Communicating with the Media: Eight Tips on How to Get Press

As a freelance journalist, I look for stories all the time. In fact, my livelihood, and more importantly my cupcake budget, depend upon scientists just like you approaching and pitching me – that is, giving me a short, condensed version of an interesting story that I could potentially write about. I love being pitched. And I especially love it when a source, their public relations (PR) representative, or the public information officer (PIO) at their institution offers me ideas over long periods of time that are exciting, have narrative teeth, present something new, give the reader a fresh perspective on a topic, and engage my audience. I welcome these pitches and look forward to them, as they serve as the foundation of a fruitful alliance.

Indeed, some of my most favourite articles that I have written (and related, stories I have shared during speeches) came from people approaching me and not the other way around. And I would venture a guess that most other journalists feel the same way – if you have a good story that could work for our readership, we want to hear from you!

But before you do go on a pitching rampage in which you text me 30 times in a week to ask if I had a chance to read your very general press release, take a gander below at some tips for how best to interact with reporters. This is relevant in any industry, sector, field, and career path; an essential aspect of contributing to and advancing in your profession is effectively and regularly communicating with the media. As professionals in any space, be in STEM or stemware, it is critical for you to develop partnerships with the press, in such a way that they look forward to hearing from you, because they know you are always thinking about value – the value that I, as a journalist, and you, as a source, craft together to provide information and inspiration to readers.

On that note, allow me to present a few tips to help you ‘get’ the press:

  1. Build a relationship. #SpoilerAlert: some of my best articles are from sources and PR pros with whom I have been working for months and even years. It is all about networking – building that win-win alliance for the long-haul. They know that not every story they pitch me will be something I can or will write about, and if they are respectful and persistent, they know that there will be other opportunities to have me write about their work in the future. Some partnerships are so good that I come back again and again to the same source or PR director to write about them and their client multiple times over multiple publications. They always give me good story ideas that are the right flavour for the pubs that I write for, and have always been extremely responsive and helpful with my story ideas. I know you want press now, and I welcome your timely pitches (see below), but more importantly is to think long-term for how we can possibly work together over extended periods of time.

 

  1. Get to know what I write about. Get to know what publications I write for. Get to know my style. Get to know my pitching preferences. (For example, don’t text me if we have not already inaugurated a relationship. I much prefer email reach-outs.) Get to know me. The more you know me, the better you can craft customised pitches that are more likely to get you media exposure.

 

  1. Show me the story. If you are pitching me, don’t just tell me “I know a great scientist”. There are many great scientists. What makes you (or your client, the great scientist) specifically so great? I am looking for a narrative, a way to tell an overarching story – perhaps of ingenuity in the face of an uphill challenge, of failure that led to success, of personal trauma that transitioned into inspiration and innovation. Walk me through the why and how this scientist is amazing and why my readers need/should know about them.

 

Press conference at #LINO18: Nobel Laureates in communication with journalists. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

  1. Become an essential resource. If I come to you and ask you if you know of a source in volcanology, leverage your network and see if you can find a colleague who is a volcanologist. If I inquire about hot topics in AI, and that is tangentially related to your field, certainly you can present yourself as an expert. But you could also offer me other sources with whom I can speak as well. I appreciate your assistance. And the more resourceful you are with the media, the more we will come to you.

 

  1. Make it easy: Help the reporter understand what the essence of the story is. Don’t just send me a press release about your paper, conference, or new product. Customise the pitch for my needs. For example, knowing that I write about career topics for scientists and engineers, you can approach me with a story idea about yourself and your career path and how you overcame certain challenges. Think stories about people, not necessarily projects or products. The humanity is what I am after, as are my readers.

 

  1. Understand rules of journalism. I know you want to see your quotes before they are published, but some publications have specific rules barring this. And I know you want to review the article before you see it in print or online, but my editor will kill me if I share it with you. Do you want to invite me to Paris, all-expenses-paid, to get a sense of your research institution? Know that if you fund the trip, chances are I will not be able to place an article in a mainstream publication, because of the rules barring this type of behaviour – it gives the appearance of quid pro quo, even if it is not the actual case, and creates a potential conflict of interest (COI) for me, my editor, and my publication. So before you offer me a free trip, just be aware that I won’t be able to feature you. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the issues that journalists deal with, such as the publication’s rules against sharing quotes, text, or full articles with sources. Mind you, not every publication is like this. But many, many are. So please don’t ask if you can see the article.

