It is time to share with you my final Scientist in the Spotlight of Spotlight September.
She is the first engineer I have had on my blog and this year was named in the Society of Maufacturing Engineers 30 under 30 list to watch out for. So, I want to introduce you to Erin W.
She grew up in Tampa, Florida and graduated from the University of Florida last December with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Erin told me that it took her 4 and a half years to finish her undergrad but you should not be afraid to take more time and get the most out of your experience. She started her company Sci Chic in 2015 to show the fashionable side of science using 3D printing, and also had 4 summer engineering internships
She works ‘to show the creativity and innovation in science and engineering’ and her wild combination of STEM experiences have led her to where she is today working at the Economist, doing freelance science communication and running her own 3D printing company. But how she does it all I have no idea! So, lets take a deeper look at Erin’s STEM journey.
I don’t think I can start this chat in any other way. Tell us more about being featured in a Marvel comic.
Erin: It was a crazy string of events that lead to it happening. One thing I love to do in my free time is create costumes and cosplay at nerdy conventions. One of my costumes I am well known for is my Ms. Frizzle, so everyone there knows I love science. A friend I met at a convention was a fan of The Unstoppable Wasp comic, made by Marvel. There is a section at the end of the comic book that features women in STEM, and my friend from the convention sent them an email to nominate me! I was honoured that he would nominate me, and blown away that they actually picked my to be a part! Probably the collest part of the whole thing was seeing my headshot turned into a comic book drawing.
Besides being a comic book star, you are also an entrepreneur. What is Sci Chic and why did you start it?
Erin: Sci Chic is a company I started while in college that uses plastic and metal 3D printing to create science and engineering inspired jewellery. I love using a technology like 3D printing to make STEM inspired art and giving peopl something tangible to hold onto that they can connect to science. I started Sci Chic with the same goal as most of my scicomm; to show creativity and fun in science in an engaging way. I also hope to give women in STEM a fun way to be proud of their work and spark everyday conversations about science. I have found science fashion to be a great way to show people you are open to talking about science and answering their questions. I hope to continue to grow it with designs from new areas, and partnerships with more museums and brands hoping to bring some more science style to what they do. We have some great partnerships with Princess Awesome doing custom designs for young girls and I hope to continue that.
So, comic book star, entrepreneur and now an intern. What is your internship like at The Economist?
Erin: I have been freelancing for about 2 years now and I have loved it. Going in to college I was actually debating getting an engineering or journalism degree. However, I love making things and knew it would be easier to enter the journalism field with an engineering degree, rather than the opposite. The Economist is giving me the opportunity to write about science and have such a wide audience read it. It is amazing to know that when I pitch a story, I am giving that scientific discovery an audience of millions. I’ve also loved seeing all of the outlets they have to reach people. From the typical social medias to multiple apps and podcasts, seeing the inside of a huge media organisation has been extremely interesting. I have also particularly loved getting the chance to be on their podcast. I am a huge podcast consumer and had a blast being on the other end of it.
What is a typical week like for you at The Economist then?
Erin: The Economist runs on a pretty consistent cycle since it is a weekly publication. It usually runs like this:
Monday: Solidifying what will be in that week’s issue. There are meetings with your section and the whole paper lead by the editor-in-chief
Tuesday: Writing! Tons and tons of writing. Most of the science section works from home, but a few do com in. Sometimes portions of The Economist’s podcast Babbage are recorded.
Wednesday: It’s deadline day so it’s going to be a late night. A lot goes on on Wednesday for the science section. By the end of the day, all 3 or 4 science pages have to be 100% complete. This means proofread, graphics done, pictures laid out etc. The Babbage podcast is alos finished. We also get an amazing free lunch!
Thursday: A lot fo the other sections close on Thursday morning. Stories for the next week are pitched. Most of the stories for that week are uploaded online.
Friday: An initial plan for stories for the following week are laid out. Stories are worked on.
It’s definitely a cool place to work. There is constant intellectual discussion going on!
Pitching new ideas every week must be tough. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to pitch articles for freelance work?
