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Professional Development Day 2016

April 2, 2016 @ 8:15 am - 5:00 pm

Professional Development Day, a full-day professional development event for science writers, has been DCSWA’s signature event since 2006. This year, more than 150 science reporters, PIOs, editors, radio and video producers and freelancers gathered for a fun and exciting day of networking and skill-building!

See tweets from the @DCSWA Prof Dev Day online #DCSWA16

See PDD scholars’ writeups of PDD 2016 sessions

See a photo gallery from PDD 2016

*** The grid for the day is below, followed by session descriptions and speakers.

Time Event Auditorium Revelle Abelson
8:15 – 9:00 a.m. REGISTRATION and BREAKFAST

Sign-up for a 15-minute slot at the main registration table.

9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Welcome and Newsbrief Award Presentation
9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Morning Plenary:
Deborah Blum, MIT
10:45 a.m. – Noon Breakout Sessions Investigative journalism Tweet this, Instagram that Giving voice to the voiceless
Noon – 2:00 p.m. LUNCH and second plenary: Curt Guyette
2:15 – 3:30 p.m. Breakout Sessions Being a discerning reporter Beyond blogs: Be a better PIO Interview techniques
3:45 – 5:00 p.m. Breakout Sessions Writing for alternative markets From ideas to books Pitch slam
1101 K St NW
Washington, DC


8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.     REGISTRATION AND BREAKFAST

Sign up for pitch slam at this time.


Sign-up for a 15-minute slot with Amy Leighton, “All Resume Writing Service,” at the main registration table.


9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.     WELCOME AND NEWSBRIEF AWARD PRESENTATION in Auditorium

9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.     PLENARY SESSION in Auditorium

How to start a magazine in just 10 months (what’s smart and what’s not)

Deborah Blum, MIT Knight Science Journalism Program

Deborah Blum will use her new magazine, UnDark, as a focus to talk about about the challenges of starting a magazine – from ethical to financial – to the way it reflects her own sense of importance about investigative journalism and science history, which will allow her to talk a little about her own work.

Deborah Blum is a science journalist and director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is also publisher of the recently launched online magazine UnDark. She is author of numerous books, including The Poisoner’s Handbook, published in 2010, and has been a columnist for the New York Times and a blogger for Wired, among other positions. As science writer for the Sacramento Bee, Blum wrote a series of articles examining the professional, ethical, and emotional conflicts between scientists who use animals in their research and animal rights activists who oppose that research. The series won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

10:45 a.m. – Noon         BREAKOUT SESSIONS

How to do great investigative science journalism


This panel will discuss how to do great investigative science stories – how to move from pitch to story, translate research into visual narratives, and build productive relationships with investigators. The panel will also look at new developments in investigative journalism, plus techniques and tools that will make it possible for more freelancers to do investigative reporting.

Deborah Blum, MIT Knight Science Journalism Program
David Hoffman, Washington Post and PBS FRONTLINE
Doug Pasternak, Chief Investigator, Democratic Staff, Subcommittee on Oversight Committee on Science, Space & Technology, U.S. House of Representatives

Moderator: Louise Lief, American University

Rick Young has been working with FRONTLINE since the early ’90s, reporting on a wide array of subjects — including the environment, politics, business and public health — for more than 20 PBS documentaries. In 2009, Young launched a production partnership between FRONTLINE and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at The American University in Washington, D.C. Prior to turning to journalism, he spent six years as an investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives.

David Hoffman is a contributing editor at the Washington Post. He covered the White House during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and was subsequently diplomatic correspondent and Jerusalem correspondent. From 1995-2001 he served as Moscow bureau chief, and later as foreign editor and assistant managing editor for foreign news. He has been a PBS FRONTLINE correspondent for three documentaries focusing on public health issues. He is the author of three books. His second book, The Dead Hand, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

Doug Pasternak is staff director and chief investigator for the Democratic Staff of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology. He has led dozens of investigations centered on science, technology, homeland security and environmental public health issues. Pasternak is a former Emmy award-winning investigative reporter and producer at U.S. News & World Report magazine and NBC Nightly News, where he specialized in national security investigations.

Louise Lief is Scholar-in-Residence at American University School of Communication/Investigative Reporting Workshop. She is founder of the Science and the Media Project and a DCSWA board member.

