This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the 2017-18 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.
In the summer of 2003, Caroline Winter, freshly graduated from Wesleyan University and on a fellowship in Berlin, heard about a long-abandoned Iraqi embassy in the former East Germany. She decided to bike there and see if she could break in.
After exploring the decaying vestige of two former regimes and meeting scavengers who were there to loot Saddam Hussein posters, Winter says she felt compelled to capture the atmosphere in words. So she wrote her very first journalistic piece and (“completely naively”) submitted it to The New York Times. About two hours later, they wrote back. They were going to run the story as an Op-Ed.
Winter was born in Stuttgart, Germany, moved to the U.S. as an infant, and grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, surrounded by a family of doctors and scientists. She originally planned to study psychiatry and was accepted into medical school in Germany on three separate occasions. Instead she ended up earning a master’s in journalism at Columbia in 2007 and returning to Berlin on a Fulbright fellowship, where she wrote for Spiegel International and the Associated Press on topics ranging from spider-inspired robotics to fashion in the former East Germany.
In 2010, Winter was offered a job with Bloomberg Businessweek. “I feel so lucky,” she says, “because Businessweek, at that point, had just been bought by Bloomberg and had this … young new editor – Josh Tyrangiel – who put together the most amazing team of people … who helped me, over the next seven years, to grow as a journalist.”
Winter’s love for meeting unusual people has driven many of her pieces, which sit at the middle of the Venn between science, business, and human ambition.
She has reported on doctors offering hallucinogenic ketamine infusions to treat depression, a patriotic inventor who designed a new type of boat for the U.S. military but refuses to give up his patents, and a start-up that offers a topical bacteria spray as a replacement for soap.
The bacteria story and the subject of the human microbiome (the community of micro-organisms that are part of us), in addition to needing some time to re-center herself, drew Winter to apply to the Knight Science Journalism fellowship.
“There’s all this talk about probiotics, all these tests happen about microbiome being related to depression … and all these various diseases … and it feels like it might have a big impact on medicine eventually.”
Winter hopes to stay open to the possibilities of a new city, as she did many years ago in Berlin.
Which possibilities excite her the most?
“I think it’s something that I don’t even know I’m going to do yet.”