Dr. Abby (Vogel) Robinson
In honor of our writing-themed issue, The NICHD Connection contacted former NICHD Fellow Dr. Abby Robinson (formerly Vogel), now communications officer at Georgia Tech, to learn about her exciting career as a science writer:
What does a science writer do? What’s your typical day like?
As a science writer at an academic institution, I spend most of my time preparing news releases that describe research results published in scientific journals and promoting those discoveries to the media. Developing and maintaining relationships with technology, science, and business reporters and assisting faculty in preparing for media interviews are other key aspects of my job. I also write feature articles for our research magazine that is published three times per year and manage our office’s social media presence. On a typical day, I might do any one (or more likely, several) of these tasks. As a science writer, I love that every day and every story is completely different than the one before.
What motivated you to enter this career field?
I always loved talking to other researchers about what they were doing in the lab, but didn’t always enjoy digging deeper into my own research area. Science writing gives me the freedom to learn about cutting-edge research in many different areas without having to spend a decade in the lab to get the cool results.
Beginning with your time at NICHD, what sequence of opportunities led to your current position?
While I was a Ph.D. student in a lab in NICHD, I was selected to participate in the AAAS Science & Engineering Mass Media Fellowship program (http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia/). I spent the summer of 2005 as a science reporter at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Following the fellowship, I took five graduate-level journalism courses at the University of Maryland and freelanced as a science writer for NIH, George Washington University’s Medical Center, and Georgia Tech until I graduated in 2007. Then I joined Georgia Tech full-time as a communications officer in the Research News office, where I’ve worked for more than four years.
Please describe the application/hiring process to become a science writer. Did it take a long time?
The application/hiring process for science writers usually requires writing samples. Because I had published articles for newspaper, government and academic outlets, I submitted at least one clip (writing sample) from each type of publication to show the breadth of my writing. The hiring process is not lengthy as long as you have previously written and published articles for the public about science.
To gain science writing experience while you’re at NIH, volunteer to be a science writer for NIH publications, at a local museum, or for your professional society. If you’re still in school, volunteer to write for the school newspaper or university research news office.
What aspects of laboratory work will translate well into this career field?
The ability to read scientific journal articles is one of my best assets--and one I learned while in the lab. Knowing and understanding the research and publication processes are also helpful skills and having a graduate-level degree in a scientific field provides instant credibility for a science writer at an academic institution.
Are there any particular resources that might help those interested in becoming a science writer?
Join the National Association of Science Writers (NASW): http://www.nasw.org/. While you’re in the D.C. area, you should also join the local NASW group: http://www.dcswa.org. Even if you don’t join NASW, check out the advice NASW provides for beginning science writers on its website.
Buy A Field Guide to Science Writers book: https://www.nasw.org/field-guide-science-writers-official-guide-national-association-science-writers.
Check out the Knight Science Journalism Tracker: http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/.
Apply for a science writing fellowship: http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia/.
Attend a science writing workshop: http://sciwrite.org.
Make science journalism your next degree: Offered at MIT, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University, UC Santa Cruz, NYU, Texas A&M, and Lehigh.
Do you have any additional advice for fellows (either graduate or postgraduate level) who are thinking about entering this career field?
If you don’t want to work in the lab forever, but like to write and want to be close to science and continue learning about new scientific discoveries every day, science writing might be a good career choice for you.