Regional Groups

ScienceWriters conferences may only happen once a year, but NASW members can find community in a regional science writers group all year round. These local professional networks—organized independently of NASW but often led by NASW members—provide exciting opportunities for bonding, learning, and sharing our common love for science writing.

Regional Updates

Appalachian Science Communicators
(@AppSciWri)

Much like everything else, our fledgling AppSciComm group went fully virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had planned our first professional development workshop in the summer of 2020, supported in part by an NASW Peggy Girshman Idea grant, as well as a “cave science” tour. We postponed both events indefinitely, and our core organizing team instead focused our efforts on developing a virtual speaker series. We are pleased to say that the speaker series has been quite successful, with six virtual events attracting more than 150 attendees in total. Our speakers spanned a wide range of interests and expertise, including:

• Lizzie Presser, ProPublica, on why Black Americans are losing limbs at three times the rate of whites • Jon Cohen, Science magazine, on covering COVID-19 • Ruby Mendenhall, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on designing resiliency and well being • Kathleen Davis from NPR’s Science Friday, on all things audio journalism • Curtis Marean, from Arizona State University, on searching for the origins of modern human behavior • Denise Cetta and Katie Brennan, CBS 60 Minutes producers, on communicating complex science topics for a broad audience across the nation.

Recorded videos from our events are on our YouTube channel at bit.ly/sw21sum30.

We also joined DCSWA for a joint happy hour on April 13, 2021. This year, we plan on continuing our virtual speaker series with more exciting speakers lined up through the summer and fall, and are planning a virtual science trivia night for our members. We are also exploring the possibility of filing for a 501c3 status to help raise funds and expand our programming.

—Arvind Suresh, Representative

Austin Texas Science Writers
(@atxsciwri)

ATXSciWri has been keeping busy with virtual happy hours and events since November 2020. In December, our Zoom holiday party brought our members together to connect, catch up, play games, and win some fabulous door prizes. In the months since, we’ve continued to experiment with our happy hour format. These meet-ups now feature not only games but regular “10-minute skill shares,” in which an invited speaker shares how they do what they do and offers tips for other science communicators. We continue to inform members about upcoming events and learning opportunities through our newsletter. In January, for example, we gathered resources for members eager to learn more about anti-racist efforts in science communications through reading and webinars.

n February, we joined the D.C. Science Writers Association (DCSWA) for a delightful joint happy hour. (We especially appreciated DCSWA’s innovative use of a non-Zoom platform—hooray!— called Gather Town so members of both groups could meet and mingle online.) Our book club continues to thrive, as members of our group as well as the wider community meet once a month to discuss the latest ATXSciRead. The group has been exploring both fiction—such as Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse about an aspiring mathematician—and nonfiction—such as Jane Goodall’s Through a Window. Learn more by visiting our Instagram account @atxsciwri.

We’ve also used the last few months to connect with and mentor students in Central Texas. In January, several members spoke to the Texas A&M chapter of the American Chemical Society about careers in science communication. And in April, Nika Sarraf, ATXSciWri’s student board member organized a science communications ‘speed mentoring’ event, inviting high school and college students to connect with and learn from Austin-area science writers, artists, and educators. In light of challenges related to the pandemic, we opted to delay our fall board elections and plan to have them this summer. We’re also looking forward to getting together in person once again

—Daisy Yuhas, Board Member

Capital Science Communicators
(@CapSciComm)

The last six months have been full of virtual activities for CapSciComm. After the new board got our footing in late 2020, we began to test out several types of events for our members. We tested an event called “5 Minute Science,” where speakers practiced giving short science talks (including awesome topics like how to age whales from “tree rings” in their earwax). We held our second movie night, with a viewing of the documentary “Behind the Curve” and discussion about Flat-Earthers, strongly held beliefs, and the limits of data in science communication. (“My Octopus Teacher” was shown in late November during our first movie night.) We also continued with more classic networking socials, including a holiday party where we had a talk on what lichens have to do with Christmas, cut out science-themed paper snowflakes, and shared our favorite examples of science communication from 2020. In April, we celebrated CapSciComm’s 8th birthday with a virtual party and 8-themed science trivia (how much do you know about spiders, squids, the phases of the moon, and V8 juice?).

