Spotlight on Emily Anthes ’06

 

In September, the Graduate Program in Science Writing spoke with Emily Anthes ’06 about her life and work since graduation. Emily is a freelancer, living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, the Boston Globe, Popular Science, Discover, New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Seed and more. She is the author of The Instant Egghead Guide: The Mind and writes the blog Wonderland for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Blogs.  Her website is http://emilyanthes.com.

 

 

GPSW: How do you find living and working in New York City, the Media Hub of the Universe?
Emily: It’s great. I always thought that I wasn’t the “New York Type,” but I’ve discovered, of course, that there is no one “New York Experience.” You can shape it to fit who you are. I live in Brooklyn, where I bump into writers (of all sorts) at every turn. Writing can be a lonely enterprise, but there are so many other writers in the city—and even in my neighborhood—that it creates a real sense of community.

GPSW: What made you choose to be a freelance writer?
Emily: After graduating from MIT, I worked at SEED for a while, and it was a great learning experience, but as I got promoted, I found that I was being given more editing and managerial responsibilities. All I really wanted to do was write. I had this huge stack of story ideas accumulating dust in my bedroom, and I figured that the only way to make a dent in it was to strike out on my own and start pitching. Also, freelancing is something that I’d always wanted to try, but I’d been pretty intimidated by the prospect. Eventually, I concluded that if I was going to abandon a full-time job—and risk being poor and hungry—I might as well do it while I was still young. I am not a risk-taker by disposition, but I knew I’d regret it if I never tried to make it as a freelancer. I’m more than three years into my freelance career, and I absolutely love it.

GPSW: What is your favorite topic?
Emily: For years I wanted to be a neuroscientist, so stories about the brain and behavior are my favorite. But one of the reasons I became a science writer is because I had so many scientific interests, so I pitch all sorts of stories, whatever catches my eye. On my blog, I tend to write about things that are especially quirky. Somehow I’ve stumbled into the mini-beat of writing about things that happen when humans decide to get drunk and then handle reptiles. It’s a very small niche.

GPSW: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Emily: I’m working on my first book. (Or second book, depending on how you define it. It’s complicated.) It’s about how biotechnology is allowing humans to shape animals in new ways, and I’m having a blast. I’d love to do more books after this one. I really don’t see myself going back to a full-time position at a publication; I’m enjoying freelancing too much. I’ve gotten spoiled by the fact that I get to pick and choose my work, only taking on the projects that interest me. I’m also hoping to teach science writing someday.

GPSW: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Emily: Play with my dog, cook, read, waste time online, go to comedy shows, try new restaurants, explore the city. I’ve lived here for five years now, and there’s so much more I’d still like to see and do.

GPSW: Chocolate, strawberry or vanilla?
Emily: Anything but vanilla. My mom used to buy Neapolitan ice cream, and I would always eat the chocolate and strawberry and throw out the vanilla.

GPSW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about science writing?
Emily: It’s not a job that’s going to make you rich and famous, so you’ve got to love it. If you find yourself in some staff writing job that you hate, take a chance and make a change. There are so many different opportunities in the field—and lots of ways to make it as a freelancer, if you have the discipline and drive. You shouldn’t resign yourself to a job that doesn’t excite you.