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June 3, 2021

Student view: ‘Not a writer’

Nick Young is a fourth-year physics and computational mathematics, science, and engineering graduate student. He was recently awarded an American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Fellowship and will be writing for The Wichita Eagle this summer.

I’m not a writer. At least, I didn’t consider myself one when I first came to MSU. I am more of a math and science person who enjoys numbers and equations.

Yet, as I started to do research with MSU’s Physics Education Research Laboratory, I learned that writing isn’t some add-on that comes after the research is done but, instead, is a key part of the process. Even if the science is outstanding, if no one can understand it or follow the procedure to replicate the result, what good is it?

During my first year as a graduate student, I found myself in the position of not understanding the research papers I was reading and wondering how I could change that. I recalled one of my professors from my undergraduate studies mentioning a graduate student project aimed at making astronomy research accessible for everyone. I had hoped that my field would have something similar, but I ended up disappointed then and further into my studies as a graduate student.

Now, as a researcher who was becoming increasingly frustrated reading papers that are unnecessarily complicated, excessively long or poorly written, I saw my opportunity. I created a blog about education research, PERbites, and began to write summaries of recent papers intended for general audiences. It was this moment that I started to view myself as a writer and science communicator.

Of course, without the support and guidance of MSU, the story would have stopped there. Instead, the story has grown to include writing a news article for the Lansing State Journal through the Graduate School’s Science Writing for News Outlets Program and learning to write about my research through a science communication course offered by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

Now, I’m beginning my next chapter as an AAAS Mass Media Fellow. This summer, I’ll be writing about science with The Wichita Eagle. I’m looking forward to further developing my skills as a writer and sharing the wonderful work that researchers are doing in their labs with the world.

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