I wonder if it’s the same for any profession – that as you prepare to enter it, the standing guard feels compelled to warn you that things are not as good as they used to be. So far, I’m two for two, so I’m thinking it’s a universal truth.
Thirteen years ago, I sloshed into a cab in Pensacola, Florida with two fellow Marines. We were brand new Naval aviators; hot off the press with wings of gold. The doors were closed for about 30 seconds before the cabbie’s lecture began. You see, he too had been a Naval flight student in Pensacola many years ago. Tonight he was marauding as the ghost of Saturday nights future. He spent the whole ride explaining to us that we were headed down a blighted path; careening towards long nights spent in a crappy old mid-sized sedan that smells like pee.
This Thursday at the NCSWA dinner, it felt a little too familiar as a couple of science writers explained to me that their field was not what it once was. Travel budgets that used to keep them globe hopping to cover science news no longer existed. Staff writer jobs that pay a living wage are a pipe dream now. The field is glutted with writers who do the job for nothing. Things are not like they used to be.
No, things are not like they used to be. And thank God for that.
If things were as they once were, I wouldn’t have been in that cab. I probably would have been back home in Hilliard, Florida chained to some slack-jawed yokel with big dreams of middle management in the chicken processing plant. 20 years ago, young women from my town didn’t have many opportunities. If things were like they used to be, most of us in the SciCom program would not have the college degrees that make it possible for us to be here now.
My band of SciCom slugbrothers will take the field in about 10 months. And like we 3 emerging from that stinky cab so many years ago, we will adapt, adjust, and overcome. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and the plucky grit that comes from no reasonable expectation of a retirement or owning a home, we’ll ferret out what’s news in science and plate it for popular consumption. We’ll master the art of “working vacations,” and we’ll write with the same fervor that writers did in the old days, when you were paid for this sort of thing.
We’ll do it for the same reason that writers are staying in the field sans budgets or job security that they once enjoyed. We’ll stay because it’s a lifestyle that guarantees we’ll never stop learning.