On May 25, we hosted a lunchtime event called SciComm Dreams for people to share their ideas for future science writing and science communication projects. By sharing ideas, people got feedback, inspiration, and potential collaborators. Then, in early June, we hosted Faith Kearns, author of the exciting new science communication book Getting to the Heart of Science Communication, for a guided conversation about the complexities of modern science communication and how the field has changed.

Finally, over the past several months we conducted our first membership survey, gathering data on who our members are and what they are looking for from the organization. The survey results thus far have inspired new event ideas and guided our planning for all events.

—Allie Weill, Board President

DC Science Writers Association
(@DCSWA)

DCSWA held a variety of virtual events in recent months. We miss seeing everyone in person, but with the vaccine rollout in the D.C. area progressing swiftly, we are looking forward some small in-person events starting in summer 2021, with appropriate precautions.

In November, we hosted a panel discussing how to serve more diverse audiences with science writing. Panelists discussed some reasons why audiences for science publications may tend to skew white, and how to address that. (Video of this panel and most of our other virtual events are available on DCSWA’s YouTube channel.)

We held our first virtual watch party in March, a communal viewing of an episode of the Netflix docuseries “Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything,” using the app Teleparty. A Q&A with host Latif Nasser and showrunner David Mettler followed the viewing. We hope to host more virtual watch parties in the future. In April, we had a three-part, intensive workshop on making science videos. Tiên Nguyễn and Helen Thompson led the workshop, which took participants from absolute newbies to creating their own videos in less than a month. An NASW Peggy Girshman Idea Grant made this workshop possible.

Our monthly virtual happy hours provided DCSWA members a venue for socializing, and although it’s not as satisfying as having a drink together in person, there’s been a bright spot: We’ve been able to connect with far-flung colleagues by inviting other regional groups to join us, including SCONC, ATXSciWri, and AppSciComm. In December, we held our annual holiday party virtually on GatherTown, a video-calling space with the vibe of a classic video game.

We awarded our 12th annual Newsbrief awards this April. In the writing category, the prize went to Jonathan Lambert, with honorable mentions to Michael Greshko and Asher Jones. In the multimedia category Prabarna Ganguly and Harriet Bailey earned top prize, and honorable mentions went to Asher Jones and Theresa Machemer. In March, in light of violent attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we put out a statement condemning racism and hatred toward Asians. In April, outgoing president Rachael Lallensack “passed the duck” to incoming president Emily Conover. Our new vice president is Richard Sima, and new treasurer is Samantha Jones. Bruce Lee is staying on as our social media chair, and Chris Crockett remains our social events chair. In May we held an open board meeting to recruit new board members, and are currently in the process of adding new members and officers to the board. Our virtual Professional Development Month, a new pandemic tradition, was in June.

—Emily Conover, President

Northwest Science Writers Association
(@NSWA)

NSWA events from December 2020 to May 2021 reflect our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, as well as our continued efforts to connect with other journalism organizations. All events were online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed us to welcome panelists from outside the Pacific Northwest whose perspectives we might not have otherwise heard. It also meant that people could attend from anywhere, and as our events remain mostly online through the summer and fall, we hope that science writers from outside the region will continue to join us.

In January we welcomed a new board: president Ashley Braun, vice president Ellen Kuwana, treasurer Mark Harris, secretary James Gaines, and at-large board members Mara Grunbaum, David Mills, Tom Rickey, Chris Tachibana, and Hannah Weinberger. We’re encouraging potential new members to take advantage of our discounted student rate of $20/year or our general member hardship rate of $1/year if they’re interested in joining. A virtual tour of Seattle and Portland’s urban geology took place December 14, 2020. Local author, naturalist, and former NSWA president David B. Williams led several dozen members on a virtual walk (aided by illustrations and photos) that explored the stones used in buildings in Seattle and Portland. Attendees saw everything from 3.5-billion-year-old gneiss to 120,000-year-old travertine, fossils the size of cinnamon rolls, and rock used by the Romans to build the Colosseum. Williams interwove history, transportation, and architecture to give us a new way to appreciate urban geology.