 

  1. Everything’s on the record. Many years ago, I went on a journalism fellowship with about a dozen other science and environmental reporters, photojournalists, and videographers, where we had the chance to learn about the green energy initiatives of the Native American tribal governments in the Southwestern US. As part of the fellowship, it was arranged for us to meet with a PR director who represented the oil and gas (O&G) industry for a certain state in the US. He knew we were all journalists in the room. He knew we were taking notes and recording what he said. But at the end of an hour-long conversation, essentially an interview, about the state of O&G in the state, he turned to us and stated: “this was all off the record, right?” The fellowship director’s eyes almost popped out of his head, and we all started laughing. He was a veteran PR pro and should have known the bottom line: unless you ask for something to specifically be off the record at the beginning of an interview, everything you say to a journo is on the record.

 

  1. Time it right. Timing is a big concern of mine as a journalist. I need to have time to properly vet, report, and write an article. The topic needs to be timely for the audiences of the publication. The timing of the pitch and the article’s publication has to be in a sweet spot, too. Time is of the essence, and yet I have had sources, PR managers, and PIOs come to me with the story idea to write about a conference, sometimes one day before the meeting begins, and sometimes, after the conference has concluded. As much as possible, please give me time to contemplate and write the story. Another aspect of timing to keep in mind is when publications actually publish stories. For breaking news, stories may go live within hours or less of you being interviewed – case in point, the Nobel Prize announcements. But then there are stories that take weeks or months to prepare. I have worked on stories that don’t get published for more than a year after the original interview. So please be patient. It is no problem to follow up with me and ask what the status is or if I know the publication date. I am happy to provide you with any info I have.

Additional Note: On 18 October 2018, Alaina G. Levine held a webinar concerning science communication for the Alumni Network members of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. The webinar can be watched in the video below or on our YouTube-Channel.

 

Science Without Borders: New Nature Outlook Published

The new edition of Nature Outlook focuses on science in emerging economies. Illustration: Taj Francis; Copyright: Nature.

The latest issue of Nature Outlook, produced with support from Mars, Incorporated, is out! Our media partner Nature once again has published a special supplement to their scientific journal featuring the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. It focuses on empowering scientists in emerging economies and includes articles about #LINO18. Expect a profound insight into the current status of scientific research in low- and middle-income countries.

2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2018 Nobel Laureates Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018.

On Wednesday, 3 October 2018, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 to Frances H. Arnold “for the directed evolution of enzymes”  and to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”.

Find out more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry here.

2018 Nobel Prize in Physics

2018 Nobel Laureates Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland. Ilustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018.

On Tuesday, 2 October 2018, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their breakthrough inventions in the field of laser physics.

Find out more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics here.

New Principle for Cancer Therapy: Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2018

Today, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.

2018 Nobel Laureates James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. Ilustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018

From the press release of the Karolinska Institutet

“Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells this year’s Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.

James P. Allison studied a known protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors. He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients.

In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.

Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer. The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer.”

Read more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Learn more about the possibilities of immunotherapies in our topic cluster. 

New Nobel Lab 360°: Randy Schekman

Nobel Laureate Randy W. Schekman in his lab in Berkeley. Photo/Credit: Volker Steger/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Our newest Nobel Lab 360° features 2013 Nobel Laureate Randy W. Schekman. This virtual tour through the Schekman lab at the University of California, Berkeley, shows you his office, the main lab and the cell sorter.

Randy Schekman and his team introduce their current work on how human cells manufacture small membrane vesicles containing RNA molecules. With an animated cluster of yeast, Prof. Schekman explains the research that lead to his 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with James E. Rothman and Thomas C. Südhof. 

#LiNo17 Daily Recap – Friday, 30 June

The 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting ended with the Baden-Württemberg Boat Trip to Mainau Island. It was a day full of science, discussions, joy, genuine delight and even some tears. Enjoy the highlights of the last day of #LiNo17.

 

Video of the day:

 

“I felt like I had the world in my hands.” – Young scientist Hlamulo Makelane

A definite highlight of the day were the heartfelt closing remarks made in the courtyard of Mainau Castle. You can watch the entire Farewell in our Mediatheque.

