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ivy shih

Science writer, producer and communicator

 

And - Previously, HIV researcher

Be endlessly curious. That is how you will grow and expand your horizons.

What do you do?

I am a science writer who likes to cover any research topic. I write for various publications including Nature, Australian Geographic, The Conversation and Lateral and my work was also featured in The Best Australian Science Writing 2017 anthology. Previously I was a HIV researcher who used a high-powered microscope to map how the virus infected immune cells.

I’m also producing a science podcast that will take listeners on a backstage tour at museums and archives. Alongside this I am also a science communicator and mentor early career researchers on how to translate their work in an accessible way for a wider audience and the media.

Why did you choose this field?

"[Science stories] always made the world seem bigger."

The moment it clicked for me was when I was still working as a HIV researcher. It suddenly occurred that as much as I enjoyed working in the laboratory, the best part was when I got to tell people how my research fit into the bigger picture, and how to make it engaging.

 

I volunteered to write articles for science blogs, and discovered the joy of being able to chronicle scientific discovery for a wider audience. I discovered that it was possible to build a career in science writing – and wanted to challenge myself with opportunities that allowed me to be a science storyteller and communicator in all forms. 

 

I’ve always loved science stories – my childhood was filled with documentaries, science books and museum visits. As a child I would watch nature documentaries with my parents and since the programs were in English, I would translate David Attenborough’s narration into Chinese in real time so they wouldn’t miss anything. It was then I realised that well-told science stories have a way to overcome barriers and create change – barriers of knowledge, and even language barriers. That also played a large part in leading me to where I am now.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I used to collect newspaper clippings of exciting science news –  the most memorable being an article about how a scientist wanted to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction, complete with a photo of a Tasmanian tiger pup preserved in a jar. What captured my imagination wasn’t that end-point, but instead science had progressed to a point that it could be even remotely possible. I had no idea what career I wanted – only that I wanted to work in ‘science of a sort’.

 

I wish someone had told younger me that it was okay to think big so she wouldn’t feel so confused and alone. That I would actually ‘resurrect’ the Tasmania Tiger, not through genetics, but through words in an article. That I was able to write this article because my job lets me uncover science stories, create a podcast, move into science illustrating, meet people I greatly respect and even share my experiences  on stage at the Sydney Writer’s festival. That my job would take me to amazing places – including a museum basement looking at the same Tasmanian Tiger pup in a jar that I saw in a newspaper clipping years ago.

Why do you love working in STEM?

The best part of my job is that I am constantly learning. That I get to learn about scientific advances, discover hidden stories and bring it out into the open. I’m able to talk to researchers who are behind such achievements and think about the best way to translate all this fascinating new knowledge in a way that is accessible to everyone. STEM is a field that doesn’t stand still. STEM research is constantly working to improve and refine existing knowledge so we can all understand the world and ourselves just a little bit better.

 

What drives me everyday is the opportunity to capture that process in a creative manner. Every story brings new challenges, and it’s always fulfilling tell that story in an article, podcast or illustration.

Best advice for the next generation

Be endlessly curious. Read widely in all kinds of topics and find wonder in the little things during the pursuit of knowledge – that is how you will grow and expand your horizons.

Don’t ever let your background hold you back and limit what you are capable of. Find a network of like-minded people and always support each other to move forward.

 

Keep an open mind and find new opportunities even if they take you out of your comfort zone. Most often they will lead you to the most valuable experiences and meet incredible people.

Fun fact

There is a fossil ammonite on my desk given to me by a mentor. I cherish it dearly and looking at the fossil gives me comfort during difficult times. There’s nothing quite like looking at a 110 million year old fossil to put problems into perspective!