最前沿的生命科学,包括发现,思想和文章。 最贴近的北美生活,包括科研,生活和绿卡。

Science Writing tips:SCIENCES1

(2005-05-20 15:37:57) 下一个

1, Starting a Career in Science Writing
We asked, they answered, and we wrote it down.
20 MAY 2005

Science writing encompasses a wide variety of niches that can include writing for newspapers, mass-market magazines, trade publications, university press offices, broadcast media, and newsletters, among many other venues. But regardless of where you end up publishing—most writers end up working several of the venues listed above—a great way to learn the terrain is to listen to others who already work in the field, either on the writing side or the hiring—that is, the editing—side.

That's why in preparing this feature we queried established writers and editors on many of the issues we remember facing when we were first getting started: deciding what training is best, what markets are most accessible and lucrative, how to get that very first gig, and practical, day-to-day concerns like accounting and dealing with taxes.

We asked, they answered, and we wrote it down. The result is a coherent package of articles that we believe constitutes—pound for pound and dollar for dollar—the best short introduction to a career in science writing currently available.

We suggest you start off with Some Thoughts on Becoming a Science Writer, in which Jim Austin, Editor of Science's Next Wave, covers some of the basics from the perspective of an editor and a former (and occasionally a current) freelancer, offering tips on making the transition from the scientific bench to published authorship.

In preparing Science Journalism Degrees: Do They Make a Difference? Robin Arnette spoke to school officials and former students from three leading U.S. science-writing programs about the value of formal training in science journalism. Do you really need a credential to make it in this field?

In Breaking into the Media—Do You Need Formal Training? Contributing Editor for Europe Elisabeth Pain addressed the same question, more or less, from a European perspective, where writers can choose between a journalism program, a program in science communications, or no formal training at all.

Also reporting from Europe but, for this article, covering a broader territory that includes North America, European Editor Anne Forde suggests Some Markets to Explore, noting that the most lucrative and approachable science-writing niches aren't always—or usually—the most obvious. Opportunities exist in everything from newspapers to books to internal company reports. What are the differences between these markets? And what strategies do seasoned professionals recommend for budding science writers? Anne and her sources aim to answer these questions.

It is entirely possible for a seasoned—or not so seasoned—scientist to make it as a writer, but that doesn't mean it's easy. In Survival Secrets of Freelance Writers, Canadian correspondent and frequent freelancer Andrew Fazekas joins a select group of freelance writers in offering advice on surviving in this hectic world and noting that earning a living as an independent science writer takes discipline, perseverance, and a thick skin.

Finally, Managing Editor and long-time freelancer Alan Kotok offers his Freelancer's Business Start-Up Kit,  a succinct introduction to the business aspects of writing for a living independently.


2, Science Writing: Some Tips for Beginners

20 MAY 2005

There's another good reason why advanced scientific training is advantageous: It can make you a better journalist.

As a writer, an editor, and a former scientist, I rarely give a public presentation that I'm not approached afterward by at least one—and often more—scientists aiming to leave the bench and become a science writer. So, I decided to take the opportunity this feature offers to pass along the advice I offer on those occasions, hopefully in a more coherent form.

For serious, talented individuals who are willing to approach the transition with seriousness and focus, the odds are not as bad as you might think.
When I first started trying to make a living as a freelancer, it seemed the world was teeming with talented writers but that paying gigs were few. Then when I become an editor, suddenly the reverse seemed true: there were too few capable writers around. One, or maybe two, conclusions seem justified: the real difficulty for writers and editors is making the right connections. And, apart from the basics, the most important skill a science writer can gain is the ability to understand and then meet the specific needs of a particular editor and her publication.

If you aren't a good writer—or unless you have some other gift that will serve you well in this profession—pick another career.
I don't mean to suggest that you have to have phenomenal rhetorical skills in order to make it as a science writer. Many science writers aren't gifted at spinning prose. Some get by with a good nose for news, strong research skills, and hard, careful work. Others never learn, and struggle along for years, never finding their work satisfying and leaving a trail of editors convinced they didn't get their money's worth.

There are easier and more lucrative ways for science Ph.D.s to make a living. If you're not finding that your prose comes easily and don't feel a real compulsion to write about science, keep looking; you'll find your calling.

Advanced scientific training can work against you.
In some ways, scientific training is poor preparation for a career as a science writer. The problem is that science as it is usually practiced and communicated is just too narrow to serve the needs of a typical audience. As a scientist you learn to care deeply about tiny details that general readers care little about; even scientists working in related fields may not find the details of your work compelling.

Yet, scientists with a broad perspective are often viewed with suspicion by their peers. And then there is the matter of science's conspicuously compact and jargon-laden language, which is, perhaps, the most efficient means of communicating with other experts but is a lousy way to tell a good story. One other point that works against you: increasingly, established scientists are pursuing science writing as a sideline, taking work away from full-time professionals. The result: widespread resentment of people with science backgrounds entering science writing.

