Ask a Wonder Woman: Three questions for a science writer

“But, what’s the first step?”

Last night, I attended my first SCWIST (Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology) event. They are a non-profit working hard to empower women and girls in science, engineering and technology and each year they run the Wonder Women Networking Evening at Science World. This years’ event introduced about 45 women at various stages of their careers in STEM fields to women who were studying, searching for their first job, looking for a change, or just interested in hearing about the twists and turns most career paths take.

I met meteorologists, engineers, software developers, researchers, pathologists, pharmacists, biologists, a trainee mechanic and lots of physicists! What stood out as we introduced ourselves was the number hats people wore. For example, “I’m an environmental engineer by day and my partner and I are raising money for our start-up…” or “I’m a research scientists, I teach at university, and volunteer at…” The other common thread was that very few career paths were straight lines. The word du jour – ‘pivot’ – was overheard more than once!

It was also my first time on a panel and I had a blast sharing stories about my day-to-day work, my career and the challenges I have faced along the way. Once the formal part of the evening was over, we gathered for pizza in one of the Science World galleries and ‘networked’.

Networking is a term that is thrown around a lot, but I was really impressed with the way this session was organised. The MC for the evening – Sandy Eix (check her out on Make Possible) – gave people ice-breaker questions and explained the process really clearly.

With pizza in hand, I started fielding questions. Aside from repeating my elevator pitch a few times, here are the top three questions I was asked, and my answers.

I want to tell the world about my research, but how do I make it interesting?

Take a typical scientific research paper and turn it upside down! Think about the conclusions and applications of your research, and put them up front. Who would this research apply to? Think outside the box… if your research is about using an MRI to image spinal cords, think about ski magazines or a popular paragliding blog and pitch an idea to the editor. First and foremost, think about the audience first, then write your story for them.

Where can I publish my writing?

I would start with a simple blog of your own, or volunteer to contribute to your research group newsletter, to build up a collection of stories. Once you have figured out your niche and style, research a couple of publications you’d like to see your work in and pitch the editor. Keep it short, but just pick up the phone. What’s the worst that could happen?

I love the idea of being a science writer. But, what’s the first step?

Honestly, just start writing! If sitting in front of a blank Word document makes you want to stick forks in your eyes, maybe science writing isn’t for you! But if find yourself translating complex research into fun stories, and you are hit with story ideas on the bus and can’t wait to get home and write them down, it might just be your next pivot!

Find out more about SCWIST and their upcoming events, and sign up for Make Possible, their custom-designed, and FREE, mentoring and networking site.