The NOVA Next founder wants to research and better understand the ongoing transition to low-carbon energy sources.
Before Tim De Chant became a journalist, he “accidentally majored in biology.” As a double major in environmental studies and English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he found that, between his two chosen fields of study, he also had nearly all the courses he needed to complete a biology degree. So he graduated in 2003 as a triple major.
After taking a year off, he continued his education as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied landscape ecology and conducted research on how disease and urbanization affect oak woodlands. But he was always interested in writing. He pictured himself becoming a professor who wrote articles for general audiences on the side. He worked on the editorial board of the Berkeley Science Review and took a science reporting class.
And like the trees he studied, his career began to develop multiple branches. In 2008, while still in grad school, he was chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to be a Mass Media Fellow, which gave him the opportunity to report for the Chicago Tribune. He says he “liked writing and reporting too much” to continue to work in academia. After getting his PhD the next year, he went immediately into writing. He freelanced for publications like WIRED and Ars Technica and was a writer and editor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In 2012, De Chant became senior digital editor at NOVA. There, he founded NOVA Next, a digital magazine that examines how science and technology will affect the future. De Chant describes the magazine as his proudest journalistic accomplishment so far; during his six years there, he worked with a team of editors and freelancers to produce more than 200 feature-length articles and hundreds more news stories.
Why did he step away from it all to become a Knight Science Journalism Fellow? “I felt that the timing was right,” he said. De Chant has been a guest lecturer in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing since 2014, so he has been familiar with that program and with the KSJ fellowship program for years.
One thing that has remained constant for De Chant throughout his career is his interest in science and technology. As a KSJ Fellow, he wants to research and better understand the ongoing transition to low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, and nuclear power.
He also wants to think about the future of journalism. The field has undergone many changes during his decade as a journalist. Or as he put it, “How hasn’t it changed?”
De Chant said that although smaller publications are struggling, the rise of the internet has allowed more individuals to find audiences online. “The question of ‘Who is a reporter?’ has been broken down,” he said.
De Chant expects that, as journalism continues to evolve, new business models and new ways of reaching audiences will arise—and he wants to help lead the way.
This is the second in a series of profiles of the 2018-19 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.