Giving voice to the voiceless in science writing


The Society for Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics tells us to “give voice to the voiceless.” How can we do that as science writers who often rely on factors like scientific credentials and peer-reviewed publications to determine who is an authority on a subject? Whose voices are we leaving out, and how can we include them? A reporter, a public relations professional and a public health specialist will provide diverse perspectives on how all members of the science writing community can better amplify under-represented voices in today’s media.

Marissa Evans, reporter, CQ Roll Call
Curt Guyette, reporter, ACLU of Michigan
Coimbra Sirica
, vice president, global, Burness
Sacoby Wilson, assistant professor, University of Maryland School of Public Health

Moderator: Gabriel Popkin, freelance

Marissa Evans is ​the state ​health​ policy​ reporter for CQ where she writes about how state governments are tackling the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid/CHIP,  reproductive health and other public health issues. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, Civil Eats, Cosmo for Latinas, NBC BLK, The Washington Post, Poynter.org and other publications. A native of San Diego, Calif., she graduated from Marquette University with a B.A. in journalism.

Curt Guyette‘s bio is above.

Coimbra Sirica started writing about science in D.C. when the San Francisco Chronicle assigned her to cover the federal government’s response to the HIV epidemic in 1987. She got her training in science communications as a freelancer for the firm Burness, and eventually as a member of the news operation of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She now works full-time for Burness, and is part of the Global Team, which has a grant from the Ford Foundation to help indigenous forest peoples and traditional communities advocate for land rights, in part by helping to identify and disseminate research that supports these efforts.

Dr. Sacoby Wilson is an assistant professor at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park. He is an environmental health scientist who works in partnerships with community-based organizations to study and address environmental justice through community ‘inpowerment’ and citizen science.

Gabriel Popkin is a freelance science and environmental writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Nature and many other publications. He is currently DCSWA president.

Tweet this, Instagram that


You’ve just published a great article and want to promote it on social media. You’ve heard terms like search engine optimization and social media marketing but what do they really mean? Here, experts will tell you how to use social media to your advantage and help turn your piece into a trending topic.

Aries Keck is NASA Goddard’s first-ever social media team lead. She’s the co-author of the book ‘Einstein A to Z.’ She previously produced an hour-long public radio program about climate change and was a frequent contributor to NPR and the public radio program Marketplace. Aries is a past president of DCSWA.

Shefali Kulkarni is the audience engagement producer at BBC News. Previously she was the social media and engagement editor for Newsweek magazine in New York and has also worked as the digital producer for PRI’s “The World” radio program. Shefali has also covered domestic health care policy with Kaiser Health News.

Sarah Zielinski is a freelance science writer and editor. Her blog, Wild Things, is published by Science News magazine. She regularly writes and edits for Science News for Students and Smithsonian.

Divya Abhat is managing editor of The Wildlife Society’s award-winning member magazine, The Wildlife Professional. She is also editor of wildlife.org — a source for the latest wildlife news, science, and policy. Divya is a DCSWA board member.

Noon – 1:00 p.m.         LUNCH TIME

Enjoy time to eat, mingle and network. Check out the display table information.


1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.     PLENARY SESSION in Auditorium

Curt Guyette, ACLU of Michigan

How the confluence of citizen activism, science and journalism led to uncovering Flint’s water disaster.

A native of Pennsylvania and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Curt Guyette has been working as a journalist for more than 30 years. Much of that time was spent as an investigative reporter and editor for alternative weekly newspapers. In December 2013, the ACLU of Michigan brought Guyette onto its staff as an investigative reporter. Operating under a grant from the Ford Foundation, his assignment was to investigate and write about issues involving Michigan’s emergency manager law.  This was an experiment of sorts. No other ACLU branch in America had ever hired an investigative reporter to engage in the kind of work he would undertake. In January of 2016, a little more than two years after the project was launched, Guyette was recognized as Michigan’s Journalist of the Year, an honor that validated the innovative approach to nonprofit journalism the ACLU of Michigan has helped to foster.


2:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.     BREAKOUT SESSIONS

Interview techniques


Most of the scientists we interview love to talk about their work to anyone who will listen. But what about people who don’t want to talk: government or industry whistleblowers who fear for their jobs, people accused of wrongdoing and avoiding the press, or private citizens who have suddenly been thrust into the spotlight? This panel includes both journalists and non-journalists who conduct such interviews every day. With their unique perspectives, they will teach us how to identify potential sources, build trust and rapport in an interview, and construct questions that will draw your interviewees out and give you great quotes.

