Fiscutean, a science and technology writer, is drawn to stories about “people with very few resources, building things out of thin air.”
Andrada Fiscutean can remember the families of Reghin, a small city in Romania, queuing in the streets for rations when she was a little girl in the late 1980s. After her family received their share, Fiscutean would cut back into line to stand with a neighbor. By pretending to be the neighbor’s daughter, she would help the person get a larger portion. Under Nicolae Ceausescu’s repressive regime, a little food went a long way.
Today Fiscutean is a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT and an award-winning science and technology writer. And though she’s far from the streets of Reghin, she still finds herself drawn to people who are trying to do more with less.
For 10 years before coming to MIT, Fiscutean rose at 5 a.m. She would commute from her home in Bucharest to the office of ProFM, the radio station where she is now editor-in-chief. After anchoring the morning news and coordinating projects with her editorial team, she’d return home and immerse herself in her writing projects. It was a workload that would have overwhelmed a less industrious writer.
But perseverance has been a recurring motif in Fiscutean’s life. It’s mirrored in remarkably researched stories about a North Korean biologist who worked as a dietician for Kim Il-sung, a group of Romanian students who hacked into the Pentagon, and patients who received fecal transplants when antibiotics didn’t work. At university, Fiscutean acquired computer science expertise, which she wears lightly, writing with deceptive clarity on cyberattacks and machine learning techniques.
When Fiscutean does foray into complex territory, she does so with a storyteller’s instincts. Although her interest in the human experience might seem out of place amid the abstractions of computer science, Fiscutean doesn’t see an inconsistency. In a piece she’s particularly fond of, she wrote about Romanian undergraduates in the 1980s who built Cobra computers out of smuggled parts.
“When you look at how the Cobra computer was built, you get to learn a lot about the people who built it and the decisions that they made. It tells you a lot about society,” Fiscutean says.
In 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed in the Romanian Revolution. (Fiscutean was four years old.) In recent years, Romania’s technology industry has been undergoing a quiet revolution of its own. The country’s computer scientists have come a long way.
So has Fiscutean. As a young technology writer in Romania, she had few role models, and largely had to find her own way. Today, she finds joy in mentoring young journalists. In the meantime, she continues to look for stories about “people with very few resources, building things out of thin air.”
“This is where you’re going to find the best story,” she says. “Not in a person that has everything and creates everything, but in a person who has nothing, and manages to do something.”
This is the third in a series of profiles of the 2019-20 Knight Science Journalism fellows, written by students in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.