Editorial intern Carmen Spears shares what she learned from her intensive 4 week internship at Refraction Media in October of 2018.

In 2018, I was fortunate to win the opportunity to intern with Refraction Media through the support of the Australian Science Communicators.

With the goal of learning everything I needed to be a freelance science writer, I left my kids and husband at home in Melbourne and flew to Sydney to spend four weeks in Refraction Media’s funky WeWork office.

The very trendy office environment included free coffee, pizza Fridays, the occasional doughnut wall, a Melbourne Cup party and a rather serious Ping Pong tournament. But don’t be fooled, I was working hard.

Heather Catchpole, Refraction Media’s Director and Head of Content and my internship mentor, allowed me a lot of autonomy and responsibility during my internship. This gave me the chance to be involved in every step of pitching and publishing an article. I was able to generate my own story ideas and pitch them to Heather. I contacted and interviewed the relevant people myself, wrote the article and had it edited by Heather. I realised quickly that the more I could pitch, and write, and ask questions, the more I could gain from my time with Heather.

Heather is the kind of teacher that pulls the bar a little higher every time you reach for it.

‘Can I send you a pitch?’ I’d ask.

‘Yes, send me three,’ Heather would reply.

This was a very effective teaching method, and one Heather delivered with kindness and support. Her feedback on my writing was one of the greatest benefits of my internship.

Once I’d gotten the article nicely polished, I could upload it to the Careers with STEM website myself. I tended to lean on digital producer Eliza Brockwell for a bit of help with this last uploading step, but I appreciated the learning opportunity to do this myself was available.

Eliza was another perk of my internship. Aside from Heather, I spent much of my time with Eliza, who was ever patient and generous in answering my questions and supporting my learning. Eliza gave me feedback on writing for an online audience, as well as ample tips on the workings of digital media, WordPress, social media and marketing.

In my time with Refraction Media I discovered I love interviewing people (something I was initially nervous about). I enjoyed being able to conduct interviews both over the phone and in person.

I wrote fun stories, news stories, profiles of scientists, event wrap-ups and short fact bites. I am grateful to have gained a portfolio of writing clips and the kudos of being able to say I’ve written for both of Refraction Media’s main platforms – Careers with STEM, and Science meets Business.  

As well as gaining writing experience, Heather encouraged me to attend and network at several events during my time in Sydney, including the ASC conference, NSW Writing’s Quantum Words Festival, and the UNSW Bragg awards. I learnt that attending events was also about grabbing stories. Heather took me with her to attend the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) Industry day at CSIRO, teaching me how to find great stories and make contacts at this type of event.

Since Refraction Media is a small team, I appreciated being able to get up close with all aspects of how the business is run. I was included in production and content meetings, and the entire staff were very welcoming of me. I really enjoyed the time I spent with them all.

I am so thankful to the Australian Science Communicators, Heather Catchpole and Refraction Media’s team for all they have given me through this internship. I now feel well equipped to take the next steps in my science writing career.

– Carmen Spears