Science Writer

By Sullivan, Megan | The Science Teacher, October 2009 | Go to article overview
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Science Writer

Sullivan, Megan, The Science Teacher

The term science writer describes a range of careers. Some science writers author books. Others work for colleges, universities, or businesses and communicate research underway at those institutions. Some help scientists compose grant applications for research money or write newsletters to keep doctors up-to-date about important discoveries and new procedures. Tina Saey is a science journalist at Science News, where she unearths news about groundbreaking findings in science and shares the information with the public.

Career path.

I became a science writer on a need-to-know basis--I feel like I need to know about all of the really cool discoveries in science, and I should share what I find with others. But I was not always a science writer. First, I was a scientist; I have my doctorate in genetics. I was always interested in writing about science for magazines, but thought you had to be an English or journalism major to do so. When a friend of mine--who also had a science-related doctorate--entered a graduate program in science writing, I realized I could do the same. So, a week after I finished graduate school, I began a science journalism program. After completing internships with a newspaper and with Science News, I went to work at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for about seven years before returning to Science News, where I now work.

Covering beats.

Journalists, like police, have "beats." My beat is molecular biology, but I write about discoveries in genetics, microbiology, cell biology, and neuroscience. I am always searching for news that is important to share with the public. Every day, I dig through internet sites for story ideas, read scientific papers, interview scientists on the phone or in person, and write and discuss stories with my editors. One perk of being a journalist is we generally get notifications about new discoveries a week or more before they actually are published. The lead time gives me an opportunity to read the related papers, talk to the scientists involved, and find other scientists who can evaluate the work and put it into perspective.

As part of my job, I get to talk to some of the most brilliant people in the world. For instance, the day the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced, I was living and working in St. Louis, Missouri, home to winner William Knowles. I went to his house and waited until the local TV stations had finished interviewing him. I was his last interview of the day and talked with him over leftover vegetable soup and a sandwich. Since then, I have interviewed many other Nobel Prize winners on their big days.

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