Hlamulo

Browse through our mediatheque to find all lectures, discussions and more educational videos from the Lindau Meetings.

 

Picture of the day:

Nobel Laureate Rudolph A. Marcus enjoying the Baden-Württemberg Boat Trip to Mainau Island whilst conversing with young scientists. 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Chemistry, 25.06.2017 - 30.06.2017, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Boattrip to Mainau Island

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog of the day:

For Nobel Laureate Jean-Pierre Sauvage, novelty, teamwork and adventure drove advances in synthesising molecular chains and knots. Read about his work and his advice for the young scientists.

Sauvage

Do take a look at more of our inspring blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

 

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LiNo17

This is the last daily recap of the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The idea behind it was to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. We hope you enjoyed the meeting and wish you all safe travels home.

#LiNo17 Daily Recap – Thursday, 29 June

Thursday was the last day in Lindau but not the last day of the meeting. Friday is going to take the participants to Mainau Island, so while they are enjoying their last day on the picturesque island, let’s take a look at what happened yesterday. Here are our highlights from Thursday:

 

Video of the day:

All six panelists – Nobel Laureates Sir John E. Walker and Dan Shechtman, Wiltrud Treffenfeldt (Chief Technology Officer of Dow Europe GmbH), May Shana’a (Head of Research & Developmen of Beiersdorf AG) and young scientist Thomas L. Gianetti from ETH Zurich as well as chairwoman Alaina G. Levine – have strong opinions on “Science Careers” and gave excellent advise for #LiNo17 participants.

You are welcome to browse through our mediatheque for more panel discussions, lectures and other informative videos.

 

Picture of the day:

Nobel Laureate Peter Agre’s lecture on “Aquaporin Water Channels” was not only educational, but also made the young scientists laugh. Most definitely one of the best pictures of Thursday.

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Chemistry, 25.06.2017 - 30.06.2017, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Audience in Peter Agre's lecture

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog of the day:

When Nobel Laureates come to Lindau, photographer Volker Steger presents each with a surprise task. Find out what it is and how the laureates “sketch their science”.

Sketches of Science Slider

Do take a look at more of our inspring blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

 

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LiNo17

We will keep you updated on the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with our daily recaps. The idea behind it is to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps will feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.

 

“The world deserves well-educated women.” – Ana Torres from Mexico

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Ana Torres

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Ana and get inspired.

 

Ana_Torres _4

Ana Torres, 33, from Mexico is a Postdoc at the Texas A&M University in the US. Her research is focused primarily on the theoretical study of the interfacial phenomena relevant for the development of next generation rechargeable batteries. She is also studying the confinement effect exerted by molecular sieves, solvents, nano-structured materials, an inert gas matrix over the chemical reactions, which are important for chemical catalysis. Her motivation is to assist the novel frontier materials design (with enhanced features) using theoretical and computational methods to optimise resources and facilitate the materials implementation for the manufacturing process of technological devices.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

Since forever, science books were the only reading material available at home. Both my sister and I grew up with my two parents who are successful biologists despite the difficult circumstances they had to overcome to pursue a career in science. Their personal stories encouraged me to appreciate my education and science in general. I spent a lot of time surrounded by students, immersed in school, math competitions and science fairs. Also, my parents took my sister and me with them on their field research in natural reservations and archaeological zones. I went with my mother to her postgraduate courses and academic workshops. There was not a lot I could do in my small hometown in Mexico but fortunately, I was invited to participate in the Chemistry Olympiads and I enjoyed it all the way through the National Competition. I discovered my passion for chemistry during high school and I decided to travel a long way daily to Mexico City to the UNAM University and get an academic career in science.

 

Who are your role models?

