Alumni profile: Signe Brewster’s LSC education leads to writing career in Silicon Valley

Whether it’s artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robots, 3-D printing, drones, or space, Signe Brewster’s got it covered. This 2012 graduate of the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) puts what she learned during her undergrad to use every day as a freelance science and technology journalist in San Francisco, CA.

LHC cavern

During her internship in Switzerland at CERN, Brewster got to tour the facilities that house the particle collider and particle accelerator.

While getting her Bachelor of Science in LSC, Brewster took a slew of classes that covered science writing, photography, marketing, communication theory, and risk communication. Along the way she picked up skills and theories she now applies to every word of her writing. After graduation, she traveled to Switzerland to intern at CERN for six months, writing about physics. She then found herself in a fellowship at WIRED, putting her on the west coast. From there she was a staff writer at Gigaom, before becoming a full-time freelancer in the summer of 2015.

“I write about emerging hardware, which is anything that’s on the fringe, and I think about if it’s going to be a viable technology that can impact the world,” said Brewster, who originally hails from Minneapolis, MN. “LSC really prepared me to write about these topics. In my professional life, everyone does a double take when they hear that there is a degree that combines science and writing.”

She thanks a long list of LSC faculty for her education and success after graduation. In particular, she remembers professor Shiela Reaves’s photography classes, explaining how much she enjoyed the class discussions and critiques from her peers.

“I guess that always stuck out to me as kind of the definition of what LSC was about,” Brewster said. “It was just so neat being in a place surrounded by so many others that shared my interests. I still do a lot of photography and go back to those class concepts.”

Ron Seely’s science writing class was also her first formal training in how to translate technical science and technology issues for a general audience. Having someone watch her science writing and give feedback was something she said no one else could provide.

“Ron taught me to take pride in my work and really respect the language I use,” said Brewster, who now writes for the MIT Technology Review, WIRED, Symmetry Magazine, the New Scientist, and Tech Crunch, among others. “The teachers really understand the unique challenges of covering science.”

drone

Brewster flys a drone in order to understand better the implications of the technology and communicate them in her writing. Photo courtesy of Signe Brewster.

And the list of classes she found helpful doesn’t stop at the writing and photography she does frequently. She recalls LSC chair Dominique Brossard’s risk communication class, as well as professor Dietram Scheufele’s “Science 2.0” Media, Politics and Emerging Technologies.

She said learning risk and communication theory gives her insight into how others think and talk about science, particularly in the technologically and politically rich Silicon Valley. Often Brewster gives commentary on the use of a technology or if it will be useful or viable in the coming years. The persuasive skills she learned in those classes help immensely as well, she said.

During her first years on campus, Brewster didn’t actually know LSC existed, but her interest in science writing grew after she started covering campus stem cell research at The Badger Herald, a UW–Madison student newspaper. In a radio class cross-listed with LSC, professor Larry Meiller came to give a guest lecture and mentioned the program.

“I was so excited that only a week later I went and signed up for LSC to be my major,” Brewster added. “Also, ‘shoutout’ to Larry for getting me through my most troubling days as a student without ever breaking a sweat. He was an excellent advisor.”

Brewster said she always knew she wanted to be a science writer since she started writing about stem cell research. She earned her CERN internship through an opportunity she heard about through LSC as well. LSC educated her with skills and theories she was able to apply at the Herald, her numerous internships, and now her freelance career.

“LSC is just a very unique place that gave me exactly what I was interested in,” she said. “It’s a really unique combination of the specific techniques it takes to write a science article and the experience of being around others passionate about the same things, and I guess I didn’t know how much I really wanted that until I got there.”