Welcome Your 2023-25 Board Members!

This month, we’re welcoming six new members to the SANDSWA board. They shared more about themselves, including what they are looking forward to as a board member, how they broke into science writing and more. 

Mae Lee (she/her/hers)

Proto Engineer at ASML

As a new SANDSWA board member, what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

I’m most looking forward to becoming more connected with the local science writing community. I’d love to have the opportunity to communicate their stories to the general public. I am also looking forward to facilitating connections within the community in the upcoming year through various association events.

How did you break into science writing?

To be honest, I haven’t yet! Science writing and communication is a career goal for me and although my job isn’t in the field at the moment, it’s a North Star that I continue to align with at each professional crossroads. I would like to continue to network and learn from the incredible science writers in the San Diego community in hopes of one day being a science communicator.

What is your best writing tip? / What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

The best piece of writing tip I’ve received is to “kill your darlings.” I’ve struggled with getting too attached to phrases or frameworks that it limits my creative scope or inhibits me from progressing a piece. This piece of advice helps remind me that any writing piece needs to stay flexible as it morphs and changes toward the finished product.

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

I’m not an authority on the topic, but I guess I wish that the scientific community gave more respect to the people who work toward communicating scientific research to the general public. Bridging the gap between expert and layperson is essential to accessibility into the science community and ultimately crucial toward scientific progress and inclusion.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like drawing, playing frisbee, ballroom dancing, and running with my dog Nova. I also am always on the lookout for opportunities to learn fun and interesting new skills. If you’re willing to teach me, I’m willing to learn!

What are you reading/listening to right now?

I’m currently reading “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemison as part of a book club I do with my family!

Melissa Miller (she/her/hers)

Science and Technology Staff Writer at Nerdist

As a new SANDSWA board member, what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

I am excited to connect with even more local science writers and keep our networking group going strong. Every event or field trip brings in new people and it’s so wonderful to feel like I know someone at every museum or university department in town. I’d love to help set up events and meet-ups to engage even more of our members.

How did you break into science writing?

It took a long time! I had a temporary position blogging at Scripps Oceanography but connecting with SANDSWA really made me realize science writing could be a career. That’s also how I found out about the certificate program at UCSD, which helped me gain experience. It was a solid five years of side hustling before I got a full time gig as a science writer and I had to leave UCSD to do it, which I never thought I would even consider before the pandemic. But I followed the path that makes sense for me and don’t have any regrets, even though there were disappointments along the way.

What is your best writing tip? / What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

The biggest impact moment for me was day one of a science writing class taught by SANDSWA members through UCSD Extension. They told us “you’re already a science writer.” Even if you’re dabbling in it, freelancing, taking classes, etc., you are a science writer. It’s not this huge moment where you suddenly become one and that changes everything. And that helped me enjoy it as a journey of getting better, learning more. It also removed a huge amount of imposter syndrome, which in turn helps me write without freezing up.

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

Many people are already science communicators and maybe don’t realize it. I work in the world of pop culture now rather than academia, medicine, etc., but there’s still so many chances to write about science, scientists, and the scientific method. Science really is everywhere and pointing that out can be really fun! That SANDSWA is so welcoming to all levels and types of science writers is a hugely important aspect as a networking group.

What do you like to do for fun?

I try to get to the ocean any chance I get, snorkeling or paddle boarding year round since it’s possible in San Diego. I also enjoy a trip out to the mountains and desert, stopping at wineries and breweries along the way.

What are you reading/listening to right now?

I’m pretty much all Star Wars all the time. There’s great novels coming out, the fan magazine has fun features, and there’s a lot of good podcasts out there. Including one I host called “Star Warsologies,” where we interview academics about how their field is represented in Star Wars.

Miles Martin (he/him/his)

Science Writer, Sanford Burnham Prebys

As a new SANDSWA board member what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

I’m most looking forward to continuing to turn professional connections into personal friends. I’m particularly excited to help welcome any new science writers that may move into the area or transition into our industry this year. I moved to San Diego from Rhode Island just last year, and SANDSWA has been a wonderful way to integrate into the community.

How did you break into science writing?

I knew the lab wasn’t for me before I finished my undergraduate in biology back in Rhode Island, but I also knew I loved science. I got my first taste of science communication as an after-school science enrichment instructor at a mom-and-pop toy store/science center. Later, during graduate school, I worked for the University’s student-run science magazine and realized I loved science writing. After graduating I didn’t know right away whether I wanted to be a science teacher or a science writer, but the pandemic ended up deciding for me. From there I haven’t looked back!

What’s your best writing tip/what’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

A philosophy professor and dear mentor once said to me, “You are not your work.” That runs through my mind every time I disagree with an editor or every time I submit less-than-perfect copy on a tight deadline. Writers and other creatives must be willing to kill their darlings brutally and without hesitation, because ultimately, this frees us to create our best work.

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

Science writing and scientific writing are not the same thing. This is usually a harmless mistake by people outside the industry, but I’ve seen job listings online that confuse or combine these functions, which I can only imagine leads to some hard-to-read press releases.

What do you like to do for fun?

When I’m not working or doing all the mundane things it takes to keep a human being alive, you can find me drawing and painting, usually from life, and often while watching episodes of old sitcoms in the background.

What are you reading/listening to right now?

These change a lot, but at the moment I’m reading Harvey Fierstein’s memoir and listening to lots of Wagnerian opera, punctuated by periods of looping Beyoncé’s “Cuff it” until I have it memorized.