This resentment wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that some of these people go on to become editors, and will, therefore, be reading your queries critically and evaluating your credentials. You will get a fair reading, almost always, but don't expect any special favors.

Is there merit to the charge that you are taking their profession too lightly? Well, are you? Science writing is indeed a profession full of dedicated individuals doing difficult, painstaking work, and doing it brilliantly. The most accomplished science writers deserve just as much respect as the most accomplished scientists. No one should take this profession lightly, or enter it on a whim.

Yet, many successful science writers chose science writing as an alternative career, on the rebound from the bench, or just stumbled into it. If you're serious and capable, you can do it, too.

Is there any advantage, then, to having an advanced degree in science?
There is. There's a trend, especially at high-end journals aimed at scientists, toward hiring advanced-degreed scientists who also happen to be very good writers (with excellent training and experience). If you already have top-notch writing skills, an advanced degree in science is a strong credential, even if it's not an essential or a terribly time-efficient one.

But there's another good reason why advanced scientific training is advantageous: it can make you a better journalist.

Some people in this profession make a distinction between science writers—whose job is to clearly and accurately describe interesting science in plain language—and science journalists—whose job is to get to the bottom of a story, to figure out what's really going on behind the scenes, who the main players are, and what the real "scoop" is.

Unless you happen to be writing about your narrow specialty—which probably won't happen nearly often enough to make a career—your scientific training won't help you much to become a better science writer.

But scientific training will help you be a better journalist. Many of the old salts among today's science writers started out as journalists then switched over to the science beat after acquiring a measure of reportorial savvy, and that's what makes them good science writers.

Many of the skills of science and journalism are very similar. If during the bench-science phase of your career you manage to make yourself into an effective researcher, then those same aptitudes—especially a healthy skepticism and a belief that every problem has a solution—will make you a better journalist. You won't be satisfied with describing surfaces when there's something deeper to explore.

Any advice on query writing?
Not directly. Pick up a copy of the National Association of Science Writers' Field Guide for Science Writers. This paperback is the best resource I know for aspiring science writers. It includes advice on writing queries and on many other topics. You may want to wait though; a new edition is due out soon.

The best advice I can give about query letters is to do your homework, network, and always to write queries appropriate for the publication. Once you are established, the editor will trust you to deliver a sound product every time. When you're just starting out, you can sometimes accomplish the same thing by convincing the editor that you're serious, have potential, and deserve a break. Familiarity, in this case, breeds content. See below.

Science is too large a beat for anyone to cover, so choose an area and get to know it. You may find your area of specialization doesn't overlap with your training. Andrew Fazekas, our Canadian Editor, has a Master's degree in wildlife biology, but as a writer his specialty is astronomy and space science.

There's another respect in which it is important to specialize. There's a tendency, when first starting out, to view query writing as equivalent to buying a lottery ticket. If you pitch a story enough times, the reasoning goes, someone is bound to catch it. For the aspiring writer this approach has a certain psychological appeal: It requires lots of busy-work so you feel like you're doing something, but it doesn't take much of an emotional commitment. It feels safe.

That safety is precisely why it's a bad approach. Any career transition requires a serious investment. You have to take some chances. Here's another reason: As I suggested earlier, it's all about making connections, and that isn't something you can do casually.

Do your homework and work only a few publications at a time. Choose well: there's no point in wasting time on publications that don't publish new writers.

Then put some eggs in those baskets. Study the publications you target until you know them inside and out. What categories of content do they publish? How are the articles structured? Who generally writes the articles in each category—staff writers or freelancers? Know precisely what the editors are interested in, then write a query that promises them what you already know they want.

Be patient and build long-term relationships.
Even if your first query isn't accepted—it probably won't be—keep reading, keep studying, and take every opportunity to get your work in front of the editor.

My first contribution to Stereophile, a publication I still contribute to occasionally, was a letter to the editor that was posted online. That letter was the beginning of a regular (but not too frequent) correspondence between the magazine's editor and me. My second contribution to Stereophile was a personal essay that was published on page one. The time between first contact and first paying gig: about 2 years.

Take every opportunity to publish good writing.
Science writers are always griping—understandably—about the beginners and hacks stealing scarce work and driving rates down. So the whole universe of established science writers will hate me for giving this advice, but I'll give it anyway: get your work out there, even if it means giving it away at first. Paying gigs are better, but every "clip" helps. When you send in clips to a new editor, she's not going to know how much they paid you.

She will, however, know if it's a hack job. So don't allow anything to be published that isn't your best work, even if you don't get paid.

Savor the experience.
Good work, whether it's science, science writing, or something else, is a great privilege, one of life's most consistent rewards. One of the great virtues of an early career transition is that, with its very difficulty, it can help you to appreciate how precious the opportunity is to do meaningful work and do it well.

