Students and mentors both benefit from 2021 NASW Perlman Virtual Mentoring Program

October 05, 2021

By Czerne Reid

Students and mentors in the 2021 NASW Mentoring Program say the experience was mutually rewarding. Mentors helped students explore careers in science communication and gain important science journalism skills. Students helped mentors improve their confidence as teachers and renew their enthusiasm for their work. Some mentors are retired, yet continued to graciously give their time. The program was an international affair, attracting students not just from U.S. states including Hawaii, but also from Mexico, Canada, Nigeria, Nepal, India, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. Mentors came from across the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand.

Here’s a sampling of feedback from this year’s participants:

The Perlman Mentoring Program introduced me to a great mentor who gave me feedback on writing my first ever science news story. I have been able to apply this knowledge to a current internship I have and can only say that it is rare to find such great one-on-one mentoring, because this is not always given in internships. I already had the internship before meeting my mentor, but I was able to perform better due to the advice my mentor gave me.
– Gabriela Beug, Undergraduate Biomedicine Major, Eberhard Karl University of Tubingen, Germany

I loved working with my students. They were bright, engaged and accomplished yet welcomed the opportunity to learn. This was my first official experience as a mentor, and it was incredibly rewarding to me to see their progress throughout the process. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to give back after having had such great science writing mentors myself.
– Shel Evergreen, Former Communications Specialist, City of Boulder; Freelance; Graduate Student, MIT Science Writing Program

Serving as a mentor in the Perlman program was highly rewarding. My mentee, who was in her early years of college, was very bright and motivated and asked wonderful questions, and it was exciting to help introduce her to the world of science journalism. I enjoyed helping her navigate the process of obtaining interviews for her story, and it was great to see her story progress from a very academic-sounding essay to a nicely done journalistic piece. Although making time for the mentorship was a challenge given my heavy other professional commitments that time of year, I found the experience very worthwhile. I look forward to staying in touch with my mentee and watching her career continue to develop.
– Barbara Gastel, Professor, Texas A&M University; Coordinator, Science and Technology Journalism Graduate Program

The NASW mentoring program helped me to become a better journalist. My overall reporting skills improved, and I learned how to dissect topics from different story angles, ensure diversity and inclusivity in stories, interview experts and identify good quotes from scientist talks and interviews. I also gained an increased understanding of science communication audiences and of some of the public health issues and diseases that are prevalent in my country. Through the program, my work was accepted for publication in Scientific American, and I look forward to more opportunities to publish in international outlets.
– Olagunju Abdulrahman, Physiology Student, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria

I was extremely impressed by the abilities and "go get 'em" attitude of my mentee — she relished challenges, was fearless about contacting scientists for interviews, and was all around a wonderful person to know. We had conversations about topics ranging from identifying good quotes to the finances of freelancing, and I was able to connect her with several new editors. She's since gone on to publish stories in Eos and Scientific American as a result of those introductions — I'm thrilled!
– Katherine Kornei, Freelance Science Writer

Working with my graduate-student mentee was a surprise and a delight. After a hiatus of five years from editorial work, particularly working with freelance writers, mentoring him helped me get back in the groove of finding and developing new voices for the magazine I edit. What's more, his background in the military gives him a perspective and life experience as a writer that I have not encountered previously. His record of published fiction and nonfiction work meant that we could start the mentoring program at the level of refining his pitches to specific editors, diving deeper into the skills of sourcing and reporting a feature-length story, and then developing a final piece of high-level professional writing. He was able to sell the article he worked on with me, and I am proud of his success. He has a bright future as a journalist and I look forward to reading more of his work.
– William Schulz, Managing Editor, Photonics Focus

I enjoyed talking to my mentee, though this year I wasn’t assigned someone who had planned to work on a story. I’ve gone over some pitches with her and hope to hear from her again as her career progresses!
– Sarah Lewin Fraser, Assistant News Editor, Scientific American

