Allie Wilkinson: A “how did you do it?” profile.
by Lesley Evans Ogden
Allie Wilkinson is a Washington DC based freelance science journalist. I met her at a freelancer workshop called Courage Camp in Colorado in August 2014, and since that time, I’ve followed her online and seen her career flourish.
Wilkinson is the founder of a blog called, “This is what a scientist looks like,” a project designed to challenge stereotypes about our perceptions of scientists. Her work also appears in places like Scientific American, Popular Science, Wired, Discover, Science, National Geographic News, Slate, and Popular Mechanics.
Those are pretty impressive additions to any journalists’ resumé, so I was intrigued to find out how she went about cultivating these new opportunities.
The following are excerpts from my recent interview with Wilkinson.
Was there a particular strategy that you took in approaching these new places?
Two of the opportunities came about through networking. With Nature, I actually met the editor at Trivia Night at the National Press Club. Friends had taken me along. I was not thinking of it in a professional capacity, and then during introductions, I found out that one of the people on our team was an editor. She was very interested in having environmental reporters, so she gave me her card.
With Forbes, my name was given to them, when they were looking to add new writers, by someone that I had met at AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting) in Boston, and had sporadically kept in touch with. So with a lot of the publications that I have broken into [not just this year], it’s either that I have met somebody, or I knew somebody with a connection, and even the freelancers have been pretty generous with sharing contact information or giving advice.
Wilkinson too, is generous with advice…
I’m always happy to share advice! When I was just starting out, Charles Choi met me for lunch and gave me a lot of advice/intel, so I’ve always taken the same approach and like to pay it forward.
What about the New York Times?
I had previously cold-pitched The Times and my emails didn’t get a response or even read. And the story that I ended up publishing with them, I really had wanted to pitch it there, and it was incredibly time sensitive…[or so it seemed at the time]. So I called a former professor from grad school who was a writer at the Times, to ask him what he thought I should do. I said I really wanted to pitch there but the last time my pitch hadn’t even been read, and I didn’t want to miss out on this story. So he sent the editor an email just to say to look out for my email, so that got me read. It definitely was helpful to have that “in” to get my email opened…
As you know, there is a lot of doom and gloom that permeates the Internet when it comes to journalism, and it’s not difficult for young people to feel discouraged. I’m just curious to know, what advice would you give to a young person or someone in career transition, thinking about the possibility of embarking on a career in journalism?
Network, network, network!
I would say that networking is probably the most valuable thing that I’ve done. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to go to conferences. When I lived in New York, I would always try to go to a lot of the science communication events, not just specifically science journalism, but even those with scientists. That way I could meet people.
I would say that networking has probably been the single most valuable thing that I have done because as I said earlier, it’s not just meeting editors, it’s meeting other freelancers. Some of those freelancers have gone on a year or two later to become editors.
The other piece of advice I would give is to never be afraid to try, because the worst thing that can happen is that someone says no, or they just don’t write back to you. That’s the approach that I’ve taken with every place that I pitched. I’ve never felt like I was not qualified to write there. I would just go for it and give it a shot.
Inspiring advice! Thanks Allie.
Lesley Evans Ogden is a nerdy bird scientist turned freelance writer-producer. From the burbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, she enjoys writing about freelancing for Story Board, and is a regular contributor at New Scientist, Earth Touch, Natural History, and BBC Earth. Say hello on Twitter @ljevanso.