Our holiday party and annual member meeting was held January 7, 2021. The virtual conference platform Remo allowed us to mix presentations and entertainment with virtual “tables” where members could network and chat. The program included a talk from a master brewer and beer archaeologist, a video tour of a cannabis micro-grow operation in Seattle, and a set from the hilarious science comedian Brian Malow. We also toasted the incoming board and announced the winners of the 2020 Best of the Northwest Science Writing Awards. In the journalism category, Virginia Gewin won for her story “Raising nature on Florida ranchlands”, published in bioGraphic, and Lynne Peeples took honorable mention for her story “What if this coronavirus lockdown is only the beginning?” published in The Daily Beast. In the institutional writing category, Rachel Tompa was the winner for her story “This is what it’s like to donate your brain to science” for the Allen Institute, and Susan Keown received an honorable mention for her story “Numbers don’t lie, but sometimes our brains do” for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. We’re very proud of all our members’ great work!

The Next Step: Panel Discussion and Mentoring For Aspiring Professional Writers & Journalists was held January 15, 2021 (video available at bit.ly/sw21sum31). This free, virtual, student-focused career event was co-sponsored by NSWA, the Asian American Journalists Association Seattle, and the Seattle Association of Black Journalists. The event began with a panel of five local journalists and communications professionals working in different fields, including science, sports, politics, and social justice. Student participants then attended two different breakout sessions where they could chat with journalists and communications professionals in a variety of fields. The event drew 110 student participants and 26 volunteer mentors, and we hope it will pave the way for more partnerships with our fellow local journalism organizations.

NSWA’s spring trivia night on February 27, 2021, was once again a hit. NSWA secretary James Gaines reprised his role as quizmaster, used Zoom breakout rooms for team deliberation, and collected answers through Google Forms. About 30 people participated, and a good time was had by all.

Telling Stories: on Culturally Responsive Artificial Intelligence took place online on March 18, 2021 (video available at bit.ly/sw21sum32). NSWA treasurer Mark Harris led a discussion of a new book, Telling Stories, recently published by the University of Washington Tech Policy Lab. The book explores how artificial intelligence is affecting cultures, countries, and communities around the world. It collects 19 short stories from authors, academics, and activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas in a unique experiment to shift perspective and spark discussion. Speakers at our event included the founders of UW’s Tech Policy Lab, Ryan Calo and Batya Friedman, and we were very excited to have featured author Nnenna Nwakanma of the World Wide Web Foundation join us from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 25 people registered to attend.

NSWA’s 2021 Mentorship and Accountability Partner Program Kick-off was held March 31. This program, now in its second year, pairs up NSWA members with similar interests to learn more about their fields, set goals, and advance their careers. This year, in addition to mentor/mentee relationships, we also arranged accountability partner relationships for peers who wanted to help each other stay aware of their goals and stay on track. We’re excited to have 38 people participating in the all-volunteer program—nearly 20% of NSWA’s total membership. The kick-off event was attended by 19 people and included a short presentation by the organizers with tips and tricks for a successful mentorship or accountability relationship, a Q&A with the organizers, and optional time in breakout rooms for pairs to get to know each other.

Our most popular NSWA event of the year so far, the Panel on Inclusive and Bias-Free Language in Science Writing, was held on April 29 (video available at bit. ly/sw21sum33). Board member Chris Tachibana brought together a panel of experts to discuss best practices for writing and editing using inclusive, unbiased, non-stereotyping language about racial and ethnic identification, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic and education status, age, physical ability, and more. Our panelists were Chelsea Lee, a content development manager on the American Psychological Association style team; Pauly Denetclaw, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, board member for the Native American Journalists Association, and Indigenous affairs reporter for the Texas Observer; and Naomi Ishisaka, the assistant managing editor for diversity, inclusion, and staff development and the social justice columnist for The Seattle Times. More than 60 people live-streamed the free event, and more than 100 so far have viewed the publicly available recording.

