The main RAPS website will offline for several minutes at 5 PM on 22 October 2021 due to scheduled maintenance.
We apologize for any inconvenience during this time.

Regulatory Focus™ > News Articles > 2020 > 3 > Science Writing in Retirement

Science Writing in Retirement

Posted 18 March 2020 | By Max Sherman 

Science Writing in Retirement

This article discusses science writing as a possible “hobby” to keep one’s mind curious and active in retirement. The author, a retired regulatory professional, explains how he finds interesting science topics and information about scientists for articles he contributes to his small hometown newspaper. He includes useful websites, recommends relevant reading and encourages retirees to consider science writing as a way to stay productive and give something back to the community.

Introduction

No matter how old you are, retirement time happens and much quicker than one might expect.  Sometimes, your retirement date may be chosen for you unexpectedly. Whichever the case, and whatever your age, a decision to plan for the change in circumstances is a wise and prudent thing to do. 

After a lifetime of working in regulatory affairs, upon retirement I knew I had to find a hobby to occupy my idle time. I know how important it is to continue to challenge your brain; doing so is one of the six steps toward cognitive fitness. Other steps include proper diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, stress management and social contacts.1  

Psychological well-being is directly correlated with consistent, diverse, regular activities.Regulatory affairs activities gave me the opportunity to learn more about science, math, logic, rhetoric, strategy and medical writing. To keep using use my curiosity, work experience and education after retirement, I decided to pursue a career in journalism by writing a weekly column about science for my local, small town newspaper. Fortunately, science is a broad subject encompassing the structure and behavior of the physical natural world and gives us a deeper understanding of natural phenomena. My advice is to think about reading and writing about science, as scientific literacy is important for everyone.

Rationale

I try to have articles published for several reasons. First, it is to encourage young readers to read more and to use my articles as a “jumping off point” to learn more about the subjects I write about. Science, along with technology, engineering and math courses, also known as STEM, are sadly lacking in the US and we are significantly behind the rest of the civilized world in our knowledge of them. Most of my columns make recommendations on books to read. Second, I try to cover topics about which most people are unaware, including mentioning scientists who have made seminal contributions to our lives, but may be relatively unrecognized. Third, I find publishing rewarding and enjoy the feedback from many of my readers. I frequently learn from their comments. Finally, to prove to my family that I still maintain my mental health, through writing I am productive and able to give something back to my community. If I were not writing a column, I would look for other means of expression, such as writing letters to the editor, blogs or articles to magazines or journals. Blogs are good platforms appearing on online journals or websites and provide a place where a writer can share his or her views on an individual subject.3

Topics

When I write about scientists, selecting those to write on is not difficult. I read the obituaries in the New York Times and Sunday Wall Street Journal notices and search out the deaths of luminaries in science. I do further research on their lives and accomplishments and use that information for my columns. Some I have found interesting include Robert Cohen, Stanley Falkow and Stuart Levy. In addition, I look for news items, such as the plague of locusts in Africa, vanishing insects, using leeches in plastic surgery or endangered animals. I provide additional details.  

Insects are one of my favorite topics and I have written about tarantulas, spiders, bees, ticks and scorpions. Animals and fish are among my frequent subjects and I have provided columns about camels, alligators, giraffes, hibernating bears, zebra fish, octopuses and doctor fish. I have also written about body organs, such as the brain, pancreas and the liver. I have written about each of the five senses and compared them by how valuable they are. By subscribing to the Science Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine, I find other fascinating stories. Science Daily online is an excellent source for what is new in scientific research. 

Nonfiction books are another avenue for new ideas. For example, I recently read David Sinclair’s book Lifespan and, using it, I wrote a column about the aging process.4 I have used samples from books on Kindle to enhance my column about locusts. Dorothy Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was instrumental in writing about HeLa cells and their immortality.5 I included other acronyms in the same column. Another example is Bill Bryson’s new book, The Body. It contained a number of anecdotes I followed up for columns.6 One anecdote was a description of Dr. Charles Sherrington, a long- overlooked pioneer in medicine. Drug advertising on television was another subject I have written about, but in a humorous way. One of my columns was about diseases that have mysteriously disappeared; another was about newly discovered parts of the human anatomy. I also went far afield, describing the lives of two philosophers, Montaigne and Cicero.

