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We asked a number of AAAS Mass Media Fellows (AAASMMF) to reflect on what they have learned, how they have changed, and why it matters. The journal below by Vanessa Vieites, who is placed at The Conversation US, has been lightly edited. Read our other journals by fellow AAASMMFs Krishna Sharma and Haley Dunleavy.

 

June 7

Today was my first official day as an AAAS Mass Media Fellow. I was really nervous, but everyone was so nice and welcoming. The person who supervises the interns and coordinates their schedules was really friendly and seems approachable and easy to talk to. I think she’ll make a great mentor this summer.


Today was also the first day of orientation week at The Conversation US (TCUS). That means I not only got to learn basic journalistic practices as part of my AAAS Mass Media Fellowship orientation last week, but I got to spend this week learning how TCUS’s unique model of journalism works. Today was just full of Zoom meetings. The other interns and I met with both our supervisor and the TCUS general manager about what to expect this summer, our goals, etc. We later had a meeting with the whole TCUS staff to learn about the site — its history, model, and how it’s funded.

On a boring note, I had some issues setting up my TCUS email account due to needing two-step verification. It’s ironic how I couldn’t set up the two-step verification process until I logged into my account, but couldn’t log in without having that two-step verification. It was annoying, but I got through it.


All in all, today was an exciting albeit nerve-wracking new start for me. It was an exhausting day with all the back-to-back Zoom meetings. Even though we ended early enough around 2:30 pm, I felt like I needed a nap right after.


The June 8 entry of Vanessa's journal. (Vanessa Vieites for The Xylom)

June 8

Today was the second day of orientation week at TCUS. We (the interns) set up our editor log-in and profiles on the TCUS website. That’s the interesting thing about my AAAS Mass Media Fellowship placement: I’m going to be trained as a writer and an editor.



We had more Zoom meetings today. The most exciting meeting I had was with my internship supervisor at the end of the afternoon. We talked about story ideas for my first piece. I’ll get to write as an expert on children’s spatial development. I’m still fleshing out the idea and figuring out how to turn it into a relevant, timely piece that fits in at TCUS. My supervisor suggested I read up on TCUS stories related to spatial skills to find out what TCUS has already covered on the topic. After meeting with my supervisor, I’m looking forward to this summer even more!




June 9

Today was full of meetings again. I started the day meeting with my supervisor, the TCUS general manager, and the TCUS chief innovation and development officer. The latter was really dynamic and seemed genuine about his passion for increasing the diversity of, not only sources we should interview as science writers but of expert authors who write for TCUS. I liked how he said we should seek expertise from a diversity of sources, and not just for them to speak on racial issues. After all, these sources have more knowledge to offer than just their experiences as minorities.


I also learned that The Conversation doesn’t receive funding from elite universities. The chief innovation and development officer I mentioned earlier says he’s more interested in having TCUS member scholars — experts who write for the publication — from public universities. Land grant institutions, for example. That’s really great to hear since we get enough science stories in the news on studies conducted at Ivy League institutions.


Later, we got an Airtable website tutorial; it’s a shared space for the company to organize its resources. It was a bit intimidating with all the documents/sheets in the workspaces. I learn best by doing and practicing, so I’m hoping that the more I use Airtable the more intuitive it becomes.

We also got to meet a long-time staff writer for The Washington Post. She told us about her career and educational trajectories and gave us a lot of useful advice for breaking into journalism. Surprise: it’s really hard, but with the right internship(s), she says, it’s much easier.


June 10

Today was less Zoom-heavy, which was nice. Thankfully, we didn’t have so many back-to-back meetings, so I was able to take a longer lunch. I don’t know why Zoom meetings exhaust me so much. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have to be on point and don’t want to come across as unqualified or unprepared for the fellowship. Sometimes I wonder how I got this over others who are likely way more experienced in science journalism. I guess that’s imposter syndrome for ya. Does it ever go away? When will I ever feel like I rightfully belong?


Sometimes I wonder how I got this over others who are likely way more experienced in science journalism. I guess that’s imposter syndrome for ya. Does it ever go away? When will I ever feel like I rightfully belong?