Tom Devine, legal director, Government Accountability Project
Caitlin Dickerson, investigative reporter, NPR
Robin Dreeke
, author; head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program

Moderator: Sara Reardon, Nature

Tom Devine is legal director at the Government Accountability Project, which assists government whistleblowers and defends them against retaliation. He has been involved in the passage of numerous whistleblower protection laws and the policies of international organizations.

Caitlin Dickerson is an investigative reporter at NPR. She’s reported on secret chemical weapons experiments the U.S. military conducted on American troops during World War II, and on military preparations for an Ebola outbreak in the United States, among other things. Before becoming a reporter, she spent several years producing and editing NPR’s flagship programs.

Robin Dreeke is an FBI Special Agent and bestselling author of “It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport With Anyone.” He is the former head of the FBI’s behavioural analysis program and teaches interviewing at the FBI’s National Academy.

Sara Reardon is a staff reporter at Nature and DCSWA board member. She covers biomedical research and policy.

Beyond blogs: Be a better PIO


Are you a PIO in a non-profit organization, academic institution, or government agency? Do you want to learn how to amplify your message beyond your internal publications and take publicizing your organization’s efforts to a new level? Our experienced panelists will discuss tips and tricks for PIOs to gain exposure for their institution beyond their own blogs, social media, and print publications, and also how to increase readership on internal publications.  

Rick Borchelt, director of the Office for Communications and Public Affairs at the D.O.E. Office of Science
Jeff Cronin, communications director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Matt Wright, science writer, University of Maryland, College Park
Mitch Waldrop, features editor at Nature, previously at National Science Foundation

Moderator: Sarah Hansen, Hussman Institute for Autism

Rick Borchelt is director of communications and public affairs for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. A naturalist by training, he has worked in public affairs for four major research universities, seven federal agencies, the House Science Committee, and The White House. He consults for nonprofit environmental organizations, freelances, and teaches in the Natural History Field Studies program of The Graduate School USA. He also serves on the editorial board of the journal Science Communication. Rick is a past DCSWA president.

Mitch Waldrop is currently a features editor at Nature. He was the editorial page editor at Nature magazine from 2008 to 2010. He has also worked for Chemical and Engineering News, ­Science magazine and the National Science Foundation, and as a freelance writer. He is the author of three books, most recently The Dream Machine (Viking, 2001), a book about the history of computing. Mitch is a past DCSWA president.

Matthew Wright is a science writer for the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland, where we covers a wide range of topics across 10 academic departments and 12 interdisciplinary research centers. Prior to joining UMD, Matthew worked as an outreach officer for the International Ocean Discovery Program, an NSF-funded program with a mandate to explore the geology of the seafloor. Before that, he worked for several years with COMPASS, a small non-profit that provides communication support and media training for academic ecologists and wildlife biologists.

Sarah Hansen is the Communications Associate at the Hussman Institute for Autism in Catonsville, Md.  She holds an M.S. in Biological Sciences from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where she will start a new role as STEM Communications Manager for the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences on April 13, 2016. Sarah is a DCSWA board member.

Being a discerning reporter


You’re a reporter, not a scientist. So how do you sift through dozens of jargon-laden scientific papers to find the best, most important, and most accurate studies to include in your stories? What about when you’re doing it on a daily deadline? Get tips from three veteran science reporters and editors about how to be a more discerning science writer without having to get a PhD.

Tom Siegfried, managing editor and former editor-in-chief of Science News. He’s the author of Strange Matters and writes the blog Context.

Will Saletan, senior reporter at Slate magazine covering politics, science, and technology. He’s also the author of Bearing Right.

Julie Beck, senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health and psychology.

Moderator: Rachel Gross, Slate

3:45 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.     BREAKOUT SESSIONS

Writing for alternative markets


Beyond the famous glossy magazines and national newspapers, there are lots of other venues looking for good science stories. Three accomplished writers and editors will give tips on positioning your work for these “alternative” — and often rewarding — markets.

