Calling All Fledgling Science Writers: NASW Travel Fellowships to Vancouver

Every year, the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) sponsors a handful of talented student writers to attend the AAAS scientific conference with $1,000 travel fellowships. Any undergraduate interested in science journalism can apply, and this year the conference will be held in Vancouver, Canada (Feb. 16-20, 2012). The fellowship includes a mentoring program and your resulting news coverage to be published to the NASW website. Last February, I was lucky enough to be selected for the NASW fellowship in Washington, D.C., and it was one of the best career moves I made.

One of the AAAS presentation panels.

The Conference

The annual AAAS conference is arguably one of the largest and most important scientific conferences out there, and so it offers a great real-world experience (not to mention resume-booster) for the blooming writer or researcher, simply by being there and taking it all in. When I attended last year, I was kind of bowled over by all the brain power housed under that one roof. To think that I was walking among the biggest hotshots in science today—I had a little nerd-gasm. They gave me a press badge that granted me special access to security-guarded rooms swarming with hurried journalists from NPR, ScienceNews, NewScientist, NYTimes, Discover—every major media name (with a science section) you could think of. These were rooms even the scientists weren’t allowed into, much to the chagrin of some certain researchers who had to be manhandled by security to prevent their entry. And that is another thing you’ll experience at the AAAS: The significance of research article embargoes (time-sensitive bans on the release of information) and the high-stress environment of science journalism.

Your NASW Article

As part of the fellowship, you are expected to cover an AAAS presentation of your choice. Your article turn around, including edits, occurs in less than 24 hrs—another real-world experience in life as a journalist; high-pressure deadlines are inevitable. The article is then published on the NASW website, and you can always refer to this clip for use with employers (the clip stays up forever). You can read my article from last year here.

Mentorship

One of the biggest draws to the fellowship is the one-day mentoring program. NASW pairs up each fellow with a veteran in the field. They spend most of the day with you, answering all your industry questions, explaining the layout of the conference and how to tackle your NASW article, and most importantly, introducing you to all the biggest names in science publishing. My mentor remains active in pushing me towards my career goals, and is always a reliable expert resource for all my industry questions—from negotiating job salaries, to the reputations of various publishing companies, and all of the sticky, but important, details in between.

Job and Graduate School Networking

The NASW also sponsors an internship fair at each AAAS conference that draws many of the best companies in science media. About 15 or so different representatives attended last year, and we were able to interview with such names as Nature, Science News, The Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, ACS, Argonne National Lab, etc. These companies attend every year because they know NASW draws the brightest young science writers, and they often find their future interns and employees here.

If you are interested in attending a graduate program in science journalism or a related field, this fellowship may be really helpful for networking. Robert Irion, who co-directs the NASW travel fellowship program, is also the director of the Science Communication Program at UC Santa Cruz. In addition, you’ll be mingling with professors and directors at such graduate programs as MIT, Boston University, UW Madison, among others.

Journalists Like to Party, Too

In the evenings, science writers love to get down. No kidding. The NASW held a few parties and get-togethers over the four-day conference. One in particular that stands out in my memory (or doesn’t), was the $60,000 cocktail party with a full buffet at the Swedish Embassy. Bartenders dressed in white lab coats served blue test-tube shots rimmed with pop rocks called “particle colliders.” After everyone had gotten a few drinks in them, we shed our networking-mode niceties, and hit the dancefloor. The DJ played cross-generational tunes, and I found myself shaking it with a bunch of 40-something journalists who apparently still knew how to have a good time. I even made a good group of young science journalist friends at that conference, whom I still stay in touch with (which basically entails sharing job/internship opportunities and commiserating over the destitute next five years we will serve as starving young journalists in the field).

How to Apply

Carolina Scientific writers, I encourage you to apply! Since you have presumably already published an article or two with us, you already have half of the fellowship application (the writing sample) on lockdown. Which is more than many other applicants will have, trust me. (Many colleges don’t have a good outlet for publishing science journalism, especially one as awesome as CS.) So hop to it!

The deadline to apply is Dec. 1, 2011 (passport is needed).

Learn more and apply here: http://www.nasw.org/aaas2012

Read my AAAS coverage from last year: http://www.nasw.org/eating-meat-drove-evolution-our-big-powerful-brain

The enormous Walter E. Washington Convention Center where AAAS was held in D.C., 2011.

The view from my press desk.

One of the other fellows and I with our "particle colliders."

One of the science writers gettin' it on the dance floor at our NASW party at the Swedish Embassy.

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