Having just returned from the largest tribal gathering of all at ScienceWriters2014 in Columbus, Ohio, my enthusiasm meter hit its annual high. I am always surprised there are so many science writers I’ve never met before, and I’m impressed by the work they are doing and stimulated by the conversations we have.
Freelance writers especially are continually forming new groups and alliances to find ways to collaborate, connect, and keep the isolation at bay. For this installment of our Tribes Report series, I’m talking with Robin Meadows and Sarah C.P. Williams, the founders of, quite simply, The Group.
Meadows covers biology, energy, and the environment in the western US from the San Francisco Bay Area for Cancer Commons, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and PLOS Biology. This year, she’s also diving into California water issues as the Bay Area Monitor’s Water Reporting Fellow. Williams, based in Honolulu, Hawai’i, covers medicine, biology, and anything else that elicits a ‘wow!’ for places such as PNAS, ScienceNOW, BioTechniques, Biomedical Computation Review, and Stanford Medicine. They spoke with me about how The Group might get to live the dream in Hawai’i together someday.
How did The Group come about?
Robin: Our story begins in Hawai’i. Sarah lives there and I’m there so much it seems like I do. We connected via LinkedIn and get together every time I’m on O’ahu, usually for lunch and a gorgeous hike.
Sarah: The first time we met in person, about a year ago, we were walking around Honolulu talking about everything from bad clients to how we stay on track for long-term deadlines, and we both mentioned that we wished we had a better support group to discuss these kinds of things with.
Robin: I set up a Google Group and called it “The Group” as a placeholder. Then the name stuck because everyone was too fond of it to switch—as one of our members said, it’s very Dorothy Parker.
How does The Group function on a daily or weekly basis?
Robin: The Group is quite relaxed. We’re there when we need each other, which can be a lot or a little depending on what’s going on in our writing lives.
We get together in person whenever we can—at NASW, AAAS and the Northern California Science Writers Association for those of us in the Bay Area, plus several of us attended the same freelancing workshop last summer. Another member just moved to Hawai’i, and our dream is to have an unconference there before Sarah moves back to the mainland next summer.
What’s your favorite tribe ritual, tradition, or activity?
Sarah: We sometimes do ‘work pushes’ on a Friday for an hour or two. Someone will post that they need motivation to get a project done, or a pitch sent out, and we’ll all agree to sit at our computers and focus on work for a set amount of time. You’re a little bit accountable for getting something done.
Robin: We also do periodic check-ins to find out what everyone’s up to. And when one of us does a workshop or retreat, we report back to the group. That’s like getting a mini professional development booster.
What’s the most important rule your tribe has and why?
Robin: There’s only one rule—what happens in The Group stays in The Group.
What’s the best benefit of membership in The Group?
Sarah: I like the mix of people—folks covering everything from physics to environmental news to health. We’ve had some job opportunities passed along. We’ve also shared bad client stories and learned who not to write for. Living in Hawai’i, where I’m one of only a few science writers in the state, it’s nice to have some kind of support network to turn to.
Robin: I love it all: having a go-to place for questions, support, venting, and the accountability that helps push us where we want to be as writers. The Group comes from all over the science writing world—freelancers, staffers, writers and editors—and that range of experience gives us lots of points of view. We also have out-of-box thinkers, which is helpful and extremely entertaining. I’d share stories but you know the rule…
Other members had interesting perspectives on this, too. One noted, “Sometimes it feels like work situations are all or nothing, but they rarely are. It’s good to see how many ways there are to deal with a problem.” Another member likes crowd-sourcing feedback: “Is this a good book title? I’ll ask The Group. Which headset for my phone? Let me poll The Group. Is my editor crazy? Let me check with The Group.”
Image credits: Robin Meadows and Karen Josephson.