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I wrote my way into a writing career

by  /  8 August 2017

I wrote my way into writing. I started a science blog in my third year of graduate school, hoping that writing for a non-science audience would help my teaching skills. In a way, it did. I am now a science education writer at Science News for Students and Science News, where I inform the public about scientific findings and educate teenagers about the scientific process.

As I moved through graduate school, I found writing incredibly rewarding. Explaining research to the world rekindled my own enthusiasm for science. But I still didn’t consider it as a career. I had been telling myself all my life that I would be a college professor. I hoped I could eventually make it at a smaller, teaching-focused college, sharing my love of science in the classroom.

At the time, I was studying the effects of long-term drug misuse and antidepressants on brain function and behavior in mice. My professors, first at Wake Forest University and then at the University of Pennsylvania, were often amused and bemused by my writing. They expressed concern about writing taking up too much of my time. Of course, I wrote only in the evenings and on weekends. But in such competitive times, science is a 24-hour endeavor.

Did my drive to write hinder my academic ambitions? Only an alternate universe could give the answer, but it’s certainly possible. In the third year of my postdoctoral fellowship, my funding ran out. All of my grant applications had been unsuccessful. I had gone on the job market, but the only offer I got was for a one-year, part-time placement. I could have taken another postdoctoral position. But I realized that my new career — writing — was sitting right in front of me.

My academic colleagues tried to be supportive, but they didn’t know anyone who could help me in a career in journalism. I was more grateful than ever for my blog. My nights and evenings of writing may not have helped me get grants, but they had given me contacts in the science writing world.

Most of the challenges I faced in my transition to science writing were probably of my own making. There were opportunities, such as the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, that I didn’t learn about until I no longer qualified. And I fought — and still fight — the feeling that I failed out of research.

Now I use my scientific training every day to identify new research that the public should know about. I have realized that writing is the best reflection of my deep love for science. I get to tell the stories of scientists and their work, sharing their passions and findings with the world. My life is more bound up with science than it has ever been — and I am happier than ever.

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