Alan Dove, Ph.D.

Alan Dove, Ph.D.

Born into a family of scientists and teachers, Alan Dove gravitated naturally into research. After earning a Bachelor's degree in biology from Towson State University in Maryland, he pursued - and with considerable effort, got - a Ph.D. in microbiology from Columbia University in New York. He did a short stint as an editorial intern in the Nature America offices while writing his thesis, then declared himself a freelance science journalist. Contrary to the expectations of many colleagues, he has made a living as a writer ever since. His work has appeared in Science, several of the Nature journals, the award-winning web site of the New York Academy of Sciences, and numerous other science news outlets. He also co-hosts the podcast "This Week in Virology." He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, who is a psychiatrist, their daughter, who is a first-grader, and their cat, who serves no useful purpose.

Conducted and contributed by Brian | May 2013

“Bear in mind your Ph.D. can be a ticket to many, many other things way beyond what is said in the brochure.”

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Conversation Highlights

Intern your way in. Science, Nature, Drug Discovery and Development…have you heard of them? These are just a few of the publications and organizations for which Alan Dove writes. Originally trained as a microbiologist during his time at Columbia University, Alan chose a route less traveled and pursued an internship with the Nature Publishing Group in New York after receiving his Ph.D. In this installment of our Spotlight Conversations, Alan takes us through his journey of becoming a freelance science journalist, gives us a unique glance at what it takes to succeed in this path, describes his love for debate, and tells us where the future of the field is heading. We welcome, Alan Dove, who will be visiting the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 10:00 am in the Microbial Sciences Building.

“I stepped out of school and declared myself as a science writer.”

“I’ve had so many conversations with postdocs and doctoral students about science journalism as a career. These conversations become more frequent every time there is a funding crunch. These sorts of things come up a lot more often when people are, shall we say, more open-minded about their careers.”

“I am a microbiologist turned science journalist. Science communication is at the core of what I do.”

“Our podcast, This Week in Virology (TWIV) was the brainchild of my thesis mentor, Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D. (@profvrr). We get onto Skye and talk about viruses for an hour and a half. I’ve been amazed by the reach of the podcast.”

“When I was finishing graduate school, I had an epiphany.”

“In thinking about my own career prospects, I thought, I really enjoy science and enjoy doing it, but I am not amazingly good at it and I am not so wedded to it that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else.”

“I’ve always really enjoyed writing. I’ve always enjoyed communication and was on the debate team in college.”

“I made a pest of myself (with the Nature Americas office) until they let me have an editorial internship in their office. I did this while I was writing my thesis. I spent half of my day at the Nature office downtown and the other half writing materials and methods.”

“I basically stepped out of the Nature offices one day, turned in my thesis final copy, was done with my defense and said OK I am a science journalist now.”

“In terms of other entries into the business, the number of doors has increased drastically since I started doing this. Anybody can start a blog. In fact, my standard recommendation whenever anyone coming to me says I want to become a science journalist, I say where is your blog. Even if that is not going to pay the rent, it is an opportunity that you should not pass up. It costs nothing it takes no effort to set one up, and then it gives you a place where you can experiment as a writer. You will get out of it what you put into it. You can blog about research, and those posts will take a fair amount of time, and you will not be compensated. But you will be able to point to them when you want to pitch an article to an editor. What they will see is my writing – right up front.”

“If you are a graduate student or postdoc looking at getting into this you could go the internship route if that is convenient, but you should start writing in a public setting. The easiest way to do this is with a blog.”

“Always remember that the purpose of education is to broaden your options, not restrain them.”

“I got the sense that what I was doing was not what I was really supposed to be doing. However, my training was tremendously useful to me and the training continues to be tremendously useful to me. The skills I picked up there were good things. I did not go to Columbia to narrow my career options.”

“Whatever you end up doing, don’t think of it in terms of, oh would this disappoint the people that trained me. They are not the ones that have to live your life and do your career. Make those decisions on your own, do what works for you as long as it is legal and ethical."

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