Both science and journalism are extremely exciting career paths. Science deals with detail, precision, technicalities, facts, numbers, and being rational & impersonal. On the other hand, journalism values brevity, approximation, opinions, stories, quotes, and being right & personal. So, how about pursuing a career that involves both?
What is Science Journalism?
Science journalism conveys reporting about science to the public. The field typically involves interactions between scientists, journalists, and the public.
The aim of a science journalist is to render very detailed, specific, and often jargon-laden information produced by scientists into a form that non-scientists can understand and appreciate while still communicating the information accurately.– Wikipedia
The field of science journalism involves a lot of hard work. It’s dynamic, fascinating, and rewarding. However, do not assume that it’s one of those careers that will make you rich quickly (well, no career path can do that for you really).
Science journalism combines the creativity of writing and media with the intellectual fascination of the scientific field. As per experts, there is arguably a good demand for science journalists and communicators who can help translate and analyze critical scientific issues, as well as hold science and scientists accountable.
Job Roles & Responsibilities of Science Journalists
Science journalists cover some of the most complex, exciting, and important issues of our day, ranging from the impacts of climate change to emerging infectious diseases (e.g. COVID-19).
They use words, sounds, images, and graphics to create compelling stories about science that appear in newspapers and magazines, in print and online, on the radio and TV, and in podcasts and videos.
The field is undergoing rapid change, which presents both challenges and opportunities. The migration of readers and advertising to the internet and digital platforms has led to declining sales of print publications. This means that jobs are now scarce in traditional print media, but that there are growing opportunities to produce digital content.
So, how to get into the field of science journalism? To know more about the field, we reached out to Dr. Partha Banerjee.
Dr. Partha Banerjee is a human rights activist, writer, educator, media critic, and musician. Born and raised in Kolkata (Calcutta), he now lives in New York with frequent visits to India.– Wikipedia
Dr. Banerjee is from a core scientific research background. He did his B.Sc. and M.Sc in India. Later he went to the US for MS (Illinois State University).
He holds a Ph.D. degree in Plant Biology (Southern Illinois University) and a Masters’s degree in Journalism (Columbia University).
Careers in Science Journalism
Q&A with Dr. Partha Banerjee (Part 1)
Tanmoy: You are from the Biosciences background. What made you opt for a Masters Degree in Journalism?
Dr. Banerjee: I was not happy in science. I always had a passion for social sciences, arts, literature, and human rights-oriented subjects. Getting into journalism, and that too at a world-renowned university gave me a huge break.
Tanmoy: You have been into Teaching, Scientific Research, and Journalism. What are your thoughts when you look back at your diverse career journey?
Dr. Banerjee: I have learned a lot about how to do research, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and write professionally. I have learned how to do critical thinking. These are my powers, along with my many years of refined skills in public speaking and organizing.
Tanmoy: Biosciences is a pretty research-oriented field and extremely competitive. What would be your tips for high school students who want to take up Biosciences in College?
Dr. Banerjee: I would ask them to first think if they really love it, or they’re doing it just because they had no other option. Then, think about what kind of bioscience you want to do: teaching, research, or fieldwork. Can you connect the dots between biology, and environment, environment and the people, and the people and future of the world? These are things normally Indian schools do not discuss in the syllabus-driven curriculum. We must ask these questions ourselves.
Tanmoy: Biosciences is an extremely broad field. Could you please tell our readers about the scientific research journey?
Dr. Banerjee: I was initially a botanist or a classical plant biologist, and then in my Ph.D., I got interested in evolution and ecology – two critically important subjects that many biology curricula in India largely ignore.
In my post-Ph.D. research, I did one full year of molecular evolution with the use of PCR and all, and it opened up my outlook on modern biology. Then, I did three years of research work in infectious disease. Looking back, that gave me enormous insight into what is going on today in this COVID-19 crisis.
Tanmoy: Do you think COVID-19 will motivate more high school students to take up Biosciences in College?
Dr. Banerjee: I sure hope so. But do our Indian school and college curricula have the pragmatism to include it immediately, with no stipulations from the academia or political leaders?
Tanmoy: Could you please share some career advice for the college students and graduates who want to get into science journalism?
Dr. Banerjee: I was a science journalist for a short period of time after I graduated from Columbia University Journalism School. I worked for an ABC-affiliated science journalism TV company, where I made two-minute-long stories on subjects of common interests such as DNA and Death Penalty, violent Video games and their influence on young minds, the absence of superfast trains in America, and so on.
In my small way, I tried to educate the common people about issues that are not much discussed in mainstream media. I think Indian students should think about that. I would especially ask them to take upon the critically important subjects of global warming and climate change, and food, and the environment. The harmful and toxic food and drinks such as MacDonalds, Coke, and such.
This is science, and this is people-oriented science. That is where the focus should be.
Tanmoy: With the rise of digital media and citizen journalism, mainstream media & journalism students/graduates are finding it very hard to get core jobs. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Dr. Banerjee: Yes, in my limited way, I’ve been doing that. I’ve begun an online, free media called www.humanitycollege.org, where anybody can write in any language on any subject of their choice. We are also trying to put together a George Floyd Citizen journalism Award, named after the black man tortured and murdered by police in America. Young people are doing great citizen journalism worldwide, and Indians and Bengalis should be a part of that global movement.
Any queries or thoughts? Please share in the comments below!
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