For many scientists writing about science either in their spare time or as a career can seem attractive: but what does it take to be a successful science writer?
I caught up with Penny Sarchet [above: right], a doctoral student at Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, who has managed to combine her studies with writing science articles for, among others, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, and New Scientist.
She recently won the Wellcome Trust/Guardian & Observer Science Writing Prize [read her article in The Observer ]: I asked her about winning, her favourite stories, and what it was like to write for our very own OxSciBlog…
OxSciBlog: How did you first become interested in science writing?
Penny Sarchet: When I started my DPhil, I was surprised to find that I missed writing undergraduate tutorial essays! I really enjoyed being given a topic and being told to go off and write something good about it.
Research scientists do read and write a lot but you mainly have to focus on your (rather narrow) field and write in a very specific, scientific way. Science writing allowed me to continue my wider interest in science and gave me an outlet for writing in a more accessible, generalist way.
OSB: What did you get out of writing for OxSciBlog?
PS: I wrote articles about research in my own department (Plant Sciences). It was a great excuse to sit down with different professors I admire and ask them lots of questions! There’s some fantastic science going on in Oxford and you feel honoured when someone takes the time to explain some of it to you.
I covered fighting world hunger through crop improvement and the modern face of the historic University Herbaria , and I enjoyed helping to place a spotlight on some of the exciting work that’s being done on these.
OSB: What are your highlights from the work you’ve done so far?
PS: I’ve just won the inaugural Wellcome Trust/Guardian & Observer Science Writing Prize (professional scientists’ category), so that’s the definite highlight. Prior to that, I was really pleased to get a news story about the invasion of harlequin ladybirds into The Sunday Telegraph because I’ve been going on to everybody I know about the plight of British ladybirds for years!