Madelyn Broome '19, the recipient of the 2019 Gregory T. Pope '80 Prize for science writing. The Pope Prize is awarded annually to a graduating senior for outstanding articles or papers on scientific topics written for a broad audience. A committee consisting of Council members and science writers selected her winning essay "Where is the Water?”. Madelyn shared her experiences at Princeton and beyond here:
Tell us about your time here at Princeton?
I graduated with honors in Astrophysics and a certificate in Planets and Life. Certificates in English aren’t offered, but that didn't stop me from committing as much time to and experiencing as much enjoyment in the English Department as if I were earning a certificate in it. It was through the English department that I earned the Francis Biddle Prize for Best Sophomore Essay and was published in Princeton’s Tortoise Journal of Pedagogy for my essays on that most influential and enduring work of science writing: Frankenstein. I married those seemingly disparate interests in the hard sciences and humanities as a writer, then editor, then editor-in-chief of Princeton’s general audience science magazine, Innovation. I also served as an Outreach and Communication Ambassador for the CST, where I first became familiar with the Pope Prize. I went on to co-found and co-preside over the Undergraduate Women in Physics organization, as well as serve for many years as a peer-mentor for underclasswomen in STEM. When I wasn’t fighting for equal access and opportunity for underrepresented students, I was (literally) sparring in the Mixed Martial Arts Consortium or coaching and training with the Archery team.
What prompted your interest in science writing?
For me, my passion for outreach and science communication is driven by a desire to empower, excite, and engage as many people as possible in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). I’ve always had more of a knack for writing than for physics and it became clear in high school, when I would design and run outreach activities for middle schoolers, that this knack extended to teaching. For me, science writing is an extension of teaching. Both require clearly explaining things in an accessible and engaging way depending on one’s audience. It took a science journalism class taught by the New York Times Health Section editor Tara Parker-Pope for me to recognize, though, that I didn’t want to be the journalist interviewing experts, but the expert explaining her own work in an accessible and compelling way. I came to realize that writing about my own subject and my own research was a natural extension of something I had been doing throughout my life. Since childhood, I have been lucky enough to have these the wonderful hours-long conversations about astronomy with my grandmothers – neither of them scientists, but both eager to learn. To this day, I think about writing for general audiences as if I were explaining the concepts to my grandmothers.
What was the significance of being recognized and winning the Pope Prize award?
Being honored with the Pope Prize was such a wonderful validation of both my values and goals. It is incredibly important to me to be a scientist who is always in touch with non-scientists and who embraces the potential of scientists to spark excitement and increase scientific literacy.
Whether it is conveying ideas clearly to your peers, convincing funding committees of the value of your work, or explaining to the general public why they should invest in and care about your research, every scientist needs to be able to communicate well. While I joke about being a better writer than physicist, my writing actually helps me be a better physicist – allowing me to clearly dissect problems and explore potential solutions by writing out my research challenges. Science communication is neither the duty, nor the strength of every scientist, but, as one who has spent so many years committed to that goal, to have that commitment recognized just fills my heart up in a way that, ironically, escapes words.
From a practical standpoint, the award was also incredibly meaningful because it meant that I could spend my last summer at home with my family and that I was still able to help ease the financial burden of attending Cambridge on my parents. Getting to surprise my family with the award at Class Day is one of my fondest memories from graduation.
What are you doing now and what are your future plans?
I am currently completing my Master’s degree in Astrophysics at Cambridge before heading to the University of California Santa Cruz to earn my PhD. I am pursuing a career in academia – a path notorious for its elitism and distance from the everyman – ironically, for the access to the general public that it grants me. The path to becoming a professor of astrophysics presents countless opportunities to teach, to serve as a mentor and role model, to become involved in education research, to develop secondary/post-secondary curricula, to practice inclusive pedagogy, and to communicate my field to the world. Santa Cruz is an especially exciting next step, not only because it is one of the foremost astronomy departments, but because of the university’s education and science communication courses. As I complete my PhD, I plan on also taking courses from Santa Cruz’s Science Communication department, doing my best to keep living into the spirit of Gregory Pope and his family’s passion for sharing science with the world.