Jason Palmer says he became interested in science journalism after years as an ultrafast laser scientist at Lawrence Livermore Lab in the U.S. and Imperial College in Britain — a time that instilled in him, as he describes it, a “fear of dark laboratories.”
As an antidote, he began freelance writing while doing postdoctoral work in Italy. As that came to an end, he secured internships at The Economist and New Scientist magazines, which in turn led to a full-time job as a science and technology reporter with BBC News. Still, having missed out on an MIT education at the undergraduate level, and with nudging from colleagues and former Knight Science Journalism fellows at the BBC, he decided to apply. He arrived in Cambridge in the summer of 2013.
As a fellow, Jason took a mix of science courses — a bit of cosmology from Alan Guth, some biology from Eric Lander, and science and cooking over at Harvard — but also explored a range of other topics, including science policy, the history of news, and a bit of fiction writing. He also dabbled in glass blowing, just about the only thing that he says he hasn’t put to good use since completing the fellowship. The experience of being a fellow, Jason adds, broadened his perspective as a science journalist and taught him a lot about how other journalists in other markets work. It inspired in him an ambition to go a bit beyond the news hamster-wheel and to think about science in bigger, broader terms.
As a result, when an opportunity arose to become a science correspondent at The Economist just as the fellowship was ending, he jumped at it.
Nevertheless, he still misses Cambridge, and his fellow fellows, and Jason says he’s sure he’ll maintain the friendships he forged at MIT for the rest of his days. “I have never had such a wide-open opportunity to pursue my curiosity, and I don’t expect I ever will again,” Jason said. “I learned more in that year about more topics, and had more fun doing it, than I thought was possible.
“The fellowship was an incredible thing to be a part of,” he added, “and to still be a part of.”