Students: Apply Now for 2006 SIAM/AAAS Media Fellowships in Science and Technology

November 20, 2005

Each summer, a select group of math, science, and engineering students spend ten weeks working at national newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations. As AAAS Mass Media Fellows, the students learn first-hand how research advances in their disciplines are (or aren't) turned into mainstream news stories and programs. SIAM participates in the program by supporting one fellow each year.

If you're a graduate student in the mathematical/computational sciences and you think this sounds like an exciting way to spend a summer, go to http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia and check out the details; you can also download an application form at the Web site (a separate application is not required for SIAM support; AAAS forwards materials from likely candidates to SIAM). The application deadline for summer 2006 fellowships is January 15, 2006, but it's not too early to start planning. Required materials, in addition to a resume, transcripts, and letters of recommendation, include a short writing sample (two to three pages--technical papers not acceptable).

Previous SIAM-supported fellows have gone on to success in a variety of careers. Sara Robinson, whose articles appear regularly in SIAM News, spent ten weeks in 1998 at the Dallas Morning News and now divides her time between freelance journalism and graduate study.

Ian Mitchell, now an assistant professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia, spent the summer of 1999 at The Chicago Tribune. "Researching and writing for a daily newspaper is a world away from the academic activities with the same names," he says. "But I learned some lessons better there than I could have anywhere else. First, the quick collection of information from people, who can tell you the key ideas better and faster than any amount of reading. Second, a writing style that still receives commendations from academic reviewers, even if they sometimes disagree with my results.

"Finally, confidence that the academic's life is the one for me, although I should say that many of the other fellows from my year decided the opposite. I may not have done any new research, but I have never had such a personally productive ten weeks, and I look back fondly on my summer in Chicago as I rush between classes and committee meetings today."

With enthusiasm undiminished after two years, Angela Vierling-Claassen, now a preceptor of mathematics at Harvard University, looks back at her ten weeks at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the summer of 2003: "Before I walked through the doors of the Post-Dispatch, I had never even been inside a newsroom. Less than a week later, I had my first byline and I was out in the city, interviewing a physician at St. Louis University and watching a cadaver undergo hip replacement surgery.

"Some days, I worked on stories that would appear in the paper a week or two later. I might go out to a local university or hospital to interview a researcher. I often interviewed government officials, corporate representatives, or scientists in different parts of the country over the phone as I pieced together my story. I would keep my editor apprised of my progress, and would give her the draft when it was finally done. She would tell me that it needed more color, a different perspective, or perhaps that it should be only half as long! I might work with the art department to develop graphics or head out with a photographer to get some photos of science in action.

"Other days, I worked on deadline. This was stressful, but was easily the most exciting part of the job. I once got a story about a local viral outbreak at around 4:30 PM and it was due at the copy desk by 6:00 PM. As I frantically scrambled to get interviews with local and national health officials, I also had to piece together an understanding of the virus, the outbreak, and what it meant to the local community.

"I learned about Mars from a lead scientist on one of the rovers that went up that summer. I followed a 2300-mile solar car race at a distance, talking with the race teams each evening about the racing day and their cars' designs. I talked extensively with researchers working on everything from supercooling of metals to how mathematics can be used to screen for deafness in infants. The best thing about being a reporter was having the ability to call anyone, ask them anything at all, and have my questions answered with enthusiasm."

One of the best aspects of the program for SIAM is knowing that enthusiastic former fellows, working in a variety of settings, are part of a growing pool of articulate, creative, knowledgeable people who can increase understanding and appreciation of the mathematical sciences.


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