Application Tips - Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship

 

The Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship (MMF) is highly competitive.  For summer 2017 we received 187 applications for just 17 spots.  But this "life changing" fellowship is absolutely worth the effort of applying (or reapplying).  Every year there are fellows accepted that have applied two or three times.  

Here are some things that you can do NOW to help your application rise to the top (from the reviewers themselves):

  1. Get to know the communications and/or outreach directors at your relevant scientific societies.  Whether they are official sponsors of the MMF or not, let them know that you want to apply and that you’re looking for opportunities to enhance your scicomm skills. Even better if the society is an MMF sponsor or if you encourage them to sponsor in 2018.
  2. Work with an editor!!  Seek opportunities to publish your work (with an editor).  This will make your samples better, you will improve your writing skills, and getting a letter from an editor who has worked with you is a big bonus!     
  3. Attend/host extracurricular journalism workshops or a SciCommCon.
  4. Take any opportunity you can to write, edit, and communicate science. Any experience no matter how small can teach you new things, make you a better communicator, and demonstrate to reviewers that you’re passionate and committed.
  5. Read the 2017 Mass Media Fellows articles as they come out to understand the type of writing the reviewers are looking for in your samples.
  6. Get on Twitter and plug yourself into the #scicomm communities, network.  Start by following @AAASMassMedia.
  7. Find a local science writing chapter through the National Association of Science Writers and go to their events. 
  8. Ask local science writers out for coffee and pick their brains about what the field looks like and about realistic career path/opportunities.  
  9. Take part in every opportunity to engage with the public about your work or the work in your field to show that you care about science communication (e.g. work for the school newspaper/radio/TV station, do science outreach, mentor at schools or community centers).  These activities also indicate that you have had enough experience to know that the AAAS MMF is a good fit for you and that you are motivated and ready to do your best work wherever you are placed.
  10. Apply for other programs and opportunities.  Easiest way to find these is on Twitter.
  11. Here are different types of writing experiences that will help improve your application and your skills:
  • Freelance for one of the MMF host media sites
  • Freelance for a similar publication
  • Write for your student paper or school research review
  • Volunteer to review science books or other products
  • Volunteer to write for your scientific society’s newsletter
  • Write for a local paper
  • Write for your department blog
  • Volunteer to help your school or department PIO (Public Information Officer) or PR (Public Relations) person write press releases
  • Start or join a blog- the more formal the publication, the better, but something informal is better than nothing

 

When it comes to preparing your application there a few things that you can do to help yours stand out.   Suggestions collected from 2017 application reviewers.

General application tips

  •  Title uploads appropriately (e.g. “lastname_writingsample” NOT “massmedia_fellowship_application”).
  • Spell & grammar check! Also, read everything you submit aloud first (have a friend read if possible).
  • Put your name and document title (e.g. “writing sample 1”) at the top of each page.

Writing samples

  • These get the most attention during the review process so choose your samples wisely.
  • Before you start thinking of which of your writing samples to use, read some articles from this year’s class of fellows.  Try to read an article from each site.  This will give you an idea of the types of writing the reviewers will be looking for.
  • DO NOT INCLUDE WRITING FOR A TECHNICAL AUDIENCE.
  • If possible, shy away from academic writing or “term papers”.
  • If you have a paper you wrote for a class and feel like it’s appropriate for your writing sample, take a few sentences at the start to set the context of the paper (include the writing prompt or the audience you were writing for).
  • Writing samples should be as journalistic as possible, i.e., tailored for a public audience.
  • You will be writing as a journalist, so try and submit a sample that closely matches that style. Include some interviews and quotes. Try to find a narrative, and don't get bogged down in technical details.
  • The more stimulating and fun the writing samples for the lay public, the better they are reviewed.
  • Provide evidence (in your writing sample) that you can take a complex scientific topic and explain it in a way that most people would both understand and find interesting.
  • Also, pick your best writing sample! Some candidates share a mediocre piece, but then later link to a personal blog in their personal questions that contains much more impressive writing. Reviewers would rather see your great blog post as a writing sample than your ho-hum paper you wrote for that English class that one time.

Science News Writing Sample

  • The “science news” writing sample must be based on peer reviewed primary research literature.  This means a research paper in a research journal NOT another science news article and not a review article.

Other writing sample

  • Use the fact that you get to submit multiple pieces of writing to your advantage; try to stretch yourself by targeting a different audience or striking a different tone or having a different communicative goal in the two different writing samples.
  • Include nonfiction writing samples that describe or explain a complex scientific idea as simply as possible, with as little jargon as possible. Always, always provide the bigger picture. 

Candidate Statement (7 questions):

  • Use this space to summarize the high points of your qualifications - with so many long applications to read, it can be hard to remember the details of your background, use these sections to make a case for yourself. 
  • Do everything you can to convey how much you want to participate in the fellowship.
  • Discuss your history of participation in science communication, education, or community building.  
  • Be brief, particularly when answering the questions. The goal isn't to fill up space; it's to explain things in a clear, concise, way.  That may require a long answer for some and a short answer for others. 
  • Master the art of going in-depth and staying succinct (this is what you’ll be perfecting all summer so make an attempt in your application).
  • Talk about what KIND of writing you’d like to do for the fellowship (keep our sites in mind) and in the future.
  • Dig a little bit deeper into some of the challenges science communication faces, and don’t be afraid to talk about personal experiences as they relate to these challenges.
  • Highlight experiences that involve communicating with non-scientists in any form.

Seeking letters of recommendation

  • This year we are changing the letter requirements.  We will require 1 letter from an academic/science source (a professor, advisor, or PI) and 1 letter from any source.  A third letter is optional but highly encouraged. 
  • If you’ve worked with an editor or other science writers, these make very good references. 
  • Make sure to talk with your letter writer to ensure that they know all about your previous writing experiences, your engagement and outreach efforts and your aspirations.
  • All three letter writers should know you well, when you ask them to write a letter for you give them the following suggestions:
  1. Write about more than the applicant’s research.
  2. Describe the applicant’s public engagement and outreach.
  3. Speak to the personality traits that would make the applicant a good communicator of science.  Although preferred, examples do not have to be taken from engagement activities (e.g. “When we have summer high school students in the lab I always ask Dr. Applicant to supervise them because he is the best communicator in the lab.”, or “Dr. Applicant has a unique ability to write her research papers in a way that non-scientists can understand, while still being accurate and enjoyable.”

Your CV or resume

  • Make access to your previously published work very clear in your CV.  Reviewers are likely to go somewhere to read more of your articles.  Put in links to all your pieces or create your own website with a list of articles.
  • Make sure to include: all of your published articles, all of your outreach and engagement activities and writing experiences.
  • A helpful CV organization might look like (contact rcorlew@aaas.org if you’d like a sample):
  1. Educational and professional experience
  2. Professional societies
  3. Science writing (all published or publically accessible work)
  4. Science outreach and mentoring
  5. Online outreach
  6. Teaching
  7. Awards, honors, fellowships
  8. Professional service
  9. Invited presentations, talks etc.
  10. Peer-reviewed articles
  11. Poster abstracts