3, Science Journalism Degrees—Do They Make a Difference?

20 MAY 2005

Is specialized training in science writing required to be successful in the field? Some of the country's top science writers have no training in journalism and would probably answer "no." Yet, even if a science writing degree isn't absolutely necessary for a science writing career, it does make entering the field a whole lot easier.

Jennifer Frazer, an environment reporter for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and a graduate of the science writing program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says, "The sad truth is regardless of your ability, with so few jobs, competition will be fierce and my sense is that employers tend to favor those with writing degrees or lots of experience."

For this story, Science's Next Wave looked at the methods for preparing science writers at the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT, The Center for Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University (BU), and the Science Communication Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). Program directors, former program participants, and science editors who have worked with their graduates agree that graduate-level training in science writing is a great way to get started in the business.

Those admitted to these programs can expect to dive head first into an intense one-year program that includes an internship period. Most of the students who enroll are mid-career scientists with extensive research experience. But according to Marcia Bartusiak, visiting professor at the MIT program, these aren't just lab rats looking to find an alternative career in science. "They are usually people who had been conflicted from the start," she says. "They arrived at college and saw two paths in front of them, one science and the other writing. Some of them chose the science route, but always felt their heartstrings being tugged toward writing."

Douglas Starr, co-director of the Center at BU, agrees and says those students are better adjusted than many of their colleagues because they see the larger picture. "A lot of students who have been really good at science and English have always been told they are sort of odd or that they don't fit," he says. "But the truth is they fit better than anybody else. They understand there is no division between science and the humanities because they're both deeply human activities."

Programs at a Glance

Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT
Began: 2002
Students accepted each year: 6 to 8
Total number of students graduated: 14
Unique to the program: MIT is the only one to tailor homework assignments to fit the particular career interests of the student. "Let's say the assignment is a news-and-research feature of about a thousand words," Bartusiak says. "One [student] may choose the style of Discover magazine while another may choose the news-and-research section for Science magazine. As long as they let us know what they're aiming for, we judge accordingly. In either example we hope to help them develop an ear for understanding how to interpret and translate difficult concepts to a wider audience."

The Center for Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University
Began: 1990
Students accepted each year: 10
Total number of students graduated: 120
Unique to the program: BU's program takes a journalistic approach to science writing. "Even though we have backgrounds in science, we see ourselves as journalists first," says Starr. "As such, we focus on science in its human context—what it means not just to science fans, but to citizens and policy makers."

Science Communication Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz
Began: 1981
Students accepted each year: 10
Total number of students graduated: 230
Unique to the program: While applicants to other science writing programs usually have science backgrounds, UCSC is the only program that requires it. "All of our students must have a deep science background, no exceptions," says John Wilkes, director of the program. "Specifically, they have to not only have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in science but a minimum 6 months, full-time research experience. We're the only program in the world that requires that."

Coursework and Internships
During the 12-month MIT program, courses are taken during the fall and spring semesters. Each semester, the student curriculum consists of the advanced seminar, thesis seminar, and an elective course. The advanced seminar is actually two courses in one and gives students a taste of different types of science writing. "Rather than sending the students off to separate classes in magazine writing, newspaper reporting, or the science essay, for example, we fashion a seminar that interweaves these various sections as the year progresses," Bartusiak says. "We have segments on science journalism, medical reporting and writing, and writing on the physical sciences. As a team, the students also produce a 3-minute mini-documentary during our film-and-TV section."

Guest speaker, Thomas Murray, leads the discussion during a thesis seminar class.

The thesis seminar—a 10 thousand- to 12 thousand-word piece for general audiences written in the style of a book chapter or long magazine article—introduces them to the long form. Students get to choose electives that broaden their knowledge and seem likely to be useful in their writing career. Some choose to take a history of science course while others may take advanced science courses if they want to specialize in a certain area.

BU's three semester system stresses a journalistic sensibility, which means their students not only learn how to write about science but understand how science and society affect life in America and globally. While most science writing programs teach traditional areas of science writing like newspaper reporting and magazine writing, BU also includes literary journalism, profiles, book reviews, television segments, radio pieces, and even Web-based projects like their latest venture, a student Web magazine called Resonance: New Vibrations in Science, Culture and Technology. "In addition to the programming, they develop a theme for the magazine and write all of the features: news, commentary, criticism, TV, and radio," Starr says. "They've gotten good responses from the magazine including unsolicited job offers."

