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Kick-starting careers in science: the ABSW Summer School 2017

Taylor & Francis proudly sponsored this year’s Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) Summer School, which took place at the Wellcome Trust in London. We offered scholarships for three students to attend, helping them to understand some of the opportunities and challenges of a career in science journalism, and to network with some of the industry’s leading figures.

Below, we find out a little more about the three students’ motivations for attending, and what they took away from the valuable day.

Shelley Whitmore

With the aim of pursuing a career in medical writing, I have been following the ABSW on social media for some time. I applied for the student scholarship sponsored by Taylor & Francis, and was delighted when I received the email to say I’d been successful.

The sessions were well-directed towards early career journalists – those of us starting out and potentially unsure how best to begin. It is such a competitive environment: during the pitching skills panel, the speakers revealed that they can receive hundreds of pitches each day – which is why they don’t always look at the freelancer’s previous work or their C.V.

‘They showed the importance of pitching a good story’

But they were all very encouraging; they showed the importance of pitching a good story which is well written and engaging. I’m sure many of us in the room that are just starting out were relieved to hear this, and it really helped to allay my own concerns.

I found the networking session at the end of the day invaluable. Speaking one-to-one with successful industry journalists, freelancers, and editors has given me greater confidence in approaching them with pitches of my own in the future – and perhaps for the odd piece of advice too.

Tania Robledo Retana

I am a PhD student in biological sciences, and I’ve been working in science for around ten years now. I’ve always thought that science is redundant if it has no positive impact upon someone else’s life. Science plays a key role in spreading knowledge, but we must be careful in how we transmit this knowledge to the public. The desire to become an expert in telling people about novel discoveries, and find out tips from leading figures, tempted me to attend the ABSW summer school.

‘…it can be tricky to know how to get your voice heard when starting out’

Being part of an organization will always give you the chance to share your problems; discussing them together in a targeted scientific community is the perfect way to overcome them more easily. As the ABSW talk on freelancing and pitching showed, it can be tricky to know how to get your voice heard when starting out. I’m confident that being part of ABSW will help overcome this challenge on the road to publication.

Clearly, freelancing is not easy at the beginning, but as in other jobs, you can make a name for yourself with a little hard work. The workshop showed that, once people know you and your work, they will look out for it in the future. It is important to know your topic and your audience, and to develop a recognizable style that can be picked up by editors and readers.

Charlotte Harris

The ABSW Summer School was ideal for me to learn more about what a career in science journalism entailed, as well as the fundamental skills needed.

The ABSW gives early career science writers the chance to network and form relationships within the industry. They also offer frequent industry updates that allow writers to learn key skills and stay in the loop with current goings-on within the field of science journalism. For me, I had no experience of networking and the most daunting aspect was meeting or getting in contact with editors and publishers within the industry.

‘…I now have a much more substantial understanding of science journalism’

By attending the Summer School, I now have a much more substantial understanding of science journalism, as well as what being a science writer entails, and how to go about gaining more experience with a view towards pursuing a career in this field.

Shelley Whitmore is graduating from the Open University this summer with a BSc (Hons) in Natural Sciences.

Tania Robledo Retana, originally from Mexico, is a biologist who works with plant allergens. Currently studying for a PhD at Queen Mary University of London, she previously worked as a technician in the Mexican Aerobiology Network and lectured in cellular Biology at Anahuac University in Mexico City.

Charlotte Harris is a recent Marine Biology BSc (Hons) graduate from Plymouth University. She is an avid writer with a keen interest in science journalism.