Interview with Victoria Nicks, President/Founder, Decoded Science
interviewed by Beth G. Raps of Raps in French and English: Punctuated Passion and Precision
Beth: Is doing an expert-sourced science and tech website like Decoded Science your idea?
Victoria: Decoded Science started in 2011, not long after I had finished my Master's degree in Information Technology. At that time, I was writing on technology topics for a number of online sites, and networking with a number of other science writers. While discussing current trends, we started bemoaning how many articles we read every day in our areas of expertise that were written by people who had no idea what they were talking about. Beauty bloggers writing about artificial intelligence technology that doesn't actually exist, food bloggers writing about imaginary medical advances, and so on--all because, at the time, these topics had high click values in Google Adwords. We found it very frustrating that the actual science wasn't being covered properly, and all agreed that someone...someone ought to start a website where only actual experts could write about these topics. No one else picked up the gauntlet, so "someone" ended up being me.
What's your science background? Communications background? Science communications background? Did you imagine Decoded was what you'd be doing with that background of yours?!
I hold a MS in IT, and towards the end of my degree, I was focusing on Artificial Intelligence--particularly Google's algorithm and business model. My only communications background took place while I was in the U.S. Air Force, during which time I trained groups and individuals on communications and computer security, as well as various other topics. I never would have imagined running a non-profit organization; my background isn't in management, organization, business, or anything else that would lead me to a position like this.
What are the top milestones in Decoded's history?
After I founded Decoded Science in 2011, in 2013, it evolved into "Decoded Everything," and we started adding sites such as Decoded Past and Decoded Parenting. We converted to non-profit in 2014, when I came to accept that I wasn't in it for the money. I was fighting to save science from the ravages of ignorance and complacency, and that isn't a goal that meshes with ever-increasing numbers of ads and so on to make more and more money. Decoded Everything now clocks over three million page views per year, with an ever-increasing fan base, and ten sites, with plans for many more.
What's really fun about your job? About Decoded?
The absolute best part of my job is having the opportunity to network with so many people who know so much about so many things! I love reading the articles--I read every single article Decoded publishes--and always learn something new. I venture to say I've gotten a better education simply from reading Decoded articles than I received in all my years in college! My favorite part about Decoded is getting reader comments telling us that they finally understand something that's been eluding them for years, or that they appreciate finding an unbiased source of information about a controversial science topic, and getting researcher comments telling us how much they appreciate having at least one outlet that covers their research correctly.
What's hard about it?
The hardest thing about this job is not having expertise in every area I should. I can keep the websites running and updated, keep the articles flowing, and so on--but I'm not a natural when it comes to fundraising, which is a must for a non-profit! Everyone at this point is a volunteer, which makes it difficult--people need to pay the rent, and if they're volunteering full time, they're not working at a paying job. My biggest current goal is to raise funds to make it possible for our experts, designers, and editors to keep providing the service we're providing, but without having to sacrifice everything to do so.
You have internships available. What kind(s) of interns would you like--in what areas?
I'm looking for three interns. All our internship opportunities have the advantage of being online only, so interns can work from anywhere, learn from anywhere, and enjoy mentorship and networking with scientists from anywhere. Here are the three I'm seeking:
· I'd love an intern who would sift through the embargoed research we have exclusive access to before publication, pick out studies appropriate for us to cover, ask the press contact for interviews (many of the researchers will answer questions via email), send a pre-baked set of questions to those who accept, and then format those interviews with basic info from the study as an article for me to publish. I LOVE those articles. I used to do this myself, but don't have time for it anymore. You learn so much by asking the researcher what they think is the coolest part of the study. The people who write the press release seldom put the best parts in, according to the researchers.This internship provides online research and publishing experience as well as practice "translating" science and tech research for the public.
· I'd also love a public relations intern to ask scientists to write articles. Again, I don't have time to pursue scientists for articles like I used to in earlier days but this was something I did that I found really worked for both sides. Many science groups have research projects they like to talk about, so our articles are an opportunity for them as well as for our readers. Sourcing and promoting scientific research is fantastic professional scicomm experience.
· And last, I'd love an intern to work with our fundraising consultant helping our three million annual visitors become inspired to invest in our work, and to help research and write successful grant proposals. The fundraising intern gets real-world experience learning how to fund science/tech using grassroots and crowdsourced methods as well as the traditional method of government and foundation grants.
Contact Victoria for more information about the internships!