UCSC is on the quarter system and has three terms per academic year, not including summer. The program offers a certificate rather than a degree and is divided into three kinds of writing: news writing and reporting, feature writing and reporting, and opinion writing. The program is continuous, starting from the first day of classes in the fall quarter and ending the last day of classes spring quarter. Since the students learn everything together and the classes are exclusive to program participants, the UCSC program creates a fertile writing environment. "Our program is different from any other program in the country in that no one else [at UCSC] is allowed to take these courses," Wilkes explains. "The students get to know one another extremely well, which we feel is necessary in learning to write in an authentic voice."

The final requirement before graduation for all three programs is the student internship. Internships occur all over the country and in the U.K. These are usually paid appointments and may last 10 weeks in the case of MIT or 3 months or longer at UCSC. The internships run the gamut of scientific publishing: the Atlantic Monthly Online, U.S. News and World Report, Harpers, Popular Science, ABC Medical News Unit, The Boston Globe, NOVA, National Public Radio's Science Friday, Technology Review, the National Cancer Institute, Science, and others.

John Wilkes, Director of the Science Communication Program at UCSC.

Counting the Cost
Students interested in attending one of these programs must come to grips with the high cost of education. Fortunately, some form of financial aid is available for each program.

Tuition and fees at MIT—not including room, board, and health insurance—totals about $36,000 per year, according to Shannon Larkin, academic administrator of the program. This amount is the same for in-state and out-of-state students. The program usually has money set aside for partial-tuition fellowships based on financial need, and additional institutional awards can help. "We can nominate our students for other MIT fellowships, given on the basis of merit and experience," says Larkin. "This year two [out of six] of our students were awarded these fellowships."

BU's tuition and fees are $15,000 per semester or $45,000 for the 3-semester program, but the program offers significant financial aid. "We're nicely endowed with university and foundation-based fellowships," says Starr, "so most of our students receive a certain amount of scholarship aid." The scholarships are awarded based on merit and need with no residency requirement.

Out-of-state students in the UCSC program must pay $23,000 in tuition and fees, but if living expenses are factored in they should expect to pay in the high 30s [$37,000] for their 9-month academic year. Some privately funded scholarships are available, though currently, the University of California system does not support UCSC students, due in part to California's poor financial condition and the legislature's gradual retreat from funding higher education.

Is the Degree or Certificate Necessary?
Bartusiak, Starr, and Wilkes agree that their programs prepare people for the publishing world by systematically teaching them the craft and how the real world of science writing works. For example, their students know what topics are likely to catch the ear of an editor, so graduates feel that they have an advantage in sending out queries. This training allows students to hit the ground running upon graduation and the proof of their success can be seen in the large percentage of their students writing professionally. Also, having a science writing degree confers an advantage when applying for certain writing jobs.

Two of MIT's former students Amitabh Avasthi, a news-writing intern at Science magazine, and Mara Vatz, a freelance writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agree that coming through the program jump-started their writing career. They also say that the culture at MIT enriched their experience. "Being at MIT gives students in the program easy access to some of the world's greatest scientists and research labs," Avasthi says. "There is never a shortage of story ideas at MIT," says Vatz. "Everywhere you look, someone is doing something new and interesting. I found even world-renowned researchers to be very accessible. They were always willing to meet with me and take me seriously even though I might just be interviewing them for a school assignment."

Peter Farley, managing editor of the bi-monthly publication Medicine@Yale, is a graduate of the BU program and says, "I was a book editor in scientific publishing for many years, but the science writing program provided me with an invaluable bridge to the "culture" of journalism in general. It's quite different from book publishing," he says.

One of Farley's schoolmates, Barbara Moran, a senior researcher at NOVA and a freelance writer, says the BU program improved her writing and critical thinking skills. "I had already worked as a journalist before entering the program, but I, personally, needed the extra training," she says. "I use the skills I learned there every day. I'm sure I would have never gotten where I am without BU."

Greg Miller, a writer at Science magazine, entered the UCSC program after completing his Ph.D. in science. "I was pretty sure I would like science writing, but I had no idea how to go about it," he says. Miller liked the fact that all of the instructors were working journalists and that he was instantly plugged into a network of former graduates and others associated with the program.

Speaking of Science: Do editors of the nation's magazines and newspapers prefer to hire students who come from science writing programs? According to Colin Norman, news editor at Science, editors look for people who have the ability to write clearly and with flair, so those who have lots of "clips" increase their chances of getting hired. "However, we have hired many writers at Science who have not been through a formal writing program, so a degree or certificate confers an advantage but not an absolute one." Norman says the applicant's ability to generate story ideas and the recommendation of editors they've worked with are also very important.

Whether a person completes a science writing program or not, the world of science publishing is open and available to everyone. Competent writers will fulfill their dream, but they must be willing to work hard and develop a thick skin. "It is a tough way to make a living—the competition to land a first job is intense, and the freelance market is very tough," Norman says. "But it is a very rewarding career if you can stay the course."

Robin Arnette is editor of MiSciNet and may be reached at

[ 打印 ]
阅读 ()评论 (404)