Monthly Archives: February 2020

From pipette to pen: My journey in Science journalism

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Nature has always intrigued me. Science, therefore, which provides an opportunity to unravel the hidden treasures of nature has been my favourite subject. My career path was pretty well crafted: a graduation and post-graduation in biological sciences, and a doctorate with specialisation in Molecular Biology. I have enjoyed every second of my life in the lab! I loved everything, from pipetting to making chemical cocktails, looking for tiny beings under the microscope and experimenting with beautiful plants. I have been fortunate to study in the best schools and universities in Delhi, which provided me mentor-ship from excellent teachers.

My PhD supervisor gave me the opportunity to study the role of a tiny molecule called microRNA in governing various plant processes such as leaf development. Recognising the potential of Genetic Modification (GM) technology for addressing the issues of food security, I wrote a competitive research grant in to help design crops that could provide good produce yields even under adverse climatic conditions. I felt empowered when I got a full-fledged fund to carry out the project that was so close to my heart. But what kept me bothering me was the continuing debate around GM technology and resistance from the public to accept them as food.

The ban on GM crops in India made me realise that a revolutionary technology cannot reach its potential if it is not communicated to and is accepted by the public. Towards this goal, I decided to work towards science communication and public engagement to raise public awareness for scientific know-how. However, I faced two major issues to accomplish this task: my jargon-laden language which came from years of training in science and lack of know-how to approach and pitch science news stories to media editors.

Determined to try my hand at science writing, I attended two major workshops: Workshop on Science Journalism for Women in Science organised by National Centre for Biological Science and British Council under the Newton Bhabha Fund* and also a Science writing workshop organised by Current Science. These workshops taught me the essentials of science journalism and improved my writing skills. It also helped me to network with like-minded individuals and apprised me of new opportunities in this field.

My first by-line in Current Science magazine gave me a kick and I decided to write and publish science news stories on a regular basis.

Two years into science communication, and I had contributed almost 70+ science articles published in more than fifteen media platforms – digital and print.

Soon, I decided to work full-time as a science communicator and joined the “Vigyan Prasar”, which is the science communication wing of the Ministry of Science and Technology. My work involves generating ideas for the science TV programme aired on Doordarshan and it gives me intense satisfaction that the programme to which I contribute to, reaches numerous Indians, especially children who would be motivated to study and pursue science, and contribute to building a better future for themselves and the society.

*British Council through the Newton-Bhabha Fund in partnership with IISER Pune has delivered workshops for women scientists on opportunities for widening participation of women in science. The programme aims at providing opportunities for diverse expertise in allied science careers to ease the transition of women in the field of science. Since 2016, the workshops have trained over 300 women scientists, providing access to training and professional development in Science Administration & Management and Science Journalism.

Contributed by Dr Aditi Jain, Science Communicator, Vigyan Prasar, Dept of Science & Technology

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My story: Matters of heart and head

It was the winter of 2016. Christmas was around the corner with poinsettia flourishing in my balcony. Soaked in the soothing winter sun, I was reflecting on my conversations with Usha. I had met Usha a day before during a teachers training programme that I had conducted at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. Usha informed me about a workshop on ‘Research Based Pedagogical Tools’ (RBPT) for teachers and trainers that was to happen at Mohali, Punjab in January 2017. Within a blink of an eye, my fingers went into action on the keyboard and no sooner the details of the workshop flashed on my laptop screen, I applied, got selected and reached Mohali, to further my skills as a teacher trainer. The choice to participate in RBPT workshop was purely a professional skill building need aligned to my work practice.

At Mohali, I was amazed by the scale of the workshop, attitude of the organisers, and overall approach to develop teachers as changemakers. After the orientation session, I met Prachi and Apoorva of the organising team from COESME, IISER Pune. Prachi informed me about the ‘Women in Science’ workshops which were to be conducted in collaboration with British Council under the Newton Bhabha Fund*.

‘We will be conducting a workshop on Science Journalism in March’, said Prachi. ‘Science Journalism’, the words got stuck in my head and stayed there for a while. I began thinking about how to get through the science journalism workshop. RPBT was about my professional needs, but writing was my personal inclination. An inclination which had gone into hibernation owing to my choices of obtaining academic degrees, doing post-doctoral research, having and managing a family and so on. The only writing I had done so far was in the academic space – dissertations, thesis and research articles.

To put things into context, let me give you a bit of a background. I joined CSIR-IGIB as a project scientist and co-ordinated a project on science education outreach. Teacher training and interacting with students was a regular task. While working on this community project, I realised that science writing would be a wonderful means to convey ideas and bring about the required interventions. My computer had a folder titled, ’Write it soon’ that had several half-baked, incomplete ideas sitting as word documents waiting to be brought to life.

I would often push myself, but was not able to make through it. May be, I needed some confidence, an anchor,  and mentoring. At 39, knocking at my forties, totally consumed by the regular business of day to day life, I needed an external push. Sitting in the RBPT session, I realised that the upcoming workshop on science writing may serve as this ‘external push’ and get me out of this inertia. I remembered the words of Rumi – “Let yourself be silently drawn by strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

March 2017, I travelled to IISER Pune twice and finished both Level 1 and Level 2 of the Science Journalism workshop. At Pune, I met wonderful, aspiring young women who had freshly completed their Post-graduate and PhD degrees and were looking for creative career options. We were told that very soon a few of us will be offered a writing internship.

One afternoon in the scorching heat of May 2017, my fellow workshop participant Kavita and I met Prof. L.S. Shashidhara at INSA, New Delhi to discuss a popular science writing assignment – an anthology on success stories from Indian Science. It was challenging, but our joy and excitement grew by leaps and bounds as we started working on the book. Thereafter, began an enriching journey of writing scientific accomplishments that had impacted the lives of common people and our nation. The book titled ‘Indian Science Transforming India’ was funded, published and launched by INSA in April 2018.

Book cover Indian Science: Transforming India

I can say with conviction, that the book was an outcome of the Science Journalism workshop that built my confidence and visibility as a science writer. On a personal note, my gratitude  towards people and organisations who made this happen is in infinite continuum.

The next leap came in 2018. By then, I had founded a not for profit capacity building organisation working in science education, communication and outreach. I had to disseminate whatever I had learned. I wrote a few articles on varied subjects and started popularising careers in science writing and communication among young students. In June 2019, Shivani Upreti, an undergraduate student and my mentee, published her article in the ‘Science Reporter’. This was a humble move, yet I feel very contented to have taken forward the spirit of building capacity for ‘Women in Science’.

My computer still has the folder,“ Write it soon”. However, now I am enabled, skilled and bubbling with ideas to pen.

*British Council through the Newton-Bhabha Fund in partnership with IISER Pune has delivered workshops for women scientists on opportunities for widening participation of women in science. The programme aims at providing opportunities for diverse expertise in allied science careers to ease the transition of women in the field of science. Since 2016, the workshops have trained over 300 women scientists, providing access to training and professional development in Science Administration & Management and Science Journalism.

Contributed by Adita Joshi, Director, Sansriti Foundation, New Delhi

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