In many ways, I have been inspired to dedicate my life to science when I pictured my parents doing their daily academic activities with a genuine delight. I enjoyed reading stories about inventors like Edison, Gutenberg, and González-Camarena and enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes adventures. As a child I had the highest scores in school triggered by the discipline at home and motivated by the guiding hands of several exceptional teachers and academicians who invested professional resources into my training. I keep evocative memories of my math teacher, during middle school, who was very dedicated in preparing his students for national competitions. After middle school, I participated in the National Chemistry Olympiads where I met devoted teachers and researchers of the UAEM-Mexico who trained the team and encouraged us to pursue a career in chemistry. My bachelor and postgraduate studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico contributed to my personal and academic growing. I have been inspired in many ways by committed theorists and advisors: Prof. Fernando Colmenares, Prof. Serguei Fomine and Prof. Perla Balbuena and also the leading academics and theorists Prof. Raul Alvarez, Prof. Fernando Cortes and Prof. Tomas Rocha. Likewise, I shall mention the Nobel Laureates who are my academic life models: Prof. Mario Molina, Prof. Roald Hoffmann, Prof. Robert H. Grubbs, Prof. Walter Kohn, Prof. John Pople, Prof. Konstantin Novoselov, Prof. Andre Geim, Prof. Rudolph A. Marcus and Prof. Martin Karplus.

my parents took my sister and me with them on their field research in natural reservations and archaeological zones

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

The way throughout my current academic position was not easy but constructive and challenging in some aspects. I come from a small, quiet and traditional town in the state of Mexico. Thankfully, I was blessed with my parents’ commitment to provide my sister and me a good education. During my basic education, I participated actively in several science and academic contests. Later on, I enrolled in the public high school and was benefited with a scholarship. That stage was meaningful for my further decision to study chemistry since I was selected to attend Mexico’s National Olympiad of Chemistry. That privilege implied a strong commitment by means of traveling two hours to the school of Chemistry of UAEM-Mexico to be trained for the competition, and then two hours more for the way back. I traveled with my mother after the school in an old van provided by the principal two or three days per week during some months. We arrived at home almost at midnight, tired but enthusiastic about my preparation and the encouraging support within my family. After that fruitful experience of attending the national contest, I decided to study Chemistry in the School of Chemistry of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. So therefore, I spent four hours in a round-trip each day to the Mexico City to pursue my bachelor degree. Sometimes I traveled by car with my father before dawn, but others I had tiring trips in the overcrowded subway and the bus, which arrived in the middle of nowhere where my parents picked me up. After I had my first course of Quantum Chemistry in the university, I joined a theoretical research workgroup. The Quantum Chemistry captivated me and one year later, I obtained my bachelor degree with honours. I continued my postgraduate studies in Chemistry supported by a grant of the National Council of Science and Technology. Usually, there are few students willing to pursue a career in Theoretical Chemistry in my program. Thus, while I studied my advisor and other theorists dictated Quantum and Computational Chemistry post-graduate courses, indeed some of the lectures were first given. As well, during that time, I started my own family and I had to organise my time efficiently to get a functional balance between motherhood, research and teaching. Therefore, through family joint efforts, hard-working and passion for science important achievements were scored: my son loves math and I graduated with honours, gaining the MSc. and PhD. degrees in Chemistry. At present, I am thankful for the support of Prof. Balbuena and I am committed to my post-doctoral stay in Texas A&M University, US. Likewise, I am sharing this experience with my supportive family; we are all growing in academic and personal areas.

 

Ana_Torres_1

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Every single project I have worked on has represented a hot topic for me. My Chemistry Master Project was crucial for my academic growing, since I was assigned to deal with some kind of reactions that computationally develop through the wrong expected pathway. So given that behind every failure is an opportunity to succeed, I just let the theory to guide me to get the pieces of the puzzle. Hence, the experienced guide of my advisor, Prof. Colmenares, and my chemical background converged into an alternative and plausible new two-step mechanism proposal (alternative to the spin intersystem-crossing) that explained for the experimental results and became the distinctive approach of the research group. By the time Prof. R. H. Grubbs held a lecture in the university, I got immersed in some articles on methatesis reactions which led me to work with Prof. Fomine. It was my luck that he noticed that I could have a complementary role in the nanoscience research he was guiding in that moment in view of my previous experience in multireference and ab-initio electronic structure methods. From then on, I had to deal with the electronic structure of polymers and p conjugated carbon-based linear and bidimensional nanosystems. Furthermore, after the 2013 Chemistry Nobel Prize announcement, I was fascinated by the multi-scale methods and the perspective of deconstructing a complex system into an accurate computational treatable one. This perspective helped me to deal with the molecular simulations of nanostructures and large-size catalytic systems and encouraged me to look for my current postdoctoral position which is working on a project focused on the computer-aided design of novel materials with technological applications. In this context, it is sought to contribute to the science development in the field of materials used in cutting-edge energy storage devices.

