For the last 15 years, I have edited news about science for print and online consumer and specialty publications. I’m now on my second tour of duty at Science News, where I’m the deputy managing editor for digital. That means I see to most forms of Science News not printed on paper — that includes editing our excellent blogs, overseeing the SN website, keeping various social media accounts humming, and making sure our biweekly iPad edition happens.
From 2007 to 2011, I lived in Cambridge, England. While there, I was a contributing editor at Science Careers and I served as the editor of the Clinical and Translational Science Network (CTSciNet), an online career development portal to encourage people to go into, and to support those already in, clinical/translational science careers.
More on my professional history is available on my LinkedIn profile.
I am not a scientist, nor have I ever been one, but I do like to talk to people about careers in science writing; here’s a blog post I wrote to coincide with a science media career day at Cambridge University. And here’s how I got into science journalism, as I wrote on Ed Yong’s excellent meme, On the Origin of Science Writers:
I’m a rare case: I’ve known since I was a teenager (OK, 19) that I wanted to be a science writer. Of course, I had to get there by a misguided journey through Texas A&M’s bioengineering department, but that only lasted one semester. I learned quickly that I hated engineering. Passionately. So, I switched to journalism with no real plan; I had worked on the high school paper and thought I’d give it a try again.
Six weeks in, Barbara Gastel, who would become my mentor and later my master’s adviser, gave a guest lecture on science and medical journalism. I knew instantly that was what I wanted to do. I went to talk to her after class; she later introduced me to one of the editors at the Battalion, A&M’s newspaper, who wanted to start a science section. The next semester I was writing (pretty bad) science news stories and loving it. After junior year, I did an internship in Washington, D.C., at a group of trade publications for the waste industry; my first professional clips were published in Infectious Waste News and Recycling Times. It was fun, though, and I fell in love with Washington.
That year, A&M started a master’s program in science and technology journalism. I applied for it, but I also applied for a few jobs that seemed awesome enough to forgo grad school. One was for a communications officer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. A senior press officer there called me back and said I wasn’t qualified for the job (‘um, thanks?’) but they had wanted to start an internship program and I seemed like a good candidate. So, off I went to Batavia, Illinois, to spend 10 awesome weeks as Fermilab’s first press office intern.
I started the master’s program that fall and loved that, too. At the end of my coursework, I headed off to the Washington, D.C. area again to do a fellowship in the press office at the National Cancer Institute writing press releases and articles, and taking press calls. Toward the end of those 6 months, another mentor there pulled me aside: NCI’s journal, JNCI, had been acquired by Oxford University Press, they were hiring a deputy news editor, and he thought I was a good candidate. I was about to start a job at International Medical News Group, so I couldn’t wait around for what seemed to me like a long shot. But I applied, got the job, and famously (or not … few people know/remember I ever worked there) quit IMNG after only 10 weeks.
This was fortuitous — I learned at IMNG that I don’t love writing, which, apparently, I needed two college degrees, three internships, and a job to find out. What I love — and what I had the pleasure of doing for 6.5 years at JNCI, 1 year at Science News magazine, and 3.5 years (and counting) at Science’s online career magazine, Science Careers — is editing, particularly the part where I learn about new and interesting science/ideas/people, research it, hand it off to someone else to do the wordsmithing, and then hone their words to tell a compelling story. As Graham Lawton said at last week’s UKCSJ, we editors are like managers for rock bands, working behind the scenes tending to all the details to make sure the frontman — or, in our analogy, the copy — shines.
The advice part:
1. Find mentors. Seek out people who are doing a job you’re interested in and talk to them. Start with the people on this page. Many (all?) of us got to where we are because of support/advice/encouragement from other science writers, whether that came from a single short conversation or a long-lasting relationship.
2. Read. And write. A lot.
3. Always apply. If there’s any lesson from my story, it’s that you should always apply for a job that makes your skirt fly up, whether you think you’re qualified or not. Maybe nothing will come of it, or maybe something unexpected will. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the job.
4. Be excellent. If you are not diligent, considerate, conscientious, well-read, critical, open-minded, and curious, you will not make it as a science writer. The rock stars of science writing make it look easy. It’s not. This is a tough business, and to succeed, you have to be excellent.