aren’t already active on Twitter – come on over! Follow @BoraZ, @edyong209, @maggiekb1, @stevesilberman and @deborahblum to get started. I’m there, too, @ihearttheroad.

Finally, reach out to former fellows. The Mass Media Family is large. The program has been active for around 40 years, and its reach grows with each incoming class.

The technical details are here: AAAS – Mass Media Fellows.


Previously in this series:

What is: Open Laboratory 2011

What is: Science Online London

What is: #NYCSciTweetUp

What is: Science Online New York City

What Is: ScienceBlogging.org

What is: The Story Collider

What is: NASW

What is: #SciFund Challenge

What is: Journal of Science Communication

What is: ScienceOnline2012 - and it's coming soon!

What is: ScienceSeeker.org

What is: ResearchBlogging.org

What is: The Young Australian Skeptics’ Skeptical Blog Anthology

What is: SciBarCamb?

What is: Petridish.org?

What is: USA Science & Engineering Festival

ScienceOnline NOW!

What is: ScienceOnline Seattle

What is: ScienceOnline Bay Area

What is: ScienceOnlineVancouver

What is: Generation Anthropocene?

What is: Marblar

What is: Biomeeter - find your way in the world of conferences