I had to organise my time efficiently to get a functional balance between motherhood, research and teaching

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I feel proud when I mentor other young students and I succeed to transmit my enthusiasm for Quantum Chemistry to them. In particular, when I teach and help other students with their research and studies in chemistry I feel very gratified. As well, I value the research that I carried out in my home country headed by great Scientists and a limited infrastructure. I got some awards, they came unexpectedly as a nice reward for a constant work and joint endeavor of my home university and advisors, I feel pleased about it and double committed with my future efforts.

 

Ana_Torres_2

 

What is a “day in the life” of Ana like?

Currently, I am doing a postdoctoral stay in the Department of Chemical Engineering in Texas A&M University. My day starts early in the morning, so my husband and I start the day helping my child to get ready for the elementary school. Then I spend most of the day in the office interacting with the quantum world through the computer and enjoying my computational research. There, I read some Quantum Chemistry books or participate in a seminar or workshop. It is a fruitful experience to share the office with two young female students, we have a nice environment of mutual support and cooperation. We all come from developing countries and share a strong motivation and commitment on science. My workgroup is very diverse, encouraging and productive; it is leaded by Prof. Perla Balbuena. In my previous group, I was the only woman. At late afternoon, I go back home to enjoy a delicious and healthy dinner with my family. This, however, would not be possible without the wonderful team effort of my family that supports me. Then, after homework, games, handicrafts and origami at home, I benefit of the calm of the night to carry out some calculations and read before I go to sleep.

when I teach and help other students with their research and studies in chemistry I feel very gratified

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

When the bachelor degree is issued by my home university UNAM, the following oath must be taken:
“I affirm to practice my profession with integrity and enthusiasm, always bearing in mind my social responsibility to the community that contributed to my training, ensuring the professional solidarity, the progress of Chemistry and the prestige of our university. For my race, my spirit will speak.”
I am keen to embrace this phrase as part of my everyday service through science and mentorship and willing to impact positively and more directly in the solution of welfare issues and technology development through the research in the field of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I enjoy walking, running and biking, which let me spend a great time with my son and my husband and undertake physical activity. Likewise, I enjoy the Bible studies, since it provides me a compass to guide my next steps in all the areas of my life. As well, it is a good opportunity to know some colleagues of other research fields and countries out of the office and to enrich each other with great learnings and common goals. I like to talk about quantum chemistry and science with my family and friends, listen science podcasts, computers, hi-tech gadgets, stereograms and the origami. I like farm animals and the country lifestyle, indeed in my home country I have the opportunity to spend some weekends in my parents’ eco-farm to take care of rabbits.

I urge each woman in disadvantaged regions to break away from the traditional molds society has imposed upon us to justify the lack of support to education, science and job opportunities

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

As a woman, I have my own perspective to address problems in several fields of chemistry; organisation and multitask skills enable me to have a good balance between the family and my career. It is important to have a strong discipline and continue motivated along the way to get an academic career on the basis of family ties and academic cooperation. Personally, chemistry can be seen as a high-level marathon that demands several attributes. Endurance to overcome the day-by-day challenges and enthusiasm to keep high levels of motivation to perform high-quality research. To keep the feet on solid ground, persistent academic training and the desire of service and impact in a positive and useful way in the immediate surroundings. The result is reaching the goal bearing in mind that every step is worth the effort! I urge each woman in disadvantaged regions to break away from the traditional molds society has imposed upon us to justify the lack of support to education, science and job opportunities, and to go beyond our own ways and limits to play an active role in our nation and take the challenge to pursue a career in Science.

 

Ana_Molec 4

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

The implementation and widespread usage of artificial intelligence in drug discovery, novel materials design, analytic techniques and environmental phenomena.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

The world deserves well-educated women. In Latin countries, commonly women are responsible on their own of the children. They are mainly responsible for their education and the most important: they are laying the foundation of the future generations. Empowering a woman translates into well-educated children, an irreversible and fruitful process, which I witnessed by first-hand in my family. In this line, the thrust and support of women in Science represents an axis of transformation in the society. Certainly, job opportunities for women in Science should increase and special programs for childcare and scholarships for women might raise the number of women that continue their studies and pursue a career in Science.

