Some talented and lucky folks can make the leap from science to science writing without any formal journalism training in-between. Convincing a publication to trust you to write for them is one issue, what to do once you’ve gotten an assignment is another. Here’s what to do for the latter.
I’ve noticed that a lot of freelance journalists yearn for a staff job. I’ve also noticed a lot of staff members yearn to quit their jobs and go freelance. Is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? Yes. Absolutely. But as someone who recently made the leap from staff to freelance, I can share some of the pros and cons I'm aware of so far.
Hi hello how are you! Here’s a question I get asked ALL the time: What experiences did you have during grad school that helped your AAAS Mass Media Fellowship application? See also: Would you mind sharing your application materials? And don’t forget: What kinds of things do I need to be doing as a grad student so I can snag a coveted MMF spot?
As a relative newbie to journalism, I’m still wrapping my head around some of the lingo. I had to learn my features from my columns, that “books” are magazines (except when they’re books), and that the opener of a story is a “lede” and not a “lead” (though sometimes it can be a lead. Still not super clear on that one.)
One such goodie is the front of book section (or front-of-book, or my fave, FOB) that appears in each magazine. What is it? Why is it?
There are tons and tons of cool things in the world. Cool people doing cool work. Weird discoveries. New technologies. Funny-looking animals. Whatever your beat, there are always going to be more ideas than there are stories. What’s the difference between a great idea and a great story? Great question.
I’m an editor at a science magazine, and I read a lot of pitches. I get pitches that are long, and pitches that are short. I get pitches that don’t have nearly enough info, and pitches that have way too much info. I get pitches from veteran science writers, pitches from newbie (or wannabe) science writers, and pitches from total randos. What’s the right amount of information? To figure it out, I sat down and wrote a pitch, to me, from me, based on one of my favorite stories I’ve written. Here’s what I came up with.
You’re a graduate student. You’ve decided you don’t want to stay in academic research, and instead have your eye on a career in something like science writing, policy, or outreach. You want to build your resume and/or portfolio with experiences in said new field, but that takes time away from your research that you’re desperately trying to finish so you can graduate. What to do?
My inbox (as editor at a popular science magazine) is full of pitches, and I say no to the vast majority. Here’s why, if anyone was wondering, ranked from the least to most common reasons:
Before I was a card-carrying member of “the media,” I had no idea how journalists found their stories. This was perhaps especially confusing to me as a scientist, in particular when I’d see news articles that said things like “in a study published today…” and wonder how a writer could’ve written a story that fast.
Hello, science lovers! It was embarrassingly recent that I realized that I had been conflating science communication (#SciComm) and science journalism in my mind, and that’s it’s quite helpful to know the difference. If you’re here, you must think it will be helpful, too! Welcome!
Musings on science writing, from a scientist turned writer.