The Perlman Program was an incredible experience and I really connected with my mentor. He made himself so available and provided critically honest feedback. He really worked with closely to draft and eventually perfect my pitch for my story about carbon sequestration in California coastal wetlands. This pitch was eventually accepted for publication in Bay Nature and I am currently working on drafts with the editor. I will continue to communicate with my mentor throughout the rest of my time as a journalism student and I hope we can continue to foster this great professional relationship. I really enjoyed my experience and I look forward to any/more that NASW has to offer.
– Francisco Martinezcuello, Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley School of Journalism

The Perlman Program reaffirmed my passion for science writing and provided my first structured introduction to the field. As a science PhD student, I had no previous formal science writing training and this summer was a fantastic way to see what goes into writing, editing, and submitting a piece. I learned about an entirely new field of science through writing a piece about wildlife biology (I'm a geophysicist) and enjoyed interviewing a variety of scientists, park managers, and academics. My mentor was an incredible teacher, editor, and source of information; I cannot express enough gratitude for the amount of time and effort he put into my experience. Though he is an accomplished writer, he was patient, led me through the basics, and made himself available for meetings and editing drafts. Again, I am incredibly thankful for his mentorship and plan on going to him for advice in the future as I look for new science writing opportunities.
– Mackenzie White, Geophysics PhD student, Southern Methodist University, Texas

Being an NASW mentor has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. Throughout my 40-plus-year career as a science and medical communicator, I was privileged to benefit from the wisdom, insight, guidance and encouragement of mentors who helped me become a successful professional. The Perlman program gives me the opportunity to help prepare and train the next generation of science writers as my mentors did for me. Passing it forward is wonderfully satisfying, and the talented young writers I've been honored to assist have been terrific. It is tremendous watching their growth in just a few months. I hope to serve as an NASW mentor as many times as you'll have me. You don't even need to ask! Thank you, NASW, for the Perlman program and letting me participate in it.
– Michael Newman, Senior Media Relations Representative, Johns Hopkins Medicine

I used to teach journalism but have not been able to for a couple years during moves and the pandemic. It was therefore especially fulfilling and gratifying for me to be able to mentor a promising aspiring science journalist and help her in the way that so many of my own mentors, formally and informally, helped and supported me. I was impressed with my mentee's fantastic story ideas, with her dedication to improving her drafts and incorporating my feedback into them, and with her motivation to write a second story even after the program had formally concluded. I passed along her work to one of my editors and hope to pass along more because I genuinely believe she's producing great work that deserves an audience, and she's well on her way to a successful career in science journalism if that's where she wants to continue heading.
– Tara Haelle, Freelance Journalist and Author

When I joined the program, I had little or no idea about science journalism. Thanks to my mentor, I got introduced to the field. I learned the basics of science journalism from selecting a story, writing a pitch to an editor and finally doing interviews. I also gained knowledge on selecting quotes from a long interview. The experience has inspired me to explore more and apply the techniques I learned. One of the most important things I learned was that sometimes the smallest things matter the most, and that I should pay attention to each and every detail. I think I have made an important connection with my mentor, and in future would like to continue discussing my work with him.
– Anurag Kunar Srivastava, PhD student, University of Turin, Italy

This was my second year participating as a mentor in the NASW’s virtual Perlman program, and once again I found the experience enormously rewarding. Introducing enthusiastic newcomers to the field of science writing provides an excellent opportunity for questioning one’s own biases and reinvigorating techniques that may have gone stale from unthinking repetition. I learned a lot from my inquisitive and hard-working mentees, and look forward to supporting them in their science writing careers in future.
– Gilead Amit, Science Correspondent, The Economist

I loved participating as a mentor in the NASW Perlman Mentoring program. I was matched up with a graduate student who had some experience writing for a blog. It was wonderful to work with her and provide tips from a news perspective. We shaped her story idea into something very compelling and her feedback for me along the way was very helpful. At the same time, I was mentoring a few writers in my day job, so this experience helped boost my confidence as an editor. I also learned a lot working with the graduate student and appreciated talking with her about science communication.
– Mary Guiden, Science Writer, Colorado State University

