How I Became A Science Writer

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Ed Yong recently published a post called “On the origin of science writers” asking that science writers (anyone who regularly writes about science) tell the story of how they got started. The idea is to establish a resource for future writers. I joined the thread and have reprinted it here.

As far back as I can remember I loved to read and I loved the wilderness. In fact my favorite times were reading in the wilderness, preferably in a tree near our mountain cabin, high enough where my brothers could not reach me with stones or snowballs.

I did not think much about being a writer myself until long after I was a scientist.

My first opportunity came when Scientific American asked me to write about a discovery my laboratory had recently made. I found that I loved writing in a different way to reach a broader audience.

That was in 1997.

From that time on I occasionally would write an article or review for Science magazine if asked but not much more.

Then in 2005, I was approached by a publisher to write a book about a class I was teaching called Genetics and Society. I agreed readily as it seemed like it would be a great project and then did nothing about it. I was quite busy with teaching, research, writing papers and grants.

The editor was quite persistent and finally convinced me to put in a proper book proposal. By that time the project had morphed into a joint project with my husband, an organic farmer.

It seemed that every time we went to a party, someone wanted to talk about genetic engineering and organic agriculture as both were hot topics at the time. That gave us the idea of the join project. We would write a book about our experiences as a geneticist and farmer.

The proposal was accepted and then we sat around some more.

Finally when we received the contract we started moving. We first attended a writing workshop, which helped get us in the groove of writing for non-scientists. The only non-fiction teacher was a memoir writer. At first our project seemed completely incompatible with her expertise. But, by the end of the class, you guessed it, our project became a memoir, called “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food“.

Once the book came out we found many opportunities to write. For example, the Boston Globe and The New York Times both asked for opinion pieces. That was quite fun because I had been politically oriented for years but never had any of my letters to the editor accepted. Then my friend and colleague Jonathan Eisen informed me that as a writer I must have a blog and taught me how to set it up. That led me to ScienceBlogs, which has been a lot of fun.

What next? I did start a novel…

Follow Pamela Ronald:
Pamela Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. Her research focuses on the genetics of rice. With her husband, she co-wrote Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. She writes a blog of the same name.