Lydia Larsen’s journey started as genetics and genomics major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has led to a promising career in science communication and journalism. As a BS’23 graduate with a degree in Genetics and Genomics, and Life Sciences Communication (LSC), Lydia carries the knowledge and skills acquired during her time at LSC into her role as a science journalist. We had the opportunity to catch up with Lydia and discuss her journey and the impact of her LSC education on her career.
Q: Can you tell me about your educational journey?
A: I came to UW-Madison as a Genetics and Genomics major and participated in the CALS QuickStart program. I always knew I wanted to do research in the biosciences, but after LSC Professor Dietram Scheufele gave a talk during my QuickStart program, I was also introduced to science communication. After taking Science Media and Society with Dietram I decided to pursue a double major in Life Sciences Communication and Genetics & Genomics.
Throughout college, I continued with my genetics degree and even worked in a genetics research lab but I realized after a couple of years that a career in the biosciences wasn’t what I wanted to pursue anymore. During this period, I also began writing for the Journal of Undergraduate Science and Technology (JUST) and was introduced to The Badger Herald through a fellow science writer and friend in LSC. At The Badger Herald, I fell in love with science journalism and took a position as the science news editor during my senior year of college.
Q: Can you tell me about your current position?
A: This summer, I was a ‘23 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow at Inside Climate News. This program takes student researchers, mostly graduate students but also upper-level undergrads with research experience, and places them with different newsrooms for a summer. The fellowship began with all the fellows gathering in Washington, D.C., after which we were dispersed to various newsrooms across the country based on our respective placements. I was placed at Inside Climate News.
My responsibilities included pitching, writing, and reporting on six distinct stories encompassing topics like climate science, fossil fuels, and environmental justice. These ranged from in-depth, long-form narratives to timely pieces on embargoed studies. Additionally, I provided valuable support to editors and the production team by contributing to the curation of photos, graphics, and social media content. While my fellowship with Inside Climate News has concluded, I remain committed to expanding my portfolio as a freelance climate and science journalist. I’ve even had the privilege of continuing my collaboration with Inside Climate News.
Q: How did your education and experiences in our department prepare you for this career?
A: My education in LSC equipped me with a deep understanding of how individuals approach controversial scientific topics, and why they do so. Given that I predominantly cover climate, a controversial science topic, this knowledge has proven invaluable in shaping my approach to reporting and conducting interviews.
Furthermore, my research background and my enrollment in LSC’s risk communication course were particularly useful when I wrote a column on wind energy. My background enabled me to scrutinize data and challenge conclusions based on ethical foundations, a crucial aspect of risk communication. This unique perspective from my LSC background enables me to explore how people perceive risk, especially concerning significant developments like large wind farms in their local communities, a dimension not always captured in science journalism. It also helped that some of the methods used in the paper were similar to the ones used in the research project I assisted Dr. Sedona Chinn with during my junior and senior year.
Q: Any advice for someone looking to follow a similar path as you?
A: Never stop trying to make connections, branch out, and try something new. I would have never been where I am today if I didn’t try things that I realized don’t work for me. There is so much value in trying new things. A lot of college is figuring out what you don’t like, but that just means you are one step closer to finding what you really love. If you know what job you want, look up the job description and take LSC courses that apply to that position. Additionally, make connections with professors, graduate students, and your peers. LSC is such a unique program. The faculty are at the forefront of science communication, so take advantage of your time here.
Written by: Jocelyn Cao, LSC M.S. ’23
Published: October 2023