Aleszu Bajak says he always wanted to be a biologist. He explored the Galapagos Islands with his grandmother when he was a teenager, and later pursued his undergraduate degree in biology at Amherst College. But after stints building viruses at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and consulting on biotechnology for a New York-based hedge fund, Aleszu took on a writing internship with Biotechniques, a life sciences journal. He covered advances in genetics and microbiology and, he says, became hooked on journalism.
Aleszu eventually branched out to broader audiences, working as a producer and blogger for the public radio program Science Friday, freelance writing in Argentina, and in 2011, launching LatinAmericanScience.org, a bilingual news resource covering science research in Central and South America.
Science journalism seemed like the perfect fit, Aleszu recalls — and so did applying for a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT.
“The people were the best part,” Aleszu said about his Class of 2014 peers. “We really gelled well together.”
In addition to attending KSJ’s popular weekly seminars, Aleszu pursued courses through the MIT Media Lab , the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. Among his favorite experiences during the fellowship year: Learning how to “hack journalism” in an increasingly digitalized world. Aleszu had built websites before, but at MIT he learned to build digital tools specifically for journalists, enabling them to find “truth in data,” he says.
The intersection between technology and journalism remains a core area of interest for Aleszu (he now teaches journalism at Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program and edits Storybench, an under-the-hood guide to digital storytelling), and his time at KSJ continues to yield dividends. His most recent stories appear in, among other titles, The Washington Post, The Global Post, and the journal Nature, where he reported on prominent and rising stars of science in South America.
“Before the fellowship, I had never attended any journalism meetings or conferences, or really even met with many of the science journalists I followed on Twitter, or whose work I admired from afar,” Aleszu says. “This was the first chance I had to spend quality time talking journalism craft with fellow journalists.”