I would say that the mentoring program taught me, as a mentor, just how much time it takes to really bring someone in from the ground up. My mentee was extremely eager and worked very hard, but I also realized that I put a good number of hours into it. We had at least four zoom meetings, and I also went behind him to make sure that he was accurate. I am proud of what he produced, and I think he got a good picture of what was involved in a piece of science journalism. I hope that it was a strong and positive learning experience for him.
– Bethany Brookshire, Freelancer

I had two mentees with differing levels of promise. One is in the early stages of interest in science writing and we have discussed, following the Perlman program, how she can acquire additional experience. The other is quite advanced and we are keen to learn whether her targeted outlet will accept her proposed story.
– Alex Witze, Freelance journalist and Correspondent, Nature

I have always been fascinated by science writing and communication, but never took steps to explore it before. The David Perlman program was a good start for me. It was a great experience to learn from a professional science writer. My mentor helped me learn the basics and techniques involved in writing a science news article.
– Malini Muthuraaj, PhD Student, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, India

My 2021 Perlman mentee was already a pretty good "fledgling" science writer when we connected because of her native skills and intelligence and her academic training (basic science in college and a master's in science writing). I had a wonderful time sharing my experiences and insights about (1) the art and craft of science journalism, (2) the art and craft of teaching, and (3) work-life balance during our first meet, and she had some very pointed and astute questions for me. My mentee elected to not write a news story for me to edit because (I think, if I recall correctly) she had just gotten a staff position on the tech desk of a prestigious publication, but she asked instead that I periodically take a look at her published pieces on Muckrack (including the ones she would be writing for her new job) and give her feedback as an experienced editor. Our mentor-mentee relationship is ongoing moving forward. I also enjoyed the adjudication process of the Perlman submissions (both rounds) and appreciate the privilege and opportunity of participating.
– Elliot Richman, Retired Science and Medical Writer and Editor

The Perlman Mentoring Program was a very positive experience for me. It was the first opportunity I had really had to share the ins and outs of science writing with a student. The student I worked with was eager to learn and wanted to do everything correctly. She worked really hard to get sources for her story and went out of her comfort zone asking some of those sources for interviews. She encountered one source who had a negative take on the research she chose to write about, so that gave us an opportunity to discuss what to do when that happens. It was a good learning experience for me as well, since I do this every day and don't really think about everything that is required until I'm explaining it to someone else who is doing it for the first time. It was a good way for me to learn to encourage along the way, rather than dive into editing mode, which is my default. All in all, it was a good experience for me, and I would like to participate again.
– Beth Miller, Senior Engineering Writer & Communications Specialist, Washington University in St. Louis

The Perlman Mentoring Program has helped me greatly as I consider whether I want to pursue a career in science writing or in science research. The academic world is amazing, but so specialized that it often does not allow time to consider other ways of approaching science. Through the program I was able to apply knowledge gained through my neuroscience PhD studies to write for general audiences about a topic outside of my immediate research area. I enjoyed thinking about story ideas and crafting a pitch, and thanks to my mentor I now have a clear idea of how I can start working toward a career in science writing. I learned about how science writing graduate programs can be beneficial, and how science writing conferences can help me connect with other science writers at various levels. My mentor also introduced me to some amazing science writers. I would say this program showed me a different slice of the science pie!
– Ana Paulina De las Peñas, Neuroscience PhD Student, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

During the mentoring program, I had two mentees. I really enjoyed working with them because they were very different. One had more experience writing for a general audience, and she had a strong preference for environmental, narrative writing. My other mentee is currently a scientist who is exploring science writing as a potential career. She didn't have as much writing experience for a general audience. It was fascinating learning about their interests, their strengths and weaknesses, and editing their work, because they were so different from each other! They were both eager to learn and I appreciated all their questions and hard work. I did encourage both of them to submit their stories to various publications.
– Joanna Wendell, Freelance Science Writer

