Issue 1, July 2002
Engineering to Science Writing: Camille Mojica Rey Shares
Second in a series featuring our professional Feature Article
Reviewers and how they found their callings as science writers
Cellular and Molecular Biology, Beloit College
Mojica Rey, like many of her colleagues, did not plan on being a
science writer. As a minority and a woman who showed an interest
in science, she was encouraged to pursue engineering. Nobody noticed
that she was also acing her honors English courses. How did she
go from an engineering track to a science writing one? Even more
importantly, what has she learned that can be shared with a budding
Mojica Rey stresses the importance of hands-on experience, but she
emphasizes that there is no single way to become a science writer.
In order to get an internship, students have to demonstrate writing
ability. "Anybody who wants an internship needs to be preparing
for it," explains Mojica Rey. "You need to have clips." This gets
to the heart of experience.
There are a variety of ways to get these initial clippings, but
finding places to volunteer your services can be vitally important.
Volunteering for the school newspaper or "Anybody who will take
your writing for free," is Mojica Rey's suggestion for demonstrating
to potential employers that you can write well.
This is a reasonable start on a career path, but it is very different
from how Mojica Rey found her passion for science writing. "Everybody
has a different story," she says as she shares her own story. For
her, it all began with a simple love of reading and writing. "I
always kept a diary," recalls Mojica Rey, "and I read a lot."
As a child, Mojica Rey was exposed to a lot of natural history.
Her grandparents lived on the Texas coast, and so she got to experience
a countryside teeming with critters and interesting geology and
ecology. Going into college, Mojica Rey was on a biomedical engineering
track, and encouraged by mentors who promised she would be able
to "name her own price" once in the job market.
But the promise of financial stability was not enough. "It was a
disaster," says Mojica Rey. The realization that engineering was
the wrong course of study was a pivotal decision in Mojica Rey's
education. She quickly went back to biology - her true interest
- and found the inspiration she craved. "I took animal behavior
and evolution courses that were really stimulating intellectually,"
Soon she began volunteering in labs studying the evolution of fish
behavior and established relationships with her professors. Her
new mentors encouraged her to go to graduate school, and so she
Although Mojica Rey attended the University of California at Berkeley
for a Ph.D. in integrative biology, she is the first to admit, "I'm
pretty sure you don't need a Ph.D. to be a science writer." However,
Mojica Rey completed her Ph.D. studying fish behavior.
"I was not too comfortable with the way my career was going," explains
Mojica Rey. Though she enjoyed teaching, being a research professor
or even a professor at a liberal arts college held little appeal.
"I didn't feel like I was out in the world enough," Mojica Rey explains,
"There was something huge missing from my career path."
She finally decided that writing novels appealed to her more than
anything else. The trouble was she didn't want to give up the world
of science. "I wanted to make a difference in the world."
Finally, a friend said to her, "Why don't you be a science writer?"
The light bulb turned on instantly and Mojica Rey found herself
enrolled in the University of California at Santa Cruz's Science
While at UCSC, Mojica Rey began focusing on medical writing, emphasizing
Latino health issues when possible. "I found medical writing to
be a good way to give back to the community," explains Mojica Rey.
The work was very rewarding, but did not last forever.
Now Mojica Rey finds herself doing general science writing and is
still quite happy. Although she does some freelancing, she has one
requirement, to "at least write for people I respect." She currently
writes for Stanford University, the University of California at
San Francisco, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, as well
as for a variety of other outlets.
For people interested in becoming science writers, Mojica Rey suggests
that while gaining experience, be sure to answer an important question:
"Do you know what the world of science is about?" Research experience
is also useful in order to understand how labs operate. Having a
working knowledge of the scientific method makes for a smarter story.
Also, it is important to keep your options open. It is often better
to start out general, maybe not even writing science, and then specialize
as your career progresses. This is especially important advice for
people interested in newspapers.
"Newspapers are very tied to tradition," Mojica Rey cautions. "They're
not set up to take scientists." This means that journalism experience,
not necessarily science writing, will get you your first job at
Often, it is thought to be easier to teach reporters how to cover
science than it is to teach scientists to report. This is not something
everybody agrees on. Mojica Rey makes it very clear, though, that
being a "scientist first really helps."
Staying connected as a science writer means knowing about a few
important organizations. Mojica Rey suggests the National
Association of Science Writers (NASW) as an important resource.
She also points out the Council
for the Advancement of Science Writers (CASW). Their focus is
on educating writers about important science in progress, so that
reporters are educated about the topics before having to report
on the breakthrough while on a tight deadline.
Mojica Rey also recommends that writers should always be familiar
with publications. It is beneficial to see where science writers
are hired and keep that in mind when looking for internships and
jobs. There are a variety of general publications like the weekly
newsmagazines, but also more specialized press like Discover.
Mojica Rey also points to field-specific periodicals such as GeoTimes
as good sources with which to be familiar.
When assessing your skills and experiences, Mojica Rey says, "You
can always make up for what you don't have." She explains that if
you're lacking research experience, you can volunteer in a lab for
a while. And, if you don't have writing experience, there's always
someone who will let you write for free. There are ways of filling
in the gaps.
Mojica Rey emphasizes that young writers should keep writing and
getting experience. Look into various science writing programs.
There are several, including the ones already mentioned, at the
University of California at Santa Cruz, the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and
a new one at Duke University. She also suggests looking into NASW
for possible programs or internships. If having the science first
is not appealing, it is all right to go to journalism school and
pick up the science later on. But the moral of Mojica Rey's story
is that there are a lot of ways to become a science writer, and
everybody has to figure out their own path.
Journal of Young
Investigators. 2002. Volume Six.
Copyright © 2002 by Joshua Tusin and JYI. All rights reserved.