Planning to attend the ScienceWriters2013 meeting this year? Me too. It’s been a highlight of my conference circuit for years – and all I have to do is show up, absorb information, and chat with friends. Right?
Each year in advance of the conference, which is a joint meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), I do the obvious. Register for the meeting. Book my travel arrangements. Find a roommate. Evaluate my [seriously lacking] conference wardrobe. Glance at the conference program.
But I could go beyond the basics, like many conscientious writers do. Update my website. Print more business cards. Arrange meet-ups with long lost colleagues and editors. Apply for a travel grant (one year I did — thank you, NASW).
Liza Gross (bio), for example, studies the CASW program in advance of the meeting, and the practice has paid off. “In one case, I knew a scheduled lab visit to neurologist Doug Kerr’s lab at Johns Hopkins could turn into a good story about researchers’ struggles to use human embryonic stem cells under the restrictive Bush years,” she says. “I pitched it to my editors at PLOS Biology before I went and then had the chance to meet Kerr, see his lab, establish a connection, and then follow up later.” The story appeared in PLoS Biology.
Robert Frederick (bio) doesn’t just glance at the program either. He carefully considers the offerings, chooses sessions in advance, and, if he’s torn between concurrent sessions, he’ll make arrangements to swap notes with other attendees afterwards. He also prepares a few pitch ideas in advance so that he has go-to topics when chatting with editors. “I can send formal pitches by email anytime. Meeting time is for, well, meeting – making conversations, brainstorming, and forming collaborations,” he says. “Those relationships certainly led to a number of stories, but not based on any formal pitches I’d prepared for the meeting.”
Hearing from Liza and Rob got me thinking. Perhaps I could do even more to help me eke the most benefit out of my travel time?
This year, I’m trying something new. Since I’m already spending a great deal of money to travel to Gainesville, what if I also turn it into a reporting trip? I looked at a map, let my curiosity roam, wandered the Internet, and read headlines from local papers. Considering my interest in food and agriculture, I easily stumbled on a potential story and found people and places to contact.
My first pitch based on this specific exercise was already rejected, but I plan to arrange interviews while I’m there anyway (not during key parts of the program, of course). For me, a few extra hours tacked onto my trip — a couple of in-person interviews and a site visit — represents a long-term investment that will bolster my efforts to recast my proposal for another market in the future. Fingers crossed.
And you? It might be too late this year to add extra time to your travel, but you might be able to use downtime for a local interview. And, be sure to mark your calendar to scope out travel grants next August, when they are announced by NASW.
Or perhaps you already plan ahead for ScienceWriters meetings? What’s your strategy? Has it paid off?
Image Credit: Homework, by Winslow Homer, 1874, watercolor on paper. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art and is in the public domain in the United States.