I deeply enjoyed serving as a mentor. My mentee is a gifted, hard-working student and writer, and having her join my life is a blessing. Over the summer, we met for weekly Zooms, to talk over everything from story ideas and story edits, to how to handle finalist interviews for internships and fellowships. We are continuing to meet virtually and I hope we can meet in person one day.
– Jeanne Erdmann, Independent Journalist

During the Perlman program, my mentor and I worked to closely hone my article for publication. As an editorial wrangler based in the Wild West (well, at least the west that is now Oakland, California), he tweaked my title, lassoed my lede, and provided word-herding guidance about where to cut or expand factual background details. In the end, we corralled the article into a balanced, well-researched environmental success story. The article has been accepted by National Geographic. For nature lovers like myself, the Perlman program provided a unique opportunity in journalism to learn more about publishing articles with the aid of a ranahan-like mentor. Following the Perlman summer program, I received a David Perlman Mentoring Program Participant Mini-Grant from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to pay for my attendance at the ScienceWriters2021 conference this fall where I hope to continue to meet fellow science writers from around the nation.
– Shannon Bohle, Freelance

I think that the program helped me connect with a great mentor who I otherwise would not have met. Through the writing and editing process, I learned how to improve my writing, and also became more interested in a career in science journalism.
– Alia Sajani, PhD student Dartmouth

The Perlman program has been a fantastic opportunity to interact with talented, enthusiastic early-career science writers and to pay forward a fraction of the mentoring that I have received throughout my career. During the summer 2021 program I worked with a writer who is a graduate student in science writing, and the program represented her first opportunity to write a science news story for publication. She and I spent a lot of time talking about key considerations in reporting and writing news stories, such as how to identify the most important questions to ask sources, how to find good outside sources, and how to write about a study done in mice in a responsible way. My mentee eagerly absorbed all that we talked about and did a terrific job with her piece. She hopes to pitch a spin-off of the piece to a magazine aimed at young audiences.
– Siri Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief, The Open Notebook

I entered the virtual conference meeting, clicked on a small circular table covered with a white cloth, and hoped for the best. Thankfully, that's exactly what I got. A pixelated rendering of my mentor, a media relations specialist at a national laboratory, appeared on my laptop screen. She greeted me with a warm smile followed by inquiries about my personhood, interests, and career goals. This was the beginning of a series of meetings that ultimately helped me gain a clearer sense of how to plan for campaigns, pitches, and future writing endeavors. My mentor was always gracious enough to listen to my ramblings, somehow comprehending them and providing on-point feedback at every turn. Though I did not opt to write and publish a story through this program, my mentor helped me conceptualize and plan for some major writing assignments from my Johns Hopkins University Science Writing M.A. course. I am so grateful to the Perlman program for granting me the opportunity to meet such an accomplished and helpful individual. This is a mentorship I hope will extend beyond the program, as I know she is a great resource and support I can count on when in need of some sage advice or a second opinion on my writing or pitching.
– Lisa Aubry, Science Writing Graduate Student, Johns Hopkins University

I really enjoyed being a mentor in the Perlman program. It helped me return to some of the building blocks of news stories and realize both how far I've come and how much there is to learn. I also realized that I have a lot of resources to help others, in terms of ideas about other mentorship/internship programs, books, courses, and contacts in the science writing world. I was happy to share these with my mentee because people have been so generous in helping me along the way.
– Cameron Walker, Freelance

I enjoyed my experience as a mentor in the Perlman program. I'm roughly six years into my science journalism career and have benefitted greatly from reading and listening to more experienced writers. It was good to have a chance to pay it forward. I was paired with a PhD-level scientist who wanted to learn how to better explain her own work. As someone who usually reports on rather than alongside scientists, it was eye-opening to see the journalistic process from her perspective and useful to try to explain the different approaches that different forms of communication require (explainers vs. news articles vs. press releases vs. talks, etc.). It's rare to get an opportunity to step back like that, and it was rewarding to feel like I had a perspective that could be valuable to her as well.
– Cara Giaimo, Freelance