Erin Boyle, managing editor and communications manager, American Society of Radiation Oncology
Amy Rogers-Nazarov, freelance writer
Sadie Dingfelder, editor, Washington Post Express

Moderator: Lauren Lipuma, American Geophysical Union

Erin L. Boyle is the managing editor and communications manager at the American Society for Radiation Oncology. She helms the society’s quarterly news magazine, ASTROnews, and covers the society’s peer-reviewed journals. Erin began her career as a reporter in 2002, covering the environment, education, and courts for small-town daily newspapers in New Jersey. She switched to medical reporting in 2005, specializing in ophthalmology and oncology. She has received two APEX Awards for her work and has reported on more than 50 medical conferences around the world.

Sadie Dingfelder, formerly the senior science editor for the American Psychological Association’s “Monitor on Psychology” magazine, is now a senior feature writer for the Washington Post Express. She also freelances for various sections of the Washington Post, including Style, Travel, the Washington Post Magazine, and the blogs “Speaking of Science,” “Soloish” and “Animalia.” For her next act, she will publish a book of funny, first-person essays.

Amy Rogers Nazarov has been a staff and freelance writer for more than 25 years, with bylines in Cooking Light, The Washington Post and its magazine, Psychology Today, InformationWeek, Smithsonian.com and many other trade, consumer and alumni publications. Based in Washington since 1998 and freelance since 2004, she writes features, edits copy and plans and implements social-media campaigns for a range of small businesses and non-profits.

Lauren Lipuma is a public information specialist and writer at the American Geophysical Union, where she writes about all areas of Earth and space science, except for space weather (because nobody understands space weather). She has previously written for the magazines EyeWorld and Ophthalmology Business, worked in conservation, and done extensive research on the bacteria that make up our poop. Lauren is a DCSWA board member.

From ideas to books

Do you have an idea or an article that you think would make a great book? Do you want to make your next book better than your last one? Whether you’re a first time author or seasoned novelist, this panel is equipped to answer your questions about book writing from conceiving an idea to collaborating with a publisher to marketing your work. Come ask your questions to authors and a publisher.

Ivan Amato, DARPA
Anna Sproul-Latimer, The Ross Yoon Agency
Kimberly Stephens, author
Moderator: Kasha Patel, NASA

Ivan Amato has worked as a staff writer and editor for several magazines, as a PIO for government agencies and NGOs, as a freelancer, and currently is a member of the Public Affairs Office at DARPA.  Along this pathway, he has written 5 books, all of which started with an idea, though not always his own. He also founded and runs DC Science Café, now finishing out its fifth year.

Literary agent Anna Sproul-Latimer has worked with the Ross Yoon Agency, one of America’s best agencies for adult nonfiction, since 2005. She specializes in books by and for the curious — people who explore new worlds, uncover hidden communities, and create new connections with enthusiasm so infectious that national audiences have already begun to pay attention. She has sold multiple New York Times bestsellers, major book-to-film deals, and translation book deals in more than 50 foreign languages.

Kimberly Stephens is the author of The Prodigy’s Cousin: The Family Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Talent (Penguin Random House / Current March 2016). Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesPsychology TodayThe New York Post, and on Time.com.

Kasha Patel is a science writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She will be the 2016-2017 DCSWA president. She is also a stand-up comic and organizes Science Comedy nights.

Pitch slam


For this year’s pitch slam, as at the last two years’, freelancers will meet one-on-one with editors of their choice for about five minutes, to pitch story ideas. The editors will provide guidance on improving the pitch or the story idea itself, while suggesting possible publications if the story is not suitable for themselves. You may pitch to as many editors as you wish, one at a time, and one story idea at a time. Sign up for time slots at registration.

Publications/Editors that will be represented:

Chemical & Engineering News – Lauren Wolf

Lauren Wolf is the head of the science and technology group at Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society. C&EN publishes news and features about all aspects of chemistry, from cutting-edge research to toxic substances regulation to pharmaceutical and chemical firm trends. The magazine’s content appears both in print and online. Although C&EN has a full-time staff, Lauren is looking for freelance feature story pitches. As a full-time writer for C&EN, Lauren covered chemical neuroscience and nanotechnology. She’s been an assistant managing editor for the magazine for the past year and a half.

