My Day at a Glossy Science Magazine

OnSET World-Wide Day in Science | 12 April 2006

Sara Phillips, Deputy Editor of COSMOS magazine, at her desk

An interview with Sara Phillips for OnSET, the Online Science, Engineering & Technology blog of the Science Communication Program at the University of New South Wales for 2006 World-Wide Day in Science. What did the Deputy Editor of COSMOS do on April 12?


By Sarah Coggan

“Today, the most exciting thing that happened to me was a story I was expecting arrived in my inbox.

“An English neuroscientist had recently made the British papers for his outspoken views on animal experimentation. Tipu Aziz, professor of neurosurgery at Oxford University, said he believed experimenting on animals should not be condemned, as the practice had, and would, lead to many vital human medicines. I approached him after hearing this to ask whether he would be interested in writing an opinion piece for COSMOS.

“I believe that it is important for COSMOS to engage with the big issues in science, our researchers live within society, after all. Dr Aziz said he would be delighted to contribute, and teamed up with a 16-year-old boy, Laurie Pycroft, who had recently set up a pro-animal-experimentation campaign – a brave thing to do in a country where some researchers are physically assaulted by extreme animal rights lobbyists.

“And so, the story arrived in my inbox. I had a read, and found that it was definitely what I was hoping for. I made a few edits to make the introduction a little more compelling, and I put in some references to the Australian animal rights guidelines.

“Then I sent it back to Dr Aziz and Mr Pycroft to make sure they were happy with my changes. This kind of work is my favourite part of my job. As deputy editor of COSMOS, I spend most of my day reading press releases, looking for story ideas. When I find a good one, I commission a journalist to write the story for us.

“COSMOS uses freelance science writers to do most of our stories, and it’s my job to manage them and their stories. When the stories come in I change them (if they need it) to suit our style and to smooth over any bits that seem a little rough. The writers don’t mind me meddling with their stories. As any of them could tell you, a second opinion always helps improve a story.

“The editor of COSMOS commissions stories as well, and maintains overall vision for how he wants the magazine to turn out. I support him in helping that vision come to life.

“I didn’t always know I wanted to be a science writer. For a long time I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to be. All I knew when I was at school was that I was good at writing, and I liked science. After an Arts degree and a Science degree from Melbourne Uni, I stumbled across a course called the Graduate Diploma of Science Communication at the ANU. It was there that I really found that science writing was my passion.

“After announcing my career intention to my mother, she, of course, said, ‘Oh yes, I told you that years ago!’”

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