Other Resources

I recommend Oxford University Press, which publishes a series of small paperback books with the theme of “a very short introduction.” I have used several for background information. Major resources for me include books or articles written by outstanding science writers. They include Sherwin Nuland, Lewis Thomas, Natalie Angier, Atul Gawande, David Quammen, Carl Zimmer and E O Wilson. Unfortunately, both Nuland and Thomas are deceased, but their style of writing is worth emulating, as are the others. I find reading several newspapers is a “gift” for my writing. The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal has a remarkable books section and of their reviewed books are about science and medicine. The New York Times publishes an electronic newsletter packed with current information about science and often contains links to published papers. If you wish to brush up on your writing skills, there are a number of outstanding books that can help, including The Elements of Style,7 Style Toward Clarity and Grace,8 Why Not Say it Clearly9 and On Writing Well.10  While not a fan of the internet or technologically savvy, I have become a “Google-ite” (if the word exists). Google provides an amazing source of information, although not always the most credible information. I use both Google and Google Scholar to initiate my research. Fortunately, both have links to journal articles from reliable and refereed journals. In an article written more 50 years ago, Richard Asher suggested that writers take note of “The Elephant’s Child,” a Rudyard Kipling poem:11

       “I keep six honest serving men
        (They taught me all I knew)
       Their names are What and Why and When
       And How and Where and Who”

 
These six “serving men” are used to attain most of our knowledge. Remembering who will read the work, and focusing how to make it plain, simple, accurate, orderly and complete are keys to a clear writing style, conducive to providing an easily read and understood article.

Final Thoughts

As an aftermath to the work done on my newspaper columns, I am having them compiled into a small paperback book entitled Science Snippets—Columns from a Small Town Newspaper. The paper I write for plans to use the book as an incentive to enroll new subscribers.

References
  1. A Guide to Cognitive Fitness. Harvard Medical School Special Health Report. Harvard Health Publications, Boston MA, 2017.
  2. Soomi L, et. al. “Change is Good for the Brain: Activity Diversity and Cognitive Functioning Across Adulthood.” The Journal of Gerontology. Series B. 2020.
  3. Skrba A. “What is a Blog? The Definition of Blog, Blogging and Blogger.” First Site Guide.com. https://firstsiteguide.com/what-is-blog/. Accessed 16 March 2020.
  4. Sinclair D. Lifespan Harper Collins Publishers. London. 2019.
  5. Skloot D. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Macmillan. New York, 2010.
  6. Bryson B. The Body. Doubleday Publishers. London, 2019.
  7. Strunk W and White E B. The Elements of Style. 4th Ed. Longman. New York, 2000.
  8. Williams J M. Style—Toward Clarity and Grace. Univ of Chicago Press. Chicago. 1990.
  9. King L S. Why NOT SAY it Clearly. Little Brown and Co. Boston. 1978.
  10. Zinnser W. On Writing Well. 3rd Ed. Harper and Row. New York. 1985.
  11. Asher R. “Six Honest Serving men for Medical Writers.” JAMA. 1969. Vol 208 (1):83-87.
About the Author

Max Sherman is a retired regulatory professional. He has contributed to Regulatory Focus for more than two decades and is the author of the book entitled "Eclectic Science and Regulatory Compliance: Stories for the Curious." The book contains 36 essays, most of which appeared in Regulatory Focus. In 2012, RAPS published "From Alzheimer's to Zebrafish: Eclectic Science and Regulatory Stories." He is also the editor of the first (2015) and second (2018) editions of "The Medical Device Validation Handbook." He may be contacted at maxsherman339@gmail.com .
 
Cite as: Sherman M. “Science Writing in Retirement.” Regulatory Focus. March 2020. Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.
 

 

© 2021 Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

Regulatory Focus newsletters

All the biggest regulatory news and happenings.

Subscribe