Sasha Harris-Lovett applied for a 2015 AAAS Science & Engineering Mass Media Fellowship because she wanted to strengthen her writing skills, and explore a possible career in science journalism. When her 10-week, IEEE-USA-sponsored fellowship at The Los Angeles Times wrapped up in late August, she had achieved both goals, plus a whole lot more.
“I had done some freelance writing for magazines. And at the University of California-Berkeley, where I’m a graduate student, I’ve taken several classes in the Graduate School of Journalism,” she explains. “But nothing could have prepared me for the eye-opening pace at which my professional colleagues work, or the incredible variety of topics a science writer is expected to cover.”
The nearly 20 science articles that Harris-Lovett wrote during her Mass Media Fellowship include such diverse topics as how climate change is threatening bumble bees; why women are living longer than men; and the recent discovery, in Canada, of a previously unknown dinosaur, Wendiceratops. (The relic is named for its discoverer, Wendy Sloboda.)
“The first day of my fellowship, Karen Kaplan, who is The Times’ science and medicine editor, assigned me a story about an app that uses GPS to locate nearby CPR-trained volunteers, who can help victims of cardiac arrest,” she says. “Karen told me to write 500 to 800 words-and go for it!”
That’s exactly what Harris-Lovett did. Over the next two-plus months, she not only further refined her blossoming writing skills, but she also gained a better sense of science communications.
The IEEE-USA Mass Media Fellow, who expects to receive her Ph.D. in May 2017 from UC-Berkeley in energy and resources, says what she liked most about the experience was working with Kaplan. “Seeing Karen’s edits, and getting feedback about my stories, helped me learn so much,” she says.
Harris-Lovett has “always been interested in how the world works, and why things happen as they do.” She says her fellowship also enriched the opportunity for her to learn the inner workings of a newspaper newsroom, what makes news, and how to explain technical subjects in a way the non-technical public will understand-all while writing for The Los Angeles Times, reportedly the fourth largest U.S. newspaper (in terms of circulation).
Since 2000, IEEE-USA has sponsored 17 other engineering students in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program. The fellowship was created to strengthen the connections among scientists, engineers and journalists by placing advanced science and engineering students in newsrooms for the summer across the country. IEEE-USA is the only engineering organization in the AAAS program, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2014.
A Ph.D. student in the UC-Berkeley Energy and Resources Group, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program Fellow, Harris-Lovett lists her research interests as urban water and wastewater management, decision analysis for socio-environmental problems, and climate change mitigation.
Two experiences greatly influenced these interests: At age 18, she became very ill from drinking the water, while visiting a nature preserve in an Amazon rain forest. And as an undergraduate, she spent a semester studying ecology in a rural Mexican fishing village. “Getting sick after drinking that water made me think of all the resources we take for granted-clean water, especially,” she says. “In that fishing village, everyone made their living by fishing, and this demonstrated to me the need to collectively manage a resource, so there can be enough for everyone.”
Harris-Lovett has a B.A. in the history of science, with high honors from Harvard University, and an M.S. in energy and resources from UC-Berkeley. For several years, she also taught daily environmental science classes, with a focus on organic gardening, at a Berkeley middle school.
With plenty of time remaining before she has to decide on her eventual career, Harris-Lovett believes that science communication definitely will be a part of it. “It engages both my creativity and my intellect-and I enjoy that,” she states. “Meanwhile, this fellowship has reinforced some of my ideas, and my confidence that I can do it. I’m very grateful to IEEE-USA for sponsoring me.”
For now, however, this Bay Area native looks forward to being back at home- enjoying her friends, family, and what remains of the foggy summer.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991-2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.