Fortune, fame, and writing gigs

Pick two! Then throw those both out and pick writing gigs, since that's what you'll get as a science writer, my particular flavor of alternative chemistry career. But how did I choose that? As usual. By wandering. It's often difficult, later, to exactly pin down when your life began to go astray. Not so in my case. December 2005.  Screwing around on the internet instead of working, I came upon this article in NatureJobs about science writing. I had always planned on being a research chemist, but this really resonated with me. Trumpets blared. The ceiling opened, and a blinding ray of light shoneth downeth upon me-ith. A deep voice intoned, "And she shall be a science writer, for now and forever after!"

Credit: Cinema 5 Distributing

That was about it, really. One of the links at the end of that article was for the AAAS Mass Media fellowship, which I thought sounded like it was made for me. So I applied! Aaaand I didn't get it. More googling when I should have been working told me that there was a science writing class at my university, so I emailed the prof and asked what I should do. She said get clips. So I did by writing columns for the campus paper. Then I applied for the AAAS fellowship again in 2008 and this time I got it. I was very excited.

Credit: on flickr

See how screwing around on the internet is so useful? Do it lots! My internship was at the Orange County Register in southern California, which was fun and hard and frustrating and exciting. When I came back to school, I took that science writing class from the prof who gave me advice. Turns out she was the very nice and accomplished S. Holly Stocking, whom I later helped write a book about science writing. Then I also started freelancing, first at an alumi magazine, then some book reviews, then the local NPR station, then news at more mainstream places. I applied for a bunch more writing internships this summer (aka Leigh's season of no) and got turned down for all of them. But I did talk to a few of the editors to see how I could do better and am gearing up for another round of applications for the fall. Plus I get to write this blog, which is good. A success story? No. A work in progress. And as you may have noticed, science writing isn't something that you just fall into. You have to really want to do it. You have to prepared to be rejected, take a lot of criticism (sometimes editing, sometimes not), be very persistent, and work super hard. Does that... sound familiar? Yes! It sounds kind of like grad school! Ok, so just a little. But a lot of the stuff you learn in grad school is directly applicable to writing. Besides the ones I just mentioned, you also need to be able to sum up scientific ideas succinctly, read and understand papers quickly, and probably the most important, have a very accurate BS filter. So...want to try it? Next week I'll post some tips on how to get started.

Author: Leigh Krietsch Boerner

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  1. Great story. I think making science writing a career is like becoming an astronaut: lots of people dream of it, but there are relatively few (paying) slots in the world.

    I’m looking forward to reading your tips next week.

    – Dave

  2. Yup Carmen, that’s the one.

  3. Excellent stuff. I can not describe just how much your site has helped me during my academic research on the subject. I will be now likely to get top marks for sure. Thanks millions of. I owe you one.