Eos – Peter Weiss

Eos.org invites pitches of news stories on science and policy developments related to climate change, hazards and disasters, natural resources, biogeosciences, and a wide range of other geoscience and space science fields. The site covers all scientific disciplines related to the Earth, the solar system, and exoplanets.  Prior to joining Eos.org as senior news editor last June, Peter Weiss ran the AGU press office for more than eight years.  Before that, he reported on physics and technology for Science News for nearly nine years, and covered two nuclear weapons laboratories in California’s Livermore Valley as a science reporter for Contra Costa Newspapers, a regional newspaper chain, for five years.

National Geographic – Victoria Jaggard

Victoria Jaggard is the online science editor for National Geographic. She is looking for exciting finds from off the beaten path about astronomy, astrophysics, animals, human origins, paleontology, geology, and the environment. “Hidden gem” studies from less-publicized journals are great, but she’s also keen to see NatGeo take on current events, news analysis of trending topics, and visual-driven enterprise stories from around the world.

National Wildlife – Anne Bolen

Anne Bolen is Managing Editor of National Wildlife magazine, the member magazine of the National Wildlife Federation, and former editor at Smithsonian magazine. National Wildlife magazine publishes articles about intriguing animal behaviors, scientific discoveries about wildlife and the environment, and issues affecting native species and their habitat, particularly those issues on which the National Wildlife Federation focuses. She is a past DCSWA president.

Nature – Mitch Waldrop and Lauren Morello

Mitch Waldrop is features editor and Lauren Morello is news editor at Nature. In general, a feature for Nature needs to have a strong strand of science, research and/or angle on the scientific community (our core audience are working scientists). It also really helps to make it clear why we should tell the story now; why the subject is unusual or important; why the story would work well for Nature; and ideally offer a way of structuring the story through a narrative or other device. We also run profiles of interesting and important people in science.

Science – John Travis

Science works with freelancers on a variety of sections, including daily online policy and research news, careers profiles and trends, analytical stories (In Depths) and features for the print magazine.  Science’s daily online news site covers all areas of science, focusing on breaking news. That usually means a new scientific study in a major journal or that has just been presented at a scientific meeting. We scan all of the big press releases and journals (Science, Nature, PNAS, etc.), so you will have very little luck successfully pitching a study from these. Our biggest piece of advice of online is this: Pitch us hidden gems. Scan the secondary journals, online archives, etc. for cool stories that didn’t get press releases and/or that no one else has covered. Or scan the big journals for cool papers that didn’t get press releases. We want to run cool, exclusive items, and if you find these for us, we will look upon you highly. ScienceInsider, also daily and online, explores science policy and scientific community. For the magazine, we’re seeking trends, issues dividing the scientific community, science policy spats, profiles that combine cutting-edge science with compelling personal narratives

Science News for Students – Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is a writer and editor for Science News for Students and a former associate editor for Smithsonian magazine. Science News for Students is looking for breaking news coverage and feature stories from all STEM fields, but especially on the physical sciences (physics, chemistry and materials), pre-commercial technology advances and health-related issues (such as cognitive science, physiology and nutrition science).

Scientific American – Josh Fischman

We are a popular magazine that tells intriguing, engrossing stories about science, and we write much less formally than an academic journal, so it helps if your proposal captures that spirit. We use everyday language to convey sophisticated ideas. We like to illuminate contemporary issues and how science is addressing them. Proposals should be for stories, not general topics, and they should be at most two pages long. Our features run 1000 to 2000 words, and can be published digitally, in print, or both. We also run shorter news items.

Undark – Deborah Blum

Undark will explore science not just as a “gee-whiz” phenomenon, but as a frequently wondrous, sometimes contentious and occasionally troubling byproduct of human culture. We are looking for long-form stories, short features, essays, op-eds, and short blog posts. We pay competitively and on acceptance.

Organizers: Harvey Leifert and Sarah Hansen

Harvey Leifert is a freelance science writer and former member of the DCSWA Board. He previously served as Public Information Manager of the American Geophysical Union and as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Information Agency.

Sarah Hansen‘s bio is above.


Safe Conference Experience Policy    

The D.C. Science Writers Association is dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, national origin, or religion. DCSWA does not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form.

Photo Release

Professional Development Day attendance implies your consent to be photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded for use on the DCSWA website or news publications.


April 2, 2016
8:15 am - 5:00 pm


AAAS headquarters
1200 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005 United States
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