Erin: It is tough, but you start to find techniques to assist finding story ideas. Your first step should be to carry around a notebook with you everywhere you go. You never know when you will see something that will give you an idea. Notes on your phone work too, but I personally like the tangible notebook. Also, I would recommend signing up for press release alerts, specifically embargoed press release alerts if you can. These are usually only available to journalists, but many allow freelancers to be a part of them. They will give you access to full research papers, announcements and contact info prior to the publication of the paper. This will let you publish your article, interviews and all, the day the paper is released.
Science journalism – what are your top tips?
Erin: My biggest piece of advice is take inspiration from your other hobbies and areas that you enjoy, and write about how they overlap with science. It can be a lot of fun to explore areas a bit outside your STEM expertise, but still in an area that you enjoy.
May favourite article that I have written for The Economist so far did just that and combined my love of theme parks with VR. I got the chance to appear on one of The Economist’s podcasts to talk about it.
I have been published in smaller publications like Code Like a Girl, Nerd Girl, and Being Geek Chic, as well as larger publications like The New York Times, Engineering.com and The Economist.
A couple of other tips:
- Be ok writing for free just because you enjoy it at the beginning to gain relationships and publishing credits, I wrote a lot of guest blogs to gain some traction before getting more paid opportunities. After you have this though, be confident in your skills and experience and ask for fair wages.
- Look for niche opportunities. You don’t always need to be pitching to Vogue or Popular Science. I have gotten paid opportunities writing for children’s magazines and mechanical engineering focused websites.
- Get comfortable interviewing. If you are used to working in science, you may not have had many chances to practice an interview. Work to get opportunities, whether for your own blog or for an assignment, to interview in person, over the phone and via email. Pieces written solely based off of press releases are not as exciting for the reader. Focus on quality over quantity.
- My various opportunities have all come in a variety of different ways and through huge chains of connections. Meet new people, tell them about yourself, and stay in touch.
Why is scicomm important to you?
Erin: I’ve always joked that I think engineering needs a better PR team. I feel that there is still a gap in knowledge for people about what engineering is and what is can do. I want to show people that the STEM fields are not just a calculating means to an end, but also an area where creative minds can shine. I hope that I can make a difference for a few people with my scicomm work.
I have been doing freelance writing for about 2 years before my Economist gig for everywhere from Engineering.com to Kids, Code and CS to Lateral. I have also gotten to do a few speaking engagements, appear on The Weather Channel, speak on podcasts, and create my own engineering course on LinkedIn Learning. Some, like the LinkedIn Learning course and Engineering.com writing, have been more technical, while many of the speaking engagements and freelance writing have been less aimed at a specifically engineering audience.
What do you do in your spare time?
Erin: I love making all kinds of things. I am a big fan of cosplay and have made my own Ms. Frizzle and Kim Possible costumes. I also love theme parks, rollercoasters and reading. My boyfriend of 6 years, Alex, is a fantasy/grim dark writer, so I do a lot of editing and brainstorming sessions with him as well.
Right now most of my freetime is spent exploring London and the UK. This is my first time here and I am trying to take advantage of every minute of it!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Erin: My dream would be to reach Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson levels for scicomm. I looked up to people like them as a kid and want to be able to bring more female faces to the edutainer world. I want to also maintain my technical connections be using them to help those in the STEM fields communicate what they do to a larger audience.
However, I will say, one big lesson I have learned from the past four years is that you never know where life will take you. Keeping yourself open to opportunities, continuing to network and always working towards a general mission will bring you new and amazing experiences that I could have no way of predicting right now.
And finally, where should my next travel destination be?
Erin: That’s a hard call. There are so many natural locations I would recommend, but I would have to say Yosemite National Park and the Sentinel Dome. It’s not a far hike and the view is absolutely gorgeous. Everyone should see this view in their lifetime.
Thank you Erin for taking the time to answer all my questions. I’ve loved getting to know more about all the stuff you get up to and learning all your top tips and advice. I hope you have had an amazing few months in London – and I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to get to London to meet up. But I wish you a safe flight back to the US and hopefully our paths will cross in the future. You guys can go follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or on her blog or website now.
So, that is the final Scientist in the Spotlight of S P O T L I G H T S E P T E M B E R! But there is still one more post to come! You will need to check back on Friday to see what that is all about, but if you’ve been following me on social media you might have a clue already! And I will have one more announcement for something I am going to try before normal service on Soph talks science resumes!