I kneeled over a small blue box covered in dials, hand poised over a detonator button. I yelled “fire in the hole,” three times (the safety protocol for a test range), then pressed the trigger. The concrete bunker muffled the sound of the explosion as the shape charge fired, but it was still strong enough to rattle my teeth. No, I am not an explosives expert—I am a science writer.
Journalists spend days stuck in the doldrums of writer’s block, fishing for just the right lede, and chasing down interviews; but on days like the one at the explosives test range, it is all worth it. In my short career I have lived many lives: computer programmer, rocket engineer, guerrilla gardener and armor specialist—adventures I never saw coming even when I graduated from the University of Wisconsin less than one year ago.
Even more than my classes in feature writing, communication theory, web design or social media—it was my personal connections to my instructors and advisors at the Department of Life Sciences Communication that have enabled me to succeed after graduation.
My best example is from my very first class in the LSC department: feature writing with Michael Flaherty. Mike’s class was my first in-depth experience in journalism style—structured like a real newsroom we pitched ideas and edited each other’s drafts. He made himself available at any time, like our own editor, taking evening phone calls or helping get contacts lined up. His dedication to his students’ success impressed me, and I really connected under his guidance. Years later, I still call Mike when I need some career advice—and he always picks up.
This is just an anecdote for the countless positive interactions I had with the people at Hiram Smith Hall. LSC is where I discovered the importance of connections—connecting with ambitious and experienced communicators gave me an outlet to bounce off ideas and get guidance. PhD students gave me insights on graduate school; professors became mentors; and through all it all—an advisor who pushed me out of my comfort zone, knowing that I could rise to the challenge.
After graduation, I got an internship at Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility for the Department of Energy. Not only was it exciting to have an office next to internationally known nuclear scientists, but I was also paired with an inspiring and challenging mentor in the communications department. From my experience in LSC, I knew how to take advantage of this relationship, and I felt myself flourishing under her guidance.
Since the internship finished, I have been working as a freelance writer—which has widened my circle even more, and enabled me to reach further and test myself daily. I was introduced to the supportive network of science communicators in LSC, then discovered that the network actually spread worldwide. While being a science writer can be a very solitary job, a career is built on connecting to people.
Story by Alexandra Branscombe (B.S., 2013).