Bringing a "fresh” perspective to welcome events at ScienceWriters annual meetings

Story by Nora Bradford
Photography by Nora Bradford and Ankita Arora

A conference full of unfamiliar faces can be intimidating. Two science writers are trying to fix that — beginning with the ScienceWriters2023 national meeting during its in-person portion, hosted in Colorado.

Shortly after arriving in Boulder from around the world, first-timer attendees gathered in the setting sunlight for a new conference event, the “Fresh Faces” meetup.

“People ask how you know everyone — and it’s from events like this,” said Ben Young Landis, Assistant Executive Director of the National Association of Science Writers.

NASW Assistant Executive Director Ben Young Landis makes opening remarks at the Oct. 6 Fresh Faces networking social during ScienceWriters2023. (Ankita Arora for NASW)

Organized by two NASW member volunteers — NASA Goddard Space Flight Center writing intern and Johns Hopkins University graduate student Angel Kumari and The Desert Sun environmental reporter Erin Rode — the series of Fresh Faces meetups brought attendees together three times: once virtually before the conference, in-person before the opening reception, and in-person on the last day. They were meant to welcome newcomers to the conference and encourage informal connections. Rode and Kumari designed these events in concert with NASW Vice President Sandeep Ravindran in his capacity as Programs Chair for this year’s NASW annual meeting sessions.

“We used our experiences and what we felt was lacking as a first timer because it was both of our first times last year at ScienceWriters2022 in Memphis,” said Kumari. “We used all of those experiences, and not finding people to talk to, and not having a space. We tried to bridge that gap by using our experiences to be the foundation of whatever we create here.”

During the virtual pre-conference session, Kumari and Rode gave helpful advice about what to expect from the conference and how to prepare. “I hope that everyone attending the conference gets the same positive experience that I got,” said Kumari at the beginning of the session. Kumari and Rode also gave advice about what to bring to the conference as a first timer. They suggested business cards and something to take notes with. More importantly, they advised attendees to come with a couple goals in mind for the conference as well as story ideas to “shoot your shot” with editors.

Then attendees broke off into groups to meet each other, chat about what they were looking forward to at the conference, and ask questions.

At the in-person event on Friday evening before the Boulder opening reception, attendees started mingling in small groups immediately after arriving. “Science writers are good at not being intimidating,” reflected Ashley Atkinson, another science writing student at Johns Hopkins University, after the event.

First-time attendees mingle with NASW board members and other ScienceWriters2023 registrants at the Oct. 6 Fresh Faces networking social. (Nora Bradford for NASW)

Some even ran into familiar faces they didn’t expect to see. “We accidentally ran into people we had classes with,” said Sarah Aldrich, a classmate of Atkinson.

“I walked in and realized there are so many people here — and I would hedge a bet that a lot of them don’t know what they’re doing either. It was fun to meet a lot of people who are interested in a lot of the same things I’m interested in, and were able to talk about the interesting things that they were doing,” added Aldrich.

During the final meetup on Monday afternoon — the “Fresh Faces Regroup” — more than twenty newbies gathered in a circle and each discussed their reflections on the conference. The organizers hoped this event would give participants a chance to start processing their experiences at the conference and crystalize some of the connections they made at the other two meetups.

Many voices around the circle expressed their gratitude for the “Brain Management for Freelancers” NASW workshop session, with Rode adding that she has “a whole list of to-do list apps to try, tactics to not be distracted, and accountability buddies and things like that” thanks to that session. Others shared that their favorite sessions were the “Pursuing Investigative Stories as a Science Writer” NASW workshop session; plus the Lunch with a Scientist events and various field trips hosted by the University of Colorado.

Moreover, everyone seemed to agree that meeting new people was the main perk of the conference. “I’m surprised how many queer science writers I’ve met and I can say that because (wiggling rainbow colored fingernails) I’m queer myself,” said Donovan Cronkhite, a science writer with NeuWrite San Diego, during the final Fresh Faces session.

“I find that the Fresh Faces events have gone really well,” reflected Kumari. “They've been on the informal side, which I think helps people communicate with one another. Once you are so formal, it's kind of hard to make those connections.”

The green ribbons highlighting first-time attendees can be seen on ScienceWriters2023 conference badges worn at the Oct. 6 Fresh Faces networking social. (Ben Young Landis/NASW)

Nora Bradford ( is a freelance science writer and PhD student in cognitive science at UC Irvine. Her work has been featured in Scientific American, Science News, Discover, and other outlets.

Ankita Arora (LinkedIn) is a freelance science writer and formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Her work has been featured in ASBMB Today, Scientific American, Colorado Sun, and other outlets. She is a science communication and policy enthusiast focusing on diversity, health, and immigration solutions.

This ScienceWriters2023 conference coverage article was produced as part of the NASW Conference Support Grant awarded to Bradford and Arora to attend the ScienceWriters2023 national conference. Find more 2023 conference coverage at

A co-production of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the ScienceWriters2023 national conference featured an online portion Sept. 26-Oct. 3, followed by an in-person portion held in Boulder and Anschutz, Colo., Oct. 6-10. Learn more at and follow the conversation on social media at #SciWri23

Credits: Reporting by Nora Bradford; edited by Ben Young Landis. Photography by Nora Bradford and Ankita Arora; edited by Ben Young Landis