—Mara Grunbaum, NSWA Board Member

San Diego Science Writers Association
(@SANDSWA2)

SANDSWA continues to grow and expand, despite the pandemic limiting in-person events. The SANDSWA book club, organized by board member Laura Trethewey, welcomed numerous award-winning authors including Steffanie Strathdee (The Perfect Predator), Caitlin O’Connell (Wild Rituals), Bonnie Tsui (Why We Swim) and Ainissa Ramirez (The Alchemy of Us) to our virtual meetings. Board member Monica May founded the SANDSWA Social Justice in Science Writing Club, which provides a space where members can listen, learn, and support each other in order to take action to make the world a more equitable and just place. In April, the club welcomed Jessica H. Marshall from Chemical & Engineering News for a conversation about the publication’s diversity, equity, inclusion and respect efforts. We are also in the process of adding diversity resources to our website.

SANDSWA also partnered with San Diego State University’s Center for Science and Media to co-host a webinar on Decolonizing Science Writing. A recording of the event can be viewed at bit.ly/sw21sum34. Board member Mike Price hosted an April Fools’ Trivia night which was a huge success, and board member Jared Whitlock started a new series called the Story Behind the Story, which explores how science writers come up with a story and get published. NASW board member Ramin Skibba will speak at the next event.

The SANDSWA mentorship program, which pairs experienced science writers with those who are new to the field, continues to grow and welcomed many new science writers, while the SANDSWA blog (sandswa.org/blog) was revived with new posts from club members and board members alike.
This summer, we will be debuting an award series for both short and long-form pieces to honor our talented members. The winner of the student writing category will have their admission to the ScienceWriters conference—either in-person or virtual—paid for by SANDSWA.

—Brittany Fair, President
& Patricia Fernandez, Vice President

Science Communicators of North Carolina
(@SCONC)

SCONC hosted multiple virtual events during the pandemic to offer opportunities for networking, professional development, and community building. On November 23, 2020 SCONC hosted a joint happy hour with the DC Science Writers Association (DCSWA), in which SCONC board member Karl Bates debuted the much-anticipated ‘SCONCtail’ recipe, a concoction that he says “looks odd, smells strongly, and leaves a lasting impression. That’s the SCONC.”

On December 17, 2020, SCONC hosted its annual holiday party! Even though this beloved tradition was virtual, SCONC still received a lot of positive feedback and lifted the spirits of more than 25 participants during a tumultuous year. During this event, which was organized by board member Tamara Poles, participants created an official SCONC holiday cocktail, participated in a cookie decorating contest, played multiple festive games, and ended the event with an ugly sweater competition. Winners of the cookie decorating and ugly sweater contests received a gift card to a local restaurant. It was a wonderful way to end the year with a greatly needed smile.

In January 2021, Katie Stember stepped down from the SCONC board. After a call for applications, SCONC filled its two board vacancies in March, welcoming Michelle Jewell, chief science communicator for the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University, and Checo Rorie, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Biology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. SCONC also revitalized its internship program, and welcomed intern Amanda Rosillo, a fourth-year PhD student in evolutionary anthropology at Duke. While receiving mentoring from Fenella Saunders and Karl Bates, Rosillo will assist SCONC with reporting and live-tweeting of events, a weekly Twitter takeover, a SCONC book review round-up, and updating the website. In April, SCONC participated in the North Carolina Science Fest by hosting a Science in the Movies night held in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Participants watched the movie The Martian, and then listened in as Rachel Smith, head of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab and Curator of Meteorites at NCMNS, and Marsha Gordon, professor of film studies at North Carolina State University, examined the science (and the art of filming!) of how people could exist on Mars.

SCONC also continued to support a series of monthly virtual pizza lunches featuring scientific talks co-sponsored with Sigma Xi and organized by board member Fenella Saunders. Topics over the past six months included art’s power to solve environmental problems; the connection between drought, electric power systems, air quality, and human health; difficult questions about race and science; environmental justice and Southeast Raleigh; and preparing for tomorrow’s pandemics today.

In Spring 2021, two SCONC members were awarded SCONC grants to attend virtual conferences: Adele Musicant attended AAAS, and Ashley Mayrianne Robbins attended the Association of Zoos and Aquariums meeting.

