Christie L.C. Ellis, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in chemistry and an advisee of Dhandapani “DV” Venkataraman, whose research focuses on materials used in solar cells, has received a coveted Mass Media Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). It will send her to work as a science writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a 10-week internship beginning in June.
Among other benefits, the long-running program will provide Ellis with travel funds, an orientation at AAAS in Washington, D.C., a stipend and training in interviewing skills and news judgment. She expects to shadow a science writer at the newspaper for a short time and then work on her own stories. “I feel really fortunate to have this fellowship. They’re giving me a really great opportunity and investing a lot in me,” she says.
Her advisor says, “Christie is passionate about communicating science to a broad audience. Therefore, this prestigious fellowship will provide a fantastic opportunity for her to learn from experts in the media industry and closely interact with them. We are eager to learn from Christie’s experience and improve our science communication skills.”
Ellis earned her B.S. in chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University and has participated in the Venkataraman lab in writing scientific papers and a book chapter as part of her doctoral work. But she points out that “writing has not been the primary thing I’ve been doing here in chemistry, so I look forward to learning how people receive science information and learning how a newspaper runs. I expect my life to be really different while I’m devoting myself to writing full-time.”
She has served for the past two years as editor in chief of the campus’s Graduate Women in STEM Quarterly Magazine, GQM. “We write about cultural issues that women face in a male-dominated field,” she explains. “We share our stories, and I have been pushing to tackle some heavy issues, things that really have an impact on women’s lives.”
One such topic in a recent issue of GQM was called “Broken Silence,” a collection of responses from women about sexual violence on campus. “There have been some really, really tough stories,” Ellis says, “showing how this can permeate every part of a woman’s career in science.”
At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she adds, “I hope to be able to communicate not only about science but to continue writing about science culture for women, which feels to me inextricably linked to science and how it is done. I’d like to find a way to see what actually connects with the public, too. I look forward to asking people what they understand and what they care about in science.”
AAAS says that its media fellowship program, which has supported over 700 fellows in its 43-year history, fits its principal goal of increasing public understanding of science and technology. “This highly competitive program strengthens the connections between scientists and journalists by placing advanced undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level scientists, engineers and mathematicians at media organizations nationwide,” the association notes. “Fellows have worked as reporters, editors, researchers and production assistants at such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, WIRED and Scientific American.”