Inspiration from CSWA2012

Now that I’m back from this year’s general conference of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA), here’s a post reflecting on my experiences from these past few days in Windsor, ON.

Our meeting was off to a great start with the first reception at the Canadian Club Brand Centre. We mingled with drinks and h’orderves, and discussed Windsor’s history during the Prohibition years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first CSWA meeting. But the initial reception set a great tone for the rest of the conference—light hearted and informative. Different ways of improving the field of science communication were highlighted throughout the conference.

Being an emerging freelance science writer I expected to just ‘listen’ to the seasoned professionals (scientists, engineers, or communicators) speak. Instead, there was a real dialogue between all attendees (which included students, journalists, communicators, researchers, and industry experts). Seasoned journalists and communication experts openly offered their advice and outlook on the industry.

“Social media is a vehicle for getting out the message,” says Dr. Goldman, host of CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art. But he said that journalists should pay attention to and comment on what social media says about a particular bit of science, and identify when individuals/organizations have vested interests.

Dr. Saad Jasim, director of the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes regional office, said science doesn’t just belong to researchers, but the public should be involved as well.

Even students and emerging journalists/communicators shared their experiences and voiced their concerns about the industry’s future.

It’s no secret the print media industry is facing cutbacks and layoffs. A recent article in the Globe and Mail reported Postmedia will cut the Sunday papers for the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, and the National Post would stop printing on Mondays through the summer. Even the Globe and Mail had asked its staff to take unpaid leaves this summer.

Despite the stark realities of the industry, all hope wasn’t lost. Aspiring writers and communicators were encouraged to explore opportunities outside traditional media outlets. Opportunities for science communicators in universities, government, and non-profit organizations were mentioned. Also, we were encouraged to make our own opportunities via podcasting, blogging, and writing for online magazines.

During a panel discussion on professional development, the panel of science journalists/communicators had this advice for succeeding in the field:

  • Find a mentor—someone willing to sharing their experiences and give you a dead honest answer
  • Give at least 30% of your time to pitching—pitch in 100 words or less
  • Be skeptical and ask questions about the other side of the story—not just cheering science
  • Have tough skin and don’t worry about looking foolish—whether asking questions or following up with researchers, editors
  • Be persistent—say you’re going to do it, do it, then follow up

Having been presented with the realities of the industry, I can say I feel more prepared moving forward with my career as a science writer. That said, I’m always interested in new science writing opportunities—check out the “hire a science writer” page for more details about me!

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