Here are some answers and explanations for some of my most frequently asked questions.
You never post here! Where are you anyway? How come I can never find your posts?
Right now, I keep up a couple of different blogs. First, the blog “Scicurious” on Science News. You can see my posts there. I also run the “Eureka! Lab” blog at Science News for Students. I write news for Science News for Students and sometimes for Science News as well. Every month, I also host the podcast Science for the People, where I interview scientists and science writers about the intersection of science and life.
What is your job like?
But to give you a rundown, this is kind of what a hypothetical Monday looks like:
6:30 Rise and coffee. I don’t shine before 8. I usually get my first cup of coffee and start on the social media for Science News for Students.
8:00 Leave for work.
9:00 Arrive at the office. Check email, put out any fires. I might pitch post ideas for my blogs, follow up with people I’m asking to interview or prepare social media statistics for the week. Possibly check in with editors to make sure we are all on the same page about something.
10:30 Editorial meeting. We all get together, go over what’s going to be the news for the week and talk over the previous week’s successes or failures.
11:30 Back at desk, edits have arrived. I tackle edits on a post. Or possibly reach out to people to request interviews.
12:00 Get outlining. I outline every single piece I write now, to make sure I cover the right points in the right order.
1:00 Get on the phone with someone who’s written a cool new paper or has a new science education idea. Or possibly chat with a commenter as to whether a paper is REALLY any good or not.
2:00 Pause to tackle some pieces for the Science News for Students website. Load articles into the site, format them, edit the images, make sure everything has the right credit, etc.
3:00 Back to writing.
4:00 Maybe there’s another interview, maybe it’s more writing. Maybe it’s more edits.
5:00 Still writing.
5:30-6 Take off for a workout. Or possibly to see friends (I have some!) or to go to networking or professional development events.
7:00 Head home. I usually save articles I want to read in an app called Pocket to read on my train ride.
9:00 Often working on other things, such as the book I’m editing or updates to this site. Or possibly relaxing. I do love to read.
6:30 Wash, rinse, repeat.
How did you get to where you are now?
When I was in my third year of grad school, I hit what many people call the “third year slump” or “post-quals slump.” Nothing was working and I was beginning to doubt my life choices. In a state of some desperation, I went to a group lunch on alternative careers. There had a guy there from Scientific American. I asked him how I could write for SciAm. At the time, I had no idea what science writers did, how journalism worked, any of it. The kind man (who’s name I have now, tragically, forgotten) did not laugh in my face. Instead, he told me to start a blog.
He put me in touch with Bora Zivkovic, who at the time was a very big name in the nascent science writing community. Since then, it’s come out that he was not as innocently helpful to other young women. But while he is no longer a mentor or a friend, I think it’s important to note that he was an important figure at the time who helped me get my start and introduced me to the network of science writers online.
I started a blog under the pseudonym “scicurious.” I started posting once a week, then twice a week. Then three times a week, writing for about two hours per night, a rate which I kept up through my dissertation and through three years of a postdoc. On the way, I got a PhD. I joined ScienceBlogs, and then the Scientific American blog network. I also wrote for my biomedical postdoctoral newsletter. I joined Twitter and started networking with other writers and scientists there, as well as in the science blogging communities. I went to many conferences for both science communication and science. And did a lot of awesome research on drugs of abuse and antidepressants. I started doing small bits of freelancing here and there for places such as the Guardian and Slate.
In 2013, I left my postdoc. I had been looking for a tenure track job, but no bites. I did get a part-time 1 year faculty offer. But I took a long, hard look at it and turned it down. I realized then that I loved writing much more than I wanted to stay in academia. And that I could, just possibly, make it as a science writer. I freelanced for about six months, which included doing some press release writing and other such things. Finally, I got a job at Science News in October of 2013.
How do I get to where you are now?
To be honest, I wish I knew! I feel like I stumbled into this blindly, and most of the time, I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve it.
All I’ve got is this: If you want to become a good writer, you need to write. No amount of asking for advice and reading advice will help you as much as practice. Practice now. Practice often.
You need to get experience. There’s no one way to do it. Some people start science blogs, write posts several times a week for several years while doing something else, and then transition to being a full time science writer. Others get that writing experience in a science communication program or a science journalism program. Others use the AAAS Mass Media fellowship. There are many different avenues. But all of them involve getting writing experience.
They also involve networking. I know that word gives people the crawling heebie-jeebies. But (1) it is not as scary as you think it is and (2) it is far, far more necessary than you want it to be. Much as we all wish it were true, you work will not speak for itself. You need to speak for it. That means connecting with people, via email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or in person at meetings. It means showing them your work. It means developing friendly relationships. It means promoting yourself to editors, to your audience. Self-promotion is not an evil thing. People cannot hire you, commission you, know your brilliance or respond to your pitches if they do not know you exist. And that means getting out there, getting in touch, and networking. At bottom, networking is really just about meeting other people who do the same thing you do, being collegial with them, and working with them professionally. It does not involve slime, smarm or any other thing that you’ve been taught to associate with it.
Get on Twitter, follow other science writers. Connect with them. Ask for advice. Share your stuff with them. Most don’t bite. But a few might. And you might end up making some friends as well as connecting with future colleagues.
For other, further, better advice, I recommend Carl Zimmer’s, here.
How do I start a science blog?
Get an account on WordPress and have at! Or, get some practice by guest posting at other sites, such as The Conversation (if you are coming from academia). Or by writing for your grad school newsletter. Or by starting a grad school newsletter. 🙂
Please do check out the book I helped edit, Science Blogging: The Essential Guide, from Yale University Press, with wonderful support from the National Association of Science Writers IDEA grant and the Sloan Foundation.
Do you have a copy of the Lippman, 1980 paper on the Social Psychology of Flatulence?
No. I’m sorry. I really wish I did!
Will you be on my team for the Ragnar Relay?
(This is only a frequently asked question in my head). YES. YES I WILL. I will help pay for everything and I can give you a sub 8:30 mile for up to 13 miles at a stretch. PLEASE.
Wouldn’t you love to write for my terrible ad-covered fake site for free? We can pay you in exposure!
People die of exposure.
Would you like to post this terrible infographic I made that is in no way related to your content?
Thanks. I’ll pass.