Speaking to… Virginia Hughes

“ultimately I do it because it keeps my mind working every day.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Virginia Hughes.


Virginia Hughes


Virginia Hughes

Where are you based?

Brooklyn, New York City.

Who do you work for?


What type of science communication do you do?

I freelance, writing news and features for print magazines (Nature, Popular Science, New Scientist) and web outlets (Slate, SFARI.org). And I have a blog, called Only Human, which is part of National Geographic’s Phenomena.

Who is your main audience?

The general public. Although I often write for places with scientific audiences, like Nature and SFARI.org, I always try to think about whether my mom, a non-scientist, would understand it.

How did you get into it?

I studied neuroscience in college but knew pretty early on that the lab life wasn’t for me. I went to the science writing graduate program at Johns Hopkins and never looked back.

Why do you do it?

There are lots of practical reasons — the flexible schedule, not having a boss, choosing all of my own projects. But ultimately I do it because it keeps my mind working every day.

What do you love about science communication?

The feedback. I love putting a lot of work into a piece and then putting it out there and seeing people react to it. Even if it’s a negative reaction (though that’s of course tough). I think that’s why I like Twitter, too.

What has been your favourite project?

This is tough. I did a long investigative piece for Nature Medicine a few years ago. It was about a doctor who was being sued for fraud, essentially. So for months I was knee deep in court documents and off-the-record interviews. And the guy actually let me come visit him and do a long interview. It was the first time I felt like a “real” reporter.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Always, always. I write two or three stories a week for various places. I’m excited to communicate about science communication at the ScienceOnline meeting later this month.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Ask a lot of people questions about what they do. Write wherever you can and don’t be afraid to write for free (especially at the beginning). If you do good and earnest work, t usually pays off in the long run.

You can follow Virginia on Twitter at @virginiahughes and read her National Geographic blog Only Human.