Brittany Hook (she/her/hers)

Communications Specialist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

As a new SANDSWA board member, what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

The SANDSWA community is full of so many talented and creative writers, so I feel lucky to serve as a board member in the coming year. I look forward to connecting with all our members at in-person or virtual events, and I hope to share some engaging learning opportunities that relate to ocean science, a field in which most of my science writing work has been focused.

How did you break into science writing?

I started writing for the Communications Office at Scripps Institution of Oceanography about nine years ago. My initial “beat” focused on education and outreach programs at Scripps, but evolved to include more scientific writing, such as coverage of new research published by our scientists. I gained more confidence as a science writer several years ago after completing the UC San Diego Extension Science Writing I course, which was then taught by SANDSWA co-founders Heather Buschman and Tiffany Fox. This fantastic course is usually offered every year, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking to break into the field.

What is your best writing tip? / What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

“Done is better than perfect.” As someone who battles with perfectionist tendencies, this piece of advice reminds me to take a step back and not overwork something to death if I get stuck. It’s great to be ambitious and want to produce amazing work at all times, but it’s more important to be consistent and meet deadlines. (Also, if you’re truly stuck, take a walk around the block, or perhaps ask a colleague to review the section in question—a fresh set of eyes is always welcome!)

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

You don’t have to have a scientific background to be a science writer! In fact, I was an English major and I know many other writers who studied journalism or communications before becoming science writers. The most important requirement is that you are a skilled writer in general—meaning you know how to write compelling and accurate copy—and that you know how to ask the right questions if you don’t understand something.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love being out in nature. Whether that’s spending the day at the beach or taking a hike in the forest, being immersed in nature is always a grounding experience for me. I also love spending time with loved ones, including my amazing boyfriend and adorable cat. And I love to travel—I’m always ready for the next adventure.

What are you reading/listening to right now?

I’m currently reading “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood—so far, so good! Musically, I have been listening to the bands Crumb and La Luz as of late. I always enjoy listening to the podcasts “Hidden Brain” and “This American Life”—both are masterful in the way they approach storytelling.

Niko Komin (he/him/his)

Freelance science writer

As a new SANDSWA board member, what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

I’m looking forward to all our gatherings at exciting places. I always feel I’m missing out when I can’t attend.

How did you break into science writing?

I always enjoyed what many scientists dread: writing up the research into a paper. Many times I thought about writing for the general public but I never quite started.

One autumn the scicomm website of the Luxembourgish NSF-equivalent held a small writing contest. I did not win. But I got selected for a short course on science journalism 101. Also my article was edited, published and I got paid 100 Euros!

That was in the last year of my last postdoc position. I was allowed to republish my article, so it became the first post on my own blog.

By the way, did you know: a Danish pancake is traditionally made with beer. However, it has the same alcohol content as a single slice of plain white wheat bread (“Alcohol and Pregnancy: When Cooking With Beer”).

What is your best writing tip? / What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

One piece of advice I wish I had a long time ago is that if you are entertaining the idea of writing then just start doing it. And do it publicly! Are you afraid of publishing bad quality or of messing up scientific credibility? Just use an alias. It is better than not doing it at all and it is an extremely valuable exercise.

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

Many times a sloppy statement comes from oversimplification for a wider audience rather than from the writer not having understood. In any case this is no excuse for a bad metaphor.

What do you like to do for fun?

I always liked being outdoors and making music. For two years now I’ve been playing classical guitar. Although I do not listen to classical music. 🙂

What are you reading/listening to right now?

I’m really happy with the algorithmic music recommendations of my streaming service. There is so much to discover!

The last works of fiction I read were “The Dispossessed” (Le Guin) and “Light from Uncommon Stars” (Aoki). Both blew me away to a degree that I haven’t started a new book since.

Susanne Clara Bard (any/all)

Senior Science and Research Communications Specialist, San Diego State University

As a new SANDSWA board member, what are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

As a member of SANDSWA, I’ve been thrilled to have many different activities to choose from, thanks to the board’s creative planning. After so much isolation over the past few years, I look forward to helping plan social events that go beyond professional networking, because we could all use a little fun in our lives right now.

How did you break into science writing?

As a graduate student, I studied birds in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I loved the research, but also wanted to tell stories beyond academia. I completed an MFA in science and natural history filmmaking, and after a stint working on reality TV shows in Seattle, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work on documentaries. However, I was perusing Craigslist one day when I saw an ad for an audio producer/writer position with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and jumped on the opportunity to stay true to my science roots while creating radio shows and podcasts. Those skills served me well as I eventually migrated back to the west coast to take on multimedia projects for a variety of outlets and institutions.

What is your best writing tip? / What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Learn to write short. If you can distill a scientific study down to 165 words for a one-minute radio show, you will quickly learn to identify the most essential elements of the story and get straight to the point. It also helps you become a better editor because you will have to cut out precious words.

What do you wish people knew about science writing?

Science writing is an opportunity for scientists to shine. Being exposed to amazing discoveries on a daily basis is really exciting, and the interview is my favorite part of the writing process. But many scientists have never done a media interview before. Help them feel at ease and remind them that they are the expert. Starting out with a solid interview foundation can lead to many insights that illuminate the science and draw our audiences in. And before the interview even begins, it’s our responsibility as writers to seek out diverse voices that reflect the world of science as it is today. Also, don’t discount the graduate student (they do much of the work, anyway!) when seeking out experts.

What do you like to do for fun?

My family loves hiking and playing board games together. I also enjoy baking and sewing with my 12-year-old. I have been known to play the Scottish fiddle and perform musical improv. I also like photographing birds, often in my backyard. And I love just hanging out with friends (again).

What are you reading/listening to right now?

I listen to BBC History Extra and other history podcasts while walking my dog around town.

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