Ellen Kuwana

Freelance Science Writer and Editor
AWIS member since 2022

“You don’t have to be an expert in everything–be humble, be curious, ask questions.”

Ellen Kuwana

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

Trust your instincts. People in leadership positions might not have your best interests in mind—you need to know when to move on to a different job to advance your career. Job changes can lead to self-doubt, but making a change opens new doors that you were not aware of before.

What do you consider to be your most important career achievement or milestone?

Taking a leap and quitting my job during the start of the pandemic and going freelance. This major life change required all my confidence that I could run my own business—and I’ve never been happier, professionally.

What do you aspire to accomplish in your career and why? What obstacles will you overcome?

Helping scientists communicate their work to various audiences increases trust and scientific literacy in the general public. A talented writer or editor can shape a story and improve its message. One obstacle is getting an opportunity to show what an expert science communicator can do.

Describe an amazing opportunity in your STEM career.

I’ve gotten several grants to do national webinars for science writers to support their mental health. These webinars, along with monthly freelancer chats, create a community and have led to mentorship opportunities where I help students and others write their first article and get it published.

How was AWIS helped you professionally and/or personally?

I was asked to give a national AWIS talk on careers in science communications and my career path. That led to mentoring 6 AWIS members (ranging from undergrad to postdocs), which will become a more formal mentorship program. I also enjoy the programming and networking.

What is your favorite word? (only one word)

Petrichor

How do you define it?

The pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather

How has this word influenced or inspired your career?

It’s a reminder that whatever condition is the current condition, it can and will change, often for the better. To pause, inhale, exhale, and be in the moment (something I am not good at, but am working on!).

How does AWIS impact your career journey?

AWIS is an opportunity to learn from others, to inspire more girls and women to consider careers in science (including science communications), and to give back however I can.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

I’m always reading the news and magazines, learning as much as I can from well-written nonfiction. I consider the connotations of words, how others describe processes, what metaphors they use, the start and end of articles, the structure, and when language could have been more inclusive.

What do you consider the best professional or personal advice you’ve ever received?:

You don’t have to be an expert in everything–be humble, be curious, ask questions.

Ellen Kuwana is an award-winning scientific communications expert who has written or edited more than 500 articles for audiences ranging from sixth graders to physicians. She specializes in writing and editing scientific manuscripts and large grant proposals. She lectures nationally on science writing, inclusive language, plain language, and sci comm careers. She mentors anyone who is interested in science writing. She’s a proud alum of UCSF, where she earned a MS in neuroscience.