Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?
Though he had spent much of his early life with a foot in two worlds—science and writing— Sandeep Ravindran thought he would have to eventually choose between them. Upon completing a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at Cornell University, Ravindran simultaneously considered PhD programs and master of fine arts programs in creative writing. He ultimately decided to pursue his PhD in microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. But a talk by a science writer late in his training made Ravindran realize he could combine the best of both worlds. “I decided right then that [science writing was] kind of perfect for me,” he says.
How did you equip yourself for a career in Science Writing?
I received lots of helpful advice and guidance from my research advisor as well as from the career office in how to switch fields from academia to science writing. The training and experience I received in reading and critiquing journal articles translated well to my new career.
I found lots of ways to get training and experience in science writing while still a graduate student at Stanford. I did some writing (as well as volunteer work) for the San Jose Tech museum as part of the Stanford at The Tech program, and those clips and outreach experiences were extremely helpful in getting me started in the field.
I also took a really good environmental journalism class at Stanford (COMM 177C: Specialized Writing and Reporting: Environmental Journalism). The class helped me get some published clips and also gave me lots of practical training in science and environmental journalism.
Tell us about your career path
After finishing his doctorate, Ravindran completed internships at Popular Science and Science Illustrated, before pursuing additional training through the UC Santa Cruzscience communication program. After completing internships at a host of outlets including the San Jose Mercury News and Science News, he worked for two years as a science writer at PNAS ( Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ). Now Ravindran works as a freelance science journalist based out of Washington, DC, delving into any topics that capture his interest, which often lie in the realm of life sciences. “I’m still fascinated by biology in general, both in terms of how the natural world finds ways, through evolution, to solve problems, and how humans emulate those ways using technology,” he says. Over the past 3 years, Ravindran has written several features and Lab Tools pieces for The Scientist. Find his latest feature about brain-inspired computing here.
What have you found personally rewarding about your work/field?
I think a science writer needs to have a broad interest in science and also an interest communicating it to a lay audience. Traditionally, that meant an interest in writing as well, although these days there are also opportunities in radio or video production.
As a science writer for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, I summarize scientific journal articles from all fields of science, interview scientists for profiles and Q&A articles, and create fortnightly podcasts about scientists and their research. I work in a regular office environment, but I know other science writers who work from home, or report regularly from the field, so the work environment can vary widely.
What information would you share with PhD candidates who are interested in your current field?
I love reading and writing about many different fields of science in any given week, getting to interview a variety of scientists about their research, and finding ways to make it accessible to a wider audience.