Professional Development Day 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017
AAAS headquarters

Professional Development Day, a full-day professional development event for science writers, has been DCSWA’s signature event since 2006. Every year, between 100 and 150 science reporters, PIOs, editors, radio and video producers and freelancers gather for a fun and exciting day of networking and skill-building! This year, PDD included six panel sessions, three interactive workshops, a plenary talk by Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, lunch, all-day resume coaching, and happy hour at a nearby bar. Below is this year’s agenda and useful links.

Download the 2017 PDD program here (in PDF format)

2016 Newsbrief Award winners

2017 PDD session highlights

PDD 2017 Program


9am – 5pm


All day on-site resume coaching by our professional resume coach. Please arrive early to sign up on-site. Bring a copy of your resume.


8:30 – 9:30am Breakfast (included)

9:30 – 10:00am

DCSWA Opening Remarks by President Kasha Patel and 2016 Newsbrief Award winner announcement


10:15 – Noon (workshops occur simultaneously) Hands-On Workshop #1: The Delicate Art of Headline Writing Hands-On Workshop #2: Self-editing for writers Hands-On Workshop #3: New Approaches to Video in Social Media
Noon – 1pm LUNCH (included)

1:15 – 2:15pm

Plenary speaker: Juliet Eilpern, senior national affairs correspondent, The Washington Post, “From Sharks to the Climate Wars: Covering Environmental Policy and Politics on the Front Lines”

2:30 – 3:45pm (sessions occur simultaneously) Panel #1: Media law 101 Panel #2: Writer’s Aid: Get More Assignments from Editors Panel #3: The Impressionables: Science Communication to Engage Teens and Kids


4:00-5:15pm (sessions occur simultaneously) Panel #4: Pitch Slam Panel #5: This is Your Brand on Social Media Panel #6: How to Use FOIA Laws and Public Databases to Find Stories





Happy Hour at local bar (food and drink are at member’s own expense)


Session descriptions:

Media Law 101
It’s more important than ever that science writers know what our rights are, but many writers come to the profession without a formal journalism background, and have an incomplete understanding of media law. For instance, when Donald Trump suggests he might want to “open up libel laws”, what exactly are US libel laws and what legal protections do journalists have? Are US-based writers subject to laws in other countries when they write for foreign publications? And what responsibility does a publication have to protect its writers? In this workshop, media professionals and legal experts will discuss media law from their perspectives. Attendees will learn about the basic terminology and protections, as well as ways to learn more and get help when they need it. The workshop will cover issues relevant to staff reporters, freelancer and public information officers, and will include a discussion of how media law is evolving in the digital age.

Kevin Goldberg, attorney, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth
Laura Helmuth, health, science, and environment editor, The Washington Post
Ashley Messenger, senior associate general counsel, NPR
Deborah Nelson, associate professor of investigative journalism, University of Maryland, College Park

Gabe Popkin, freelance

Writer’s Aid: Get More Assignments From Editors Getting story assignments is a lot of work for a freelancer. To make editors come back to you again and again, a group of veteran editors and a successful freelancer will give tips and tricks to use in pitching and the editing process, actions that make for a great writer-editor relationship with repeat business. The panel will also describe mistakes that make editors say “adieu” to writers after a single go-round.

Ann Finkbeiner, freelance
John Travis, managing news editor, Science
Cori Vanchieri, features editor, Science News

Josh Fischman, senior editor, Scientific American

The Impressionables: Science communication to engage children and teens: How is communicating science to kids different than writing for adults, and how can we get our work in front of kids in the first place? This session will address ways to reach and engage children and teens with science across a variety of platforms.

Hakeem Oluseyi, space science education lead, NASA
Ariane Szu-Tu, associate editor, National Geographic Kids Publishing
Sarah Zielinski, managing editor, Science News for Students

Sarah Hansen, STEM communications manager, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

How to Use FOIA Laws and Public Databases to Find Stories: Take advantage of publicly available information to tell stories and peek behind the official statements.

Kevin Bogardus, federal agencies reporter, E&E News
Kevin Goldberg, attorney, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, P.L.C.
Dina Maron, health and medicine editor, Scientific American
Dan Metcalfe, professor at the American University Washington College of Law, founding director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy
Steve Reilly, investigative reporter, USA Today

Tiffany Stecker, reporter, Bloomberg BNA

This is Your Brand on Social Media: It’s been a couple years now since homepage traffic was pronounced dead, driven to virtual irrelevance by social media shares. Hyperbole aside, the question still remains as to how publishers are adapting to survive in this brave new world. In this session, social media managers will share insights into the strategies they’ve developed to work with writers, editors, and analytics to sustain and grow the reach of their brands in a post-homepage era.

Leslie Datsis, social media and audience development specialist, PBS Digital Studios
Kayla Epstein, social media editor, The Washington Post
Aries Keck, social media team lead, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Matt Davenport, reporter and multimedia producer, Chemical & Engineering News

Hands-On Workshop on The Art of Headline Writing: This session will address one of the most creative yet dreaded aspects of the writing process: headline-writing. Crisp headlines are crucial for grabbing a reader’s attention, engagingly conveying a story’s message, and framing the discussion before the reader even begins reading. The stakes are high: A great headline can distill a story down to its essence; a bad headline can mean a Pulitzer-worthy story never gets read. We’ll talk about types of headlines and strategies editors use to liven them up, then switch into a 30-minute workshop where we brainstorm headlines for a story as if we were writing for several different publications.

Jonathan Fischer, senior editor, Slate
Bryan Lufkin, editor, BBC’s Future Now
Kate Travis, digital director, Science News

Rachel Gross, science editor, Smithsonian

Hands-On Workshop on Self-editing: Bring your own unedited story and improve it with the help of experienced editors, copyeditors, and other professionals. Learn to file concise, clean, sparkling copy that will leave your editors begging for more.

Rachel Kaufman, freelance
Julia Littleton, copy editor, E&E News
Alysha Love, deputy multi-platform editor, CNN Politics
Lauren Morello, Americas bureau chief, Nature

Sara Reardon, senior reporter, Nature

Hands-On Workshop on New Approaches to Video in Social Media: In the ongoing quest for more clicks and web traffic, science news outlets and research institutions are exploring new ways to reach their audiences. Video has become a popular way to communicate science stories, and new technologies that enable live, interactive broadcasts and 360 degree views are gaining momentum alongside more traditional video presentations. Join us for demonstrations of some of the hottest new platforms and a discussion of how our panelists integrate these tools into their content creation efforts.

Aries Keck, social media team lead, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Julia Majors, physics writer, American Institute of Physics

Matthew Wright, science writer, University of Maryland, College Park

Pitch slam: This year’s pitch slam included editors from National Geographic, Nature, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Science, Science News, Science News for Students, Chemical and Engineering News, National Wildlife, PNAS Front Matter, and Eos.

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.