“You have to be willing to have people look at you and think you’re stupid, and it be okay.”
Nika Stoop is the grant training coordinator for the center of faculty excellence at Montana State University. This means that she goes a couple of different things, she helps faculty figure out how to teach research scholarship, and it means she holds writing workshops where she works with people on grant writing.
The time I spent interviewing Stoop really allowed me to reflect on my experience last semester in Doug’s science writing class, which boils down to my consistent struggle with my questioning expertise. Stoop disclosed that in her time working at Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, she often times did not know the deep science of what she was asking people about. Although from a scientific background, a chemistry major in college who went on the get her PhD in molecular biochemistry and molecular biophysics, she found that in conducting interviews with scientists it wasn’t about getting into the nitty gritty details of what she was composing a story about. It was gaining enough information and figuring out how to “pick out the nuggets” of information that will be important in writing for Novartis.
“I can still do my job well even if I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about.”
She was writing for the people who visited the company and providing them with information on the different pharmaceutical research that was happening there through internet resources, posters, pamphlets, and even presentations to the people who came to visit the company. Getting into the specific scientific details was less important than communicating to others what exactly what happening at the company. It boiled down to being “accurate enough” that the information wasn’t skewed, but that others could understand it.
“As a writer, you’re always going to be in a situation where you don’t know all of the answers.”
She had never gone into anything thinking about being a writer. However, she expressed that she had always been interested in the writing process. Her first job working in writing was working for MIT writing research grants. This job was her first introduction to writing as a career. From there she work at the pharmaceutical company before moving to MSU where she now writes less and assists writers more.
Grants, she explained, are really collaborative. She looks at the needs of the grantor, and what they are trying to spend their money. Then, she looks at the researchers and what their needs are. And in that, she sees a partnership and helps those searching for grants better be able to meet the needs of those who give grants.
Stoop’s job at MSU has her doing a lot less writing than she did before. Her focus at MSU is to help faculty and researchers construct their grant proposals. She explained that this type of writing is more like a partnership. She does everything from helping the researchers figure out how to better write their grant proposals to better match the criteria the grantor is putting out there.
She recently held a one hour grant workshop to try to give people the basic information they need to know about grants in a short hour of time.
“You’re never going to be an expert in everything you talk to people about, so you’re going to have to be an expert at understanding how much you need to know to write the story. And to write it in a real and accurate way.”
Stoop talked about her background in science and how it better helped her in helping writing grants or the science writing she was doing before coming to MSU. She said that knowing more about the focus and mentality involved in getting a higher degree has helped her with the people side of her writing interactions and less in the actual writing of the things. Within this she’s better learned how to balance the use of scientific language and understanding for people who are asking for her help. She explained that her job is important because she’s giving them an audience who doesn’t know everything about what they are researching because their audience probably won’t have anyone who is an expert in what they’re researching, and so that makes it important.
“Know in your own heart that you’re not stupid.”
Stoop knows full-heartedly that writing professional is a difficult endeavor, but from what I learned from her, it’s about not taking it personally when everything goes wrong. It’s about believing in yourself if people don’t think you’re qualified enough to do the job you’re paid to do, and it’s constant learning. It’s attempting to gain the skills to figure out what information is important and what will facilitate the common goals of audiences, institutions, and writers. It’s having faith in your own skills and what you can do.