If you’ve ever wanted to write for Slate (or other major media organizations), now is your chance—provided you’re a graduate student or postdoc in science, math, engineering, or medicine.* The American Association for the Advancement of Science will soon be opening applications for its 2017 Mass Media Fellowship. Along with Slate, publications like Wired, Scientific American, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times will be hosting fellows who will work as science writers for 10 weeks starting in June of next year.
It was around this time last year that I first read about the program. I had always wanted to be a writer, and had dabbled in my high school and college newspapers, but decided to pursue a more financially reliable career path, veterinary medicine. The descriptions of the program I read online, though, convinced me there might be a way to integrate writing back into my science-focused life. As a veterinary student, I met the criteria and decided to apply. I was accepted a few months later as the Slate fellow.
While many of my classmates were drawing blood and administering vaccines, I flew up to New York and started learning how to be a journalist. In Slate’s Brooklyn office, I read the abstracts of newly released journal articles and pitched countless story ideas. I drank lots of coffee, sat in on editorial meetings, and interviewed scientists from almost every field imaginable (entomologists are the best). Perhaps the highlight of the whole summer was being among the first to cover the rising cost of EpiPens, a scandal that has recently led to a congressional hearing.
A large part of what I did this summer involved explaining the scientific fundamentals behind the research and making the findings more accessible and exciting to a general audience. Science writing involves a great deal of translation; scientists often get so tied up in the particulars of their research—exactly how an enzyme cleaves this protein, or whether a newly discovered bird is technically a new species—that they forget to talk about the wider societal implications their research might have on culture and civilization. But science writing also matters for the same reason all journalism matters. Science journalism can play the important role of watchdog, holding the powerful accountable and airing out things that don’t quite seem right.
During my 10 weeks, I wrote 25 articles that helped tackle these goals and taught me more about journalism (and science!) than I thought was possible in such a short period of time. Of course, your experience depends a lot on your site placement, but of the 17 fellows, I don’t think a single one had anything short of a life-changing summer (full disclosure, though: Slate is the best site).
If you’re interested and meet the criteria, I urge you to apply. The application opens Sunday and is due Jan. 15. The AAAS Mass Media Fellowship is a chance to live in a great city, to tap into the world’s largest scientific community, and to spend all summer getting paid to write about science. What more could you want?
*Update, Oct. 17, 2016: This post has been updated to clarify that postdocs can also apply for the fellowship. (Return.)