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ASA-AAAS Mass Media Fellow Shares What She Learned

1 December 2019 244 views No Comment

Diana Cai

Diana Cai

Diana Cai

This past summer, I reported from STAT—a Boston-based health and medicine news outlet—as an ASA-AAAS Mass Media Fellow. It was a fantastic foray into the world of journalism, and it was a tremendous opportunity to learn from the writers and editors at STAT.

I published six stories over the summer. A few stories arose from scientific studies, including one from an analysis of CDC survey data that found LGBT individuals have an increased risk of memory loss and confusion—early markers of dementia—compared to their counterparts. Two stories I particularly enjoyed working on are features that allowed for deeper exploration of topics: one on a nonprofit organization, Seeding Labs, that recycles lab equipment from high-income countries and redistributes it to low-income countries and one on the motivations and increasing trend of Chinese-born, US-trained scientists returning to China rather than staying in the US long term for their careers. Some of the conclusions I drew for the China story came from exploring a couple data sets, so having a grasp of statistics certainly helped. Both features were reprinted by The Boston Globe. It was great to learn how to think about and write articles in different styles.

In reporting for the stories, I had the chance to learn from scientists all over the world. It was fascinating to learn about the range of challenges afflicting different countries, as well as cultural differences in the scientific communities. My experience as a reporter was a great way to connect with people who I probably would not have had the opportunity to speak with and helped broaden my perspective on scientific communities around the world.

The other STAT summer interns and I also met with writers and editors throughout the newsroom. We learned about the different paths each took in their careers. Some started out in science journalism, while others took circuitous routes and reported or edited other beats before ultimately winding up in health and medicine. It was interesting to learn about the career paths everyone took, their current work, and their general thoughts about journalism.

STAT is affiliated with The Boston Globe Media company, so we attended weekly meetings with The Globe interns. We had the opportunity to learn from reporters and editors from different departments of The Globe—from those covering breaking news to features to investigative reporting. It was fascinating to hear about the range of stories covered and the differences in reporting styles between departments.

During my time at STAT, I improved my communication skills, learned to conduct interviews, and developed a sense for interesting stories. Professionally, I enjoy science, so I am continuing to pursue a career in biological research. After the summer interlude, I returned to drug discovery research as a scientist at a pharmaceutical company. I work on a team of experimental and computational biologists that conducts genetic screens to identify promising drug targets in several disease areas, including oncology, immunology, and neuroscience. The summer I spent as a reporter has sharpened the questions I ask and made me a better scientist.

I do hope I will have the opportunity to contribute to science writing or journalism at some point. It is so much fun, and there are so many remarkable stories to tell.

For anyone who recently received or is pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM field and is interested in science communication and journalism, I highly recommend applying for an ASA-AAAS Mass Media fellowship. Whether you already know you want to pursue science journalism as a career or are still trying to figure out a career path, the fellowship is a great opportunity. Reporting stories is similar to conducting research in many ways, so you can put the skills you developed during grad school to good use.

Apply for an ASA-AAAS Mass Media Fellowship

Students, are you interested in journalism? Do you want an invaluable experience that also advances a statistical perspective in journalism? If so, apply for the ASA-AAAS Mass Media Fellowship and spend 10 weeks with a media outlet next summer. Applications will be accepted until January 1.

Led by AAAS and supported by many organizations, the fellowship is designed to “enhance coverage of science-related issues in the media in order to improve public understanding and appreciation of science and technology.” The program has supported more than 700 fellows in its more than 40-year history.

The AAAS eligibility requirements include being an upper-level undergraduate or graduate student or postdoctoral trainee in a STEM field and a US citizen or holder of a visa allowing paid work in the United States. To be the ASA-sponsored AAAS Mass Media Fellow, you must have had substantial statistical training with a preference—but not a requirement—for having or seeking a degree in statistics.

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