Workshop for Women in Science Journalism 2018: A Report

Anusheela Chatterjee

Participants and Instructors of the Workshop for Women in Science Journalism, 2018
Participants and Instructors of the Workshop for Women in Science Journalism, 2018 

The Workshop for Women in Science Journalism was held from 12 to 15 November 2018, at the sprawling green campus of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore. Jointly organised by British Council India through the Newton-Bhabha Fund and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune, and supported by IndiaBioscience, this workshop was aimed at providing training to women in science who are considering a career in science journalism.

This event commenced with a day-long orientation session, which included talks from several experienced science communicators. The inaugural session included opening remarks by Janaka Pushpanathan (British Council (South India)), Harinath Chakrapani (IISER Pune) and Smita Jain (IndiaBioscience). The keynote speaker, D. Balasubramanian (LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad) remarked, Our job as science communicators is to show how exciting the scientific approach can be, and how it can lead to a more rational way of thinking at societal and national levels.” 

While Balasubramanian discussed the essential elements of a popular science article, Shannon Olsson (NCBS, Bengaluru) stressed on the need to tell a story in both popular science articles as well as technical ones. Olsson weaved her talk into an engaging account of her personal journey from a seven year old, who won the first prize in a science fair, to a chemical ecologist. 

Aashima Dogra spoke about her project The Life of Science’ where she travels to different labs all over the country, documenting the success stories of women scientists. Subhra Priyadarshini, from Nature India, highlighted the importance of beginning an article with the most newsworthy piece of information. Other speakers included Jyoti Ranjan (SynTalk, Mumbai), Jahnavi Phalkey (Science Gallery, Bengaluru) and HS Sudhira (Gubbi Labs, Bengaluru). The orientation session was concluded by an overview of the topics that workshop would cover. 

Glimpses of the Workshop
Glimpses of the Workshop (Photo: Manoj Rangan, IndiaBioscience)

Rebecca Smith-McGloin and Heather Sears, from Coventry University (UK), conducted an intensive three-day workshop, which was tailored to the professional science journalism scenario in India. The first day of the workshop began with an analysis of the current job opportunities. The participants learned about two possible routes into science journalism — one route involves entering mainstream journalism as a general reporter and then specialising in science stories while the other approach is to specialise in science or popular science writing before entering mainstream journalism. One way for beginners to obtain some work experience is by starting a personal blog or through freelancing and internships.

An in-depth discussion of job descriptions was followed by asking the participants to assess their skill sets and the possible gaps that need to be filled. The participants were given 20 minutes to come up with an elevator pitch’. The first day concluded with a primer for the next day’s activities. It was also time for the first writing assignment of the workshop. Participants had to pick a research article and write about it in the style of a Nature News and Views article. Before the participants got to work (it had been a long time since many of them had had to do homework’), Shreya Ghosh and Navodita Jain from IndiaBioscience briefly outlined the different science communication initiatives that IndiaBioscience has undertaken over the last few years. 

The second day of the workshop focussed on different writing styles. It is imperative to bear the audience in mind when one writes a popular science article. The participants critiqued each other’s writing assignments, while learning the crucial elements of a good story: people, risks and novel ideas. As the day progressed, the participants were trained to differentiate between newspaper articles, press releases and blog posts, followed by detailed training sessions on how to write them. While the participants were polishing their writing skills, the last session Building your CV for a career in science journalism’ set the tone for what was in store for the next day. At the end of the session, Devayani Khare discussed NCBS’s efforts in science outreach. 

Six word personal summaries by the participants of the workshop
Six-word personal summaries by the participants of the workshop

The last day of the workshop concentrated on developing interview skills of the participants, most of whom were interested in a career in science journalism. During the course of the workshop, the participants got a chance to enrich their skills and recognize the areas where they needed improvement. They also obtained a glimpse of the various opportunities that are available in this field. As the workshop drew to a close, the instructors ensured that each participant had a plan in place to chart out their respective careers.

This is the third iteration of this workshop, the previous two versions having been held at IISER, Pune. Most of the participants expressed an interest in continuing to write about science, including for IndiaBioscience, in the future. Twenty selected participants from amongst the attendees will proceed to the Level 2 of this workshop, to be held in Pune in January, 2019. 

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Written By

After obtaining a Masters degree in Biology from TIFR Mumbai, Anusheela joined TIFR Hyderabad as the science writer. In addition to writing, she organises various science communication activities- both for graduate students as well as the general public. She is exploring different ways to communicate fundamental science, through illustrations and animations.