June 11

Today I came closer to coming up with my first story idea for this summer. Not to give too much away, but vaguely speaking, I want to write about the development of children’s spatial cognition—for instance, the ability to navigate and reorient—and how it is molded with age through their interactions with the environment. My supervisor really liked my idea and so did other TCUS editors I shared it with. One of them told me they can see my story going viral, which I’m not going to lie, scared me a bit. I hope I don’t mess it up…


The June 14 entry of Vanessa's journal. (Vanessa Vieites for The Xylom)

June 14

Today I felt super tired. We didn't have nearly as many zoom meetings as last week, but I felt incredibly exhausted and sleepy. I think the stress of the AAAS Fellowship expectations coupled with my upcoming move to New Jersey for a postdoc is taking a toll on me. It also rained today, so that didn't help. But, on the bright side, I finally gave my supervisor a draft of a pitch for my first story. She’ll give me feedback on it and I’ll revise it before she sends it to the appropriate editor who I’ll then correspond with when writing the piece. I think the idea is really coming together. I hope my supervisor likes it! Stay tuned.


June 15

I’m really excited. Tomorrow I’m flying out to Boston to meet up with my fellow interns and staff members at TCUS. In all of the packing and anticipation, I didn't get too much done today. I had a couple of zoom meetings and spent the rest of the day helping an editor find TCUS member scholars who are experts on the history of grand juries.


I can't wait to meet everyone in person! It’s not all play, though. we’re being flown out to work too, but the cool thing is we’ll be working from a fancy-looking office space called WeWork. At least it’s not some dreary office. The workspace looks super modern with open floor plans. Oh, and judging by the website, it looks like they have free coffee and breakfast snacks, so that’s a plus.


June 21

This past Saturday I got back from visiting my host site in Boston. They flew the AAAS interns — two of us were placed at TCUS this summer — to work, meet, and mingle with other writers and editors of TCUS. It was the first time I’ve traveled by plane since October 2019. I was really excited to get out of Miami for a bit. I got to explore Boston, which I haven't been to since 2017.

Everyone I met from TCUS was so friendly, although it was weird to be at a social event with so many people sitting so close to me. I’m fully vaccinated, though, and so were many of my colleagues, so that eased my worries.


The June 21 entry of Vanessa's journal. (Vanessa Vieites for The Xylom)

During the trip, I revised a draft of my pitch for my supervisor. She sent me back some more edits last night, and today I sent her yet another revised pitch. Once we’ve finalized the pitch, my supervisor will send it to the most appropriate editor. Then, I’ll begin writing the piece under the guidance of that editor.


Things move slower at TCUS than at other outlets I’ve heard of, but that's ok. TCUS functions under a different model. The publication doesn't quite report the news as it happens, but rather, it reports scholarly commentary on the news. This is why they often take longer to publish stories than other outlets do. I must say, I feel lucky that I was placed here because coming from an academic background, I’m used to writing slowly. I don't think I'd fare well at an outlet where I had to report and write multiple pieces and interview multiple sources a week. Imagine all that transcribing! The stress of a daily newsroom seems too much for me to bear, especially right now that I'm preparing for a move.


I don't know. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit for what I’m capable of. Maybe I would thrive in a traditional newsroom. Who knows? But right now, I believe TCUS is the right place for me. I’m learning so much at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm me, and I’m grateful for that.


Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit for what I’m capable of. Maybe I would thrive in a traditional newsroom. Who knows? But right now, I believe TCUS is the right place for me.


The June 25 entry of Vanessa's journal. (Vanessa Vieites for The Xylom)

June 25

I finally got to meet the TCUS editor who agreed to take on my assignment. She told me she really liked my pitch, that it was one of the best pitches she’s seen in a while. I was really flattered by that. I guess all those AAAS and TCUS Zoom lessons on proper pitching during orientation week really paid off.


I talked to her about my research — the data I’d use to back up my story — and she gave me a deadline and ideal length for my first draft. My internship supervisor also agreed to serve as an extra set of eyes to look over the piece before I send it to my editor. That’s nice of her.


I’ll be going up to Boston again at the end of July to visit my host site, this time with my mom, who’s upset we couldn’t book an affordable hotel on Miami Beach during her vacation days this summer. I figured I’d bring her along on my trip and, if anything, she could explore Boston while I work. It’s better than having yet another staycation this year.


 


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