—Lindsay Key, Board Secretary

Science Writers Association of the Rocky Mountains
(@SciWriRockies)

SWARM continued its recent re-launch with a sold-out panel in February on the nuts and bolts of running a freelance business, featuring Rocky Mountain freelancers Christie Aschwanden, Ula Chrobak, and Catherine Dold. The discussion included tips on budget and finance, on repurposing story ideas for multiple outlets, and on generally maximizing freelance success. Other planned events include a discussion of how art can facilitate science communication.

We are also strategizing for participating in the ScienceWriters2021 meeting, which will have an in-person component in Colorado. SWARM is excited to welcome science writers who plan to travel to the annual conference.

—Alexandra Witze, President

Science Writers In New York
(@SWINY)

SWINY co-chairs David Levine and Joe Bonner continued their interview series on Zoom, with Levine as the interviewer and Bonner as the producer. Check out their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ScienceWritersNYC, which was enhanced by a Peggy Girshman Idea Grant from NASW to upgrade the recording equipment.

Among the interviews with journalists were three journalists from Europe, Yves Sciama Birgit Voigt, and Eva Wolfangel (all Knight Fellowship winners), who spoke about the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Europe. Levine also spoke to Josh Fischman, senior editor, Scientific American, and investigative journalist and Vanity Fair contributing editor Katherine Eban. She spoke on “From Hydroxychloroquine to Convalescent Plasma: How the Trump White House Nearly Ruined the FDA Through Magical Thinking About Science and Therapeutics to ‘Cure’ COVID-19.”

Among the interviews with authors were Sherry Turkle, author of The Empathy Diaries; Carl Zimmer, author of Life’s Edge; and Liz Heinecke, author of Radiant: The Dancer, The Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light.

—David Levine, SWINY Co-Chair

Southwest Science Writers Association
(@WritersScience)

SWSWA gave out its second annual awards at a ceremony with Alex Witze, president of SWARM, speaking about the value of belonging to a science writing organization. In the category of Visual Communication: Brenda Fleming, covers of National Security Science —The judges liked this because of the professional quality of this work with innovative ideas in cover design, blending scientific history and art.

In the category of Short Form Writing: Virginia Grant, “The Mystery Flash that Changed Astrophysics”, National Security Science—Virginia Grant’s powerful lede prepares the reader for a remarkable learning experience. In clear, compelling language, she succinctly explains how Los Alamos scientists observed an extraordinary event occurring in outer space in the 1960s, the significance of that event, and what it means for research at the lab today. In the category of Long Form Writing: Joan Meiners, “Life After Death,” Discover—Joan Meiner gives the phrase “life after death” a whole new meaning in her Discover article of the same name. In her fascinating, informative piece, she explains how modern methods of disposing of our dead actually harm the natural environment. Her discussion of emerging, greener options for handling dead bodies opens up an entirely new world for readers; one that offers the opportunity to actually nourish the Earth, rather than deplete it.

Long Form Honorable Mention: Eleanor Hutterer, “To the Ends of the Earth,” 1663—Eleanor Hutterer sets the stage for a dramatic tale of arctic science with the story of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle that carried Charles Darwin on his famous voyages, and early pioneer of modern meteorology. In taking the reader from FitzRoy’s groundbreaking weather research to the advanced technology currently deployed in the barren spans of the Arctic Ocean, Hutterer’s poetic and dynamic turn of phrase breathes life into the story of scientists braving some of the harshest conditions on the planet to gather the data we need in order to understand the global climate, today and in the crucial years to come.In the coming year, SWSWA will now be hosting a series of monthly virtual networking meetings so that all of the SWSWA members can meet, share ideas, and engage regularly on science communication topics. We’ve come together virtually a few times over the past year, in a Pictionary night, a movie night, and our annual holiday happy hour, but we hope that regular meetings will allow everyone to make SWSWA a regular high point in the calendar.

—Martha Heil, Board President

Send Regional Groups submissions to Martha Heil and Ellen Kuwana at speakers@sciwricongress.org.

Aug. 18, 2021

Biedler Price for Cancer Journalism