ComSciCon Attendee Writes & Produces for Voice of America

August 23, 2016
JoEllen McBride

As anyone deep into an interesting career can tell you, sometimes an unexpected path can deliver you to the best possible destination.  ComSciCon-Triangle 2015 attendee JoEllen McBride learned this truth right at the start of her career.

She started exploring careers in science communication after her PhD work in astrophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill overturned her pre-conceptions about research in astronomy.  Jo recalled, “I thought that having an instrumentation focus to my dissertation project would give me the skills needed to work for NASA. Boy was I wrong.”

Through workshops on public speaking, writing for local outlets and blogging, Jo realized that science communication was her real passion.  Many ComSciCon graduate students would identify with Jo when she describes herself: “I’m enthusiastic and love explaining things… I have an ability to talk to people not at them. I can disarm an academic so that they trust me enough to explain their work accurately.”

From the start of her journey in science communication, Jo saw ComSciCon as an opportunity to integrate with her newly chosen field.  “A fellow graduate student attended the national ComSciCon in 2013 and had an amazing experience. So I thought I’d apply to the 2014 session to see what it was all about.” 

Like many highly qualified attendees, the high over subscription rate to ComSciCon’s national workshop meant that she could not attend the first time she applied.  But fortunately, just a few months later we announced that our local workshop, ComSciCon-Triangle 2015, would take place right in her backyard.

Jo wrote of our Triangle workshop, “It opened my eyes. Hearing Joe Palca talk about the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship and his path really called to me. I knew I had to at least try science writing.”

She took Palca’s advice and applied for the opportunity with AAAS.  “I couldn’t believe I was selected as a Mass Media Fellow. Even after completing the fellowship it still feels like a dream.” 

Jo served her fellowship with Voice of America, the authoritative and objective news source founded by the US government during World War II.  Of her experience there, Jo wrote, “I learned that science story telling is more interesting when you have different voices. My job as a journalist was to weave those voices together to tell a story.“  Jo produced more than a dozen pieces for web, radio, and TV during her fellowship.

Jo is starting an adjunct professorship at West Chester University this fall while continuing her writing, blogging, and radio work in science communication.  Reflecting on her experience at ComSciCon and Voice of America, Jo wrote to us, “thank you from the bottom of my soul. I feel like I've rediscovered my purpose and I'm so excited for my next steps.”