 

“Always accept an opportunity,” Says Emma Danelius

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Emma Danelius

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Emma and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Emma Danelius

Emma Danelius, 32, from Sweden is a PhD Student at the University of Gothenburg. Her research interests span across the fields of organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry and chemical biology. During her PhD studies she has been involved in projects with different applications but with a main objective of investigating the conformational behaviour and the intramolecular interactions of cyclic peptides and macrocycles.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

Since we started to learn about chemistry and biology in school I was always fascinated by everything that was known to exist but that we could not actually see. I always felt I had to find out more, so what better way than to work in research. I remember when I asked my father scientific questions, he always gave me really diffused answers, probably because he didn’t really know the answer. But then I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I guess it just continued like this, constantly thinking about this microscopic world and what is going on there.

 

Who are your role models?

I have many role models and can mention a few. First is my grandma; she was a strong woman who always believed in her grandchildren. She was always supporting us to be who we are and achieve what we strive for. My mother has also been important, laying the ground for my approach to the balance of working life and family. She has also always been a tremendous support. When it comes to role models in science, obviously I have to say Marie Curie; I find her story truly fascinating. A famous researcher here in Sweden that inspired me a lot, especially for everything she did for women in science, is Agnes Wold. At our department we also have a fantastic researcher and role model, Kristina Luthman, who has always inspired me as well as supported me. My closest friends are also chemists and they influence and encourage me every day.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

After finishing high school I did not know exactly what I wanted to study, just that it would be in the field of natural science. I took a ground course in chemistry and completely fell in love with it. I did a bachelor in analytical organic chemistry and began a thesis work position at Swedish Medical Products Agency in Uppsala, working with NMR spectroscopy. Subsequently, I enrolled in the master program in organic and medicinal chemistry at the University of Gothenburg. I undertook a thesis work position at Astra Zeneca, working with synthetic organic chemistry. After that I started my PhD at the University of Gothenburg, working with Professor Mate Erdelyi on weak interactions and conformational analysis of peptidomimetics.

I was always fascinated by everything that was known to exist but that we could not actually see.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

It is difficult to single one out given I really enjoyed working on all projects that have crossed my path so far. However, the peptide project that is the basis of my PhD work is the one closest to my heart. I am fascinated by the conformational behaviour and the intramolecular interactions of molecules with biological relevance, which runs nearly every aspect of biology.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I would have to say it was the first time I got an article accepted for publication. I remember that was a really good feeling. Also, it is always rewarding when I can present my research at conferences. One time in Germany especially comes to mind when there were over 600 people in the audience. That was a bit scary but I felt proud afterwards.

 

emma_2

 

What is a “day in the life” of Emma like?

I usually drop off my kids at day care in the morning, cycle to work and then spend the day in the lab, by the computer writing or analysing data, or by the spectrometer. Sometimes I also have teaching assignments. Two days a week I pick up the kids from daycare after work, the other days I work a bit later in the evenings. Then I spend the evening at home with the family. If I have time, I might go out for a run after putting the kids to sleep.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I would love to continue working in research. I will finish my PhD in October this year and the next goal is to get a good post doc position.

Always accept an opportunity, say yes instead of no.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Spend time with my family, travel, read books, see my friends and go to the theater or cinema.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

One thing is to try to always accept an opportunity, say yes instead of no. I think in general that men are a bit better at this. Most important though, is to take care of and support each other. Appreciate and respect sisterhood.

 

emma_1In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

Life is about dynamic processes of complex molecules in a three dimensional world. Techniques that can continue to push the sensitivity and resolution limits, like super resolution microscopy or spectroscopy, so that we can get a complete zoom in on these processes.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

This is a complex question and the answer is by no means trivial. When I started the chemistry program there were actually more women than men in the ground courses, so it seems that simply making an effort to interest more young girls in science subjects at an earlier stage is not the solution. Along the way women have dropped out, and at the professor level it is mostly men at our department.

Three things that I thought of that might help are to have anonymous applications, to find ways to support women after they have children, and to try to divide administrative tasks equally.