Write or wrong leaving science to write about it
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Write or Wrong: Leaving science to write about it. Nell Greenfieldboyce. What is a science writer. Science writers translate jargon into clear, easily understood explanations

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What is a science writer
What is a science writer

  • Science writers translate jargon into clear, easily understood explanations

  • Science writers find interesting stories and share them with an audience, either general public or more specialized audience

  • Science writers usually have a background in science, but not always

  • Why we need them: listen to this.

Where do science writers work
Where do science writers work

Newspapers and magazines

Online/web-based publications

Public Information Outlets

scientific societies, universities, companies, nonprofits, government agencies.

Radio and TV and movies--documentaries

Museums and science centers

Book publishers/science journals

Their living rooms—freelance and contract work

Hack vs flack
Hack vs. Flack

  • Newspaper reporter

    • Jobs hard to get

    • Hours unpredictable, pay variable

    • More watchdog, investigative role

    • Serve the public through critical eye

  • Public Information Officer

    • hours are more regular, jobs plentiful

    • Benefits/pay usually good

    • You represent your organization to the world

    • Close relationships with scientists at your org

Ask yourself are you
Ask yourself: Are you

  • Already writing?

  • Deadline oriented--no joke

  • Seriously attentive to details, like spellings of names

  • Pathological insistence on factual accuracy. You double and triple check.

  • Good listener—people confide in you?

  • But you are also thick skinned—both to professional rejection and people getting mad at you

  • Do people gather round to hear your funny stories?

  • Do you see every side of an issue?

  • Do you talk about science with NON-SCIENTISTS?

  • Do you like to READ…about science and other things too?

  • Do people tell you that you are a good writer?

How to get started clips clips clips
How to get started:Clips, Clips, Clips

  • Science writing masters program

    • Johns Hopkins, Santa Cruz, New York University, etc.

    • Or, journalism schools like U of Maryland

  • Internships

    • AAAS mass media fellows (deadline in January)

    • National Association of Science Writers

    • DC Science Writers Association

Or get clips on your own
Or get clips on your own

  • Find small news / features outlet and email a “pitch” to the editor. Do it for free or almost nothing

  • Use those small clips to get gigs at slightly more prestigious news organizations.

  • Online is great for getting clips. Places like ScienceNOW, Geotimes, etc.

My path
My Path….

  • Biology degree quickly abandoned for history of science/social sciences degree at JHU

  • MA program at JHU in science writing

  • Two brief internships: JHU PIO office and UPI

  • Staff job at Clinical Laboratory News—newspaper ad

    • Published by American Assoc. for Clinical Chemistry

  • Freelanced clips get internship at New Scientist

  • Freelanced clips help get U.S. News & World Report gig

  • Did some teaching at Johns Hopkins MA program

  • Hard times hit the print world.

  • Freelanced a radio piece, applied for NPR gig.

  • MY START: MA program, internships, freelancing to small pubs

David kestenbaum path
David Kestenbaum Path

  • Physics major at Yale, worked at Fermilab in the summers

  • Entered Harvard physics graduate program.

  • Girlfriend dumped him for a writer (as he tells it)

  • Freelanced to Chicago Reader, on guy who talked at Fermilab

  • After getting PhD, didn’t do postdoc, did freelancing

  • Did AAAS mass media fellowship at WOSU, a radio station in Ohio

  • Science magazine gave him an summer internship

  • Went and did that 4 days a week. Day 5 he spent freelancing at NPR HQ

  • Science wanted to hire him. He spurned them. A year later, NPR hired him, in 1999.

  • HIS START: Freelancing to small pubs, fellowship, internship

It looks so easy but
It looks so easy, but……

  • I sent out a lot of freelance pitches that fell into the void

  • I applied for internships that I did not get

  • I applied for jobs that I did not get

  • I tried to write stories that just did not work

  • I wrote some terrible stories, deadly dull

  • I had scientists yell at me because they hated something I wrote about them or their work

  • I had scoops ruined for one reason or another

  • I dealt with all kinds of horrible ethical issues that come up in reporting

  • I applied for awards that I did not get

  • I felt sometimes like a writing robot and that my job was utterly pointless and a waste of my life

    • other times I felt like a hero



Any questions?