How the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship Helped Me Move On

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When I first entered graduate school, I thought I wanted to be a professor. I loved helping others and talking about science. However, while attending the 2017 ComSciCon—a series of workshops for graduate students on the topic of communicating science—at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I realized I loved science communication (sci comm) more than scientific benchwork or teaching. Ever since then, I’ve passionately pursued sci comm opportunities.

I’d wanted to apply for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Fellowship for years. The fellowship is a paid summer program that places grad students in STEM fields at media organizations across the country with the goal of increasing public understanding of science and technology. But it never felt like the right time to apply—I had to study for my qualifying exams, finish a set of experiments or work on writing my paper. When I started the fourth year of my PhD program, I realized I didn’t want to—or need to—wait any longer. And during my time as a Mass Media Fellow, I had a similar realization: I didn’t need to postpone my dreams.

I was placed as a science writer at The Dallas Morning News for my fellowship. But due to COVID-19, I spent the entire summer working from my one-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts. Despite the physical distance, I felt like part of a team for the first time in a long time. The lab where I was doing my research was small and didn’t foster collaboration or support communication across its members. At the Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, collaboration and communication were central to the newspaper’s functioning. Even though I was writing by myself at my dining room table, I never felt alone.

I was new to journalism and certainly made a lot of mistakes. But my editor was supportive and helped me learn and grow as a writer throughout the summer. I didn’t feel scared to mess up, and I was excited about heading to my dining room table every morning to start writing that day’s stories.

Thanks to my editor’s mentorship, I slowly started to feel like a complete person again rather than just a cog in the wheel of my graduate adviser’s research. As my fellowship came to an end, I realized I didn’t want to leave science communication and go back to research. The fulfilment I felt from each day at the Dallas Morning News was something I didn’t want to wait until graduation to feel again.

So, I left my PhD program with a master’s degree and applied for science communication jobs. Thanks to the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship and the support of the American Physiological Society, I’m now doing work that I can only describe as a dream, with a supportive team that is helping me succeed in my new role.

Gina Mantica, MS, received her master’s degree in biology from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and is now the marketing communications specialist at the Hariri Institute for Computing at Boston University. Mantica was the 2020 American Physiological Society-sponsored AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow at The Dallas Morning News.

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