by Bryan Le
I never thought I’d end up as a writer. And yet here I am, publishing my first book about food science in the kitchen.
Like many PhD students, I started off thinking that research was the life for me.
Do experiments. Collect data. Get published. Rinse and repeat.
I was heading into my third year when I realized that the research life was actually not for me. Sure, it was fun to stroll in late in the morning to chat with my co-workers about the science of coffee or fake meat. Occasionally, I got a hit of excitement when my experiments finally worked. (And the free food was nice.)
But at the end of the day, I knew I wanted to do something else with my career. So I started brainstorming ways to upgrade my resume with skills I could develop while at my desk.
Writing was a natural fit because I wasn’t tied to any schedule or location. I could write at home or in the office. If I had an idea while eating breakfast, I could quickly jot it down on my phone.
I started off by asking startup companies for opportunities to write about food science (my field of study). After I developed my writing style, I joined up with the student association for the professionals in my field (Institute of Food Technologists Student Association, or IFTSA) to write articles for their award-winning blog, Science Meets Food.
That’s how I ended up learning about ComSciCon.
A past participant of the Pacific Northwest regional workshop had written an article about her experience on Science Meets Food. I read that article, which got me super excited about ComSciCon and the world of science communication.
It felt like fate. When the application opened later that year, I was ready. I immediately applied.
Receiving my acceptance to ComSciCon18 was a huge moment for me. Part of me felt validated that all of these extracurricular activities were moving me closer to a genuine direction. I was learning that I enjoyed writing about food science and sharing ideas with the world. But now I could finally connect with a network of other graduate students who felt the same.
Plus, it would be great to be doing something other than pipetting media.
When I arrived at ComSciCon18, I knew that science communication was where I was meant to be. I was so happy to meet other fellow science communicators. And I was amazed to learn about the academic and career opportunities found in the world of science communication. I felt like there was unlimited potential in this new direction.
But one activity during the event was a pivotal experience for me.
We had an exercise assigned to us prior to the event—-the Write-a-thon, during which we prepared an article to share with one of the professional science communicators at the workshop. I got the chance to sit down with Nadja Oertelt of Massive Science to share my article on the technological and cultural history of vanilla.
I remember her telling me my article was promising and could be submitted to a major publication after some polishing. Later on, I ended up submitting that same article to Medium, which was picked up by their editorial team and featured on the site.
That’s when I started taking my writing more seriously.
ComSciCon gave me a vision of how I could direct my career and the confidence to grab the opportunities in front of me. After a series of small victories on the writing front, I applied to a leadership position for the IFTSA in 2019. I led a small team of volunteer writers and editors to produce content for their blog, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about digital and social media spaces.
During this time, I took some free online courses through HubSpot Academy on content marketing and branding. I also expanded my digital footprint and built an online portfolio to showcase my work.
Eventually, my portfolio ended up at Callisto Media, a startup publishing company that uses machine learning to discover book trends. They contacted me and asked me if I wanted to write a book on food science in the kitchen.
How could I say no?
And so, after months of drafts, edits, and polishing, my first book, 150 Food Science Questions Answered, will soon be available in print on July 21st, 2020.
To see my writing in serious print is an incredible feeling. It’s a boost of confidence in this new career I’m carving for myself. And so, I plan to keep moving forward in the world of science communication and see where it takes me in the future.
I believe anyone who has the opportunity to attend ComSciCon, whether at the regional or national level, should absolutely do it.
Dive right in.
You never know where it might take you.
Bryan Le is a food science PhD candidate at University of Wisconsin-Madison and an alumnus of ComSciCon 2018. He currently serves as the VP of Digital and Social Media for IFTSA and helps run their award-winning blog, Science Meets Food. You can visit him at bryanquocle.com.