Cassie Rodenberg: Electron-ic Bonds

Science writer – definition?
January 9, 2009, 9:22 am
Filed under: Musings, Science, Writing

“What do you do?”

I dread this question, possibly even more than I dread going to the doctor or eating squash. I dread the funny looks, the tilted heads, the puzzled nods. Most do not understand, and I often find myself bewildered by their bewilderment. In my mind, it’s clear. A science writer is one who writes about science, just as a moldy banana is a banana that contains fungal life. Adjectives are commonplace in society; why can’t people catch on? 

science writer – one who writes about science

Perhaps my definition is inadequate? Let’s see if can help. 

science – systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation

writer – a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

Subsequently, the official definition: 

science writer – one who records systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation and then engages in writing books, articles, stories, etc., esp. as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

Perhaps I should invest in a pocket-sized moleskin, ready to rattle it off whenever someone asks. Perhaps print something that equates to a business card? Is the public unfamiliar with science enough to think that no one ever writes about it? Does news of cutting-edge drug research appear itself on prime time TV? Hats off to this magic. 

Perhaps it’s not the public’s fault but mine. On days I’m feeling charitable, I call myself a journalist. (I’d rather be a writer, but what can you do?) Am I unable to communicate my profession? If so, I may as well pack my suitcase now; how can I hope to illustrate thoughts about nanoparticles when I cannot nail down my job?

Sometimes, I’ve resorted to bringing examples. At family functions I lurk to the side, eyeing my Aunt Susie, knowing she’ll loudly declare my profession B.S. That’s where the examples come in. I can wave a newspaper with my work on it – “Read it; this is what I write about! See there’s my byline!” They usually can accept printed work, but God help me if I bring along a creative scientific essay on 8.5 x 11 paper. Then I’m placed in the same category as my schizophrenic uncle, Charles, who has been working on his memoir for the past 23 years. Oh, family.

Deep down, I know what I do, and it pays the bills. Does it matter what others think? Not really, but it does matter if I cannot express myself to them.

Because of this, I’m doing personal research on the subject. I try different tactics of explanation, tweaking them for different audiences. It works about as well as Mendel’s dealings with honeybees. Sometimes, you get something more vicious and have to work backwards, have audiences think you’re a science fiction novelist. Hopefully, soon I’ll find my pea plant and have my own experimental, discovery dance to be complete with champagne. Until then, I’m left still a researchin’.

Does anyone else have a one-liner I could borrow? If not, you’re welcome to use the official definition.


4 Comments so far
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Sorry, I can’t help you much there. As soon as you mention science and you’re not a medical doctor, people’s eyes glaze over. I’ve tried a million ways to explain what I do, and they’re pretty much all unsatisfying.

If you can mention a specific thing you’ve written (an interesting one!), you can sometimes get people to talking. But even then I still worry I’m boring people. If you just want to make conversation, talking about sports or celebrity gossip is a better bet.

Comment by Dave Munger

You know, like “I’m a writer.” Did you see the panthers game last night?

Or “I’m a writer.” How about that Angelina Jolie? What is that, the 18th kid she’s adopted?

Comment by Dave Munger

Thanks for the tip; perhaps I should subscribe to People or Entertainment Weekly. I’m afraid my sports knowledge would be lacking so much that I would appear inept, dealing an even bigger blow and disservice to the entirety of science writers.

Comment by cassierodenberg

Dear Cassie,

Perhaps it is not in the words or their definition that people have confusion. Are you an animated person? Do you say it with the expectation that your listener is going to “get it”? Do you offer a pedantic aura with the explanition, or academic, or humor.

I have the notion that your listeners might assume that means you are smarter than them because the term science is nebulus and encompasses so much. Have you ever said, I write about science -and stuff. Honestly, it might make a difference. By adding the word stuff nearly anyone can relate. BOL -Michael

Comment by Micahel Deborah Barton

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