Career Profiles: Ivan Semeniuk


Questions about your career and its development

1. What is your name?
Ivan Semeniuk.
2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
I am the science reporter for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper.
3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
When I was growing up in Canada, I was very interested in science, especially astronomy. At 14 I joined a local astronomy club to learn more about the subject. Later I chose to study astronomy and physics at university. I was also interested in writing but I didn’t know yet how my interests would combine. As a university student I began working at a major science museum and by the time I graduated I had a full time job there which included exhibit development and planetarium show production. During this time, I began to write articles, give public presentations and frequently appeared on radio and television to talk about astronomy and space. After ten years in this role I decided I was most interested in reporting on the latest developments in science. This led me to pursue a graduate degree in science journalism. When I finished I began working as a science television producer and later as a writer and editor for science magazines. I became a national newspaper reporter specializing in science when I returned to Canada after working in the U.S. for a number of years.
4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
I was most influenced by authors and presenters who covered science in the media in Canada and elsewhere. I was later able to meet and sometimes work with many of those who influenced me when I was younger.
5. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
I have been fortunate to have held many interesting positions with reasonable pay and with the opportunity to travel to cover scientific conferences, events and research expeditions in far flung corners of the globe. It’s wonderful to be able to do what you love and to always be interacting with interesting and brilliant people.

Questions about your current Job

1. How did you go about getting your current job?
I was already working as a news editor at a well-known international research journal when my current employer was considering taking on a science reporter full time. My many years of experience across a variety of science media were an important factor in the conversation that ultimately led to my hiring.
2. Describe a typical day?
Hard to do! At any given moment I have a number of stories on the go. I may be interviewing sources by phone or visiting researchers at their labs to find out what they’re doing. If I’m on deadline I may be writing and checking facts into the early evening to make the next morning’s edition.
3. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
For a science journalist it usually boils down to three things: Finding stories, reporting stories and then writing stories. In practice it means cultivating sources, keeping track of emerging research and paying attention to what your audience is interested in. It also means thinking creatively about how to present information, including the use of graphics, video and various web tools that can enhance a story.
4. What are the main challenges?
The biggest challenge is selecting the right stories to chase and then delivering them on a tight timeline, usually against the backdrop of an ever-changing news agenda. When I was an editor managing the work of a team of journalists the same challenge applied at the level of an entire section or publication. Similarly, when I was a producer for television, the challenge was enlisting the work of on air talent and technical staff to get the best content on the air in a given time within a given budget.
5. What’s cool?
Being able to speak to the world’s top experts about anything I’m interested in and absorbing new information about entire fields of research or science policy on a daily basis. It’s learning full time.
6. What’s not so cool?
Having to constantly react to world events can be exciting but it’s often hard to make plans or honour personal commitments when you’re tied to a 24-hour news cycle. Even an area of journalism as specialized as science is busy enough to offer multiple new discoveries, and policy questions to explore every day.
7. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
The ability to explain complex concepts in a clear and engaging way is a bedrock skill for science journalists. On top of that, good science journalists have a knack for telling stories and a passion for bringing new information to light in the public interest.

Questions about education and training

1. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?  
In high school I was drawn to science, mathematics and English courses, particularly creative writing. I studied physics and astronomy as an undergraduate and journalism as a graduate student. But I have also found that my journalism has benefited immensely from courses I’ve taken in other subjects, including documentary film, cognitive psychology, bio-ethics and the history of science.
2. What is your education to date?
I have an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.
3. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
When you’re a journalist, pretty much everything you learn is useful in some way.
4. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Journalism is an applied art. Although it is intellectually demanding and can involve detailed research, the fast pace and unpredictable nature of news reporting is typically not compatible with an academic schedule. But if I ever retire, I’d love to get a PhD!

Questions about yourself

1. What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Being on hand to cover some of the most important science developments and announcements of our time. Hearing from viewers and readers when my work increases their understanding of the world and excites their imaginations.
2.What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Curiosity, empathy and the desire to share what I know.
3.What is your dream job?
That’s a moving target. I would like to do what I’m doing but with more of me to do it with.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

1.What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Consider enrolling in a well-respected science journalism program that will allow you to immerse yourself in the craft. Talk to as many people as you can find who are in the business and able to share useful information about experiences and opportunities. I would add that full time staff positions for science journalists are few and far between. Those hoping to break into the field should expect to be flexible about where they have to go to find a position. Many opt for building up a freelance career and working wherever they live, but this comes with its own challenges at a time when traditional media organizations that hire freelance journalists are often scaling back.
2.What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
An interest in learning about everything, a desire to communicate information and a willingness to ask difficult and (sometimes) uncomfortable questions.
3.What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
An internship in a newsroom environment with supportive feedback from an experienced editor or producer is an ideal starting point